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Preview of 143rd Belmont Stakes

| by Sports Nickel

Like the debaucherous prognosticating procrastinator that I am, I’ve been working too much and writing too little lately. Fifty-plus hours a week at hard labor in a kitchen with but one day a week off work — and that day spent in the dentist’s chair, no less — will keep a guy from getting motivated to take his fingers over the keyboard for any meaningful discourse on the events of the day. I’ve been abject in my duties, delaying my deadlines until the last possible minute.

To say the least, I’ve been exhibiting the worst instead of the best of the traits of our good fallen Doc Thompson. Yet as I sit here, cigarette between my lips and the third beer of the night cradled between my sore knees, I can’t help but feel a wellspring of words drifting forth…

Needless to say I’m taking a different angle leading into the final leg of the Triple Crown series than I did with my Contenders and Pretenders preview for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. You can click on either of the links and see bios for almost every horse in the field, if you wish…

… but we’ve seen things go completely against custom in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. There were a lot of question marks leading into the opener at Churchill Downs. The Derby helped answer a few of them, and Pimlico cleared the picture a little more for us.

Despite the Triple Crown drought extending now to 33 years and counting, the longest race of the trio should still provide plenty of engaging storylines as eleven of Belmont’s fourteen starters already have experienced the energy and pressure of the Derby, the Preakness or both.

Animal Kingdom, after surging from mid-pack to take the Derby and then simply running out of track at Pimlico to burst the Triple Crown dreams once more, looks like a horse bred for the full 12 furlongs of Belmont Park. He arrives as the odds-on favorite, and why not? Add even a half-furlong to the Preakness distance and the horse would’ve reached Belmont as the first legitimate Triple Crown contender in years.

Shackleford, the horse that stole away the Preakness and deflated the ballooning Triple Crown daydreams, has been touted as a top-three favorite for Belmont. But this belies the fact that this horse has shown great speed but little stamina. He was fading badly at the end of the race at Pimlico, just as he had before in Derby prep races. Over the full mile-and-a-half challenge of the final Triple Crown leg, the horse lacks that holding power that makes it more likely he’ll be out of the money altogether than winning the event.

Who could challenge Animal Kingdom, then? All of the top seven horses from the Kentucky Derby will be in the starting gate. We’ve already discussed the two biggest names among them, but they are hardly the only horses that should be generating buzz. Let’s look first at the three horses that didn’t race in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown…

  • #3 – Ruler on Ice (Trainer: Kelly Breen; Jockey: Jose Valdivia Jr.; ODDS: 20-1)
  • #7 – Monzon (Trainer: Ignacio Correas IV; Jockey: Jose Lezcano; ODDS: 30-1)
  • #8 – Prime Cut (Trainer: Neil Howard; Jockey: Edgar Prado; ODDS: 15-1)

These three maiden voyagers of the pinnacle trio of horse races are all probably unlikely winners of this race. Prime Cut, breaking from the #8 post, has raced on this course before in the Peter Pan Stakes, taking third behind Alternation and Adios Charlie. But the horse hasn’t raced since, and though he has a Triple Crown winner’s blood in his veins (his maiden great-grandsire is Affirmed) he is unlikely to show the stamina  necessary without any racing form in his legs in almost two months. The addition of Edgar Prado as jockey, winner of the Belmont Stakes in 2002 and 2004, is a boon to their chances, but 15-1 is still probably an overrating of the horse’s potential.

Monzon, breaking out of the #7 post, has an even more directly-positive pedigree. His sire is Thunder Gulch, the 1995 winner of both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. He won both of his first two starts on dirt against tough fields, but he’s finished no better than fifth in any of his three most recent races in 2011 — including a sixth-place finish in the same Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont in mid-May where Prime Cut showed. The bloodline is sound, but the horse is untested. If you’re looking for a strong longshot, this might be your bet.

And Ruler on Ice, near the rail in the #3 post, was a horse that looked like a sound contender for the Preakness Stakes after finishing second in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico yet did not start the race. Apparently Kelly Breen was holding the horse out for a start at Belmont instead. The grandson of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, nothing in this horse’s pedigree shows anything near the potential to race at long distances.

So… what does it all come down to? You’ve got my opinion on all the horses in the race. Sure, some things could be updated, but the gut is the gut. I guess it all comes down to predictions. Bigalkedamus must try to futilely predict which horses are going to finish in the trifecta…

Except my wife is the better clairvoyant in the household, so maybe I’d best ask her. So who does she like?

  1. Animal Kingdom
  2. Mucho Macho Man
  3. Master of Hounds

You know what? I’m going to go with that as well. The way Animal Kingdom ran in both of the first two legs, he is the horse that has shown the greatest potential for excelling at what will likely be the longest distance raced in any of these horse’s careers. Mucho Macho Man, who finished 3rd at the Kentucky Derby and 6th in the Preakness, is the horse that Graham Motion’s camp seem most afraid of as Animal Kingdom hopes to claim two jewels to salve the missing third. But here’s guessing that finishing speed to ten furlongs and beyond is too much for the rest of the field after what is likely to be a slow early pace.

Mucho Macho Man is a great chance to finish second, a horse that was disrupted from his full potential after being tied up in the Preakness yet should have the extra track length at Belmont to sort any early snags out and break for the wire. And Master of Hounds, the well-traveled European who has been everywhere from Churchill Downs to Dubai in the past year and is based in Ireland with trainer Aidan O’Brien, showed great endurance in closing from 15th to make the top five in the Kentucky Derby.

My personal proclivity for an exotic in the trifecta box? Monzon. Sure, he hasn’t raced in these races before. But this race is directly in his blood, thanks to Thunder Gulch, he has dirt experience and success to boot, and the odds are right to really pay off if all goes to course. If you were to replace him into either of the show or place spots to replace Mucho Macho Man or Master of Hounds, it wouldn’t be out of line.

But look for Animal Kingdom to excel, and Shackleford to fade, and the “rivalry” that has been played up to be exposed as a sham. But while there is no Seabiscuit/War Admiral, Affirmed/Alydar, or even Rachel Alexandra/Zenyatta kind of duel in horse racing at the moment, that doesn’t diminish what we will gain in athletic gratification when they parade to the post tomorrow afternoon. Get your bets down and enjoy the last leg of 2011!


PostHorseJockeyMorning line odds

Master of Hounds
Garrett Gomez

Stay Thirsty
Javier Castellano

Ruler On Ice
Jose Valdivia Jr.

Shaun Bridgmohan

Brilliant Speed
Joel Rosario

Corey Nakatani

Jose Lezcano

Prime Cut
Edgar Prado

Animal Kingdom
John Velazquez

Mucho Macho Man
Ramon Dominguez

Isn’t He Perfect
Rajiv Maragh

Jose Castanon


Pre-Race Thoughts Before the 143rd Belmont Stakes is a post originally from: SportsNickel.com - In Sports We Trust