Thursday, May 31, 2007

Why This Year's Belmont is Boring

If you haven't heard yet (i.e., if you're not one of horse racing's 34 fans that knows what a blog is), Street Sense, the Derby winner, is passing on the third jewel of the Triple Crown, next Saturday's Belmont Stakes. Is he hurt? Nope. Is he tired? Also nope. So what's the reason? The connections feel like waiting for the Travers, a race in August.

[Trainer Carl] Nafzger said Street Sense was in good shape physically. He worked an easy half-mile at Churchill Downs on Wednesday.

"He's ready to go," Nafzger said. "I'd never use that as an excuse."

By stopping now, Nafzger said he believes he can get Street Sense back to the races quicker this summer than if he were to go to the Belmont.

"He could give 110 percent in the Belmont, but could he come back and give 110 percent in the Travers, and still be on a campaign to give 110 percent in the Breeders' Cup?" Nafzger said. "It's like a running back. You need some time off. You get tired of putting pads on every day and running wind sprints.

Is this the right decision? I'm not going to go all Bill Finley (the Steve Rushin of racing) on you and lament the fact that the Belmont's now "just another race" for the general public. The idea that the Curlin-Street Sense "rivalry" was going to bump up attendance in Elmont by 30,000 and 3 Nielsen points is insane--if there's no Triple Crown on the line, the casual fan's just not going to be interested, and it'll get the usual perfunctory ratings. And if it's a nice day, the locals will show up, no matter who's running in the big race. The notion that this is putting racing behind the 8-ball is totally unfounded; racing is shooting itself in the foot about 390 other ways ahead of Carl Nafzger's decision.

No, the real question is whether or not Nafzger is doing good by his horse. Steve Crist makes an excellent case in the Daily Racing Form that Nafzger knows from his earlier experiences with Unbridled how to leave something in the tank for the big races later in the year, and Street Sense will have to be at his peak to beat Invasor, who's arguably the best older horse we've seen in the U.S. since Silver Charm. Maybe it's a good idea to skip an anachronistically long race in June to freshen up your horse and point for the fall classics, right?

Sound as this logic seems, I have to disagree. If you've got a healthy horse here and now, and there's a historic race to run...you run him, and take on all challengers. Defeating Curlin in the Belmont would almost wrap up the division title for Street Sense, at which time he can rest with a 2-prep comeback for the Breeders Cup. To forego a spot where he'd be a prohibitive favorite to try to win the Travers is ludicrous; the Travers is the oldest race in America, and still means something if you're a Saratoga person, but the Belmont is bigger--it's the Triple Crown! Mr. Carl, I think you're doing the wrong thing here. And in the process, you've killed the Belmont from a wagering standpoint, which frankly, is more inexcusable than anything else.

So what's left for next Saturday? Well, Curlin is running, and will be a stiff favorite to make it two in a row for the classics and to take a huge lead in the race for the prestigious Eclipse Award. Hard Spun's coming back in what may be his final race before his stud plans are finalized, but it's hard to see this out of control speedball gutting it out for an additional quarter of a mile. Tiago and I'mawildandcrazyguy come back after skipping the Preakness leg, both stone closers in a race that appears to be bereft of speed. Todd Pletcher's either going to run his boy (Circular Quay) or his girl (Rags to Riches) and either will be immensely overbet relative to their chances in the race. That leaves the improving Slew's Tizzy as an interesting longshot, and as of now, you have to think the Curlin-Slew's Tizzy exacta may be the way to go.

Of course, there's a great chance some trainers will see a $1 million purse up for grabs, realize you get $100k for running third, and enter some hopeless longshots for kicks anyway. But barring someone intrguing like Sightseeing, Chelokee or Street Magician being pointed for the race at the eleventh hour, suffice to say that while the Belmont is still a classic race, it'll be the least interesting race on the day at Belmont. Too bad.

8 comments:

Teddy said...

Eh, the Belmont jumped the shark when it stopped letting us carry three cases of Yuengling and a beer pong table onto the grounds.

El Angelo said...

This is true. You haven't celebrated the Belmont properly if you haven't done mimosas with the crappy champagne you brought in at 9 am, followed by 4 straight hours of Beirut, while handicapping between matches. Actually, I think my winnings were higher those years.

Handride said...

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