NEW YORK (CBSNewYork / AP) — Uncle Mo couldn't make it, so owner Mike Repole will instead race Stay Thirsty as his horse in the 143rd Belmont Stakes.
Stay Thirsty is one of the field's outsiders, 20-1 on the morning line following a pair of lackluster efforts in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby.
That didn't deter Repole, who has long dreamed of having a horse in the race.
"Growing up in New York, and going to Aqueduct and Belmont 100 times before I was 17, this is what it's about. I always say one win in New York is like 10 wins anywhere else. The Belmont Stakes is the biggest race in New York. This is the pinnacle. When I was 13, this was the race I dreamed about, and to be in this position 29-30 years later, it's just a great feeling."
A Preview From WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs
Repole believed Uncle Mo, last season's 2-year-old champion, would be the one to take him here.
Uncle Mo was on target for the Kentucky Derby, only to be scratched the day before the race with an infected liver. Uncle Mo is recuperating at a farm in Kentucky, giving Repole hope the colt can return to the races later this year.
"He gained 83 pounds in 3½ weeks, his blood work is getting better, his energy is improving," Repole said. "He will go into light training probably in two weeks. In a perfect world he'll come back here sometime in mid July, but as we saw before the Derby, there are no guarantees in this game."
Repole realizes the liver problem might be chronic. If that is the case, Uncle Mo will be retired to stud duty.
That leaves the beverage executive who sold Glaceau, the maker of Vitaminwater, to Coca Cola for a reported $4.1 billion in 2007, with Stay Thirsty.
"I'm going to definitely enjoy the moment and this has been such a wide open year in a very average crop," Repole said. "It seems like every race, a $40 horse wins so why doesn't Stay Thirsty have a good enough shot as anybody else?"
Stay Thirsty won the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in early March. It was his first stakes victory, and only the second win of his career in seven starts. Javier Castellano will be aboard.
MISSING: For the first time since 1993, the Hall of Fame trio of trainers D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert and Nick Zito will not have a horse in the Belmont.
They have combined to win seven Belmonts since then — Lukas leading the way with four. Zito has won twice and Baffert once.
Of the 12 trainers in this year's race, only Todd Pletcher owns a Belmont win: the 2007 edition when the filly Rags to Riches beat Curlin, the eventual Horse of the Year, by a head.
Stay Thirsty will be the 11th Belmont runner for Pletcher, the five-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation's leading trainer.
Half of the 12 trainers will be making their Belmont debuts: Doodnauth Shivmangal, Kathy Ritvo, Kelly Breen, Eddie Kenneally, Ignacio Correas IV and Aiden O'Brien.
GETTING READY: Inside the race track, 2011 Belmont Stakes t-shirts are out ready to be purchased and outside the finishing touches are being made including planting a few additional flower gardens.
Spokesperson Dan Silver said 50,000 people are expected here to see the big race.
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"If you turn the Belmont Park on its side, it would be taller than the Empire State Building," said Silver.
There is also an official Belmont Stakes drink, the Belmont Jewel.
"It has lemonade and some Woodford reserve burbon," said Silver.
Silver also said the track will be a fashion show of colorful hats. "It's going to be a very photogenic day."
TOO HOT: Belmont officials called off the Thursday card because of the extreme conditions with the heat index expected to top 100 degrees. The soaring temperatures did not affect morning training as the Belmont horses went through their normal paces.
Saturday could be wet and cool for the Belmont. The outlook calls for a cloudy day with showers and temperatures in the low 70s.
Who's your pick for the Belmont? Let us know in the comments below...
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