The Brock Talk

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jockeys, Retired Racehorses Addressed at Safety Summit

Monday and Tuesday this week, representatives from throughout the racing industry gathered at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., in a health and safety summit. Among some of the best recommendations of the meeting is the establishment of an injury data base for jockeys and exercise riders at race tracks and the accreditation of equine welfare groups as announced by the participants Tuesday.

The summit was administered by the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation and has been held in three of the past four years.

During the first day of the two-day summit, Dr. Tim Parkin, noted epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, presented a preliminary analysis of racing fatalities in North America from data compiled in the Equine Injury Database. Dr. Parkin is also a consultant for the Equine Injury Database.
Saying, “this preliminary analysis just scratches the surface,” Dr. Parkin acknowledged that as the database continues to grow, more complex statistical analysis can provide additional information. However, according to Dr. Parkin, the study of 378,864 total starts in Thoroughbred flat races at 73 racetracks had several conclusions during the first year of the study.

1.) The incidence of fatality in 2-year-olds for the one-year period was significantly lower than that of older horses, 3 years of age and up

2.) The incidence of fatality in fillies, mares and geldings for the one-year period was significantly lower than that of intact males

3.) The incidence of fatality for the one-year period was not significantly different for horses racing at different distances or carrying different weights

4.) The incidence of fatality for the one-year period was not significantly different for dirt, synthetic and turf racing surfaces, or condition of the dirt and turf racing surfaces

The summit was also the catalyst for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance, an accreditation program for racetracks in operation today.

Tuesday, summit participants addressed the development of objectives and strategies in four areas including Racing Equipment and Safety; Racetrack Environment and Training Practices; Education, Licensing and Continuing Education; and Transitioning Thoroughbreds to Second Careers.

Among the primary objectives identified was the establishment of a rider injury database similar to the Equine Injury Database currently being implemented and studied. The study will collect information for analysis from racetracks, insurance companies, and workers' compensation programs for the jockey and exercise rider study. The conclusions will be used to determine if steps can be taken to increase the safety of riders at the race tracks in the morning and afternoon.

Another goal of the summit participants was the creation of a track liaison position at each racetrack to coordinate aftercare of retired racehorses as well as an accreditation program for organizations involved in the placement of retired racehorses. There are several organizations throughout North America that are finding homes and second careers for retired race horses, but there is little regulation and at times little affiliation with local track management. Although there are a number of tracks that are involved in the process. The committee also recommended the creation of veterinary guidelines, in conjunction with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, to determine potential and appropriate second careers for racehorses based on their physical condition at time of retirement.

Recommendations also included the formalization of reciprocity of veterinarians’, stewards’ and starters’ lists on a national basis; and implementation of advanced safety equipment, including starting gates and safety rails, on a phased basis, depending on data, development of a comprehensive database of track maintenance, training and veterinary records that could be integrated with existing databases pertaining to human and equine safety.

There was also discussion of the establishment of a mechanism to encourage continuing education for people working with thoroughbreds, including trainers, grooms, farriers, and jockeys, to improve horsemanship and as a means to accreditation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Horse Racing is 120 Years Ahead of Baseball and Soccer

Knowing very little about the game of soccer and in particular the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), it was still very obvious there were two blatantly bad calls Sunday during the World Cup. Video replays showed that Argentina forward Carlos Tevez was clearly offside before he scored the opening goal in a 3-1 victory over Mexico Sunday. Video replays also clearly showed that England’s Frank Lampard’s first half shot that would have tied the game at 2-2 against Germany, hit inside the goal after bouncing off the crossbar. Lampard’s goal was not awarded and Germany went on to win 4-1.

These two bad calls, horrifying calls in Mexico and England, have been just the latest in a flurry of officiating errors in the World Cup that cannot be overturned because of FIFA’s refusal to use video replay to review referee calls on certain plays.

In June, major league baseball was embarrassed when Detroit Tiger Aramando Galarraga lost his bid for a perfect game when umpire Jim Joyce blew a ninth inning call with two outs. Again, no video replay.

Why is this of interest to a horse racing fan? At times it is important to reflect on how forward thinking horse racing has been when compared to other sports. True, the leaders of our industry have been slow to embrace certain technologies as they did with television in the 1950s and 1960s when football and baseball were taking full advantage of the new medium. There are other examples as well.

But when it comes to the video technology, horse racing was at the forefront some 69 years ago at Hollywood Park when they first began using the “binocular camera.” In 1941 the eight patrol judges at Hollywood Park used the device to record each race. The film was then processed and spliced and viewed by the stewards the following morning. This system had no impact on the official finish, but was instrumental in regulating riding infractions by jockeys. The system was modified and improved in 1945 at Hollywood Park and adopted at race tracks throughout North America. Churchill Downs was slow to adopt the system, but In 1954, film patrol was used to officiate the Kentucky Derby.

Using technology to determine the outcome of a horse race far preceded the video patrol. The first photographs used to determine the results of horses races is thought to have been taken by Ernest Marks of Plainfeld, New Jersey in 1888. But none of those images exist today. Two years later, J.C. Hemment used a single exposure camera to photograph the race finishes at Sheepshead Bay race track, but the horses were not yet at the finish line in the photograph. The single image technology continued to develop and improve but was never perfected because it was virtually impossible to capture the precise moment the horses hit the finish line.

