Archive for June, 2011

Goose signals 3YO filly changing of the guard

June 27, 2011

Where we once had Turbulent Descent, Joyful Victory, and R Heat Lightning, we now have It’s Tricky, Royal Delta, and Buster’s Ready.  Where we once had flashy early season fillies we now have stamina-bred hard-knocking gals who look to be developing rapidly. 

Buster’s Ready’s win in the Mother Goose on Saturday was authoritative and somewhat easy.  She seemed poised to tackle GI company after a very strong 2nd in the Black Eyed Susan.  It was an effort that was far more impressive when you viewed the replay than when you simply looked at the running line.  That’s a big part of the reason why she was sent off at a generous 7/2.  Clearly, Buster’s Ready is now among the division’s best 3YO fillies.

Out west, Zazu knocked off Plum Pretty in the Hollywood Oaks.  While the latter may or may not have been recovering from a fever earlier in the week, the former has now beaten her 3 times and seems superior, despite what happened in the Kentucky Oaks.  Zazu is basically the only player from the 3YO filly division in January who is still among the upper echelon.  There are no remaining graded stakes in California for 3YO fillies on synthetics.  Here’s to hoping trainer John Sadler has plans to send Zazu eastward for the Alabama.

So, what did Buster’s Ready and Zazu’s wins teach us?  The 3YO filly division is undergoing some changes.  The division leader heading into 2011 was Turbulent Descent on the west coast and Awesome Feather in the east.  Those two have been re-routed for different reasons.  While Turbulent Descent will still have a chance to win the Eclipse Award for 3YO filly, she’ll have to do it in one-turn races with at least two wins against elders.  Awesome Feather is just now working her way back from an injury and is not likely to be a factor anytime soon.

A few alternatives have emerged over the last few months but it is this latest wave of 3YO fillies that look to be the cream of the crop.  Since Royal Delta’s win in the Black Eyed Susan, her 2nd stakes engagement in her brief 4 race career, we’ve now seen It’s Tricky win the Acorn and Buster’s Ready (who Royal Delta defeated) win the Mother Goose.  Along with Zazu, these are the three big guns in the 3YO filly division. 

We can only hope that the 3YO males begin to sort themselves out over the next few months, but for now we know we have some excellent 3YO filly races to look forward to in the near future.


Ten horses to keep an eye on the rest of the year

June 21, 2011

In just over a week the calendar will turn over to July but racing’s “2nd half” of 2011 is already underway.  When the Triple Crown is over all eyes turn towards the Breeders’ Cup and the now 15 races that will take place between November 4th and 5th at Churchill Downs.  Going through some of the major divisions, let’s take a look at horse who are somewhat under the radar right now yet loom as forces to be reckoned with the rest of the year.


She has just a maiden win at this point but the beautifully bred daughter of A.P. Indy debuted with style last Sunday at Belmont Park.  A Darley homebred, she is out of the Rich Man’s Gold mare Isola Piu Bella.  That name should sound somewhat familiar to racing fans as she came to America after being named Horse of the Year in her native Chile back in 2003.  In the US she won graded stakes at Gulfstream and Hawthorne for trainer Todd Pletcher.  Kinda Spicy is her 2nd foal to race and trainer Tom Albertrani has already said he believes stakes engagements are right around the corner for this filly.


It took three starts but this colt barreled home a convincing winner of a maiden race on Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park.  Another son of A.P. Indy, this colt is also out of an accomplished mare.  His dam is Sightseek, the multiple GI winner who won every Grade I race for females offered at Belmont Park.  Trainer Bill Mott also believes in Raison d’Etat as he said races like the Curlin and/or Jim Dandy will be on his agenda.


Horses who posted big performances last weekend at Belmont are not supposed to be a theme in this blog post.  However, this colt ran arguably the best race of any horse last weekend when he won the Hill Prince.  He is rapidly improving as he’s rattled off three wins in a row over the Belmont turf courses and is now a graded stakes winner.


It took some time, but this daughter of Afleet Alex has gotten really good for trainer Kenny McPeek.  She has now won three in a row, including the Regret on Saturday.  Her final time of 1:49.66 compares quite favorably to the final time Banned posted in the Jefferson Cup just an hour before.  Look for Bizzy Caroline to show up at Saratoga in an attempt to de-throne Winter Memories as the 3YO female turf division leader.


