Jockey Mike Smith and trainer Donnie Von Hemel both began their careers some 30-plus years ago in the Midwest at tracks like Ak-Sar-Ben, Canterbury Downs, Oaklawn Park, and Remington Park. Both well accomplished all these years later, they will team anew June 11 to try to take down the Belmont Stakes with Suddenbreakingnews, whom Von Hemel on Saturday said Smith would ride for the first time in the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Smith is a two-time winner of the Belmont, with Drosselmeyer in 2010 and Palace Malice in 2013. He replaces Luis Quinonez, who had been the regular rider for Suddenbreakingnews throughout his career, including his most recent start, a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
“He won a lot of races for me 30 years ago,” Von Hemel said of Smith on Saturday from Churchill Downs, where Suddenbreakingnews was scheduled to work again either Sunday or Monday.
Von Hemel also revealed that Suddenbreakingnews, heretofore listed as a gelding, is officially a ridgling, though it’s not as though breeders will suddenly be looking at him with this breaking news.
“He has two undescended testicles. They’re not big. They’re in his abdomen,” Von Hemel said. “He’s likely sterile, but he does have them.”
Von Hemel said that because the testicles are in Suddenbreakingnews’s abdomen, the body heat generated would not be conducive to sperm production. The reason for the confusion, Von Hemel said, is that he thought owner Sam Henderson had had Suddenbreakingnews gelded, but they recently discovered otherwise.
“I asked [Henderson], ‘Why did you geld this horse?’ and he said, ‘He was a ridgling, and we gelded him right after we bought him,’ ” Von Hemel said. “He looks like a gelding, and he acted like a gelding.
“Around the Derby, all the people that have been around the horse start talking and discover – ‘Did you geld him when he was at your farm?’ ‘No, I didn’t geld him.’ ‘Well, did you geld him when he was in Florida getting broke?’ ‘No, I didn’t geld him.’ And an ultrasound has revealed two undescended testicles.”
Two of the Churchill-based horses whom Suddenbreakingnews will face in the Belmont worked on Saturday. Brody’s Cause, seventh in the Derby, worked one mile in 1:42, while Cherry Wine, second just a week ago in the Preakness Stakes, went a half-mile in 49.60 seconds. Both Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine are trained by Dale Romans.
“I usually wouldn’t work a horse back in a week,” Romans said of Cherry Wine, “but he’s doing so good.”
Brody’s Cause and Cherry Wine are scheduled to ship to New York on Tuesday and will have their final workout for the Belmont at Belmont Park.
At Pimlico, Preakness winner Exaggerator – the expected favorite for the Belmont Stakes – galloped a mile. He was scheduled to walk at Pimlico on Sunday morning before a van ride later in the morning to Belmont Park.
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist remains at Pimlico, recovering from a minor illness that has knocked him out of the Belmont. He is scheduled to fly back to California next weekend.
Tom Franklin is a senior contributor at US Racing.