Friday, June 10, 2016

2016 Belmont Preview

For the umpteenth time, we were wrong with Nyquist.  We're convinced this horse exists solely to make us look stupid, and more importantly, cost us money.  But at least he's out of the Belmont, which relieves us of the burden of trying to figure out which way his form is going and trying to guess wrong yet again.  Instead, we have an eclectic 13-horse field that is more wide-open that it appears at first glance. 

Let's get to this year's edition of the Test of Champions, and see if we can extend our streak of picking the winner to 5 straight years.  As always, we're assuming that the track is fast and fair.

Not Again

13.  Trojan Nation.  The only surprising thing about his Derby was that he wasn't the longest shot on the board and only went off at 40-1.  Other than that he didn't disappoint - he broke horribly and was never closer than 20 lengths behind the leader, and only beat horses that were eased or had given up.  Why does the owner keep wasting their money on these races when he still hasn't won a race?

The Easy Goer Is a Better Spot For You

12.  Seeking the Soul. 
11.  Forever d'Oro.  We're putting both of these guys together because they're functionally speaking the same horse.  Both are owned by Charles Fipke, trained by Dallas Stewart - who we acknowledged in the Derby preview can get a longshot home underneath at a price - and enter in off maiden wins.  Neither ran particularly fast, neither has tactical speed that gives them any type of advantage on the field, and they're both taking a major hike in class.  We rate Forever d'Oro slightly higher because he is well-bred, but this is a helluva a spot to make your stakes debut.

10.  Gettysburg.  This guy was entered mostly to guarantee a fast pace for a couple of other horses in the race.  There's a remote chance that he steals the race on the front end, but given that he continuously fades late at shorter distances, we'll side against.

9.  Governor Malibu.  Some people are giving this guy an outside chance because he's the same trainer and jockey as 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist and has had some good recent efforts.  We're not impressed.  His 2nd in the Peter Pan was a crawling gain on a horse that was tiring while stretching out two furlongs.  His prior races were slow efforts in state-bred company or against horses in Maryland that would be 30-1 here. But sure, take 8-1 on him against the best 3-year-olds in the country.

Up Against It

8.  Cherry Wine.  He ran about as well as we expected in the Preakness, closing into a solid pace to catch a piece.  The fact he finished second rather than 3rd or 4th was in part because Nyquist ran worse than we expected and Cherry Wine absolutely loved the slop.  We're skeptical of those who are calling him a horse on the rise with a big shot Saturday.  Dead closers like him are up against it in the Belmont generally, and there isn't a ton of speed in the race.  And he still isn't that fast.  Speaking of which...

7.  Brody's Cause. At Keeneland this guy's a monster: two Grade 1 wins and a solid 3rd in the Breeders Cup Juvenile.  Outside of Keeneland, he's a disaster: a maiden win and 3 losses by a total of 47 lengths.  And like Cherry Wine, he's a slow closer.  There's always a chance he clunks up to hit the board, but that's also the profile of several others who are just faster.

6.  Lani.  Random prediction: he gets bet and goes off about half the price of his 20-1 morning line odds.  He has evolved a bit from the butt of jokes before the Derby - people have been talking up his workouts the last few weeks, and he did show some improvement from the Derby to the Preakness.  But he still wasn't that close to Exaggerator, finished behind two other horses that are running in this race, and hasn't shown any type of explosive speed or staying power that we think is necessary to win the Belmont. 

Not Impossible

5.  Exaggerator. He's a very good horse and has run faster than almost everyone in this field.  He absolutely can win on Saturday.   Hell, he's a real contender for Horse of the Year if he continues to improve.  But we cannot, and will not, endorse taking even money on a horse that does his best running when he closes from well out of it on a sloppy track.  That defines a money-losing proposition.  At that point, why not take a shot on...

4.  Creator.  He's the main reason that Gettysburg is here, because as a dead closer, his mission looked very difficult without any true speed horse in the race.  Gettysburg at least makes it likely that he'll have some pace to run at.  His Derby is a borderline complete toss because he had horrendous traffic issues and never got a fair run at anything.  He's got a chance here if he's a little closer to the pace and gets a fair trip.  From the 13 post, we're a little hesitant to pick up on top, but to hit the board at 12-1?  Very live.


3.  Stradivari.  His Preakness was fairly good - in only his 4th career start and stakes debut, he sat close to a brisk pace, went very wide on the far turn, ran on a sloppy track for the first time, and still was only beaten a half-length for second.  There's an excellent possibility that he moves forward off that race especially on a faster track.  We also like that he has tactical speed in a race without a ton of early speed.  There's a chance that he's the most talented horse in the field and shows it on Saturday.  That said, we think there are a pair of horses that are better than him right now.

2.  Suddenbreakingnews. We're not going to dispute that the two best horses on Derby Day were Nyquist and Exaggerator.  But this guy was probably the 3rd best.  He had trouble early on in the race, which put him next-to-last and a whopping twenty-seven lengths behind the front runners.  (Exaggerator, by contrast, was 17 lengths off the pace.)  Despite this and going wide on the far turn, he rallied stoutly from the back of the pack, winding up 5th and only a couple of jumps from third place.  With a better trip, he easily would have been third and could have contended for second.

Now yes, dead closers like him are always vulnerable to bad trips.  And we've already noted that closers are tough bets in the Belmont and that there isn't a ton of pace here.  But we think this guy has a ton of talent that he's shown in his last 3 races, even if it hasn't translated into wins.  And while we don't love Mike Smith, we think he's a huge improvement over Luis Quinonez, who we think may have waited too long with this guy time and again.  We wouldn't be surprised to see Smith ride him a bit more aggressively and try to keep him in closer contact with the leaders.  That would give him a big shot, but to us, still makes him second-best.

The Pick

1.  Destin. Yep, we're doubling down with our failed Derby pick.  We know, he ran 6th without much of an excuse.  But we thought it was a nice effort.  Asking him to deliver a peak effort off an 8-week layoff probably was a tougher task than we acknowledge, and his fade in the final 600 yards was likely due to the lack of recency.  If he moves forward off that - a common trend, to improve second off a brief layoff - he'll be dangerous.  More importantly, we love his tactical speed, like Pletcher/Castellano in this spot, and think his breeding is perfect for the 12 furlongs.  We think he sits about 3-4 lengths off the pace, starts grinding away at the lead on the far turn, and holds off the closers in the stretch to give Pletcher his 3rd Belmont win.

Good luck to all and enjoy the Belmont!

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