After breaking his maiden impressively last November this Bob Baffert trainee was sidelined all spring.  Since coming back he has won two in a row at Hollywood, including the Affirmed Handicap on June 11.  His victory in the Affirmed was his first came in his first try around two turns and it appears as if he’ll be fine as the distances increase.


After locally based horses swept the graded stakes that comprise the Summit of Speed program at Calder in 2010, it might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the horses pointing there this year.  Giant Ryan is chief among the contenders for the Smile Sprint as he registered his fourth consecutive win in the Ponche Handicap on June 11.  For those of you who are wondering, he’s 1 for 1 on wet tracks, so a bit of rain in South Florida on July 9 will not hurt him.


Ever since an eye-catching maiden win on the inner track I’ve held this filly in high esteem.  She was not up to stakes caliber competition in the Cicada back in March but has since returned from a brief freshening an absolute monster.  After winning at Parx despite battling through ridiculously fast fractions she made mince meat of the field in last Thursday’s Ms. Royal at Belmont Park.  A daughter of Roman Ruler, she is by Jeanne Jones, who was a GI winner and ran 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Kentucky Oaks.  Look for Roman Treasure in a little race called the Test.


Does this name sound familiar?  He finished 2nd in the Secretariat last year behind Paddy O’ Prado and is scheduled to return to Arlington Park for the Million on August 13.  His 2011 campaign has already been busy as he won the Jebel Hatta at Meydan before finishing 3rd in the Dubai Duty Free on World Cup night.  His recent poor efforts in Asia do not take away from the fact that he’ll be very tough in his 2nd try in America.


This horse was always fast.  The problem was that he had health issues to go along with his speed and that kept him from the races in 2010.  New trainer Allen Iwinski brought him along slowly before trying him in the Longfellow at Monmouth on June 5.  He couldn’t have been expecting what the colt named for the famed NY Ranger forward would put forth.  While the field in the Longfellow was hardly star-studded, he obliterated his rivals en route to earning a 112 Beyer Speed Figure.  If Iwinski can keep him in one piece then he’ll be heard from in major sprint races.


The “Chief” had this son of Bernardini entered in the Woody Stephens on Belmont day and wisely scratched him.  The latest foal of BC Distaff winner Hollywood Wildcat, you’d like to think Allen Jerkens’ options with him are endless.  He’s a half to BC Mile winner War Chant, is already a winner at 7fs and his sire and dam both won GI races at 9 furlongs and beyond!  Let’s hope this guy lives up to his potential.

Well, hopefully I uncovered a few interesting horses who you may not be familiar with, as many of these should be in graded stakes company within the next 60 days.  Saratoga is right around the corner, so getting familiar with some of the main players up there is always wise.  I’ll be back this weekend with a look at some of the graded stakes races from across the country.

Ladies look lovely; Foster faves fail to fire

June 19, 2011

There were 3 Grade I stakes races run on Saturday, one at Belmont, one at Churchill, and one at Hollywood.  While the winning performances of Awesome Maria and Blind Luck stamped each as major contenders in the older female division, Pool Play’s upset score in the Stephen Foster threw an already chaotic handicap division into a further tailspin.

Let’s start with Awesome Maria.  After being transferred to trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn for her 3YO campaign, many waited patiently for her return to the races.  Off since the Frizette in October 2009, Pletcher entered Awesome Maria on the turf in the Riskaverse at Saratoga on closing week.  She was victorious but her participation in a turf route race was an odd placement by Pletcher.  After a poor effort in the Cotillion, Pletcher gave her another try in graded stakes company in the Gazelle, where she finished second to the Larry Jones-trained No Such Word.  The question marks on her coming into 2011 were numerous.  Pletcher campaigned her with no confidence in 2010 and you had to wonder if the potential she showed as a 2YO was a product of precocity as a juvenile.  Well, that was then and this is now.  With wins in the Sabin, Rampart, Shuvee, and now the Ogden Phipps, she has to be considered the 3rd best older female in the country.  Her win in yesterday’s Ogden Phipps was authoritative and awfully easy.  She earned a 100 Beyer Speed Figure, her 3rd such triple digit figure of 2011.  Pletcher said afterwards that she will be pointed to the Ruffian Invitational Handicap on July 31 at Saratoga, a race run at 9 furlongs.  Awesome Maria is already a winner at the Spa having broken her maiden on Alabama day in 2009.

