Looking back at Belmont Day

It’s hard not to consider New York’s premier day of racing an unqualified success. Handle was unimaginably impressive; the place was packed with happy people enjoying a day at the races; Summer Bird, Tim Ice, and Kent Desormeaux provide terrific storylines and a satisfying ending to the Triple Crown season; and all the horses and jockeys came home safely. Both Dunkirk and Gabby’s Golden Gal, who experienced some post-race distress, walked off the track, and NYRA reported that on Sunday morning, trainer Todd Pletcher indicated that Dunkirk was “bright and alert,” showing no signs of fatigue. Tonja Terranova, who oversees Bob Baffert’s New York horses, said that Gabby’s Golden Gal was “fine.” “She looks OK- as soon as she got cooled off [yesterday] everything was fine.”

Fabulous Strike was his fabulous self—was there a better race on Saturday than the True North? Through the first half of the card, we frequently wondered about the fact that the track was labeled “good”; when fractions of 21.85 and 43.62 were posted, shouts of “Not a fast track?” went up all around us, and within minutes of the results being made official, the condition was changed to “fast.” Gee, thanks for telling us.

The sizzling pace and the late challenge from Benny the Bull made Fabulous Strike’s victory all the more exciting. I’m not usually all that psyched about a 4/5 winner, but I was happier to see Fabulous Strike than I would have been to cash a winning ticket (which is why you see so little handicapping on this site).

Overheard after the Woody Stephens: “Hello Broadway ran like Hello Dolly.” Tough to argue.

Those who pillory New York State for its contentious relationship with racing were given additional fodder by Governor Paterson’s letter to racing fans in the Belmont Stakes program, in which our governor writes,

Young and old alike enjoy this vigorous sprint that challenges the fastest horse to outrun the race of the pack and earn one of the most coveted titles in sports. [emphasis mine]

Umm, does nobody proofread these things before they go out? Is there really no one in the governor’s office who knows the length of the Belmont? Or maybe they thought the True North was the big race of the day? Unbelievable.

The most surreal moment of the day came for me when two strangers, noticing my name on the media credential around my neck, asked me to autograph the piece I had written for the Belmont Stakes program. Flattering, yes, but perhaps I should have pointed them in the direction of the many other racing luminaries on the grounds yesterday.

Impressive performance by the 10-year-old Better Talk Now in the Manhattan, finishing third by about three lengths. Jeremy Rose will have my undying loyalty for his ride on Afleet Alex in the 2005 Preakness, but he had Better Talk Now about fifteen wide coming around the turn, and he was all over the track in the stretch. Better Talk Now finished full of run, and while he might not have won, it seems logical that he might have gotten up for at least second with a less arduous trip.

“He’s ready. We’re going to win. No questions asked.” So said Calvin Borel as reported in The Blood-Horse earlier this week. When asked on ESPN on Saturday whether riding at Belmont required any special preparation, Borel, who’s ridden only a handful of times at Big Sandy and who didn’t ride at all here last week, chuckled dismissively and responded, “No, sir. You just get to the turn and turn left.”

Regular readers know that I’m not a fan of Borel, and it seems that he grossly underestimated the magnitude of the task before him yesterday. There’s a reason that out-of-town trainers seek jockeys with experience over the track, and it’s hard to see Borel’s statements as anything except arrogance.

In the post-race press conference, Borel conceded that he might have moved a “tad early,” but noted that the horse “took him there.” He also said that he wouldn’t think twice about offering such a guarantee again.

The accomplishments of Mine That Bird this Triple Crown season—hitting the board in all three races—stand on their own. He’s a mighty impressive little race horse, and I’m hoping that we get to see him at Saratoga this summer. One wonders whether a different jockey and a different trip might have had him wearing white carnations late yesterday afternoon.

The big track at Belmont again demonstrated that it’s the Test of the Champion for not only horses but jockeys well, and Borel’s name will be added to the list of those who were humbled by its immensity and its tactical demands.

What is likely my final post for Belmontstakes.com is up, about a brief visit to Summer Bird last evening.

In our charity attendance-guessing contest, Steve Zorn’s guess of 53,874 came closest to the published attendance of 52, 861, going over by 1013, but Steve got his guess in nearly two hours after the deadline (way to be sleeping late, Steve!). SaratogaSpa came in second, with a guess of 51,500, 1361 below the official number.

Both Steve and SaratogaSpa chose Backstretch Employees Service Team (B.E.S.T.) as their charity, so I’ll donate $50 in each of their names, for a total of $100. B.E.S.T. offers a variety of services to the backstretch employees, including medical care, and it was recently forced, for financial reasons, to give up the health insurance it was able to provide to grooms, hotwalkers, and other workers who take such good care of the horses.

The check will go out within the week. Congratulations to both of you, and thanks to everyone for playing!

5 thoughts on “Looking back at Belmont Day

  1. Thanks, Teresa; I meant to be up before 9, but you know how that goes. I'll be sending along my own $50 to BEST as well, as promised.

  2. Thanks Teresa:and congrats to Steve Z. also. Perhaps we will re-match at the Travers? I always loved guessing attendance at the track and other sports events I attend. It was a great day at Belmont, and I enjoyed a rare good handicapping day at the track and so $50 of my own money will go straight to the fine folks at B.E.S.T.

  3. Steve: I'm just envious that you got to sleep late.SS: I'll almost certainly run some sort of summer charity contest–stay tuned!Also: please contact me at the e-mail on my site with your full name and e-mail address, so that I can donate in your name. And thanks, both of you, for matching the donations. Great news for BEST.

  4. Anon 12:07: Here are the rules from the very first post: "The closest guess to the actual attendance wins…"I thought about making explicit that this was not Price is Right rules…over or under, just the closest guess.I think it's fair to declare Mr. Spa the winner, and for Zorn to get an honorable mention. How do the stewards rule?

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