Handicapping this Belmont Stakes comes down to an opportunity to wager on a relatively evenly-matched full field that will likely produce a fairly good priced winner.
The favorite, Ice Box, is a come from behind runner who will need a strong pace up front or an altered running style to insure victory. The 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes will most likely not be run at a fast pace early and Calvin Borel and Mine That Bird showed what an altered running style can do to a promising Belmont Stakes favorite. They finished a honorable third.
The likely pace-setter, First Dude, is coming off of the biggest race of his career and is a very likely candidate to “bounce” and not replicate his career best race.
So I am left with my heart, my trip handicapping roots, my adversity to favorites and look for Uptowncharlybrown to be romping home in the Test of Champions.
Tomorrow, I’ll refine my wagering strategies, but for now, here’s my impressions and comments on each of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes runners.
#1 Dave In Dixie (Calvin Borel, 20-1) – There were high hopes for this colt in February when he ran a troubled but strong second to Caracortado in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. But never got any better before the Derby and even regressed to eventually finish fifth beaten 16 lengths in the Illinois Derby in his last race. Now two months later, he’s asked to go 1-1/2 miles in the grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Gets jockey Calvin Borel and the rail, but that’s not enough for me to give him much support.
#2 Spangled Star (Garrett Gomez, 30-1) – He has improved with each start this year through a sporadic racing schedule and a change in trainers, but has yet to win against anything other than maidens. Even with continued improvement, he’ll have to make his biggest jump yet to win the Belmont.
#3 Uptowncharlybrown (Rajiv Maragh, 10-1) - Tragedy hit Uptowncharlybrown on the way to the Kentucky Derby when trainer Alan Seewald died unexpectedly April 12 at the age of 62. Assistant trainer Linda White saddled him for a good third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes April 17 behind Exhi, who came back recently to win the Marine Stakes at Woodbine. Now residing in the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the Belmont in 2006 with Jazil. Uptowncharlybrown had notable starting and traffic problems in the Lexington and Tampa Bay Derby which is less likely on the expansive “Big Sandy” main track at Belmont Park.
#4 Make Music For Me (Joel Rosario, 10-1) – Overcame a nightmarish trip in the Kentucky Derby to run fourth at 30-1 odds and will likely get plenty of support in the Belmont. His only win came in a minor turf stake at Santa Anita in March and will need to show that his Derby performance was for real. Trainer Barba Alexis tries to become the first woman to win a Triple Crown race and jockey Joel Rosario rides at Belmont Park for the first time, a big challenge for any Belmont rider. Certainly a horse to consider in a trifecta wager but not enough to be among my top choices.
#5 Fly Down (John Velazquez, 9-2) – This horse has all the home field advantages with his most recent win coming in the 1-1/8 mile Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on May 8. He also has the team of perennial New York leaders jockey John Velazquez and trainer Nick Zito, who have three Belmont Stakes wins among them. Distance doesn’t appear to be a problem for him, having won three races at 1-1/16 or further and has the tactical speed to be within striking distance when the running starts at the top of the stretch. Appears to me to be a likely winner, but this Belmont screams for a winner at a bigger price.
#6 Ice Box (Jose Lezcano, 3-1) – Everybody is saying Ice Box should have won the Kentucky Derby after he overcame numerous traffic obstacles in the Kentucky Derby to just fall short and run second to Super Saver. Because of the inevitable slow pace of the 12 furlong Belmont, his late closing running style will be compromised unless Lezcano can pull of a brilliantly timed ride. That alone creates enough doubt to keep me from picking the favorite in Ice Box.
#7 Drosselmeyer (Mike Smith, 12-1) – From the Kentucky Derby winning ownership of WinStar Farm, Drosselmeyer was unable to qualify for the Derby after a third and fourth in the two Louisiana Derby preps. Instead went directly to New York for the Dwyer and finished second, six lengths behind Belmont foe Fly Down. I have other concerns about his reported foot problems, but a sparkling workout Monday morning at Belmont eased those somewhat. He also doesn’t seem to have the propensity to want to get to the lead despite making up ground in the stretch runs of his past races so I’m going to have to try to beat him.
#8 Game On Dude (Martin Garcia, 10-1) – From the Preakness winning team of trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia, Game On Dude comes to New York via Texas where he won the Lone Star Derby. Expect him to be close to the lead down the long backstretch and within striking distance but he is another with a jockey with no Belmont Park experience. He was almost 11 lengths behind Belmont favorite Ice Box in the Florida Derby in late March and I’m sure his nice win in the Lone Star Derby indicates he’s improved enough to pass Ice Box on my Belmont chart.
#9 Stately Victor (Alan Garcia, 15-1) – I discounted his victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland just prior to the Derby, only to see second and third-place finishers Paddy O’Prado and First Dude come back with big races in their next starts in the Triple Crown. Although Stately Victor was eighth in the Derby, he was virtually eliminated from the race in early bumping and did make up 8 lengths on the leaders during the second half of the Run for the Roses. This son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper is usually in no hurry early in the race and will need a classic Belmont Stakes ride from jockey Alan Garcia who the Test of Champions on longshot Da’Tara in the 2008 Belmont.
#10 Stay Put (Jamie Theriot, 20-1) – Since breaking his maiden at Fair Grounds in December, this colt has shown potential to be among the top horses in his class. Traffic in his two Derby preps in Louisiana appear to have kept him out of the Derby, but he was determined to the finish in two close fifth-place finishes. Trainer Steve Margolis appears to have tried to change his come from behind running style with an optional claiming victory at Churchill, but the jump in class seems to be too big of a hurdle with Stay Put.
#11 First Dude (Ramon Dominguez, 7-2) – His second-place effort in the Preakness was impressive after leading the field through solid fractions and gallantly fighting eventual winner Lookin at Lucky down the stretch. If he runs back to that race with a little slower pace or even a less talented late challenger than Lookin at Lucky, he wins the Belmont – maybe by a long ways. However, First Dude is the proto-typical bounce theory horse – that is he will not repeat the significantly best performance of his career in his next race. In his three previous starts to the Preakness, he was beaten by fellow Belmonters Stately Victor, Ice Box and Fly Down by an average of four lengths. I’m taking a shot and leaving him out.
#12 Interactif (Javier Castellano, 12-1) – A late entry into the Belmont Stakes by Kentucky Derby winning trainer Todd Pletcher after two impressive works over the Belmont Park surface. Ironically, Interactif qualified for the Derby, but his team decided not to run him because they considered him “better on grass” despite a bullet work (fastest work at that distance that morning) at Churchill in his final Derby prep. Pletcher plucked Super Saver out of his training armament to win the Kentucky Derby and he might just be capable of doing the same thing here with Interactif. But no horse has ever won the Belmont from the 12 post position. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, "I cannot forecast to you the action of Todd Pletcher. It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Pletcher winning the Belmont." Oh, and no horse as ever won the Belmont from the 12-hole.