The Brock Talk

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Belmont Stakes Takes Shape With Large Field

The field for Saturday's Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) continues to take shape as trainer Todd Pletcher has indicated Interactif is now on schedule for the Belmont after his two most recent morning works convinced the trainer "to take a shot."

Having not started since a fourth-place finish in the grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 10, Pletcher told Daily Racing Form "He's been training really well on the dirt here. His work two back was really good and then he came back with another big work," he said, referring to the Saturday 1:00.41 clocking over five-eighths of a mile.

That brings the field size for the third leg of the Triple Crown to 12 with Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) runner-up Ice Box as the probable favorite. Ice Box will inherit the betting window popularity with the absence of Derby and Preakness winners Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky respectively. But the son of Pulpit also has several other factors in his favor coming into the Belmont.

Ice Box, who won the grade 1 Florida Derby just prior to the Derby, is trained by Nick Zito (top photo). The popular New Yorker who is looking for his third Belmont stakes after winning with Birdstone in 2004 and Da'Tara in 2008. Ice Box also has a furious late rally in his armament that many feel will be conducive to the long 1-1/2 mile Belmont.

Zito will take the home field advantage one step further with his other Belmont entry, Fly Down. In his last race, the son of Mineshaft roared to a six-length victory over fellow Belmont contender Drosselmeyer in the 1-1/8 mile Dwyer Stakes (gr. 2) at Belmont Park May 8. Fly Down has since looked good in two solid four furlong (1/2 mile) works at Belmont Park including a bullet work (fastest work at that distance that morning) Sunday in 47 2/5 seconds.

Monday morning at Belmont, Drosselmeyer put in a sparkling morning effort working five furlongs in :59 3/5 seconds. Last week Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott had indicated the promising young son of Distorted Humor had perhaps bruised his front "frogs" (the shock absorbers located on the sole of a horse's feet) and Daily Racing Form reported Drosselmeyer had worked in a protective bar shoe Monday. Mott has also indicated, however, that they do not intend to run Drosselmeyer with the bar shoe in the Belmont.

A $600,000 yearling purchase by owner WinStar Farm, Drosselmeyer missed qualifying for the Kentucky Derby after a fourth in the grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and a third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. 2), both at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. WinStar Farm would go on to win the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver and Drosslemeyer was pointed to the Belmont via the Dwyer.

While the Derby bridesmaid Ice Box will be getting much attention in the Belmont, the other Triple Crown race runner-up is sure to get some winning bets as well. First Dude almost went wire-to-wire in the Preakness and only lost to Lookin at Lucky by three-quarters of a length after a stretch-long battle. The Preakness by most handicapping standards, was a more impressive race than the Derby which seems to work in First Dude's favor. Those that favor speed horses in the long Belmont will also like First Dude, but he will likely have to run back to that career-best Preakness form to be a contender in the Belmont. So the handicapping "bounce" theory will be working against him Saturday.

Trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Preakness with Lookin at Lucky, will bring the "other" Dude in the Belmont Saturday when he leads Lone Star Derby (gr. 3) winner Game On Dude (left photo) to the paddock. While the Lone Star Derby was light on competition, the stalking four-length victory in Texas may be the right preparation for a horse that is perhaps improving this time of year.

Baffert won the 2001 Belmont with Preakness winner Point Given but has also experienced some of his most heartbreaking moments in racing in the Test of Champions. He narrowly lost the Triple Crown in 1987 with Silver Charm and again the next year when Real Quiet lost by a scant nose in New York after winning the Derby and Preakness. Four years later, the front running War Emblem stumbled at the start of the Belmont after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown and finished a well beaten eighth in New York.

While the 2010 3-year-old crop has come under deserved scrutiny for their mediocrity compared to other classes, the Belmont continues to be an American classic based on it's Triple Crown status and more importantly the long distance. There have been plenty of late developing sophomore thoroughbreds that have had their coming out party in the Belmont including horses such as Summer Bird, Lemon Drop Kid, Tabasco Cat and Easy Goer to a certain degree.

At the very least, it is an intriguing betting race with a large field and many capable winners. Whether it is again a Test of Champions remains to be seen Saturday and during the remaining months of the 2010 season.

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