Have we had a horse over the last 5 years that’s been as easy to cheer for as Blind Luck?  The pint-sized powerhouse traveled all over America last year and won races at Santa Anita, Oaklawn, Churchill Downs, Delaware, and Saratoga.  After consecutive defeats at Santa Anita this winter many had written her off as a 4YO whose best days were in the rearview mirror.  Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was unconvinced and never lost confidence in the defending Eclipse Award winner.  She has now rattled off consecutive wins at Churchill and Hollywood Park and seems to be every bit as good as she was in 2010.  Her win in yesterday’s Vanity Handicap came despite a poor pace setup but jockey Garrett Gomez hardly urged his filly late as she passed every rival in the final 3/16ths.  Let’s hope that Switch is cut back in distance by trainer John Sadler as she has the potential to be the best female sprinter in the country.  9 furlongs has proven to be too far for her and her record around two turns is just 2-8.

Where clarity came from the Ogden Phipps and Vanity, the Stephen Foster was a total head-scratcher.  Pool Play, making his first dirt start, charged down the center of the track to register a last-to-first win at odds of 36-1.  He ran down New Orleans Handicap winner Mission Impazible, who rebounded significantly from a poor effort in the Alysheba.  In fact, the Alysheba was a very odd race in terms of how its participants came back.  The winner, First Dude, did not participate in the Foster.  Regal Ransom and Equestrio, the 2nd and 3rd place finishers in the Alysheba, finished 11th and 9th.  The 4th place finisher from the Alysheba, Giant Oak, finished 5th in the Foster with no viable excuses.  Tough trips hurt Apart and Duke of Mischief, but it’s tough to think either would have won with more racing luck or better rides.  As for Pool Play, you would think his future is on dirt as he looked more like a BC Marathon than a Classic horse prior to yesterday’s Foster.  Until further notice I’m chalking the Foster result up to the randomness that takes place in a bad division.  Let’s hope the next round of handicap races, the Suburban on July 2 at Belmont and the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 9 at Hollywood Park, show that this division still has some decent horses.

There’s a carryover of better than 169k today at Belmont Park on the Father’s Day program.  The first three legs look as if they should be very formful with Far Isle, Hyper and Race to Urga all slated to go off heavy favorites.  The 8th-10th should be very wide open and I’ll include horses like Considerate in the 8th, Slevin in the 9th and Strikealinethruit in the nightcap.  Best of luck if you’re getting involved and Happy Father’s Day to all fathers and grandfathers out there!

The Belmont/Triple Crown Postmortem

June 13, 2011

Well, it’s over.  Belmont day stretched on and featured a handful of tremendous performances, a handful of upsets, and a few buckets full of rain.  Fortunately, we had only one Triple Crown race run on an off track in 2011.  I am happy it was the Belmont above all because of the quality work done on a daily basis by NYRA Track Superintendent Glen Kozak and his crew.   Let’s take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights of Belmont Day and the Triple Crown altogether.

1.) The Emergence of Shackleford and Animal Kingdom

When Uncle Mo was scratched on the day before the Kentucky Derby a seemingly wide-open Derby was completely up for grabs.  While there were significant doubts about Uncle Mo being able to rebound from his Wood Memorial defeat, it was universally understood that the best he could offer would win the Derby.  Who was the horse that stood up and made himself a potential star in the 3YO division?  That was Animal Kingdom.  Two weeks later, Shackleford gamely held off the late threat of the Derby winner in the Preakness Stakes and made it clear that he will be a force in the 3YO division this year.

2.) The disappointment of Dialed In

Dialed In wound up being the Kentucky Derby favorite and underperformed in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.  He is supposedly pointing to the Jim Dandy and will continue on facing 3YOs in the top level of his division.  My hope is that by the time the leaves on the trees turn colors and begin falling that Dialed In is running in one mile races around one turn.

