Belmont Park: The Grade I, $1 million Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles
#1 Master Of Hounds (10-1 ML): European ran quite credibly to be fifth in the Derby after getting modest reviews in terms of appearance leading up to the race and that was only his second start of the year, so you would think that he can move forward here over a distance he should relish. Passed several in the Derby, though he didn’t make up much ground, and with that trial run on dirt and with Gomez under his belt, not to mention this ground-saving post, he figures to be in the mix, though he’s logged a lot of miles in a short period of time; mixed signals on this obviously talented runner.
#2 Stay Thirsty (20-1): Looked good winning the GIII Gotham in his seasonal bow at AQU but was nowhere in the Florida Derby prior to flopping in Louisville, so you have to wonder what he can offer today. The good news is that he’s a half-brother to Andromeda’s Hero, who was second n the race in 2005 to Afleet Alex, so he should like the trip, but at the end of the day he’s done nothing to show he belongs against the best of his generation; not seeing it.
#3 Ruler On Ice (20-1): Adds blinkers after running second in the minor Tesio at PIM, and the winner that day, Concealed Identity, is still trying to finish the Preakness, so that’s not a ringing endorsement for this dude. Trainer Breen upset the La. Derby earlier this spring with Pants On Fire, so he knows how to win a big race, but aside from that, this son of Roman Ruler is in deep, deep water; pace player.
#4 Santiva (15-1): No one is really mentioning it, but he ran big in the Derby to be sixth, especially when you consider that he entered off basically a workout in the GI Blue Grass at KEE after he was in trouble for the majority of the 1 1/8 miles. Fine second in the GII Risen Star to start off his season at FG, and this son of Giant’s Causeway should sit a dream trip just off the pace, which will put him in an enviable position turning for home. Finally gets a chance to stretch his legs and show what he’s made of, and at a big price in a race with no standouts, that sounds mighty appealing; gets the call to pull the surprise.
#5 Brilliant Speed (15-1): Solid, if unspectacular seventh in the Derby after basically running in place, but passing a few (Have you picked up on the theme yet? No one made up much ground in the Derby yet several passed a bunch of horses) in what was his first two-turn start on the main, so could presumably improve off that run. Son of all-world sire Dynaformer closed from last to win the Blue Grass, so you have to believe he’ll be served today and look to make one late run, but that’s not the style that usually wins this test; passing.
#6 Nehro (4-1): Top “new” shooter ran a big second in the Derby when wide for much of the running, and he leads the brigade of fresh runners who skipped the Preakness to point for this spot. Ran to expectations in the Derby, as he had the look of a real comer who was ready to fire the race of his life after successive runner-up finishes, and the Belmont’s distance should be perfect for a son of Horse of the Year Mineshaft. The only issue is his price, as he’s likely to be pounded at the windows, and it’s not too hard to envision him vying for favoritism with ‘Kingdom. So, you need to ask yourself if you want to take about 5-2 on a runner who at the end of the day may still be eligible for a N1X; respect his talent but value lies elsewhere.
#7 Monzon (30-1): Well-beaten in the GII Peter Pan, the local prep, and that was a very weak renewal, so it’s tough to see him making an impact here, even though dad Thunder Gulch won this race in 1995. One of the many in here who should be sitting midpack while looking to make a run off the far turn, but he’s simply in too tough; outsider.
#8 Prime Cut (15-1): Decent third in the Peter Pan after chasing an honest pace, so at least you know he can handle Big Sandy, though that run isn’t scaring any of the toughies in here either. He does own some tactical speed in a race with very little early lick, so there’s a chance that he’ll get first run on the stalker/closers on the far turn, though it’s unlikely he’ll be able to hold off their charge; minor award looks to be his ceiling.
#9 Animal Kingdom (2-1): Derby hero was a gallant second in the Preakness when he closed from the clouds to finish behind the free-wheeling Shackleford in a real thriller while validating his big CD run. But as good as he ran in Baltimore, he was never running by Shackleford at any point in the race (watch the gallop-out), so be careful how you grade that performance, as sharp as it looked visually. Today he’ll likely set up midpack, which leaves JV an interesting dilemma: does he try to keep closer to the pace like the Derby and risk using some of his horse before the stretch drive, or does he let Shackleford and others jump out to a big lead early and hope to run them down late? Contrary to popular belief, deep closers don’t win the Belmont, so expecting the former of the two scenarios to play out, but after a rigorous Triple Crown campaign, just how much can be left in the tank? At an underlaid price with a suspect 12-furlong pedigree, it’s worth trying to beat him on top; keying underneath.
#10 Mucho Macho Man (10-1): This colt’s shoes have gotten more publicity than Fred Astaire’s this spring, but after losing one in both the La. Derby and Preakness, you’ve got to wonder if karma isn’t on his side. Trainer Ritvo got a new blacksmith who put on a special shoe, so hopefully the issues are behind a colt that has run well basically every time he’s met the starter. Willing to give him a mulligan for the Preakness after he was wide the entire way and threw the aforementioned shoe, but also starting to question his class as when push has come to shove, he’s blinked more often than not. Has the right grinding style to win a race like this, but a few others rate higher on the list; prefer to key him underneath, if at all.
#11 Isn’t He Perfect (30-1): Finished a non-threatening ninth in the Preakness and that doesn’t really seem like a logical springboard to Belmont glory, yet here he is for another crack at the big boys. He’s tactical enough to work out a trip, but he figures to be going backwards just as fast when the real running begins; deserving longshot.
#12 Shackleford (9-2): Simply ran his eyeballs out in his Preakness win, when he pressed a lightning fast pace, kicked clear off the turn and then held the Derby winner at bay in a monster run. That win confirmed the thought that this dude likes to hear his feet rattle early, as he did in the Florida Derby, when he went wild early and just missed to the deep closing pretender that was Dialed In. Another who has had a very arduous campaign, like main rival ‘Kingdom, and as a son of Forestry, he’s certainly not bred to win this race, but he’ll enjoy a tremendous tactical advantage over a field that really isn’t very fast at all. And the best part of it all is that he could go off at 5-1 with all the hype and popular connections surrounding some of the others; clearly the one to beat.
#9 Animal Kingdom