Belmont Stakes Preview

It’s the longest race of the Triple Crown, the test of a champion.  At a mile and a half, the Belmont Stakes can be the most tense two minutes and 30 seconds of the year for horse racing fans, or it can be just another race.

If a Triple Crown bid is alive, it’s the most exciting, emotional day in racing.  If not, not a whole lot of people pay attention.

I shouldn’t say that.  It’s arguably Belmont Park’s biggest day of their meet (not only do they have the Belmont that day, but there are five other Grade 1 races on the card), and it’s still a prestigious race.  Plenty of eyes will be on Belmont Park, but not near as many as if there was a Triple Crown bid alive.

The horses leave the starting gate at the 2009 Belmont. (Coglianese Photos/David Alcosser)

It’s the casual sports fan that gets left out.  With a Triple Crown on the line, so many people who don’t normally watch horse racing tune in.  Sure, the sport isn’t what it used to be, but people would still watch, much like they did when Big Brown failed miserably in the 2008 Belmont.

It’ll be the first time since 2006 that both the Derby and Preakness winners will skip the Belmont.  Of course that was the year that Barbaro won the Derby in impressive fashion, then broke down in the Preakness.

The race is so much different from other races for a number of factors.

  1. It’s a mile and a half.  A quarter mile longer than the Derby.  There’s only a handful of races every year that are this long.
  2. The fractions will be drastically slower.  With the incredibly long distance, horses won’t tire themselves out early.  The first two Triple Crown races saw 1/2 mile splits of :47 seconds and change.  While that seems fast for that distance, it’s pretty much on-par with the last few years.
  3. Breeding comes into play much more than in other races.  Some horses are truly bred to go the 1.5 miles.  For example, Summer Bird, last year’s winner, is the son of Birdstone, who won the race in 2004.  Birdstone also sired Mine That Bird, who won the Derby last year and finished third in the Belmont.
  4. Belmont Park is so unique from other tracks.  At most every track, a mile and a half race would require them to start somewhere on the backstretch.  At Belmont, one lap of the track is a mile and a half.  That means the turns are much more gradual, and jockeys’ normal bearings are thrown off.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  Read this blog by Garrett Gomez, one of the leading American jockeys.  Great stuff.

With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the field for the 2010 Belmont Stakes

1. Dave in Dixie – 20/1 – Calvin Borel

“Dixie” last raced on April 3rd in the Gr. 3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, and finished 5th by 16 lengths.  The son of Dixie Union, he broke his maiden last year at Del Mar, then followed that up with a second in the Gr. 1 Norfolk at the Oak Tree meet.  He was raced twice in 2010 before the Illinois Derby, and each time his performance has gotten worse.  Having never gone further than 1 1/8 miles, distance will be a question.  Perhaps the two-month break leading up to the Belmont has him in shape.  He’s been working well, but any sort of success he’s had has come on synthetic surfaces.

2. Spangled Star – 30/1 – Garrett Gomez

Spangled Star didn’t break his maiden until January of this year.  He’s only run in one stakes race, the Gr. 3 Withers, in which he finished third.  He does have some good bloodlines with Distorted Humor, Mr. Prospector, and Kris S.   His owner, Larry Romans, isn’t planning on being in the Winner’s Circle after the race, but with Garrett Gomez aboard, you always have a shot.

3. Uptowncharlybrown – 10/1 – Rajiv Maragh

One of the serious contenders for the Belmont, “Charly” comes off of two consecutive races in which he faced traffic trouble.  In the Tampa Bay Derby, he was blocked on the rail and couldn’t get through.  In the Gr. 2 Lexington, he had to swing way wide and nearly caught a loose and lonely leader.  In the latter, he looked like he had plenty of run left in the tank.  His running style may compromise him though.  He dropped really far back early on in the Lexington, and if he gets caught way behind on Saturday, he’ll probably stay there.  If he’s able to use some tactical speed, though, he could find himself in the winner’s circle.

4. Make Music For Me – 10/1 – Joel Rosario

One of this year’s Derby contenders that skipped the Preakness, “Music” went from last to fourth at Churchill.  He actually broke his maiden in an ungraded stakes race, which is pretty uncommon.  He has some distance stored away in his bloodlines, but we won’t know how he’ll actually handle the distance until Saturday.  He, too, could be hampered by a slow pace.

