Archive for the ‘Belmont 2011’ Category

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 www.belmontstakes.com

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!