In 1937, Lorenzo Del Riccio, an optical engineer who headed the technical research laboratories Paramount Pictures and would later develop the “binocular camera”, introduced his strip camera at Del Mar. Still in use today, this shutterless camera is believed to be accurate within 1/2,000 of a second. The strip camera is fixed on top of the grandstand vocusing on a four-inch slice of race track at the finish line while the film moves past an vertical slit approximately .00801-inch wide in the camera. The film moves at approximately the same speed at the horses running, capturing the image during the duration of the finish as the horses pass the finish line. The result is a long strip showing each horse in the race at the precise time they cross the finish line.

Horse racing needs this type of accuracy much more than other sports because of the track and regulator interests in the gaming aspect. But horse racing should be credited for not only embracing technology to determine official results, bet developing much at that technology as well.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Devil May Care Has Something to Prove In Mother Goose

One may take a quick look at this year's Mother Goose Stakes (gr. 1) and decide this might a good Saturday to go to the beach or lake. The $250,000 Mother Goose has short field of five with Devil May Care (photo) as the heavy favorite and three of the five fillies are trained by Todd Pletcher. This year's edition also falls short of last year when Preakness winning filly Rachel Alexandra came to New York to win the Mother Goose by 19-1/4 lengths.

Devil May Care may not have the star power of Rachel Alexandra, but she will certainly have more to prove.

Having finished finished tenth in her attempt against the colts in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, trainer Todd Pletcher has given Devil Mare Care plenty of time to recover. With a 6-5 morning line it is likely she will have plenty of support from her supporters though the betting windows but the question looms as to how much, if any, did the Kentucky Derby take out of the filly.

After all, Devil May Care was considered for the 1-1/2 Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) and the Acorn Stakes against fillies June 5 but was instead given an additional three weeks for the Mother Goose.

The Mother Goose was until this year, the second leg of the Triple Tierra series for 3-year-old fillies made up of the Acorn Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. 1). The distance of the Mother Goose has also been changed. The race been shortened to 1-1/16 miles from the 1-1/8 distance at which the race has been run since 1959. The Mother Goose was inaugurated in 1957 and run at 1-1/16 miles for the first two runnings.

For the Mother Goose, Pletcher will also saddle Ailalea, an impressive winner of the grade 3 Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs May 29. She also has a win over the track having broke her maiden at Belmont Park last year.

Katy Now will be making her stakes debut off of three consecutive wins.

Another filly who should get plenty of support is Biofuel, who invades from Canada where she was won the Star Shoot Stakes and the 1 1/16-mile La Lorgnette Stakes, both over Woodbine's Poly-Track surface.

One may better remember Biofuel from November's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. 1) at Santa Anita. Coming down the home stretch, Biofuel looked to be a potential winner with a late charge down the middle of the track. But just as she reached the 1/8th pole (220 yds from the finish), she was severely bumped and lost stride.

Another Breeders' Juvenile Fillies graduate in the Mother Goose is Connie and Michael trained by Ken McPeek. A dull eighth in the Breeders' Cup, she has since returned to win an allowance race at Churchill Downs in wire-to-wire fashion.

So it's a short field and 60% of the fillies are trained by Todd Pletcher. So there is no Rachel Alexandra this year. Get used to that for a while folks. There may not be a 3-year-old filly like Rachel Alexandra for a very long time.

But this is an evenly matched group of grade 1 and potential top level winning fillies. Some of whom have a histories of running against each other going back to last year as debutantes.

And it is after all the Mother Goose. The race has been won by some of the greatest fillies in history including Cicada, Shuvee, Chris Everett, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Go For Wand, Life's Magic and Serena's Song to name a few. Winning jockeys include Bill Hartack, Bill Shoemaker, Braulio Baeza, Randy Romero, Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Angel Cordero Jr. and Pat Day. The trainers list of winners is equally impressive going back to "Sunny" Jim Fitzimmons, Lucien Lauraen, Laz Barrera, D. Wayne Lukas, Charlie Whittingham, John Campo and Allen Jerkens.

All three lists are missing names with significant accomplishments in thoroughbred racing.

So if you have to do something else Saturday, it may be understable. Just make sure you set your TIVO.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Birthday Wishes

Today I’m 51. Or as I like to say, I’m a ’59 model. So for today’s post I thought I would share with you a few things I’d like to have for my birthday – arrogance and self-centeredness included.

I’d like to have an education for all those who disparage the true greatness of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. But what the heck, what’s a birthday without clowns?

I’d like to save Hollywood Park. My goal out of college was to become a marketing director at a major track. I made it as far as interim marketing director at Hollywood Park. My consolation was that I lasted longer than the marketing director that replaced me – so I have that going for me. But the number of lifelong friends I made in my years at Hollywood Park remains a treasure today. I have an emotional attachment to the track of lakes and flowers.

I’d like to have a restriction of 75 on the numbers of mares a stallion can breed in a year. At the very least it is better for the stallions. At the very best, the simple law of supply and demand will drive up sale prices, produce higher quality race horses and put less of a burden on those that try to find homes and careers for retired racehorses.