3.) The Euro fascination

When the early Belmont odds were available on Friday afternoon there was one horse who was receiving a ridiculous amount of support from the wagering public.  As Birdrun won the Brooklyn Handicap and we took a look at the probable payoffs in the Brooklyn/Belmont double, that one horse was practically favored.  That horse was Master of Hounds, who at 6-1 will forever be one of the most inexplicable underlays in the history of the Triple Crown.

4.) The Dale Romans Show

Let’s not forget that in addition to winning the Preakness and having Shackleford run 4th in the Derby and 5th in the Belmont, Dale Romans was the only trainer to pick up a win in an undercard race on each of the 3 individual racecards.  He also did it with three different horses.  Sassy Image won the Humana Distaff on Derby day, Paddy O’Prado took the Dixie on Preakness Day, and CS Silk won the Just a Game on Belmont day.  Even the far flung operations of Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen couldn’t accomplish such a feat.

5.) The randomness of the Belmont Stakes

I love the Belmont stakes.  With that being said, the last two winners of it illustrate the point that there will always be a randomness that goes into the result that exceeds the other two legs of the Triple Crown.  What do I mean by that?  The 1-2 finishers were hardly competitive against vastly inferior horses going the more traditional 9-10 furlong distances of the Triple Crown trail.  Racing close to a moderate pace on a track that was kind to speed they were able to stay.

6.) The lack of consistency

Going back to the Rebel at Oaklawn Park, no horse has won two graded stakes races restricted to 3YOs on dirt or synthetics with the exception of Animal Kingdom.  That’s right, we had different winners of the Sunland Derby, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Bay Shore, Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, Jerome, Derby Trial, Peter Pan, Preakness, Laz Barrera, Ohio Derby, Woody Stephens and Belmont.  That’s what you call parity.

7.) As for Belmont day itself, how about Kiaran McLaughlin?

Though his Derby hopeful, Soldat, was nowhere to be found on Belmont day, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin scored two impressive wins with It’s Tricky in the Acorn and Trappe Shot in the True North.  Both vaulted towards the top of their respective divisions and proved two separate things in their victories.  First, It’s Tricky winning over the heavily favored Turbulent Descent showed that you can never hold one bad performance against an otherwise consistent horse.  Trappe Shot’s victory showed that discretion is the better part of valor.  He had been very sharp as a sprinter in 2010 and in his first start this year and his connections kept him sprinting despite upcoming route races at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.

8.) The disappointments

In six stakes races at Belmont on Saturday there were 5 favorites that failed.  What went wrong for Turbulent Descent, Arch Traveler, Aviate, Gio Ponti and Animal Kingdom?  All different things, and while you can be sure they’re all quality horses, each will have to rebound moving forward.

9.) The slop/bog

Moving forward handicappers are going to have to decide how to approach the damp conditions that Mother Nature created at Belmont on Saturday.  Is Mission Approved really a GI caliber turfer or simply a beneficiary of a tremendous pace edge over a course that negated his main rivals’ late kicks?  Is It’s Tricky ready to become a top level 3YO filly or did the slop move her up?  Did Justin Phillip benefit from getting clear on a type of surface that he had handled nicely in the past?  Will Ruler on Ice ever win a GI again?

10.) Approaching the Belmont from a handicapping perspective

In years to come it is going to be imperative to take a stand against horses exiting the Preakness.  Since Afleet Alex’s win in the 2005 Belmont, horses exiting the Preakness are now 0-16 and 2-31 overall dating back to Point Given’s victory in 2001.  While there are plenty of “rules” that are tossed around about the Derby, this might be one of the best with regards to the Belmont.

While it is always a bit sad to see another Triple Crown come and go with it vacant for another year, the future looks bright.  Beginning with Saturday’s Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, there are Grade I stakes races on each of the next five weekends leading up to the opening of Saratoga and Del Mar in late July!

Belmont Day is upon us!

