We’ve finally come to the end of the road. The Triple Crown trail, that is. The Belmont Stakes and one lap around the glorious main track of Belmont Park. There’s no Triple Crown on the line this year, no big bonus for the winner and no exciting rematch between the Derby winner Mine That Bird and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra. It leaves us with one heavy favorite and a group of nine that will try and knock him off his perch as the best 3-year-old male in the country. We’ll be back later in the week to look at the rest of the stakes action, but for now let’s take a look at the third leg of the Triple Crown. –Brian Nadeau
Chocolate Candy: All things considered, his run in the Derby wasn’t bad at all. After encountering trouble early, he got it together, passed a bunch of horses late and finished up a respectable fifth in what was his first start on the main track. They wisely regrouped and pointed to this spot and all indications are that he’s coming into this one in perfect fashion. Take note he’s been in New York for a while now and has had four works over the track, which only adds to the appeal. Figures to take back and make a run, so the predicted soft pace could cause concerns, but if he drifts to 12-1 you could do worse.
Dunkirk: Just draw a line through his Derby and move on, as he had a nightmare trip that left him with no chance. So that leaves you with a huge run behind Quality Road in the Florida Derby, and we all know how good he was before going to the sidelines. Another who wisely skipped the Preakness, and judging by his big drill over the track on May 18, he gets along just fine with Big Sandy. The downside is that he has the look of a colt that takes forever and a day to get into gear, and sure, he gets 12 furlongs to work with on Saturday, but the long-striding plodders don’t usually win the Belmont. While Mine That Bird has shown he can quicken in a heartbeat and sustain that for more than three furlongs, this colt needed the full length of the turn to get into high gear in the Florida Derby. And what if they post: 49 for the half? That makes his deliberate rally that much more up against it. Respect his talent, but at 4-1 others offer more appeal in terms of value.
Mr. Hot Stuff: Another runner where you can toss the distant Derby run and focus on prior starts. He’s essentially the West Coast’s version of Dunkirk, with a come-from-behind style that leaves him at the mercy of the pace. Colonel John’s little brother brings nothing in terms of tactical speed to the party and that likely will leave him with way too much to do on the far turn. He’ll get every inch of Saturday’s 12 furlongs, just thinking the rest of them will get it a little quicker.
Summer Bird: He’s getting little attention, but that was a fine run to get sixth in the Derby in what was his fourth lifetime start. No speed in this corner in the past but now the blinkers go on for this and that should have him much closer early on. He’s another who has been stabled here and has gotten to know the track through a pair of works and the thinking is that we haven’t seen close to his best yet. And that third in the Arkansas Derby wasn’t bad at all. Figures to be ignored in the wagering so 15-1 is almost assured, meaning he’s worth using at a nice number.
Luv Gov: Before you totally dismiss his chances, ask yourself if it’s impressive to exit a maiden win and then run within 8 ¾ lengths of Rachel Alexandra in what was essentially a prep for your next assignment? I ask because that’s what this colt did in the Preakness. Sure, he was no threat at any point, but that’s not too bad, right? For whatever reason he’s improved significantly in his last few starts and Lukas said all along the Belmont was his goal. Now, he’s still got to improve open lengths to win this, but so did Commendable, and we know how that turned out. And who trained that guy? Ah yes, it was D. Wayne himself. He’s a legit 30-1 and has to run the race of his life to factor, but we’ve seen stranger things happen in the Belmont. If you’re spreading and looking for real value, stop right here.
Charitable Man: Whether you think he gets loose on the lead or opts to sit second behind Miner’s Escape, there’s no denying he enjoys a huge tactical advantage in here. He finds a race with no speed and a bunch of closers. For $1 million, that’s not too shabby. Looked great winning the Peter Pan to make it 2-for-2 (both graded events to boot) at Belmont but now comes the acid test, and the usually gung-ho barn was somewhat hesitant to go here, which bring up a few flags. He also tries two turns on conventional dirt for the first time in here, so the verdict is still out on how he handles that. It all depends which way you are leaning; with a few questions and some bad vibes 5-2 doesn’t sound like any great shakes; but with a big tactical advantage against some also-rans and a deep closer who will go favored, then that 5-2 might seem like printed money for a horse that’s never lost on conventional dirt. He’s formidable, but I’ll side that the 5-2 isn’t any great shakes.
Mine That Bird: Validated his Derby shocker and then some with a giant run in the Preakness and he might well have caught Rachel Alexandra with a clean trip. And whether you love him or hate him, you have to respect him after that run in Baltimore. Back to dance one more time, so it’s fair to ask that after those two hard races, does he have anything left in the tank? It’s also fair to ask, does he need much in the tank to beat this group? This isn’t exactly the Breeders’ Cup Classic, folks. Yeah, there are some nice horses, but no one has come close to doing what he’s done in his last two starts. He’s chalky to be sure, and seems at the mercy of a slow pace as well, but sometimes class gets you through all that. I’m not going to tell you to storm the windows and bet him at 7-5, but I will tell you it’s very possible that he’s simply better than the rest in here regardless of the pace scenario. Choice for the win.
Flying Private: Speaking of clean trips in the Preakness, if this guy got one, he could have been the one running at Rachel Alexandra in deep stretch. Go back and watch the replay and you’ll see his run to be fourth, beaten only 4 lengths, was heady stuff. And the neat thing with this colt is that you get an abundance of tactical speed, which could have him in a mighty salty spot turning for home. We’ve already mentioned that Lukas has been known to pull some shockers, and if the big favorite regresses a tad and this one moves forward, just maybe you have something here. I’ll tab him for second and note that he’s got a big, big chance at a nice number.
Miner’s Escape: Seems to have enough speed to set the pace if they want to and certainly he won’t be worse than second heading into the turn. We know what Zito and LaPenta did with Da’Tara last year, but it’s hard to envision lightning striking twice. Even if he lopes along up front, the daunting shadow of Charitable Man should cause major problems. Know him early, but don’t look for him late.
Brave Victory: The second from Zito and LaPenta is another longshot with mixed form. Solid run in the Peter Pan but he was no threat to Charitable Man and flattened out a bit late (though the jockey did lose his whip). Another who makes his first start at two turns on conventional dirt and his pedigree doesn’t exactly scream 12 furlongs. Zito’s shocked this race in the past, not only with wins by Birdstone and Da’Tara, but with some in the money finishes by bombs like Royal Assault. This colt seems eligible to fall in the latter category.
• As a bit of a side note, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not that into picking the favorites. But sometimes it just happens that way. So I will throw out to you that when Afleet Alex won the Belmont at even-money in 2005 in an 11-horse field, he keyed a $1,249 triple and remarkable $14,219 superfecta. Point being, if you too are a Mine That Bird fan and aren’t enamored with some of the other well-bet choices, there’s nothing wrong with keying the Derby winner on top and hoping that 12 furlongs and a tricky, tricky race can give you a few healthy numbers underneath in the exotics. Good luck, everyone, and enjoy what shapes up to be a great day of racing.
Note from Teresa: Don’t forget to play the Brooklyn Backstretch attendance charity game–a minimum of four guesses needs to be posted here (scroll down) by 9 am on Saturday morning; winner gets a $50 donation made in his/her name to the racing charity of his/her choice.