I would like to see racing voluntarily move toward shorter race meets and eventually evolve into a sport with a season. If we don’t, I’m afraid economics will do it for us (see California). It works at the very high end of the sport in places like Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland and now Monmouth Park. It works in the middle of the spectrum at the California fairs and to a degree at Emerald Downs and Washington State racing with no winter tracks and only the Seattle season of racing. It also works at the very lowest end of the scale in places like Gillespie, Texas; Sonoita, Arizona and countless other fair tracks around the country.

A Rose Bowl victory for my beloved Arizona Wildcats.

A maximum take out of 15%. To heck with it! I said it! Again, I’m not sure how long this sport will survive if they continue to ignore simple economics. I’d do the math for you… but it’s my birthday. So you’re going to have to believe me. If you don’t believe me, don’t feel bad though – track management doesn’t.

I’d like to see Frank Stronach out of race track management.

I’d like more horse racing marketing targeted to women. Hats, dresses and horses. Capitalize on Friday night racing. It makes no difference if you’re talking about a marriage of 50 years or a high school date – there is a very large distinction between who controls the money and who spends it. This lesson for my fellow men and track managers has stood for thousands of years.

Yeah it’s my birthday. And I want it. Rachel Alexandra meets Zenyatta. I don’t even have to use any birthday karma really. This could be the most anticipated Breeders’ Cup Classic ever.

I’d like to see Sean Miller right the ship that is University of Arizona Basketball.

I’d like to see the scale of weights in horse racing increased. Forcing jockeys to weigh 114 pounds is only decreasing the talent pool while having an adverse health effect on some of our current stars. I wrestled on a nationally ranked team in junior college. I wasn’t any good, but I have a valid perspective on what four or five pounds can mean to an athlete in a weight sensitive sport. Think about if this would have been done decades before. Can you imagine the greatness of a 125-pound Laffit Pincay? Can you imagine the battles between Jerry Bailey and Gary Stevens at 125 pounds each? I don’t even want to think about Angel Cordero Jr. walking into the jocks room at two pounds over at 127?

I’d like to see Mine That Bird win his first race of 2010…. And justify those reported smiles on the face of trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

I’d love it if we didn’t need the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund or the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.

I have plenty of more birthday wishes for horse racing. But I have a Hollywood Park/Birthday Pick-6 to get to.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Triple Crown Runners Beginning to Roll Again

It is now more than two weeks since the conclusion of the Triple Crown and more than seven weeks since we have seen many of the horses that started only in the Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) presented by Yum! Brands. Four of the contenders from the Derby-Preakness-Belmont trail returned to the races recently, while others are beginning more serious preparations for the next start.

This may not be the flashiest group of 3-year-olds, but they do have depth in their ranks as evidenced Saturday in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup won by Paddy O'Prado. The Dale Romans trainee was a troubled third in the Derby and sixth in the Preakness and was perhaps returning to his preferred turf racing surface in the Colonial, but his three-length win in the 1-3/16-mile race was a notable none-the-less.

Paddy O'Prado may be making his next start in the Virginia Derby July 17.

Noble's Promise, was recently shipped to Great Britian for the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting and made a good show as the lone American in the St. James Palace Stakes (Eng-1). He broke sharply in the July 15 St. James, set the pace throughout the grassy one mile race but was passed in the final strides by eventual winner Canford Cliffs, a multiple grade 1 winner in Europe. Noble's Promise hung on to finish fifth, beaten just three lengths.

Also fifth in the Kentucky Derby, Noble's Promise suffered slight dehydration that day and was given the extra time to recover by trainer Ken McPeek before traveling to Great Britian for the St. James Palace.

It was two solid races by two also rans in a much maligned group of Triple Crown contenders. Paddy O'Prado impressively won against marginal competition. Noble's Promise ran a very respectable race half way around the world, in a totally unfamiliar environment of Royal Ascot, against the European elites. Neither Paddy O'Prado nor Noble's Promise turned many heads or stopped any presses. But they both ran the kind of races that we may come to expect from this group - solid.

Granted, Jackson Bend (12th in the Derby and 3rd in the Preakness) and Schoolyard Dreams (9th in the Preakness) fell far below the solid standard finishing fifth and sixth in the six-horse Pegasus Stakes (gr. 3) Sunday at Monmouth Park, but the class may be firing some of their bigger guns again later this summer.

Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver (photo top) worked Sunday morning at Belmont Park in preparation for his next scheduled race, the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) to be run Aug. 1 at Monmouth Park. The work was a leisurely four furlongs (1/2 mile) in 50.66, just slower than a similar move earlier in the morning by stablemate and Suburban Handicap (gr. 1) winner Quality Road, who stopped the clock in 50.26 over the same distance.

After the work, trainer Todd Pletcher told NY Daily News sports writer Jerry Bossert "It was a maintenance half for both. We're still a ways away from their next races."

Drosselmeyer, the winner of the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1), has yet to go through any serious work since taking the Test of Champions more than two weeks ago. Trainer Bill Mott said following the Belmont that the Travers Stakes will be the targeted next start for Drosselmeyer.

Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky recorded his third workout since winning in Baltimore. He recently breezed four furlongs over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita in :47.40. Baffert said they continue to point Lookin at Lucky toward the Haskell or the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. 2) July 31 at Saratoga.

Sidney's Candy, The winner of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) returned to Southern California after his disappointing 17th finish the Kentucky Derby. He was given a brief vacation and has two recent works in preparation for the July 17 Swaps Stakes (gr. 2) at Hollywood Park including a recent six furlong bullet work (fastest work at that distance that morning) 1:11.60 with jockey Joe Talamo aboard.

Kentucky Derby runner-up and Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) favorite Ice Box had a bad day in the third leg of the Triple Crown. He displaced his palate and the hot and humid conditions adversely effected him as well. Trainer Nick Zito has said the Travers Stakes (gr. 1) on Aug. 27 at Saratoga is the next planned start for Ice Box.

Horses such as American Lion (11th in the Kentucky Derby), First Dude (2nd, Preakness; 3rd, Belmont), Game on Dude (4th, Belmont) Make Music For Me (4th, Derby; 10th Belmont) and others may be coming back to the races in the coming weeks and months as well.

I doubt any of them are going to be scaring Quality Road, Blame or Rail Bird anytime soon either. But they seem well suited to give us plenty of solid and enjoyable races.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For? Not So Much Perhaps.

Nearly half way through 2010, it is an interesting time to evaluate how the year is going for thoroughbred racing and the fans. The Triple Crown is now complete, Zenyatta (photo, right) and Rachel Alexandra have both raced multiple times as has 2009 stars Quality Road, Gio Ponti, Blink Luck, Lookin at Lucky, Goldikova among others.

While the stars and the sport have had some setbacks, it appears we are doing pretty well getting what we might have wished.

The two obvious drawbacks so far in 2010, are that we have not seen the Rachel Alexandra versus Zenyatta dream race we all have been wishing for. Nor did this crop of 3-year-olds provide much of a Triple Crown. I'm sure Rachel Alexandra's two losses to start the year had a damper on a wish list or two, but that will be addressed later.

With the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes and all the races leading up to the Triple Crown in the Spring, the 3-year-olds are the natural stars each year. Things were looking up for the group in late April when Eskendereya was coming into the Derby as the heavy favorite with eye-catching victories in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in Florida and Wood Memorial in New York. Meanwhile, 2009 Champion 2-Year-Old Looking at Lucky had lost some of his luster with a series of hard-luck performances, one of which resulted in a third place finish in the Santa Anita Derby just prior to going to Kentucky.

Eskendereya suffered a career ending injury before the Derby and Looking at Lucky again endured traffic problems in the Derby and finished sixth. Derby winner Super Saver came back to run a dull eighth in the Preakness behind a rebounding victory by Lookin at Lucky, but neither went on to the Belmont Stakes. Belmont favorite Ice Box threw a clunker in New York while the somewhat miscellaneous Drosselmeyer took the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Regarding Zenyatta, it is important to remember that at the end of last year, the Champion Older Female and Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. 1) winner was in the middle of a retirement tour. What we have instead from the undefeated mare is three more grade 1 wins in 2010 and a significant historical event in racing.

Her third win the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park last week, gave her 17 straight wins and moved Zenyatta past Citation, Cigar, and Mister Frisky for the most consecutive wins in modern times in races not restricted to state-breds.

If you had asked most in January if they would have rather have a Triple Crown winner or an undefeated Zenyatta with the record in hand in mid-June, I'm sure many would take Zenyatta and her last three races. There is an opportunity for a Triple Crown winner every year, however difficult the challenge may be. But a Zenyatta comes along once in a generation.

Rachel Alexandra, on the other hand, has not quite had the same year in terms of meeting expectations. The 2009 Horse of the Year lost her first two starts in 2010 at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and then again at Churchill Downs. Although she bounced back to win the Fleur de Lis (gr. 2) Saturday while showing signs of her old self, the two defeats against seemingly sub-par competition had fans speculating about her retirement and wishing she was the Rachel Alexandra of 2009.

TVG Network's The Finish Line however, produced an interesting graphic that shows a different take on her first few races of this year. When comparing her Beyer Speed Figures from 2010 to her first starts last year, they are almost identical. And a case can be made that her competition in the New Orleans Ladies and La Troienne (gr. 2) was much stiffer than what she faced last year in the first six months. And Rachel Alexandra was carrying three to four pounds more in her 2010 starts comparatively speaking.

So if you were wishing that Rachel Alexandra would have a similar year this year compared to last, you may be getting what you wished. In fact, the argument can be made that she may be on track for perhaps an even better year in 2010. The list of great race mares that stumbled at some point in their career only to go on to further greatness is a long one indeed.

Paseana finished second in her first two starts of 1993. Six graded wins would follow during her career. Heavenly Prize was second in the '94 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. 1) and the '95 ungraded Oaklawn Park Breeders' Cup Handicap before rattling off four consecutive grade 1 wins. There are plenty of more dramatic losing streaks in the past performances of other great race mares - a sorority in which Rachel Alexandra already belongs.