June 11, 2011

The weather is not being cooperative so far this morning at Belmont but it looks as if most of the day will be rain-free.  Click here to view my analysis for the entire 13 race card at Belmont today.  I’ll be back to recap everything tomorrow.  Here is my analysis for the six stakes races on the card:

Race 6, The GI Acorn:

#2 TURBULENT DESCENT is quite possibly the best 3YO filly in the country and her connections plan to keep her around one turn in search of the Eclipse Award. She already has a GI win this year having taken the Santa Anita Oaks back in March over a fast-closing Zazu. Upon being cut back to the 7f Beaumont at Keeneland she kept up her winning ways scoring by 5 lengths quite handily. This field has a few runners that are moderately interesting but this gal is clearly the best horse in the race and figures to be very dangerous right from the outset. Look for her to stalk and pounce when ready under jockey David Flores. #3 SAVVY SUPREME is going a route of ground for the first time as she exits a win in the Classy Mirage here on May 18. This filly is a full sister of multiple GI winner Commentator, who was victorious at distance up to and including 9 furlongs. She should be able to handle the added ground without issue and seems to have a pace advantage on paper. Clearly, this barn must be taken seriously when spotting their horses aggressively and this filly has talent. An unencumbered trip to the front end and a breather down the backstretch will greatly help her chances. #4 IT’S TRICKY was bet down to 17-10 in the Gulfstream Park Oaks last time out as she came in off of a handy stakes win at Aqueduct. The Gulfstream experiment didn’t work out well as she never fired and was beaten by more than 20 lengths. A rebound will certainly make her dangerous in this spot as she ran a big race in the Busher two starts back. There are some gaps in her workouts, which is a negative sign, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin would not start her if she wasn’t ready.

Race 7, The G2 True North

It seems almost surprising that #3 TRAPPE SHOT has no graded stakes wins but he is going to be favored in search of his first in here. In his 2011 debut he was a sharp winner coming from just off the pace after bobbling at the start. Jockey John Velazquez hardly got to the bottom of him down the lane and he seems set up for a big effort in his 2nd start of the year. There have never been any doubts about Trappe Shot’s talent as he has been freakishly good on multiple occasions. The pace in here figures to be contested, but the majority of the frontrunners are on this colt’s outside. That should put him in a cozy stalking spot right from the outset and he’ll be very tough from there. #2 WILDCAT BRIEF is a longshot who’s worthy of consideration in here as he goes 2nd off a layoff for trainer Benny Perkins, Jr. There are a number of sprint races this 5YO could have contested at Monmouth but Perkins believes he’s graded stakes caliber. In his last try here at Belmont he wound up a fast-closing 3rd in the Vosburgh despite getting very little pace help. When he finished 2nd in the Decathlon last time out he was attempting to rally into a negative pace setup, which wrecked his chances. If the early clip gets hot in here look for him late at a very fair price. #1 D’FUNNYBONE looked like a horse whose best days were in the rearview mirror when he went postward in the Waldoboro back on May 11. He rebounded in a big way and wound up beaten by Trappe Shot by just a half-length. The post position draw did him quite a bit of harm as he’s never been successful breaking from the rail. He does, however, have an entrymate in #1A THIS ONES FOR PHIL, who exits a handy win at Monmouth Park. This son of Untuttable has been very good when on his game but needs to prove he’s graded stakes caliber outside of Florida.

Race 8, The G2 Woody Stephens

If you are of the opinion that #5 ARCH TRAVELER is better sprinting then he’s a main contender in this field. Disregarding his two route tries he is clearly a horse who has been consistent, shown versatility, and can be placed anywhere early. His local win in the Ziggy’s Boy came via a perfect rail-skimming trip and he finished very strongly to get the top prize. There’s a good bit of speed in this field and he can be on the pace or just off it. He is ready for his first big class test at a distance that he can be successful. #2 JUSTIN PHILLIP is returning from a brief layoff and cutting back in distance for trainer Steve Asmussen. He is 1-1 at Belmont having earned his maiden win over this oval and his effort in the Bay Shore two back at this distance was respectable. Jockey Ramon Dominguez had him buried on the rail in that event and it kept him from putting forth a big finish. If the pace heats up a bit then he can lay back and make one run as he attempts to rebound on the cutback in distance. #7 J J’S LUCKY TRAIN has been a very consistent horse this winter and spring and now cuts back to 7fs off a troubled effort in the Derby Trial. He was a sharp winner of the Bay Shore two starts ago and was unfazed by a negative pace setup in that affair. All signs point to this colt being the value play as he is 6-1 on the morning line.

