ELMONT, N.Y. — Right or wrong, the connections of Ice Box will probably always wonder what might have happened in this year's Kentucky Derby had the chestnut colt been able to unleash his late kick without constant interruptions.
"It was just start and stop, start and stop," Ernie Reichard, racing manager for Ice Box's owner, Robert LaPenta, said of the son of Pulpit's determined runner-up effort.
The Florida Derby winner gets another chance at a Triple Crown race after being installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite Wednesday for Saturday's 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes.
Racing fans marveled at Super Saver's 21/2-length Kentucky Derby triumph, but it was Ice Box who had to rally from next to last despite being steadied about three times.
And with a compact field of 12 in the 11/2-mile Belmont, traffic shouldn't be a problem for Ice Box when Nick Zito's trainee breaks from post-position six.
"Once he got going on the outside, he just made up ground," Reichard said of Ice Box's Derby trip. "We gave him some time off; there was no need to rush him. Nick gives these horses time. He doesn't rush them, and that's apparently what they need."
Ice Box's stablemate, Fly Down, a 6-length winner of the Grade II Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on May 8, will break from post five as the 9-2 third choice, and Preakness Stakes runner-up First Dude was the second pick at 7-2 and will leave from post No. 11.
"You're not going to skip a classic with a horse like this," trainer Dale Romans said of First Dude. "We've been waiting to go a mile and a half with him. He's a big, rugged horse, and nothing seems to bother him."
If Ice Box earns points for putting in a top Derby effort despite his troubles, the Alexis Barba-trained Make Music for Me deserves similar kudos.
The son of Bernstein was dead last in the field of 20 for the Derby after being pinched back early, but he advanced eight-wide to finish fourth in what was his first start over dirt.
Make Music for Me has one win in nine starts, the Pasadena Stakes at Santa Anita on March 6, but only a handful of lengths have kept him from coming into the Belmont as a multiple graded stakes winner.
The bay colt was second to champion and eventual Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky in the Grade II Best Pal and Grade I Del Mar Futurity last season and finished third behind his nemesis again in the Grade I CashCall Futurity in December.
While he showed he could put in a run from well off the pace in the Derby, Make Music for Me has actually been most effective laying closer to midpack, as he did during his 1-length win in the Pasadena.
"That's our barometer, and it's always been our barometer," Barba said of her charge's battles with Lookin At Lucky. "(Make Music for Me) always got overlooked because he did not win, but he's definitely made his presence felt. I think (in the Belmont) we'll probably be in the middle somewhere."
Barba, who has been training on her own since 2000, raised eyebrows when she worked Make Music for Me 1 mile on May 23 in preparation for his Belmont run.
"I guess I'm old-school. If I would have had a prep race for him, it would have been on that day in the past; it would have been two weeks out," Barba said of the lengthier drill.
Of course, Barba's training technique isn't the only reason she's getting a lot of questions lately.
She is attempting to become the first woman to saddle a winner in a Triple Crown race. But as significant as the milestone would be to the general public, Barba shrugs off the notion of added pressure.
"It's the truth, so I suppose it's a legitimate question, but anybody who wins any Triple Crown race — who's going to be happier?" Barba laughed. "It's unexplainable. So it's fun, it would definitely be historic."