Gio Ponti, the Champion Male Turf Horse of 2009, has been a bit of a disappointed this year, but he may be suffering effects of an aggressive effort to get him to and return from the taxing Dubai World Cup (gr. 1) in March. Gio Ponti began the year with a very disappointing second in the ungraded Tampa Bay Stakes then traveled halfway around the world to run in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in which he ran a credible fourth over an unfamiliar Tapeta racing surface.

The strain the Dubai journey can put on a North American thoroughbred has been well documented, so his second in the grade 1 Manhattan at Belmont Park June 5 can easily be forgiven. Two seconds and a fourth do little to convince that Gio Ponti has no chance returning to some resemblance of his 2009 form.

Champion 2-Year-Old Filly She Be Wild was injured just before the Kentucky Oaks, but her nemesis, Blind Luck, continued to fly the banner for the strong class of fillies by winning the Oaks instead.

Champion 3-Year-old Male Summer Bird, Champion Sprinter Kodiak Kowboy and Champion Female Sprinter Indian Blessing are also in retirement. But the majority of last year’s class of champions and stars have returned and are still running six months into 2010.

Certainly Quality Road, Mine That Bird, Musket Man and Rachel Alexandra are carrying the torch of a sophomore class much criticized throughout last year. Quality Road just won the Metropolitan Mile (gr. 1) after a record-breaking performance the Donn Handicap (gr. I) in February at Gulfstream Park – a race in which he broke his own 1-1/8 mile track record that he set in the 2009 Florida Derby (gr. I).
While Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird has yet to start this year, he looks to be training well after being moved to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. After several impressive works at Churchill Downs, Lukas has modified his ambitions above an allowance race return for Mine That Bird and now says he is Whitney Handicap (gr. 1) bound in early August at Saratoga.

Despite our wishes and hopes as the year began, I'm not sure we could have expected much more out of the class of 2009 to return and impact racing more than they have this year. And, though the 2010 3-year-old male crop appears to be marginal at best, they did deliver some the best television ratings for horse racing in recent memory for the Kentucky Derby and solid numbers in the Preakness as well. They are a slow group, but they seem to have some charisma and their mediocrity appears to have produced at least a somewhat popular level of competition. Remember, the year is not even 50% complete. That leaves more than six months for a star to appear ala late 3-year-old bloomers and Breeders' Cup Classic winners Proud Truth, Concern or Tiznow.

And if not - I'd say we're still doing pretty good with our wish list.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Presious Passion "Truckin" Again in Monmouth Park Stakes

Presious Passion is a super star running this weekend. He may not be a super star in the strictest sense of wins and recognitions, having finished second in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. 1) to Conduit and only winning one grade 1 race last year. In fact, he was a very distant third in the Eclipse Awards race behind Champion Gio Ponti and Conduit.

But like the legendary rock band The Grateful Dead, Presious Passion doesn't need a platinum record to put on a darn good show and draw adoring fans every time.

His almost unheard of turf running-style that resembles the fabled hare sprinting early only to lose to the tortoise, almost defies logic at the grade 1 level. When he can endure and continue to leave his competition like he did in the grade 1 United Nations last year, or unexpectedly battle a champion like Conduit to the wire as he did in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. 1T), he defies how horses are supposed to run in longer route races. It is even more defiant on grass. Racing to a big lead on the turf and trying to hold off the inevitable charge of the late runners is much akin to how Lenny Kaye described the The Dead's music in a 2007 issue of Rolling Stone magazine: "it touches on ground that most other groups don't know exist."

And like Jerry Garcia taking The Dead through an extended and improvisational version "Dark Star" in concert, jockey Elvis Trujillo tries to stay in rhythm and harmony with Presious Passion. Just as Bob Weir and Garcia took on stage cues from each other as to when to go solo during live concerts, Trujillo and Presious Passion certainly communicate through a long turf race - changing leads when it feels right, but keeping the pace going the whole time. If nobody passes out, it's a helluva show.

Jerry Garcia was known for his soulful and extended guitar solos. Presious Passion is known for his soulful and extended turf races. In a rock and roll industry that is known for the one hit wonder, The Greatful Dead has lasted more than 40 years. In a thoroughbred game that has to endure the annual exodus of many of our biggest stars, Presious Passion continues to race at age six.

Since coming up just short in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, Presious Passion has traveled to South Florida to win the Mac Diarmada (gr. 2T) before traveling to the United Arab Emirates to Dubai's Sheema Classic (gr. 1UAE) in March. After getting to his customary big lead in Dubai, the soft turf course took it's toll and he faded to last.

Saturday he returns to New Jersey to attempt to win the Monmouth Park Stakes (gr. 3T) for the second consecutive year. Trainer Mary Hartmann will then point him toward a possible three-peat in the grade 1 United Nations Invitational later in the Monmouth season.

So there will be plenty of Passion-Heads in Oceanport over the summer. They may not be driving vw vans or doning tie-dye and love beads... but you can be sure they've come to see "Truckin'."

