ELMONT, N.Y. — For a few moments Thursday morning, owner Bernie Schiappa reflected on his involvement in Thoroughbred racing and came to one succinct conclusion.
"I've been a pretty lucky guy; I've had some good horses," he said.
That Schiappa made the statement while watching his Belmont Stakes entrant, Game On Dude, train was the latest piece of evidence.
After all, it was just six weeks ago that Schiappa's already compact stable suffered one of the great misfortunes racing has to offer.
On the morning of April 18 at Churchill Downs, thoughts of potential classic glory seemed far off for Schiappa and his partners, Ernie Moody and Terry Lanni, when their stakes-winning 3-year-old colt Tiz Chrome fractured his left front sesamoid during a workout and had to be euthanized.
"It was hard because I was there," Schiappa recalled. "Me personally, I thought he was going to be a real good horse. He worked like a champion."
The heartache of that loss was compounded by the fact that Tiz Chrome was one of just three horses Schiappa had in training.
Remarkably, however, it took just two weeks for Schiappa's luck to get back on the upswing when Game On Dude — a gelding he and his partners bought privately back in March — captured the Grade III Lone Star Derby by 41/2 lengths on May 8 in an effort that persuaded trainer Bob Baffert to give the son of Awesome Again a chance in Saturday's final leg of the Triple Crown.
Though Schiappa has had as many as 20 horses at one time, the 65-year-old native of Plainfield, N.J., has downsized in recent years, focusing more on quality over quantity.
After watching Game On Dude break his maiden on his second time out by three lengths in a 1-mile race at Gulfstream for original owner Kuehne Racing, Schiappa began working on securing his latest successful purchase.
"He ran that mile race, a one-turn mile at Gulfstream, and he won really, really impressively," said Schiappa, who also campaigned 2006 Blue Grass Stakes winner Sinister Minster along with Lanni and Moody and Grade I winner Shining Energy with Lanni. "We went to buy the horse and, originally, the deal didn't go together so then we came back, made the deal, and we bought the rest of him and raced him in the Florida Derby.
"That was just his third start, and we were probably throwing him to the wolves a bit there (a seventh-place finish)," Schiappa continued. "But when he came back after the Lone Star Derby, he wasn't even breathing hard. (Jockey) Martin Garcia said he'll just run all day."
Game On Dude — who is also owned in part by Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Joe Torre — has the kind of steady, one-pace style that is usually conducive to Belmont's sweeping turns and 11/2-mile distance.
After both the Florida Derby and Game On Dude's fifth-place finish in the Grade III Derby Trial, Schiappa laid part of the blame on the fact that the dark bay gelding was stuck down on the inside.
Having drawn post-position eight in the Belmont and with the red-hot Garcia slated to be aboard, his connections say it wouldn't be a total shocker if Game On Dude emerged victorious from the wide-open field of 12.
"I'm just not here to be here," said Baffert, who earned his lone Belmont win in 2001 with Point Given. "We bought (Game On Dude) for the classics. From the Lone Star Derby to here is a big jump, but he's been training really well.
"When Martin was working him the other day, I said, 'Are you sure you think he has a chance going a mile and a half because I don't want to take him over there and embarrass myself,' and he said, 'No, he's doing well.' "
By his count, Schiappa has owned or co-owned the winners of nine Grade I races since 1997.
If that total goes to 10 Saturday, even he would have to marvel at the luck.
"I'm from Jersey and I worked in Brooklyn for a good part of my life so it's like being back at home here," said Schiappa, whose only other horse in training now is graded-stakes-placed Quiet Invader. "It would be huge to win this one."