Race 9, the GI Just A Game

The last two Belmont undercards have produced a number of longshot winners and #9 JUSTAROUNDMIDNIGHT getting the top prize would qualify as a huge upset. She will undergo the biggest test of her career today but has a few things going for her that could pay off. First and foremost, her two best races in America have both come off of freshening. After her last start trainer Patrick Biancone backed off and gave her some time away from the racetrack. He got her started again about a month ago and she’s posted four workouts during that period. In the Honey Fox last time out she was buried down on the inside much of the way and, despite being a European filly, she doesn’t like being inside. A cleaner trip from the outside in a race that has legitimate pace will make her a late threat at a huge price. #2 AVIATE broke through for a big win last time out in the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard. She benefited from a terrific pace setup and a perfect trip in that affair and drew off by almost two lengths in the end. She will try to follow the same path as Proviso, last year’s Just A Game winner who scored four consecutive GI wins between March and October of last year. This filly doesn’t need the race to come back to her at all as she has the versatility to stay close if jockey Kent Desormeaux so chooses. All signs point to her being the one to beat. #7 CHEROKEE QUEEN is returning from a brief layoff and trying this race for the 2nd year in a row. She had little go right in this race last Belmont day as she wound up trapped on the rail in deep stretch. Trainer Marty Wolfson has used the same plan this year with her that he did in 2010 as she entered off of a win in the Hollywood Wildcat. Though her last few graded stakes tests outside of Florida have not gone particularly well, she is a mare with ability who can capitalize on the expected slow pace.

Race 10, The GI Manhattan

Nothing went right for #7 PRINCE WILL I AM in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic last time out. Sent off as the 3-1 favorite he was well back of a wickedly slow pace through the opening six furlongs and wound up having to make his patented late run on the inside. For a long striding late runner having to rally up the inside is often an impossible feat. When you consider how the dynamics worked against him it becomes clear that he actually ran quite well in the Turf Classic. In this race he will receive a much different pace setup and figures to be towards the back of the pack again. As long as jockey John Velazquez can keep him out of trouble he will be moving well late. #4 GIO PONTI needs no introduction as he’s back for his 3rd campaign as an older horse. The winner of this race in 2009, he was beaten in 2010 as jockey Ramon Dominguez found all kinds of trouble along the way before ending up 2nd behind stablemate Winchester. The owners of Gio Ponti had an eye on the Dubai World Cup at the beginning of this year but they didn’t plan to take him to the desert without a prep race. Nonetheless, he ran in the DWC off a 120+ day layoff and finished a credible fifth. There’s no doubt that the best races Gio Ponti has run will bury this field but the list of horses who he has lost to in his illustrious career doesn’t exactly read as a who’s who of American turf stars (Debussy, Interpatation, Winchester). If #5 AL KHALI can find the late summer/early fall magic he had here and at Woodbine then it could be his turn to snag the top prize. He has had viable excuses in each of his three races this year as his seasonal debut came with Kent Desormeaux on board, a rider with whom he rarely had success. His 2nd start of the year was in an allowance race at Keeneland and he was stuck behind a glacial pace with an isolated speedster cruising along. In the Turf Classic at Churchill he ran into trouble and had to rally into a very slow pace once again. Whether Al Khali is GI caliber remains to be seen but he is good enough on his best day and will offer tremendous value.

