Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Belmont 2011

While there is no Triple Crown at stake, the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes (Gr. I) is very intriguing with the winner of the Kentucky Derby (Gr. I) Animal Kingdom, and the Preakness Stakes (Gr. I) Shackleford battling once again in a "rubber match" that could determine the 3yo champion.  Additionally, the top seven finishers of the Kentucky Derby have returned for the "Test of the Champion", a one and a half mile route over what could be a muddy Belmont surface if the morning is any indication.

If the track remains muddy, this may favor speed, and horses coming from well back could be compromised.  We'll need to see a horse that can handle the mud, as well as get the distance, which to me means pedigree will be even more important, as nobody has run this far before, and few have run on an off track.  Let's take a look at the contenders.

The Leading Contenders
The morning line and expected race favorite is the Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who rallied in the Preakness but came up a little short.  The extra 5/16ths of a mile should only help him but the muddy track could be his undoing.  According to Brisnet, his sire Leroidesanimaux(BRL) has only had 7% winners on off-tracks, and his Tomlinson mud figure is only 270, lowest in the field.  Clearly he has the class and stamina to win this race, but I don't make him my top pick because of the muddy track and the likely distance he'll have to make up in the stretch.

Shackleford ran a big race in the Derby but fell short, and a bigger race in the Preakness and held on.  Logically the added distance, 1/4 mile longer than the Derby, will be too much for him.  But let's look at the other factors.  We know he should get the lead fairly early and be on the lead as he approaches the stretch.  If the track is muddy and speed favoring, and he "takes" to it such that he travels well over the sealed surface, he may hang on.  Lesser horses than he (see Da'Tara) have wired the field in this race, and his sire has excellent "mud" stats at 19% winners according to Brisnet.  His damsire Unbridled won the Derby so its not impossible for him to get the distance, and we know he's good enough to beat these.  He appears to be overlooked at the windows as of 3pm EST at 9-1.  Definitely worth a win bet and I expect him to at least give you a thrill in the stretch.

To me Nehro has seconditis (2nd in has past 3 races), and while his closing style would indicate the added distance will help, I think that's a common handicapping fallacy.  He is neither particularly quipped to get 12 furlongs, nor does he appear to be a "mudder" by pedigree.  If speed still holds up like it has, I see him passing tired horses and finishing 3rd thru 5th.

I liked Master of Hounds a bit in the Derby, finishing 5th, and he returns to the states after flying back to Ireland 4 weeks ago.  His pedigree indicates he'll have no problem with the distance and he should handle the mud.  He's not a deep closer so that's a plus too, but I just have a hard time putting him on top after three cross-Atlantic flights in the past 6 weeks.  Wouldn't be a shock, but not my top pick.

The "Mudders"
Ruler on Ice has a 1st and a 2nd in 2 off-track races, but he appears overmatched on both class and stamina.
Mucho Macho Man may have the best mud pedigree with his sire Macho Uno's offspring striking at a 23% clip in the slop.  He is the other horse returning for all three legs of the Triple Crown besides Shackleford and Animal Kingdom, but hasn't run that great or that bad in either race.  He should be forwardly placed, but I think he has distance limitations that will be his undoing.  I see him fading in the stretch.
Stay Thirsty is by young sire Bernardini who's hitting at a 44% clip with his offspring on mud.  Both sides of his pedigree have the stamina for him to get the distance, and his connections are as good as it gets for New York racing (Pletcher/Castellano hitting 33% in past 60 days).  If he moves forward in class a bit, I can see him coming out on top, but he'll need to be more forwardly placed than the last two races.  He maybe the most interesting horse in this race, and could score at a price.

The Longshots I like
The ironically named Brilliant Speed isn't particularly speedy from the gate and he ran a decent race in the Derby after winning the Bluegrass Stakes (Gr. I) at Keeneland.  Joel Rosario is one of the best young jockeys in the game, and skipping the Preakness may have set him up nicely for a big one here.  His sire Dynaformer is one of the best sources of stamina in the game today, and has reasonable mud stats.  The race shape may not be optimal for him, but I do see him running well today, question will be if he has the class to win.

The last horse I'm considering is Santiva, by Giant's Causeway, which is the sole reason I am not tossing him from this race.  Giant's Causeway is an outstanding sire, of both class and stamina.  I'm not sure he's fast enough to win, but I do think he'll handle the mud and the distance. 

The Pick
I really don't have too much conviction in this race so I would approach with an open mind (and deep pockets).  I do think there could be pretty good payouts in the exotics, especially if Animal Kingdom doesn't take to the track.  While he's one of only two of these with a Beyer speed figure over 100, i'm going to only include him in my secondary tickets.

Play #12 Shackleford to "Win".  Play #2 Stay Thirsty to "Win" as well
Exactas:  (4-5-12 with 1,5,12,2,4)
Trifecta: (9, 12 with 5,9,12 with 5,12,1,6,4)

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