Today's 11th race at Belmont Park will be the 143rd running of The Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown. Often referred to as “The Test of Champions”, the race will be run once around the Belmont Park main track. That's a distance of twelve furlongs (1 1/2 miles), a distance none of these three year olds have ever run in a single race, and a distance that most (if not all) of today's entrants will never run again. Trying to determine which contender(s) will have the breeding and the conditioning to not give out before reaching the wire is a major factor in handicapping the race. An additional “X Factor” this year is the weather: the most recent forecast that I have seen is predicting possible thunderstorms for Elmont, NY, with a 50% chance of precipitation this afternoon. Should the skies open up, the rains could not only muddy the course but also quite possibly the race’s outcome, as more than half the field has never raced on a wet dirt track. Since that group includes nearly all the top contenders, the rains (if they should come) could prove to be the key player in today’s race.
Animal Kingdom (Morning Line 2-1) winner of the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness, will in all likelihood be the post time favorite, and deservedly so. Recent history hasn't been kind to Derby winners in this race; since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, only two Kentucky Derby winners have gone on to win the Belmont (TRIVIA QUESTION: Who were those two horses? Answer below). Animal Kingdom has never been out of the Exacta in his six career races; his form in the first two legs of the Triple Crown was impressive; and his Tomlinson rating of 365 for this distance suggests that he won’t wilt before the wire. Animal Kingdom's bullet work over the Belmont track on Monday suggests that he still has some gas left in the tank, and that he should have no problem with the Belmont surface (presuming it stays relatively dry). This is definitely the horse to beat in today's race.
Shackleford (ML 9-2) winner of the Preakness three weeks ago, is a horse that knows what it takes to beat Animal Kingdom. Shackleford, unable to hold onto the lead in the Kentucky Derby despite having it all his own way in the early going, found himself in a speed duel with Flashpoint in the Preakness. Shackleford put that one away at the top of the stretch, would not be passed by Astrology, and managed to reach the wire a half a length ahead of the charging Animal Kingdom. Truly a gutsy performance by the three year old colt; but can he do it again? The probability is strong that Shackleford could find himself alone on the lead in the early going, which should be a huge plus in his favor. But consider the outcomes of the Derby and Preakness, and consider also that Shackleford has never wired a field in his career (that is, led at all points in a race, from start to finish; indeed, none of today's entrants have ever won a race in this fashion, which is most unusual for this class of thoroughbreds) and one has to wonder if this horse needs competition in the early going in order to put forward his best effort. Shackleford’s Tomlinson rating for today’s distance suggests that he may have stamina issues trying to cover this length of real estate, but his Tomlinson rating of 419 for wet surfaces indicates that he has it in his pedigree to romp over an off track, should it come to that.
Mucho Macho Man (ML 10-1) will have a new rider for today's race. More importantly, he'll have a new blacksmith, as shoe issues have hampered his recent efforts. Mucho Macho Man seems to do his best running close to lead or around mid-pack; if he's not pressing the pace early, it most likely means that today is not his day. His Tomlinson Rating for the distance is a very weak 188; but he may have the breeding to favor the off track, as indicated by his Tomlinson of 415 for wet surfaces, as well as his bullet work over this track in sloppy condition back on May 17 (though at an admittedly unimpressive 49.1 for four furlongs).
Ruler on Ice (ML 20-1) could find himself near the lead in the early going, especially since he'll be wearing blinkers for the first time in his career. Ruler on Ice was second in the Federico Tesio Stakes to Concealed Identity, who finished 10th in the Preakness, more than a dozen lengths behind the winner Shackleford. Ruler on Ice was third in the Sunland Derby behind the winner Twice the Appeal, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, more than nine lengths behind the winner Animal Kingdom. On the other hand, Ruler on Ice is one of only two horses in this race to have a victory in his career over a wet dirt track, should rain become a factor in today's race.
Monzon (ML 30-1) is the other horse in today's race whose resume includes a victory on an off track. Monzon is also one of just three horses in today's race with more than two lifetime wins (Shackleford and Animal Kingdom being the other two). Monzon has run in three Graded Stakes races in his career, and has finished out of the money in all three.
