The Brock Talk

Monday, May 24, 2010

Light Beginning To Shine At End Of Belmont Tunnel

With less than two weeks until the grade 1 Belmont Stakes, there seems to be as much talk in the media and more chatter on about the potential closing of New York racing rather than the third leg in the Triple Crown. With Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky skipping the Belmont, it will be difficult for the field live up to the historical billing as the Test of Champions and to be held under such an umbrella of uncertainty doesn't make matters any better.

Although New York governor David Patterson offered the New York Racing Association, made up of Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct, a $25 million loan that would keep them in business through the Spring of 2011, the state Senate and Assembly must enact the legislation. NYRA officials have said they do not have the cash to remain open through June without the loan and has sent a lay-off warning to it's 1,300 employees so there is a great deal of urgency to the legislators necessary assistance.

Make no mistake that if Super Save had won the Preakness and was headed for a possible Triple Crown, the potential closure of NYRA would still be a significant story.

But with the absence of the Derby and Preakness winner and only three of the likely ten starters coming into the Belmont off a victory in their last race, it is not the brightest of times for the Belmont Stakes.

The most credible of the winning Belmont trio is the Nick Zito-trained Fly Down, a 6-length winner of the grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park May 8. Zito will be looking for his third Belmont Stakes after winning with the longshot Da'Tara in 2007 and stopping Smarty Jones' Triple Crown bid with Birdstone in 2004.

Prior to the Dwyer, Fly Down was never a factor when ninth in the Louisiana Derby and and had only an allowance and maiden wins to his credit.

The other two recent winners are Game On Dude, the Bob Baffert trainee who won a sub-par Lone Star Derby (gr. 3) May 8; and Stay Put, who won an allowance race at Churchill Downs in his last start.

Zito will come to the Belmont paddock well armed with with talent and class for the June 5 Belmont as he will also saddle probable favorite Ice Box (top photo). A hard charging second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby in his last race and winner of the Florida Derby (gr. 1) before that, Ice Box encountered several traffic problems in the Derby and was considered the best horse that day by many.

For those who have closely followed the Triple Crown trail throughout the Spring, Drosslemeyer will be a familiar name among this year's Belmont runners. Another in the arsenal of WinStar Farm-owned three-year-olds this year, Drosslemeyer missed qualifying for the Kentucky Derby after finishing fourth in the Risen Star Stakes and third in the Louisiana Derby, both grade 2 stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans before the Derby. Trainer Bill Mott has also employed the riding services of jockey Mike Smith for the Belmont replacing Kent Desormeaux. While Mott and Smith are Hall of Famers, both will be looking for their first Belmont Stakes victory.

Among others expected in the Belmont are First Dude, second in Preakness behind Lookin at Lucky; Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Make Music For Me and Uptowncharlybrown, third in the Lexington Stakes (gr. 2) at Keeneland in his last race. Uptowncharlybrown will be making his first start from the barn of trainer Kiaran McLaughlin after his trainer Alan Seewald passed away unexpectedly shortly be the Lexington. Longtime Seewald assistant Linda White was listed as the official trainer in the Lextingon Stakes.

Trained by Dale Romans, First Dude ran a very big race while almost stealing the Preakness Stakes in a gate to wire performance. Despite setting fast fractions while racing alone on the lead in the Preakness, he held on gamely when challenged by Lookin at Lucky, Carcortado, Jackson Bend and Yawanna Twist in the stretch. Despite the misconception that the 1-1/2 mile Belmont favors horses with a come-from-behind running style, a horse like First Dude can be dangerous alone on a slow lead.

So we head to the 142nd running of the Test of Champions under dark and uncertain skies. But before you become too disappointed in this inglorious Belmont, just remember less than a year ago when an unheralded Summer Bird came into the Belmont with a certain amount of anonymity, pulled a mild upset and went win the grade 1 Travers at Saratoga and Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) over older horses. The credentials may not be attached to this field yet, but there is evidence of class.

And sometimes, that's more than enough to make a good horse race.

1 comment:

John said...

Understandably there's the dark cloud looming overhead NYRA's head of not having the money to keep racing alive. That would be terrible, especially with the upcoming Saratoga summer meeting, which has so much tradition and history, not to mention the best racing during the summer. Hope the NY Legislature approves the Governor's offer.

This year's Belmont Stakes could be a bang-up race. Drosselmeyer is a good horse, we've got First Dude returning after his huge Preakness performance. We've got Game On Dude, so right there are two "Dudes" who might make it interesting. Ice Box speaks for himself. And with Uptowncharleybrown in the mix, if he even comes close to pulling it off, that would be a real "feel-good" story.

Personally I think there's a lot to like in the field, and the Belmont Stakes is always a way to push for stamina in the breed, because this race demands stamina. And hopefully the NYRA coffers will soon fill up a bit as well, so the anxiety about the state's racing will be abated.