We’ve arrived at the end of the end of the road: the Belmont Stakes. Belmont’s spring showcase and the final leg of the Triple Crown gives us a deep field of 12 looking to add their name to the history books. Let’s take a look at the contenders for the Test of Champions.
Belmont Park: The Grade I, $1 million Belmont Stakes at 1 1/12 miles.
1. Dave In Dixie: Lone dirt try led to a very uninspiring fifth place finish in the Illinois Derby, where he finished 16 lengths behind American Lion. Prior to that, he disappointed in the GII San Felipe out west and for all the hype he garnered this spring, the simple fact of the matter is that he’s still eligible for a N1X, and it’s not like he’d even be imposing in one of those; passing.
2. Spangled Star: Speaking of being eligible for an N1X, this guy needed six tries in the Mid-Atlantic region to break his maiden, and since then he’s been soundly beaten in an optional claimer and the GIII Withers. It’s Dutrow and Gomez, so it’s nice to know you get ace connections, but that’s where the attributes begin and end; longshot.
3. Uptowncharlybrown: Talented runner was put on the fast track this spring, and while he held his own, he really didn’t threaten anyone of any importance, either. Lands in McLaughlin’s shedrow and he promptly removes the hood in an effort to get this colt to settle a bit more, but the barn change means an underlaid price at the window on a runner who really doesn’t have a pedigree that wants 12 furlongs; playing against.
4. Make Music For Me: Raise your hand if you realize that this guy finished fourth in the Derby while closing from 28 lengths back. He’s getting no publicity, but this underrated sort ran huge in what was his first attempt on conventional dirt and that was on a muddy strip, so you could argue that he’s going to move forward on a fast track. In his prior races out west, he had more of a stalk-and-pounce style, so more than likely he’ll be sitting midpack while launching a run on the far turn; not the worst price play in the world.
5. Fly Down: Cut back to one turn and looked awesome running off with the GII Dwyer, the local prep for this assignment, but take note that there was a ridiculous headwind that day that really zapped the front runners, so the run may have been flattered just a bit. Stretches back out to two turns and clearly enters as the “now” horse off that Dwyer, but the competition is much better here. You’ve got to worry about a bounce, but he did things so easily in the Dwyer, so maybe it’s not in the cards. Capable from just off of what shapes up as a tepid pace, and that bodes well for his chances while giving Zito the first of two top contenders; won’t fault anyone looking this way.
6. Ice Box: By now we all know about his nightmarish Derby trip and the way he closed when finally free late, so don’t expect to get any value at the windows. And while it’s all fine and dandy, don’t forget that he was beaten 2 ½ lengths by Super Saver, so it’s not like he was nosed on the line. The pace was scorching in both the Derby and his GI Florida Derby, but the early splits in here don’t figure to be nearly as hot, so that means that when he starts getting in gear on the far turn, the runners in front of him won’t be too starched from their early efforts. On paper, his style should win a race like the Belmont, but when the gates open, deep closers just don’t fare too well in this race (think Aptitude). And with that goes his track position, as when you have to pass the entire field to get there, you’re going to encounter trouble more often than not; respect his talent but taking a huge stand against on the win end.
7. Drosselmeyer: It will be interesting to see what the public does with this WinStar runner, because he’s the typical overhyped and overrated sort that everyone loves to bet on because of his talent and troubled trips. But then you look at things and realize that he’s done next to nothing and goes off at an extreme underlay each and every time. Blown out of the water in the Dwyer by Fly Down, and as good as that colt is, he’s not scaring them away here; never been a member of his fan club and certainly not applying for membership today.
8. Game On Dude: Blinkers did the trick in the Lone Star Derby as they had him a bit more motivated and focused early, and if you’re a Beyer guy, that race (96) somewhat shockingly (and sadly) stacks up rather nicely with this uninspiring group. We’ve yet to discuss the early pace in detail, but in a nutshell it’s on the slow side, so if he can sit right off First Dude and get the jump on the others on the far turn, you never know; thinking he runs a big one simply because of the race flow.
9. Stately Victor: Shocked the GI Blue Grass on the fake stuff and then ran credibly in the Derby when he finished a rallying eighth, so at least you know he’s in the mix at this longer distance. Shows a pair of beautiful drills at the CD Training Center, and passing the Preakness and winning the Belmont has been en vogue the past decade. Not really sold on him being this quality, but then again not really sold on any of the others being that type either; could sneak into the exotics.
10. Stay Put: Entered a few GII’s at FG with a solid reputation, and while he didn’t make much of an impact, he didn’t really get embarrassed either. He came from the clouds in those two, but on Derby Day he found some tactical speed and looked good getting a confidence-building allowance win. Margolis is having a tremendous year and he brings to the party a fresh and fit horse who should relish every bit of the 12 furlongs; if you’re looking for a live longshot, the buck stops right here.
11. First Dude: The wiseguy horse entering the Preakness ran huge while blasting away on the lead, putting the Derby winner away entering the far turn and then battling tooth and nail to the wire. Looks like he’s finally starting to grow into himself and we know that these 3yo’s can improve overnight, so not really viewing him as a bounce candidate. And the best news of all is that he’s absolutely loose as loose can be on the lead in this spot while some of his main challengers are at the mercy of the pace each and every time. So basically you’re getting the fastest horse in the race who has the benefit of a great pace scenario while being ridden by the best jockey on the planet and he’s probably not even going to be favored; seems long gone on the lead.
12. Interactif: A lot of people wondering what this turf/synthetic runner is doing in here, but a few years back Pletcher rolled the dice with a seemingly overmatched Ready’s Echo and about 150 seconds later he had a Triple Crown placing on his pedigree page. So before you discount this colt’s chances just remember that there’s no one named Point Given or Afleet Alex in here to scare anyone off. Talented sort did break his maiden on the main last summer at Monmouth (though at 6F’s), so at least you know he can get over it OK; not at the top of the list but stranger things have happened.
11. First Dude
8. Game On Dude
10. Stay Put
6. Ice Box