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Where Do We Go From Here, What's Next?

Posted – June 7, 2013

Many of you know I am a huge horse racing fan. With the lack of New York sports in June, I tend to get a bit more involved in this race than the others. Perhaps you’ll see me on the paddock this weekend. With all the best 3 year olds in the country racing at Belmont, the only thing I know for sure is that there will be no triple crown winner. That’s too bad, because the sport really needs a superstar and a triple crown winner almost guarantees that. There are lots of obstacles that keep this from happening, but I continuously focus on two of them.
The first is that “even 10k claimers don’t run this often at these distances.” Being involved in a horse racing family, I can tell you that I can count on one hand over 25 years the number of times we had a horse run twice within a 3 week period. You just don’t do it, it isn’t right. Yet, the triple crown continues to leave the races spread at 2 and 3 weeks at distances over 10 furlongs. I’m just not sure why they do it? Almost impossible for a horse to stay that healthy running such intense races and distances, and be able to compete at the highest level 3 times in 5 weeks. Keep in mind also that these are three year olds; horses that really have only been running for less than 12 months competitively.
The second, and my favorite reason that is rarely discussed, is the jockey ride at Belmont. Most tracks you “come off the far turn and head for home” and have a short stretch drive to the finish line. The jockeys start urging their horse, whip them on the turn, and can make it down the stretch to the finish at most tracks. Not so much at Belmont. Belmont is a huge oval…there are races over 9 furlongs that are one turn races, that means the straightaways are very long. If you go back to all of the recent triplecrown attempts at Belmont, you can see that the horse trying for the triple crown is urged to get into their stretch drive on the far turn. Check out both of Calvin Borel’s efforts. The jockeys are often not entirely familiar with Belmont’s track, gets caught up in the exciting of the far turn, and moves too early, only to be passed late down the stretch by others who waited to make their move. Calvin should have won. I hope that the newer jockeys to Belmont pay attention and ride some earlier races on the card and pay attention to the stretch drive so we get some honest races out of some great horses.
However, it is always safe to go with the hometown jockeys at the Belmont, so here is my review of the field and my picks:
1. Frac Daddy (30-1) – This surprise, last-minute addition to the field was never in contention in the Derby, in which he raced towards the back of the pack and finished 16th. Not even close. Trainer Ken McPeek’s strategy is to be up near the lead, which may not be a bad idea if you consider that his best efforts have been from stalking the pace. This horse could cause issues for Gary Stevens chance to steal this race on a slow lead with Oxbow. Could be some weird jockeying for position at the front if Gary tries to stalk.
2. Freedom Child (8-1) – A gate mishap in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial left this frontrunner far behind the field, costing him all chance at the race and at making it to the Kentucky Derby, but he went on to win the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park, going wire to wire in the slop on an uncontested lead. Between the Peter Pan and his positive impression in the mornings, he’s turned into a wise-guy horse, but this “need to lead” type is facing a tougher, more accomplished field here. If he can rate, we already know he likes the track, he could have a shot. Also the weather might call for some rain…
3. Overanalyze (12-1) – Had a breakthrough race in the Arkansas Derby but ran mid-pack for the entire Kentucky Derby. He skipped the Preakness and has been training well, but he’s not exactly bred for the distance. Was a tough call to say he didn’t like the track at Churchill but even if you throw that race out, can he get the distance? Either way, big advantage with a great local jockey know knows this track inside and out.
4. Giant Finish (30-1) – Given his late addition to the Kentucky Derby, he didn’t perform all that badly given his lack of preparation. His pedigree doesn’t scream “future Belmont champion”, but he did pass tired horses for a 10th place Kentucky Derby finish. He has Edgar Prado, which gives him a leg up in not having to worry about starting his sprint too soon. Finished well at the Derby considering he wasn’t truly prepared. I’m going to keep an eye on him in the paddock.
5. Orb (3-1) – Was the Kentucky Derby winner’s non-effort in the Preakness a fluke, a product of his position or some combination? We’ll never know. By all accounts, he came out of the Preakness in good order and is certainly bred for the distance. He’s also got a more suitable post position this time around. I’m always hesitant about the horse at the Derby that becomes the “superstar favorite that can’t lose” the week before the race. This is a good horse, a very good horse, but not one of the better horses to make it to the Belmont in recent years. However, this is a home track race for Orb, and I think that means a lot here.
6. Incognito (20-1) – On racing experience alone this son of 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy looks like an easy toss, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is taking a shot based on his incredibly promising pedigree for the distance. I think he is nuts and he should be dropped well down.
7. Oxbow (5-1) – The Preakness winner finally put it all together on the big stage by pulling a front-running upset. Some think he “got away with an easy pace,” but he put in a solid effort and was the best that day. And Gary Stevens rode a masterful race. He’s unlikely to be alone on the lead here, but he may not need to lead to perform well. Gary Stevens knows the course, and he has the rare ability to get a speed ball to rate if need be. I like Gary, but I’m not sure he is going to get a clean trip here; too much to think about.
8. Midnight Taboo (30-1) – While his pedigree isn’t as rock solid as fellow newcomer Incognito’s, it’s not a total toss out either. And in his last race, he had to alter course several times after being stuck behind horses but still came on to finish third. A very interesting long shot, I’d have to make a decision to throw him in my exotics after seeing how he looks in the paddock.
9. Revolutionary (9-2) – He’s reunited with jockey Javier Castellano after the Calvin Borel-patented inside-trip in the Derby did not produce the desired results. He actually had a slightly faster final quarter than second-place finisher Golden Soul and could improve his chances by sitting closer to the pace. Javier clearly knows Belmont well, and I believe can get the most out of this horse at the Belmont, not get stuck on the rail, and let this horse run free down the stretch.
10. Will Take Charge (20-1) – After encountering traffic trouble in the Derby, he didn’t take to the surface in the Preakness. He’s reunited with jockey Jon Court, who was aboard for the upset over stablemate Oxbow in the Rebel Stakes. Jon Court?
11. Vyjack (20-1) – He skipped the Preakness after a lackluster performance in the Derby, but the Preakness was probably a better distance for him. He looks like a miler down the road, can’t see him getting the distance.
12. Palace Malice (15-1) – He ran the Kentucky Derby like a sprinter while wearing blinkers for the first time, but he gets another shot to prove he’s Classic material, sans blinkers. Of the five of Pletcher starters, he’s gotten the most praise in the morning. If he can sit off the pace and stay out of traffic trouble, he could have a shot.
13. Unlimited Budget (8-1) – Trainer Todd Pletcher won the 2007 Belmont Stakes with a filly named Rags to Riches and he tries again, this time adding well-regarded female jockey Rosie Napravnik. The filly was game in her first career defeat last out in the Kentucky Oaks, but her pedigree is unfortunately questionable for the 12 furlongs, and I don’t think she can go this far. I am a fan of Rosie though.
14. Golden Soul (10-1) – The second-place Kentucky Derby longshot skipped the Preakness to freshen up for the Belmont. While he did turn in a breakthrough performance in Louisville, it should be noted that he had a dream inside trip, compared to Orb who raced wide throughout. Robby Alvarado also knows to not make the early move mistake at Belmont, which means he won’t be trapped on the turn and should have plenty of room coming down the stretch.

I’m going with Revolutionary to win, with Golden Soul second, and Orb third. Giant Finish, Overanalyze, and Freedom Child will be used in my exotics. Good luck!

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