This weekend’s Horse Racing preview will obviously take us to Belmont Park in New York to see if we can witness a little history as I’ll Have Another will take on 11 other rivals in the 2012 Belmont Stakes in hopes to securing the Triple Crown, a feat that has not been executed since the great Affirmed in 1978.
I hope you will forgive me in the sense that there are several other important (and good) races being run at Belmont and around the country on Saturday afternoon, but I can’t help focusing on the Belmont Stakes.
Looking at them quickly, Race 7 at Belmont on Saturday is the $400,000 True North Handicap for sprinters at six furlongs. Smiling Tiger, Caixa Eletronica and Giant Ryan lead the way in that race, which should be very competitive.
Race 8 is the $500,000 Just A Game Stakes at one mile for three year old and up fillies amd mares on the turf. Winter Memories, who possesses nothing short of a devastating stretch run, is the 6/5 favorite. But she will have her work cut out for as both Tapitsfly and Hungry Island are entered against her.
Race 9 is the $400,000 Woody Stephen Stakes for three year olds at seven furlongs. The speedy Trinniberg will take on (among others) Hierro, Isn’t He Clever and Currency Swap.
Race 10 is the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Stakes for three year olds and up on the turf at one and one quarter miles. On paper, it looks like a wide open affair as 6 of the 8 entered are 8-1 or less. Brilliant Speed, Boisterous and Hudson Steele will probably take most of the betting action
Out at HollywoodPark, 2011 Champion Acclamation will be making his 2012 debut in the Charlie Whittingham Stakes at one and quarter miles on the turf.
Now….onto the Belmont Stakes. I will be doing a horse by horse breakdown of the race but before I do, I just wanted to point out a few “did you knows” about Belmont Stakes pasts.
Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, 11 horses came up short of a Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes. Most of the winners of these Triple Crown denying Belmonts had something in common..They had already run in a Triple Crown race .
The 11 since Affirmed who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but came up short in the Belmont, and the winners of those Belmonts, were:
1979- Spectacular Bid (Coastal)
1981- Pleasant Colony (Summing)
1987- Alysheba (Bet Twice)
1989- Sunday Silence (Easy Goer)
1997- Silver Charm (Touch Gold)
1998- Real Quiet (Victory Gallop)
2000- Charismatic (Lemon Drop Kid)
2002- War Emblem (Sarvara)
2003- Funny Cide (Empire Maker)
2004 Smarty Jones (Birdstone)
2008- Big Brown (Da’Tara)
Only four of these Triple Crown stoppers were newcomers to the Triple Crown. Coastal, Summing, Sarava, and Da’ Tara.
But the other seven had already run in if not one, two other Triple Crown races (Derby and Preakness). Bet Twice, Easy Goer, and Victory Gallop all finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and were the only ones in this group who started in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Empire Maker finished second in the Kentucky Derby. Touch Gold finished fourth in the Preakness, Birdstone finished eighth in the Derby, and Lemon Drop Kid was ninth in theDerby in each of their respective years.
Using the logic, statistics and odds of the above fact, (that seven of the 11 Triple Crown stoppers ran in at least the one other Triple Crown race) it would seem that the most likely suspects (if anyone) that could gun down I’ll Have Another in the Belmont would be Dullahan (third in the Kentucky Derby), Union Rags (seventh in the Derby), and Optimizer (11th in the Derby, sixth in the Preakness).
This in turn is exactly the way it lays out on paper for this correspondent. I mean with the exception of Optimizer, It appears I’ll Have Another’s biggest threats are Dullahan and Union Rags…just thought that was some interesting information.
Belmont Park – June 9, 2012
Race 11 – 6:40 PM
Belmont Stakes (Grade I)
For Three Year Olds.