Race 11, The GI Belmont Stakes

In an edition that’s truly worthy of being dubbed the “Test of the Champion” year-end divisional honors are seemingly up for grabs. #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM surprised when he took to the dirt and scored in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago. Sent off a tepid 2-1 favorite in the Preakness he was asked to duplicate his tremendous run under the Twin Spires and in my opinion he ran even better in Baltimore. Though many will tell you that he ran the same race as he did in the Derby, in the Preakness he was forced to rally from well off the pace, went wide on the turns and closed with a furious rally. He finished best among the closers and ultimately had to deal with a track that played increasingly kind to speed types as the day wore on. All along I have been of the opinion that the Belmont would be ideal for the impeccably bred chestnut as he can settle into an easy stride and move when ready. Look for him to be considerably closer to the pace today, much along the same lines as his early position in the Derby. #10 MUCHO MACHO MAN is in this race for a reason. Clearly a talented 3YO, his connections have opted to press on after what looks like a disappointing Preakness effort on paper. Looks can be deceiving as his running line doesn’t capture the trouble he got into in the opening quarter-mile nor the wide trip he endured on the far turn. The perfect remedy for a horse who’s coming off a bad trip is a rider change to Ramon Dominguez and that’s exactly what trainer Kathy Ritvo is doing this afternoon. Dominguez worked this late foal on Monday and seems to fit him perfectly according to his trainer. He has always been at his best when able to stalk in slower paced races and that’s the trip he’s likely to get this afternoon. #6 NEHRO was wisely withheld from the Preakness Stakes after finishing 2nd in the Kentucky Derby and now arrives at Belmont  Park a fresh horse. The Preakness would have been his fourth race in just 8 weeks, a task that’s very daunting for a young horse. He is bred beautifully to go 12 furlongs and hails from a barn that can train stamina into their runners as well as any in the country. In the last 10 runnings of the Belmont Stakes the winner has come straight from the Derby on four occasions, most recently Summer Bird two years ago. The slower pace will not hurt this versatile colt as he has successfully adapted to basically anything thrown at him in his career.

Dozen set to go for 143rd Belmont

June 8, 2011

The post position draw for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes concluded about 15 minutes ago.  Here is the field, complete with riders and morning line odds.

1.) Master of Hounds (Gomez) 10-1
2.) Stay Thirsty (Castellano) 20-1
3.) Ruler on Ice (Valdivia) 20-1
4.) Santiva (Bridgmohan) 15-1
5.) Brilliant Speed (Rosario) 15-1
6.) Nehro (Nakatani) 4-1
7.) Monzon (Lezcano) 30-1
8.) Prime Cut (Prado) 15-1
9.) Animal Kingdom (Velazquez) 2-1
10.) Mucho Macho Man (Dominguez) 10-1
11.) Isn’t He Perfect (Maragh) 30-1
12.) Shackleford (Castanon) 9/2

In a draw for a race at 12 furlongs there are rarely any winners and losers.  If anything, Shackleford’s outside draw will make the early intentions with him even clearer.  He will be sent to the lead and figures to try to take them as far as he can.  Animal Kingdom drew an ideal outside post as both he and his rider seem to be most comfortable outside of horses.  I’ll be back tomorrow with more thoughts, full card selections, and more Belmont preview.  Only 3 more days!

This Day in Belmont history: Real Quiet’s miss

June 6, 2011

June 6, 1998

The stage was set.  For the 2nd consecutive year a Bob Baffert trainee rolled into NY in search of racing’s elusive Triple Crown.  It had been 20 years since the world was treated to what was rapidly becoming the most difficult feat in sports.

Real Quiet had won the Kentucky Derby at 8-1 five weeks earlier, emerging from the shadow of his stablemate, Indian Charlie.  With an electrifying move on the far turn he swept to the front and held sway late.  The 2nd place finisher, Victory Gallop, was in high gear late and finished a fast-closing second.  Two weeks later in Baltimore jockey Kent Desormeaux made a similar move with Real Quiet to the one he did in the Run for the Roses.  He swept to command five wide and finished strongly through the lane, setting up another Triple Crown bid one year after his trainer missed with Silver Charm.

The 1998 Belmont featured four horses from the Preakness, with Classic Cat and Basic Trainee joining the aforementioned Real Quiet and Victory Gallop.  Thomas Jo was coming in off of consecutive victories in the Tesio and Sir Barton at Pimlico.  Parade Ground had just been 3rd in the Peter Pan behind Grand Slam.  Raffie’s Majesty was coming in off of a 4th place finish behind Yarrow Brae, who was also in the field.  Limit Out had just finished 3rd in the Withers and Chilito was looking to avenge consecutive defeats in the Kentucky and Jersey Derbies.

