NEW YORK - Expectations have always been high for Dunkirk.
A $3.7 million yearling purchase in 2007, the gray colt was cautiously brought along by trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Belmont was only his fifth career start. After setting the early pace in the 1 1/2-mile race, Dunkirk showed heart in the lane to wrest second place from Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.
It was the finest moment in a brief career.
After two initial victories, Dunkirk was thrust into the Florida Derby where he ran second to Quality Road.
From there, it was on to the Kentucky Derby where he stumbled at the start and finished 11th.
Pletcher then took the colt back to New York, bypassing the Preakness.
In an interesting strategic move, Pletcher changed tactics for the Belmont. Normally a strong closer, Dunkirk dictated the early fractions.
"I was surprised that Dunkirk took the lead," Nick Zito, the trainer of Brave Victory and Miner's Escape, said.
Pletcher wanted his horse involved early.
"We wanted him to get into his rhythm," Pletcher said. "He made the lead very easily and we were happy with that. We thought we might have been lucky."
Just not lucky enough.
Not Nick, nor Wayne. It wasn't a very enjoyable Belmont for Hall of Famers Nick Zito and D. Wayne Lukas.
Both trainers sent out two runners. None was a factor in the race.
Zito, master of the Belmont upset, couldn't pull off another with Brave Victory (seventh) or Miner's Escape (10th).
His only bright spot was the win by Summer Bird, sired by Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont for Zito at 36-1.
Zito also won last year with Da'Tara at 38-1.
Zito said Brave Victory sustained a knee gash and that Miner's Escape was compromised by a brief stumble at the start.
"I'm not making excuses," Zito said.
Neither was Lukas, a four-time Belmont winner, after Luv Gov ran fifth, one spot better than Flying Private.
"It's sort of tough to watch it live," Lukas said. "We'll salute the winners and rack 'em up next year."
Triple Crown timing. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas would like to the see more time between the Triple Crown races. It's not sour grapes. Lukas has had great success in the series with 13 wins, including four Belmonts, but he would rather add space between races.
"I think what we need to do is keep the field together to develop a fan base," Lukas said.
Tradition dictates the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May.
The Preakness follows two weeks later at Pimlico.
Lukas suggests holding the Preakness on Memorial Day weekend while pushing the Belmont back to July 4.