NEW YORK - Kiaran McLaughlin hopes Charitable Man isn't in a giving mood on Belmont Stakes day.
Perhaps the top challenger to 2-1 favorite Mine That Bird in Saturday's Belmont, Charitable Man is coming into the race fresh, fit and hopefully ready to hold off any kind of finishing kick the Derby winner comes up with.
If McLaughlin sounds confident, it's because he is.
"His father won the Belmont, he's 2-for-2 at Belmont, 3-for-3 on dirt," McLaughlin said. "Do I need to keep going?"
After Calvin Borel heard what McLaughlin had said, the jockey who guaranteed his horse, Mine That Bird, will win replied, "We'll see what happens."
Borel, who won the Derby aboard Mine That Bird and the Preakness aboard Rachel Alexandra, is attempting to become the first jockey to win all three races on different horses.
While Borel will be riding in the Belmont for the first time, McLaughlin is familiar with the 1-mile "Test of the Champion," the longest and most grueling race of them all. He's 1-for-1 in the final leg of the Triple Crown, winning the 2006 edition with Jazil, who rallied from seventh with a half mile to go for a win over Bluegrass Cat.
"I'm not trying to sound cocky or overconfident," McLaughlin said. "All I'm saying is that we have a horse whose style fits this race. With a little luck Mine That Bird would be going for a Triple Crown, so I respect that horse and all the others in the field. But I have a quality horse."
Mine That Bird arrived at Belmont Park on Wednesday, hours after he was made the favorite and drew the No. 7 post position. The gelding got his first look at the track on a rainy Thursday morning, galloping once around the huge oval.
"He gets over it so easy," trainer Chip Woolley said. "That's what I was hoping for."
Charitable Man is the 3-1 second choice and will line up just inside the Derby winner from the No. 6 post.
Alan Garcia, winner of the last year's Belmont aboard 38-1 shot Da' Tara, has the call on Charitable Man, who won the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 9 by rating just off the pace. The colt did not run in the Derby or Preakness.
A son of 1999 Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, Charitable Man is owned by William K. and Suzanne Warren of Tulsa, Okla. The bay colt won both starts as a 2-year-old, including the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont in a field that included beaten Derby favorite Friesan Fire. However, he was sidelined with a cracked left shin and was out seven months. In his first race back, he ran seventh in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 11. McLaughlin blamed the synthetic surface.
The decision was made to skip the Triple Crown even though Charitable Man was healthy, and look toward the summer season and the Travers. But he ran so well in the Peter Pan that the Belmont seemed a natural next step. Looking back, McLaughlin still has second thoughts about passing on the Derby after Mine That Bird won at 50-1 odds.
"It's going to take a lot more to make me not run," he said, "I want to run from now on because Charitable Man not only - he's a beautiful horse, he's a talented horse. If we ran back in three weeks you know he might have won the Kentucky Derby."
Woolley says Charitable Man is "a sheer monster" who loves the track. Of course, the trainer likes his chances, too.
"The horse is doing super," he said, "He's gotten stronger every day since the Preakness, and we're tickled with where he is right now."
Also entered, from the rail out, are: Chocolate Candy (10-1), Dunkirk (4-1), Mr. Hot Stuff (15-1), Summer Bird (12-1), Luv Gov (20-1), Flying Private (12-1), Miner's Escape (15-1) and Brave Victory (15-1).
In the Belmont, Mine That Bird may be closer to the leaders because the early pace usually is not as fast as in shorter races.
"If we can just be within 10 or 12 lengths of them, I feel comfortable he'll have enough kick left," Woolley said.
Charitable Man isn't the only threat. Dunkirk, trying to rebound from an 11th-place finish in the Derby, will leave from the No. 2 post and be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez.
"I'm drawing a line through the Derby," the colt's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said. "I never felt he ran to his capabilities."
A couple of Hall of Fame trainers will take their shots, too.
Nick Zito, who won the Belmont with Birdstone (Mine That Bird's sire) in 2004 and Da' Tara last year, will send out Brave Victory and Miner's Escape. Four-time Belmont winner D. Wayne Lukas has Flying Private and Luv Gov.
"I think we have some live long shots," Zito said. "They may not be as good as the Mine That Birds or Charitable Man, but they didn't have the rigors of the Triple Crown (prep) races leading up to the Derby. Who knows? Maybe lightning can strike twice."