One And One Half Miles.
|1||1||Street Life||3/C||L||J Lezcano||126||C C Brown||
|2||2||Unstoppable U||3/C||L||J Alvarado||126||K G McPeek||
|3||3||Union Rags||3/C||L||J R Velazquez||126||M R Matz||
|4||4||Atigun||3/C||L||J R Leparoux||126||K G McPeek||
|5||5||Dullahan||3/C||L||J Castellano||126||D L Romans||
|6||6||Ravelo’s Boy||3/C||A O Solis||126||M J Azpurua||
|7||7||Five Sixteen||3/G||L||R Napravnik||126||D A Schettino||
|8||8||Guyana Star Dweej||3/C||L||K JDesormeaux||126||D Shivmangal||
|9||9||Paynter||3/C||L||M E Smith||126||B Baffert||
|10||10||Optimizer||3/C||L||C S Nakatani||126||D W Lukas||
|11||11||I’ll Have Another||3/C||L||M Gutierrez||126||D F O’Neill||
|12||12||My Adonis||3/C||L||R A Dominguez||126||K J Breen||
Analysis (By Post Position Order)
PP#1- Street Life: was last (11 lengths off the pace) in his last race (The Peter Pan Stakes) down the backstretch over this very racetrack before uncorking a huge, five wide run on the turn for home to get beat less than two lengths for all the money to Mark Valeski.
Even with just five lifetime starts, I won’t be the least bit surprised if this $130,000 Keeneland yearling by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense runs a big race….. Longshot possibility here for sure.
PP#2- Unstoppable U- grey colt by Exchange Rate is 2 for 2 as he’s won a maiden race and a high priced optional claimer race by a combined almost 10 lengths. On paper, it appears he will be battling on the front end (along with Paytner) but huge steps up in company and distance makes it hard to like him….pass.
PP#3-Union Rags- it’s no secret I like this horse….a lot… but he has been disappointing so far this year. After a beautiful Fountain of Youth win back in February, he was a beaten favorite in the Florida Derby and finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby. That being said, he had nothing short of horrendous rides (and trips) in both races.
He now switches to big money rider Johnny V for this plus he’s been working like a monster of late.
Last Sunday at Fair Hill in Maryland (his home base) Union Rags went in his first eighth in 11.4, the quarter in 23.2, three furlongs in 34.3, and five furlongs in an eye popping :58.2. He got his final quarter in 23.4 seconds while galloping out six furlongs in 1:12.1.
“Very nice, very impressive,” Velazquez said. “At the eighth pole I just gave him his head and he was gone. I didn’t have to ask him for anything. He did it by himself.”
Big, good looking, long strided colt is rested (he skipped the Preakness) and certainly appears to be sitting on a big race.
“I think the horse with the best chance to beat I’ll Have Another would be Union Rags,” NBC analyst Randy Moss said. “(He’s) a horse that’s definitely been an underachiever in his last couple of races, but the way he trains, the way he looks, he still obviously has the feeling that there’s a lot more there that we just simply haven’t seen yet this year from Union Rags”….agreed Mr. Moss, couldn’t have said it any better myself.
PP#4- Atigun- won a high priced optional claimer at Churchill Downs in his last but was blown out (lost by over 20 lengths combined) against top three year olds Bodemeister and Secret Circle in his two prior races.
His best chances would be over a muddy track and even then I still wouldn’t be confident. That being said, it’s supposed to be sunny and beautiful in New York on Saturday afternoon, so I have to draw a line thru him…..next.
PP#5) Dullahan- absolutely grand looking chestnut colt is another who is well rested (skipped the Preakness too) and ready and should be sitting on a big race after his mammoth third place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
In the Derby, he broke bad, was bumped on the backstretch and was fanned seven wide on the turn for home yet still came flying down the stretch to get beat less than two lengths.
Want more? New jockey Javier Castellano was walking Dullahan back to trainer Dale Romans’s barn after having just worked the son of Even The Score (Unbridled’s Song) a half-mile Sunday morning at Belmont Park when he stopped to ask a track worker how fast he went.
“The man said ‘45’ and I said no way, that can’t be right, it’s too fast,” said Castellano, who had never been on Dullahan.
Dullahan’s complete work was a :22.1 opening quarter, a half-mile in 45.4 seconds, and galloped out five furlongs in 58.4 The Daily Racing Form called the work “easily the most impressive of five prospective Belmont starters to work” at Belmont Park.
“I couldn’t believe he worked that fast,” said Castellano. “If you’d asked me I’d have said we went in 48 and galloped out in a minute. He went so easily. I was like a statue on him. I sat still to the top of the stretch, he switched leads right at the quarter pole, and was loaded out from there. If I never saw his past performances, I would have thought he was a sprinter who would be one-two early in the race.”