Truckin, I'm goin' home, whoa whoa baby, back where I belong
Back home, sit down and patch my bones, and get back truckin on
Hey now get back truckin home.
-- The Grateful Dead, "Truckin'," 1970

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Reviews

Horsenameographies: Life Stories in a Race Horse Name

Horsenameographies: Life Stories in a Race Horse Name editor and designer Rudolph Valier Alvarado and Caballo Press have put together a collection of horse names submitted by equine lovers and thoroughbred fans from around the world.

Horsenameographis introduces the reader to hundreds of horse names that capsulize the lives of those people who sent their names to Caballo Press over the course of months. Some of the names are touching, some humorous and others ironic. The names convey the loyalty, love, inspiration and the spirit of the many authors but the admiration for the horse is the common vein that runs throughout the book and it's pages.

It is an easy read with one or two names per page - some with photos of the individual authors, their inspirations and their horses. The book also gives insight into the sometimes entertaining and thoughtful world of actually naming thoroughbreds, a topic also covered briefly during most racing telecasts, print and internet media, but never in a large collection like Horsenameographies.

Hayseed's First Race
Author and illustrator Sally Schrock tell the story of Hayseed and the challenges of running in his first race.

In this children's book, Hayseed finds himself face to face with the beautiful and fast Perfect Prince yet remains undaunted as he parades onto to the track, despite the jeers from the attractive favorite.

Despite his confidence, Hayseed finds himself full of self-doubt and in last place as the race begins and must call on the lessons learned from his mother to keep trying. Yet before the end of the race, he must use a secret weapon if he is to defeat the dastardly Prince Perfect.

Some of the proceeds from Hayseed's First Race go to Anna House, the childcare center located at Belmont Park Race Track. Anna House is run by the non-profit Belmont Child Care Association which was established for the benefit of working families at New York area tracks and provides scholarship funds to those unable to afford the cost of the care.

The book is for childred ages 7 and younger and also includes print out activity sheets for pre-schoolers, kindergarterners, first graders and a second graders on the Caballo Press website.

To order Hayseed's First Race or Horsenameographies, go to the Caballo Press website.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's A Rachel and Zenyatta Weekend

The rivalry between 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexanda and the undefeated Zenyatta (top photo) has yet to develop into the two greats facing each other on the track, but there is little doubt about the excitement they each continue to generate. Case in point of course, is this weekend when Rachel Alexandra will be running in the $200,000 Fleur de Lis (gr. 2) at Churchill Downs and Zenyatta tries for her unprecedented third Vanity Handicap (gr. 1) at Hollywood Park and her record 17th consecutive victory.

Zenyatta brings plenty of drama with every race as she continues to add to her historical winning streak of 16 consecutive victories. With a win Sunday, she would surpass Citation, Cigar and Mister Frisky with 17 consecutive wins in races not restricted to state-breds among major North American thoroughbreds. Pepper's Pride won 19 consecutive races while at times racing strictly against horses bred New Mexico.

For the third consecutive year, Zenyatta has been assigned to carry the high weight of 129 pounds. Since winning the grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic in November, Zenyatta has won the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (G1) on March 13 at Santa Anita Park and the Apple Blossom Invitational Stakes (G1) on April 9 at Oaklawn Park.

Trainer John Shirreffs has again named jockey Mike Smith to ride Zenyatta. Smith has been aboard the record-setting mare in every race except her first three

Rachel Alexandra (photo left) will carry 124 pounds at Churchill Saturday, seven to 11 pounds more than any of her four rivals in a race in which she will be trying to reclaim her 2009 form. In two starts this year, she was second as the heavy favorite in both races. Rachel Alexandra lost to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds in March, then again to Unrivaled Belle in the La Troienne Stakes on the April 30 at Churchill.

While both were strong races by most standards, they were far below the performance level Rachel showed last year in winning all eight of her races including the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1), Preakness Stakes (gr. 1), Haskell Invitational (gr. 1) and Woodward (gr. 1) against fillies, top colts and older horses.

Her 20-1/4 length margin in the Kentucky Oaks was a record. Rachel Alexandra was the first filly since Nellie Morse in 1924 to win the Preakness, joined Serena's Song as the only filly to win the Haskell and is the only female to ever win the Woodward against older horses.

Calvin Borel, who has been riding Rachel Alexandra since their victory in the 2008 Golden Rod Stakes, again get the riddings chores from trainer Steve Asmussen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Belmont, Triple Crown, Thoughts Comments and Questions

Can anybody tell me what happened during the first eighth of a mile in the Belmont Saturday? As the race started, ABC Television decided to use the camera at ground level in the winner’s circle to show the break. A more dramatic angle, perhaps, but it makes it difficult for the viewer to follow their horse. Then ABC decided to switch to a ground level head-on camera to shoot the field running into and around the first turn. Again, it made it nearly impossible to find or follow the horses until the overhead blimp camera picked up the field half-way around the clubhouse turn. I’m okay with ABC trying to utilize the beauty of the sport to create a more dramatic telecast. But I’m not okay with doing so at the expense of failing to report on the event by taking beauty over content in their camera angle selection.

