Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs is part owner of a horse who will be in a good spot to win one of the legs of the Triple Crown for the second time this year.
For the second time this year, Bryan will not be in a good spot to watch it.
Mo Donegal, who worked his way from 19th in a 20-horse field to finish a solid fifth in the Kentucky Derby on May 7, will take a shot at the third leg of the Triple Crown in the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, and on Tuesday was listed as the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
Bryan, a 1994 Skidmore College graduate who buys a share in every horse that the Donegal Racing partnership purchases at auction, missed Mo Donegal’s run at Churchill Downs because he was in Colorado Springs for his uncle’s birthday party. On Saturday, instead of being at Belmont Park, he’ll be at the Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga Springs for a wedding.
Nevertheless, as he was before the Derby, Bryan is confident that the Mo Donegal image on his phone will be that of a horse with a real shot to win one of the big ones.
“This is where it gets hilarious … I am going to a wedding,” Bryan said on Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after the Belmont post-position draw. “I knew the Belmont might play out like this.”
The long-time Saratoga Springs resident envisions the Belmont playing out for Mo Donegal in a way that will get his numerous Donegal partners back into a New York winner’s circle for another raucous celebration of a huge victory.
That was the case when Mo Donegal won the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9, which Bryan was able to attend, and when Keen Ice upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers at Saratoga Race Course. He was also a Donegal partner in 2012, when the ownership group’s Dullahan was third to I’ll have Another in the Derby and seventh to Union Rags in the Belmont.
The 2022 Belmont appears to be devoid of early speed, but Mo Donegal has been working well at the track for three straight breezes since coming back from Kentucky. Trainer Todd Pletcher sent Mo Donegal out for those breezes in company with the filly Nest, who is also entered in the Belmont.
Mo Donegal will break from the No. 6 post under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.
“I think the 6 hole was actually really good, considering that Irad’s on the horse,” Bryan said. “I think that’s going to kind of play into Irad’s strengths, where it gives him some flexibility to stay on the outside and come running late.
“In the Derby, he was never able to get to the outside and do that, so Irad was compromised a couple times. I don’t think that’s going to be the case with the smaller field and him being in the 6 post. If anything, that should give him some comfort.”
Bryan called We the People, the impressive Peter Pan winner who is the 2-1 Belmont favorite, “a beast,” but Mo Donegal surely is a deserving second choice on the line, even with Derby winner Rich Strike in the mix.
The most important decision for Ortiz likely will be where to position Mo Donegal early, based on how fast the leader takes the field through the early quarter-mile splits.
“The thing we’re going to have to be the most cognizant of is we’re going to have to be close,” Bryan said. “The pace is going to dictate the race. It always does.
“So if we’re at 49 [seconds for the first half-mile] or 50, we need to be within a length or two. If we’re far back with that kind of pace, we’re toast. We just won’t be able to make it up. If it’s 47, we can be a little farther back.
“I think Mo is the kind of horse that can be closer, more than Keen Ice was historically. I think that’s what we’re going to have to do, and see what takes place.”
Yes, it’s all about timing.
Bryan may miss this one, but Mo Donegal is also supposed to run in the Travers on Aug. 27, and Bryan is more than determined to be there for that one.
“I haven’t even paid attention to the schedule of the wedding [on Saturday],” he said. “All I know is I’ll have my phone on me and I’ll be able to watch the race, even if it’s in the middle of the ceremony.
“I’m literally going to fly back for the Travers the day before. I’m supposed to be in California for my oldest stepdaughter, she’s going out to Pepperdine, and that week is Travers Week, when she’s moving in.
“I’m not missing this again.”