5. Fly Down – 9/2 – John Velazquez

One of my buddies has been all over this horse for awhile now.  His last race was a week after the Derby; the Dwyer at Belmont, which he won (a lightbulb goes off over my head).  That race was as visually impressive as any.  He had to swing wide around the turn while coming from last place to get the win.  He drew well clear and was geared down at the wire.  His sire, Mineshaft, was sired by Belmont winner AP Indy (his bloodlines also include Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew).  He shouldn’t have a problem getting the distance.

6. Ice Box – 3/1 – Jose Lezcano

Ice Box, who finished second on the First Saturday in May, could be the most beatable favorite in recent memory.  Or he could dominate this race with ease.  It’s all up to what Nick Zito decides to tell Jose Lezcano to do come race time.  Ice Box has shown the kind of versatility that owners and trainers and jockeys dream of.  He’s proven he’s able to hang close to the pace, as well as come from out of the clouds.  Like I said, he finished second in the Derby, and that was with lots of traffic in the stretch.  Had he gotten clear earlier, it would have been Ice Box with the roses around his neck, not Super Saver.  I think his versatility will help, but it will be up to Lezcano to make the critical decision on the fly.

7. Drosselmeyer – 12/1 – Mike Smith

Another Distorted Humor colt, Drosselmeyer comes out of the same race as Fly Down, the Dwyer.  He was the beaten favorite that day, finishing well behind Fly Down that day.  He broke slow and had a little traffic trouble, so maybe that wasn’t his best effort.  He hasn’t won a race since he won an allowance race back in January.  His race at Belmont should help, but can it put him over the top?

8. Game On Dude – 10/1 – Martin Garcia

Not raced as a two-year-old, Game On Dude broke his maiden in February and then immediately stepped up to the big leagues and got crushed by Ice Box in the Florida Derby.  He then struggled in the Derby Trial at Churchill before bouncing back to impressively win the Gr. 3 Lone Star Derby as the favorite.  He had plenty left in the tank that day after running 1 1/16 miles, but will he have enough for the Belmont?  His immediate bloodlines don’t necessarily suggest it, but it could happen.  Rising star Martin Garcia has already won one of the Triple Crown races, so why can’t he win another?

9. Stately Victor – 15/1 – Alan Garcia

Another Derby contender, Stately Victor’s last win came in the Bluegrass at Keeneland.  That was a visually impressive race as he made his move around the turn to beat several Belmont Contenders.  He also appeared to have plenty left after the 9 furlongs.  He was a big longshot that day, as he hadn’t won a race since breaking his maiden in 2009.  There’s also a distinct possibility that he’ll have his best success on synthetic surfaces like Keeneland’s, though his maiden-breaker came at Saratoga, a dirt track.  His pedigree certainly won’t stop him from getting the 1.5 miles, but it’ll be up to him and Alan Garcia.

10. Stay Put – 20/1 – Jamie Theriot

After having minor success in two Gr. 2 races, the son of Broken Vow got back to the winner’s circle by taking an allowance race at Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard.  His two Gr. 2’s before that were pretty much the exact same race.  He’s got some stamina in his pedigree, and he was really wide in both graded stakes races, so maybe he has excuses for those races.

11. First Dude – 7/2 – Ramon Dominguez

First Dude made a big splash with his Preakness effort, finishing a front-running second to Lookin at Lucky, who won’t run in the Belmont.  He was a big longshot that day, but he made a ton of sense in the race.  He hung on very gamely after being the controlling speed and setting a pretty fast pace.  He broke from the 11-hole, but he had the whole homestretch to maneuver over to the rail and get clear at Pimlico.  At Belmont, it’s a shorter run into the turn, but he should be clear to get to the rail quickly.  He hasn’t won a race since his maiden-breaker, but as controlling speed, he could run away with this race, much like Da’ Tara did in 2008 (with fairly fast fractions of his own).

12. Interactif – 12/1 – Javier Castellano

Interactif was racing on turf earlier this year be fore having a couple of races on synthetics.  He hadn’t been out of the trifecta before this year’s Bluegrass.  I think the biggest factor with Interactif is he’ll be pressing First Dude on the pace.  If he can press First Dude out of his comfort zone, that will open up the race for someone like Ice Box.

So we’ll see what happens on Saturday.  It won’t be the same as if there’s a Triple Crown on the line, but it will still be an exciting race and day at Belmont Park.

Here’s my picks for the Belmont:

Win: Fly Down

Place: First Dude

Show: Ice Box

Fourth: Stately Victor

Chalky, I know, but it’s the kind of race where you have to go with horses that are proven at shorter distances, until we know what we’ll get from others.


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