Triple Crown Format Debate: Safety Over Tradition
Regarding changing the format of the Triple Crown: I agree with former jockey and current ESPN/ABC analyst Jerry Bailey. Limit the field size of the Kentucky Derby to 14 and offer a million or multi-million dollar bonus to a horse that wins the Triple Crown. Money talks, so the bonus will take care of itself. But the field size of the Derby needs to be reduced from 20 for a reason much more important than the Triple Crown – safety. Nobody likes the wagering opportunities and the romance of 20 horses breaking from the Churchill Downs starting on the first Saturday in May more than I. But that cavalry charge into the Clubhouse turn in the Derby is dangerous. And an accident there would be catastrophic to racing on many levels.

Moss and the Magic Board
I liked Randy Moss and his magic name board. It was an effective and fun way to bring horse names, facts and jockey changes into the telecast… I thought replacing “New York, New York” with “Empire State of Mind” as the official song of the Belmont Stakes would work. I thought I was wrong watching the ABC telecast that cut the song short with a break to commercial. But apparently the Belmont crowd corrected me. Again I bow to New York racing fans… A salute to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin who immediately took responsibility for Uptowncharlybrown losing his lead pad during the running of the Belmont. Uptowncharlybrown was disqualified from fifth and placed last by the track stewards immediately after it was learned he did not carry the assigned weight during the entire course of the race… Anybody notice that Jack Conway, recent winner of the democratic primary for the Kentucky U.S. Senate seat, was in the left side of the Belmont Park paddock while Sarah Palin was in the right side?

I’m Slow But I’m Sound
All source handle, attendance and television ratings all dropped significantly for the 142nd Belmont Stakes. Money wagered on the Belmont was nearly $74 million, down 17.2% according to Daily Racing Form. Attendance was down 13.2% to just more than 45,000 on a hot and humid day in New York while television ratings plummeted 38% to a 3.1 overnight rating… Drosselmeyer’s (photo right) winning time was the slowest Belmont in 15 years with his final clocking of 2:31.57 for 1-1/2 miles on a fast main track. Thunder Gulch finished in 2:32 in 1995… It is a mediocre group of 3-year-olds. Okay… I think of the character Jimmy Rabbitte in the 1991 Irish rock movie the “The Commitments” who said “the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.” To this much maligned group of sophomore thoroughbreds say it loud: “I’m slow. But I’m sound.” This group isn’t making any American Idol headway and their participation level is obviously weak with no Derby or Preakness winner in the Belmont, but other than Eskendereya, they’re not retiring either.

Decreases in Belmont numbers may be met with increases in Haskell Invitational, Travers Stakes, and Breeders’ Cup popularity. This group is not flashy, but they’re deep and relatively injury free. How many championship teams in other sports can you think of that have used that formula? They might even be deep enough to have a positive impact on minor late season derbies in the local markets of California, West Virginia and Louisiana.

Belmont Stakes Greatness Regardless
Onto the greatness of the Belmont regardless: It was just more than two Hall of Famers winning the Belmont in trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith. It was obvious that Smith was quite moved by his first Belmont win after riding in New York for the majority of his great career. Mott, despite his success as the trainer of Cigar and other greats, may be the most under rated trainer in thoroughbred racing today.

Betting Strategy Revisited
I had the right idea but the wrong horse. Keep the favorites in the top two of my exactas and find that mid-level long shot to take the race. I mistakenly got on Uptowncharlybrown and Interactif and left off a horse that I liked all Spring – Drosselmeyer. And I’m not sure I regret too much getting off a horse with published foot ailments, a jockey change and the owners deciding not to attend the race… But a big Brock Talk acknowledgement to those that hit the $144.50 exacta, $766.50 trifecta or $10,658.00 superfecta.

For those that thought the Belmont Stakes would not be exciting… Whoops!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Brock Belmont Bet Swings Hard

To those who believe Ice Box was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby and that he will benefit from the additional quarter-mile distance of the “Big Sandy,” the Belmont must be an easy race to handicap. And that of course, is the reason he is the 3-1 favorite. Coming from the popular barn of Nick Zito doesn’t hurt the colt’s popularity either.

But Ice Box won’t get the fast Derby pace in the Belmont. In fact, I predict quite the opposite. The first half-mile of the Belmont is often a gallop. And sometimes the pace remains slow during the first mile. That puts a lot of pressure on a closer and his jockey and gives me enough ammunition to eliminate Ice Box.

So pace makes the race right? And First Dude will get to that easy, uncontested lead (even from the #11 post position) and gallop to the finish line.

Nope. I’m not betting that either. To beat First Dude, I’m incorporating the “bounce” handicapping theory. That is, I’m betting that he won’t repeat the Preakness performance in which he almost wired the field to run a gallant second to Lookin at Lucky. I’m not usually a “bounce” advocate, but First Dude ran a race that is significantly better than anything he produced prior to that Preakness. I have to believe he will regress at least somewhat off of that giant performance.

How do I beat Dwyer winner Fly Down then? I can’t. I think this Nick Zito trainee looks primed for a big performance in the Belmont. He has all of the home field advantage, which can sometimes be very important in the Belmont Stakes. He has a win over the track, New York top jockey John Velazquez and Zito.

