The Brock Talk

Friday, June 10, 2011

Standing By My Man

There is perhaps one basic question regarding the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1) Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Even though there is no Triple Crown winner to be crowned in the third jewel of the classic American series, the 1-1/2 mile Test of Champions has plenty of opportunity for definition in 2011. But will this crop of 3-year-old thoroughbreds have a stand out - a divisional leader - Saturday evening.

Animal Kingdom, winner of the grade 1 Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands but second in the Preakness to Shackleford, has perhaps the best chance at separating himself from his piers. He was a convincing winner at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May and came back to run a strong second to Shackleford in the Preakness. The son of Brazilian-bred sire Leroidesanimaux is also the only Belmont starter other than Shackleford with two wins this year. Animal Kingdom also won the Vinary Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. 3) in March while Shackleford also won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park in early February.

Animal Kingdom has been given the respect as the 5-2 morning line favorite while Shackleford has been taken down a notch to 9-2 as the third choice behind Derby runner-up Nehro at 4-1 in the morning line. The thinking behind that might be that Shackleford had difficulty holding the lead In the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby which raises questions about him going a quarter-mile further. Nehro also skipped the Preakness after the Kentucky Derby, so he arrives in New York with some needed time off that Shackleford of which Shackleford and Animal Kingdom have not enjoyed.

Wednesday morning, one might have thought Shackleford would have a relatively easy time getting to the lead and setting a comfortable pace as he did in the Derby. However, the post position draw changed that assumption when the speedy son of Forestry drew the far outside 12 hole. Jockey Jesus Castanon will have plenty of time to negotiate where he wants to be with Shackleford going into the second turn of the vast sweeping Belmont main track, but both Prime Cut and Isn’t He Perfect have the inside track to the relatively short run to the first turn at the Big Sandy. Yes, Shackleford can rate as he did in winning the Preakness, but he will then have less control to establish a pedestrian pace he may desire.

None of the above make my top Belmont selection however, has I will remain true to a horse for which I am just waiting for his break out moment. I have supported Mucho Macho Man since his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (gr. 2) in March – a race in which he ran most of with but three shoes. There was concern about the six-weeks between Louisiana and Kentucky, but it did not shake my resolution as I was sure the improvement without the naked hoof would be significant.

Mucho Macho Man finished a solid third in the Derby and I again speculated on improving Mucho Macho Man in the Preakness. Difficult to say a horse may have needed the Kentucky Derby after the six weeks, but my thinking was just that. But the shoe monster struck Mucho Macho Man again as he again threw a racing plate in the Preakness while finishing a disappointing sixth.

Mucho Macho Man has new glue-on shoes for the Belmont and just as important, will finally turn three-years-old (actually) four days after the Belmont Stakes on June 15. One would think that Mucho Macho Man is the beneficiary of added maturity that has bypassed others with earlier foaling dates. At 10-1, the Belmont is certainly no time to desert Mucho Macho Man at the windows.

Another horse at the attractive price of 10-1 also has my attention is Master of Hounds. In a case of the clock not defining actual speed, Master of Hounds looked to be making up considerable ground in the final 110 yards of the Kentucky Derby. He eventually ran out of ground coming from as far back as eight and three-quarters lengths and Master Hounds should be much closer in the Belmont Stakes if he can manage to repeat the running styles he showed when second in the UAE Derby (gr. II-UAE) in March. The England-to-Kentucky, Kentucky-to-England then England-to-New York itinerary has created some skepticism, but the cool front expected to hit New York Saturda and having trainer Aidan O’Brien erase much of that doubt.

Belmont Selections
1. Mucho Macho Man
2. Animal Kingdom
3. Master of Hounds

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