“He reminded me of Ghostzapper the way he worked,” Castellano added. “You’d watch him work five furlongs, it would look like he went in1:02 and he’d go in a minute. Sometimes the numbers will fool you and I know the track was fast and I was the first to work after the break this morning. But even still, he was very impressive. He’s feeling good, he wants to run, he’s very sharp and moving forward. I’m very excited.”
The only knock on him is that he’s only won two races (out of nine) in his career and they both came over the Keeneland synthetic surface…..hogwash….the way he ran at the Derby proved to me he can handle the conventional dirt surface.
PP#6-Ravelo’s Boy- hasn’t won since December, has been habitually beaten by inferior horses and is just 2 for 13 lifetime. Perhaps his connections see something in him in his morning workouts to make them think he has a shot at winning this race. That’s the only thing I can come up with, because other than that…..he’s any easy throw out.
PP#7- Five Sixteen- this guys dad (Invasor) was a world beater (literally). But, other than a few good recent workouts, he really doesn’t look all that impressive. He shows one win in six career starts (with five of them against maidens)…..next.
PP#8- Guyana Star Dweej- was beaten over six length by Unstoppable U and his overall 1 for 9 lifetime record is very uninspiring.
PP#9- Paynter- this speedster recorded a big win on the Preakness undercard as he wired an allowance field by over five lengths and scored a nice (106) speed figure in the process.
There are a couple of problems as far as I can see. One, he only shows four lifetime starts and winning the 1 ½ miles Belmont Stakes off just four starts is asking a lot and two, it looks as though his best chance would be to get out of the gate and assume command early, set a slow pace and to try to “steal” the race. That could prove difficult with the likes of Unstoppable U also entered. Overall, he has a shot to get a piece of the purse money.
PP#10- Optimizer- has been beaten a total of 27 ½ lengths behind I’ll Have Another combined in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Before that, he was beaten 20+ lengths behind Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby.
Earlier this week, trainer D. Wayne Lukas was struck in the head when crack sprinter Hamazing Destiny reared up and kicked him. No offense but I was hoping that would knock some sense into Mr. Lukas but evidently not. I’m sorry but this horse just doesn’t belong in this race or with the upper echelon three year olds.
PP#11- I’ll Have Another- obviously need no introduction as he is, far and away, the three year old male division leader after four ultra impressive races this year.
He won the Robert B. Lewis at 43-1 in February , then took some time off and came back to win the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness with rising speed figures in his last three. (91, 101 and 109)
On the good side, he’s been taking long daily gallops almost everyday and looks the picture of health. He has “Good stride and good energy,” still according to trainer Doug O’Neill, who has done a flat out amazing job with this horse.
You have to visually like the acceleration he showed in the SA Derby, Kentucky Derby and especially the Preakness. He possesses a quick burst of speed and has the ability to sustain it…..this is rare in a thoroughbred.
On the bad side, I’ve been telling whoever will listen to me (and that’s not a lot of people) that I think the Preakness took a little more out of him than everyone, including trainer Doug O’Neill, thinks it did.
I’ve watched the replay several time now and there is no doubt in my mind this horse had to run hard (or harder than you think) from the top of the stretch to the wire in order to outrun the fleet Bodemeister.
Then, of course, the other thing is the whole Triple Crown Gods thing. Will they allow him to win it? As I stated at the end of my “Triple Crown Gods….They are Real and They are Ruthless” piece, this is something we can’t handicap or account for.
PP#12- My Adonis- his form seems to be going in the wrong direction since his big stretch run in the Holy Bull Stakes back in January. (In that race, he came from 20 lengths behind to get within five at the end). Plus, in his last race he was beaten by far more inferior horses than these. He does show 8 of 10 lifetime starts on the board though.
1) Dullahan- new rider compares him to the freaky fast Ghostzapper
2) Union Rags-big horse, with a big stride and big works, now or never
3) I’ll Have Another-obviously overflowing with class, but how much did the Preakness take out of him?
4) Street Life- late runner has an outside shot
5) Paynter- speedster may he hanging around late in this one.