Real Quiet was bet down to 4/5 and broke from post position 7 after scratches of Hanuman Highway and Hot Wells.  Rather than me narrating the race itself, click here to watch the 1998 Belmont via

Tom Durkin’s race call, which might be the best among his hundreds of stirring descriptions, captured the feeling soon after Real Quiet and Victory Gallop hit the wire.  It was a frenzied final furlong that left you hopeful, doubtful, then awe struck.  We could wait years for a Belmont that will be as exciting as that running and I’ll patiently wait in hopes that it happens again.


I’ll be back tomorrow with This Day in Belmont History.  Only four days until the 143rd Belmont Stakes!

What does it take to win the Belmont?

June 1, 2011

The longest tenured of the Triple Crown races, known to racing fans as the “Test of the Champion” is only ten days away.  For the 143rd time the Belmont Stakes will be conducted, as 3YOs aspiring for Classic glory will go once around America’s largest dirt oval.  Using the last ten years as a bit of a guide, let’s take a look at what might be considered some Belmont “rules” and some Belmont myths.

MYTH #1- Closers have an edge in the Belmont because of the distance of the race.

Annually, there is a horse who makes a relatively meaningless late move in the Kentucky Derby and that horse is immediately stamped as a Belmont horse.  The list is endless.  In the last ten runnings of the Belmont the winner has been more than 3 lengths out with four furlongs to go exactly twice.  The correlation between those two winners is pretty clear, as they were Birdstone in 2004 and his son, Summer Bird, in 2009.  Each were about 5 lengths off the pace with a half-mile to run.  Otherwise, in the last ten runnings two horses were in the lead after one mile, three more were between a head and one and a half lengths out, and the other three were between two and 2 3/4 lengths out.

RULE #1 – Horses with speed excel in the Belmont

Now, I’m not necessarily talking about frontrunning types, but clearly horses who have shown the tactical speed to stay within range of the pacesetters have an inherent edge.  Dale Romans offered this statement to Gene Kershner after the Preakness in discussing Shackleford’s Belmont hopes: “You know, Woody Stephens said a long time ago, Belmont is a speed horse’s race. Everybody’s tired at the eighth pole, so the horse on the lead can usually keep going.”  In 2007, the filly Rags to Riches stumbled badly at the start and raced wide around the first turn of the Belmont.  On the backstretch, sensing the moderate pace, jockey John Velazquez moved her towards the leaders.  A confirmed stayer and late runner, Rags to Riches had the tactical speed to move to within a length and a half of the lead with a half-mile to run.  She, of course, took over outside the quarter pole and won one of the most stirring renditions of the Belmont in the last 25 years.

MYTH #2 – Newcomers need not apply

Trainer Todd Pletcher broke a winless skid in Triple Crown races when Rags to Riches won in 2007.  In the last 10 years trainers who had never won a Triple Crown race won the Belmont in 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2010.  That goes to show you that the Belmont being much more of a “specialist” type of race, it removes the necessity for a trainer to have had past Triple Crown success. 

RULE #2 – Be VERY careful with Preakness runners

You may find it surprising but the combined record of horses who were exiting the Preakness Stakes in the last ten years is a paltry 2-27.  In eight of the last ten runnings the favorite was a horse who had run in the Preakness and the only two that obliged were Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005.  The ROI on all Preakness starters trying the Belmont in the last ten years is $0.34.  In a year such as this where you have a couple of very high profile Belmont entrants exiting the Preakness this statistic will be put to the test.

RULE #3 – Local preps help

Seven of the last ten Belmont winners had started previously over the strip known as “Big Sandy.”  The exceptions were Summer Bird, Rags to Riches, and Sarava.  Each of those three horses were either trained by NY-based horsemen and/or had ample training time over the Belmont oval.  This is part of the reason why trainer Graham Motion is planning to send Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to NY for a final workout on Monday.

With the Belmont draw a week away the field remains somewhat fluid.  However, the prospects of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners being in the field is tremendous.  That would occur for the first time since 2005 if it happens.  Check back here over the next ten days for updates and more thoughts on the Belmont.