Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Belmont Stakes Preview Part I: The Lower Tier

Lemon Drop Kid at 29-1.
Commendable at 19-1.
Sarava at 70-1.
Birdstone at 36-1.
Da'Tara at 38-1.
Summer Bird at 12-1.
Drosselmeyer at 13-1.
Ruler on Ice at 24-1.

The voice of Belmont Park, Tom Durkin
In the last 13 years, we've had 8 horses win the Belmont at double-digit odds.  In the same time period, we've had a whopping two favorites win the big race (Point Given and Afleet Alex).  Clearly, the Belmont has been a race where it's good to try to seek out a price.

With a Triple Crown on the line, is that the case this year?  Let's take a look.  We're going to divide this year's preview into two parts, with today's portion looking at the lower tier of horses that we don't like.  Tomorrow we'll do a post on the upper tier of horses, which is going to take more of a narrative form than a countdown, where we'll reveal our pick.  Let's start with the lower rungs, which, to note our own lack of prowess in handicapping this race, has included recent winners Da'Tara, Drosselmeyer and Ruler on Ice.  As always, we're assuming a fast track.

The Memory of Sarava Rings Fresh

12.  My Adonis.  This last-second entry was last seen running a blase third in a minor stakes race at Pimlico, shortly after he was denied entry into the Kentucky Derby as an also-eligible.  We ignored him when discussing the Derby, and are sorry we've devoted this many characters to him now.

11.  Optimizer.  After being beaten badly in the Derby, he returned to be beaten badly in the Preakness.  Just stop already, Wayne.  Please.

10.  Ravelo's Boy.  There is no one perfect "prep race" for the Belmont.  You can win the Belmont if your prior race was the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, the Peter Pan or the Sir Barton, or something else that logically segues into an early June start at a mile and a half.  What doesn't logically lead into the Belmont is a non-threatening 5th in the Tampa Bay Derby in March, i.e., his last race.

9.  Guyana Star Dweej.  Last year trainer Doodnath Shivmangal entered Isn't He Perfect, who had no shot, and 200 feet into the race cut off Animal Kingdom, knocking him out of the race, and giving him an injury that ended his season.  Let's hope this guy has less of an impact than last year's bad idea.

8.  Unstoppable U.  Well, he beat Guyana Star Dweej in his last start, his second of his career.  So there's that.  If he improves about 20 lengths and 5 other horses scratch on the morning of the race, he has a shot to be within shouting distance of the top three.

7.  Five Sixteen.  His past performances are horrible, he's slow, and he's never faced a quality horse.  We're ranking him above the others solely because his daddy was 2006 Breeders Cup Classic and 2007 Dubai World Cup winner Invasor, which at least gives him good distance breeding.  But that's about it.

Exotics Possibility, We Guess

6.  Street Life.  Stone closer that clunked up to an uninteresting third in the Peter Pan in his last.  Running a snooze-worthy third in a Belmont Park prep, oddly, is actually a winning play: both Lemon Drop Kid and Drosselmeyer did it before scoring upsets.  The difference is that those horses had tactical speed and some prior success, whereas this guy looks like a one-run horse and has accomplished nothing of note.  He should be passing some tiring runners late and could get up to complete the superfecta, but it's tough to see him doing better than that.

The voice of the Triple Crown, Larry Collmus
5.  Dullahan.  Speaking of dead closers, it's the possible second choice, who finished a fast-closing third in the Derby, a neck in front of our hideous Preakness pick.  We are very, very against here, and are ecstatic that he'll take a ton of money.  Let's put aside for a minute what we wrote last year about Nehro, that horses that don't quite get there on the dirt in prior races also don't get there in the Belmont.  A very good Friend of the Blog correctly noted that grass-to-dirt converts fare horribly at Belmont Park because of the deep, sandy composition of the track.  Last year's examples were Animal Kingdom and Brilliant Speed, who did no better than 3rd.  We see the same here, and think he's a huge money burner.

4.  Atigun.  He wasn't competitive in his prior stakes efforts in Arkansas, but he ran a nice race on the Derby undercard, beating a fair field of allowance horses.  He's well-bred for the long distance and may actually be coming into his own, and his trainer, Ken McPeek, did pull off Sarava at 70-1 ten years ago.  The problem is he needs to take a huge step forward to compete unless it rains.  An interesting sleeper play if it's a wet track; nothing more than a triple or super finisher if it's a fast track.

3.  Paynter.  Bob Baffert's #2 horse after Bodemeister, he also didn't start racing until this year, with a good win at Santa Anita, followed by a not-horrible 4th in the Santa Anita Derby.  There, he was beaten by I'll Have Another by 4 lengths -- and it was his second career start.  Que impressive.  He's since then won an allowance race rather swiftly and ran a good second in the Derby Trial, and actually has the field's second highest speed figure.  So he's the upset pick, right?

Wrong.  The horse he keeps reminding us of is Rock Hard Ten, a gorgeous, lightly raced colt who came into the 2004 Belmont (Smarty Jones' year) with 4 career starts, good early speed, and with some decent stakes experience (3rd in the SA Derby, 2nd in the Preakness).  He challenged the pace early in the Belmont, wilted due to the pace pressure and lack of foundation, and finished well behind the winner.  We think the same thing happens here, and the lack of foundation catches up to him about halfway through the race, especially if there's a fair amount of pace in the race (we think this is likely).  He may affect the outcome of the race because I'll Have Another is going to have to pay attention to him.  But we think he's ultimately a non-factor.

Tomorrow: the contenders.

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