So how I am going to justify betting against Fly Down? On value alone. With all of the New York support, he is likely to be over bet. And with an evenly matched field like this Belmont, value is my prime directive.

So that leads me to my top choice: Uptowncharlybrown. This horse has been pointed toward the Belmont Stakes since early this year by late trainer Alan Seewald and he is in able Belmont hands now in the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin. McLaughlin is a former D. Wayne Lukas assistant who won the 2006 Belmont with Jazil and I’m betting he will do it again here with Uptowncharlybrown.

His third-place finish in the Lexington was against a speed favoring racetrack that compromised his chances and the winner of that race, Exhi, came back to impressively win the Marine Stakes at Woodbine. Uptowncharlybrown also gets jockey Rajiv Maragh and all of his Belmont Park success and experience to negotiate the dynamics of the largest oval in North American racing. McLaughlin has also taken the blinkers off of Uptowncharlybrown, which should allow him to be much closer to the pace and within striking distance at the top of the stretch.

My other key horse – again swinging for the IRS window fences here a little bit – is Interactif, from the Kentucky Derby winning connections of trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farm. No horse has ever won the Belmont Stakes from the number 12 post position, but I don’t think Interactif and jockey Javier Castellano will have any problem settling into a stalking position.

If he takes to the Belmont Park surface during the last half of the Belmont the way he has for the last two weeks of training, he is a prime candidate to win the Test of Champions at a decent price.
Because I’m looking for some bigger prices in the Belmont, I’m going to reduce my investments by playing exactas only. So I’m going to key my two upset contenders to run first or second with the three logical winners and betting favorites.

$2 Exacta (8 Bets. Total Cost = $16)
1st - 3-12
2nd – 3-5-6-11-12

$2 Exacta (8 Bets. Total Cost = $16)
1st – 3-5-6-11-12
2nd – 3-12

Total cost is $32.

We need #3 Uptowncharlybrown or #12 Interactif to finish first or second along with #5 Fly Down, #6 Ice Box or #11 First Dude completing the exacta. Note however, that if Uptowncharlybrown and Interactif finish first and second in any order, we hit the exacta twice.

Good luck Belmont fans.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Belmont Could Go Uptown

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.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Belmont Posts Not Likely To Influence Race Outcome

Post positions for the $1 million Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) have been set and the third leg of the Triple Crown will have a field of twelve. At the marathon distance of 1-1/2 miles, the importance of starting gate positions is almost negligible, but there are two notes of interest when looking at this year's race.

The most likely pace setter in the race, First Dude, breaks from post position 11 Saturday and jockey Calvin Borel breaks from post position number one on longshot Dave in Dixie.

With more than an eighth of a mile (843 feet) from the starting gate to the clubhouse turn, jockey Ramon Dominguez should have little trouble urging and steering First Dude into a safe position near the front of the pack before they reach the first turn. But being in the 11 post will offer slightly more of a challenge that had he drawn further inside.

Borel, famous for his rail hugging riding style that has produced three of the last four Kentucky Derbies, begins the race in his most comfortable position from the far inside post. While the inside post can be a curse in the 20-horse field and running out of the chute in the Derby, the slow early pace of the Belmont allows for horses to settle and relax from nearly any position.

The inside post has been by far the most productive in the history of the Belmont, producing 23 winners, 40% more than any other starting spot going back to 1905 when post position records were first kept for the race. The post that has produced the second most winners is the five gate with 14, followed the three post with 13 and the seven post with 12 winners.

If you are offered an odd-even proposition bet in the Belmont, be sure to take the odds. Odd numbered posts have accounted for 68 wins during that time while 36 winners have started from an even numbered post. No horse has ever won the Belmont Stakes outside of the 11 post and only four have won from the 10 and 11 holes combined (2 each).

Ice Box (photo), as expected, is listed at the morning line favorite at 3-1 odds while breaking from post six.

At one time, the Belmont Stakes had an extraodinary record of winning favorites. During the first 96 Belmonts with pari-mutuel wagers, 49 of the 96 races were won by the favorite. Even more extraodinary, another 34 were second or third for an incredible in-the-money rate of 86%. Only 13 favorites between 1877 and 1978 finished worse than third and all finished the race.

Since 1978, only 6 favorites have won the 31 Belmonts for a 19% win rate. But nine of them finished worse than third compared to 13 in the previous 96 wagering Belmonts and for the first time, favorites Prairie Bayou (1993), Cavonnier ('96) and Big Brown (2008) did not finish the race. The in-the-money rate during that span has been a respectable 71% with 22 of the favorites finishing first, second or third but favorites have not fared well for their supporters with win tickets.

So if Ice Box is to somehow benefit from the Belmont history gods, he'll have to go back further than 1978 before he begins to ask around. And there is plenty of room in the Belmont history books as the Belmont Stakes is the fourth oldest stakes race in North America. The Phoenix Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland was first run in 1831 and The Queens Plate in Canada first began in 1860. The Travers was first run at Saratoga in 1864. However, the Belmont, which will be run for the 142nd time in 2010, is third only to the Phoenix(157th running in 2009)and Queens Plate (150th running in 2009) in total runnings because the Travers has had gaps in its history and will be run for the 141st time this year.

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.