Brilliant Speed (ML 15-1) is perhaps this field's most mis-named horse, being as he is devoid of early speed. However, that's not to say that he is devoid of class; Brilliant Speed is the only horse in this field besides Animal Kingdom and Shackleford with a victory in a Grade 1 race, as he came from the clouds to beat Twinspired by a nose at the wire in this year's Blue Grass Stakes. But that race was run on synthetic Polytrack; when it comes to real dirt, Brilliant Speed is oh-for-three, finishing out of the money in each of his attempts on a dirt surface.
Nehro (ML 4-1) broke his maiden in his third attempt. In his three races since then, Nehro has been second in the Louisiana Derby (by a neck), second in the Arkansas Derby (by a neck) and second in the Kentucky Derby. So is Nehro a perennial bridesmaid, or was he just unlucky? There will be a lot of money put on Nehro's nose today by folks who believe the latter. By the way, take note of the Jockey / Trainer synergy at work with this entry: Jockey Nakatani has an 18% Winning Percentage in 243 mounts this year; Trainer Steve Asmussen has a 19% Winning Percentage with the 716 horses he's sent to post this year; but the last 91 times Nakatani and Asmussen have teamed up, they've clicked at a 30% Win Rate. Also note Nehro's Wet Tomlinson Rating of 375; he should not be disadvantaged if the rains should come.
Master of Hounds (ML 10-1) like Nehro, should draw quite a bit of Win money, despite (like Nehro) still being N1X eligible. It's a long way to Tipperary, and Master of Hounds should know, as that's where he broke his maiden eleven months ago; since then, he's been racking up the frequent flyer miles. He's yet to finish in the money while racing in the US, and in today's race he's just one of many closers; but he is drawing a lot of early action (as can be seen by the Will Pays in the Brooklyn / Belmont Double, where he's second only to Animal Kingdom) so he has no lack of supporters.
Stay Thirsty (ML 20-1) certainly has the breeding for this race: his Damsire, Storm Bird, was also the Damsire to Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Belmont; while his Grandsire, A.P. Indy, won this race in 1992, and also sired 2007 Belmont Stakes winner Rags to Riches (who, incidentally, was trained by Todd Pletcher, Stay Thirsty's trainer). While Stay Thirsty's two career wins were in New York, they were not at this track, coming as they did at Saratoga and Aqueduct.
Santiva (ML 15-1) winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and second in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes (behind Mucho Macho Man) has perhaps the best chance of today's longshots to take a big step forward. His last three races on dirt show a steadily increasing Beyer pattern (78 – 91 – 95) interrupted only by his performance on the Keeneland Polytrack, a surface that he obviously did not like. If I were to try to beat Animal Kingdom with a longshot, Santiva is the horse that I would land on.
Prime Cut (ML 15-1) has finished in the money in every race of his career but one, his debut when he broke in the air. Prime Cut was third in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes last month, so he’s familiar with the Belmont surface. He could surprise today, though I suspect that he's better suited to distances under nine furlongs.
Isn't He Perfect (ML 30-1) No.
So that's the field for today’s running of the Belmont Stakes. Animal Kingdom is definitely the horse to beat; Nehro should be in the money; Mucho Macho Man remains an enigma; Santiva has the best chance of pulling the big upset; and rain could change the whole picture. At least, in my humble opinion.
Answer to Trivia Question: Since 1978, the only two Kentucky Derby winners to win the Belmont Stakes have been Swale (1984) and Thunder Gulch (1995).
Considering the weakness of chalk in the 3 year old field this year, and in the Belmont in the last 15 years, took a flyer on Stay Thirsty, exacta boxed it with Ruler on Ice and Mucho Macho Man, tri boxed the 3 and then threw Animal Kingdom in the mix for a .10 boxed super.
Originally posted by Downtown Bookieredsoxnation is buying tonight (the Ruler on Ice / Stay Thirsty Exacta paid $928.00 for a deuce).
So it was 464 for a buck, not a bad investment. Probably close to the payoff if it had reversed and I could have made the 150 to win on Stay Thirsty with a lower exacta payoff. Chalk does not hold over a mile and a half.
This is looking like the best Saturday for Boxing in a while. You've got two fights - James Toney vs. Sam Peter on Showtime, and then Clinton Woods vs. Glen Johnson for the IBF Light Heavyweight belt in England. I'd watch Johnson/Woods III if I could....