Belmont Stakes Analysis

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By Valerie Grash

While admiring Big Brown’s accomplishments thus far—in spite of his repugnant connections—I just can’t concede the Triple Crown to him. Frankly, this 12-furlong test is a whole lot tougher than his connections may acknowledge publically, and Dutrow’s persistent crowing and dismissive attitude towards his competitors rings awful hollow, especially in regards to his own horse’s hoof problems. If Big Brown wins the Belmont, and thus the Triple Crown, I will salute him, although as a live-long fan of horse racing I will never believe he belongs in the same breath as Affirmed, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Citation, Assault, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, War Admiral, Omaha, Gallant Fox and Sir Barton—especially if he heads directly off to the breeding shed. However, if he continues to race this year—against Curlin—and through the Breeders’ Cup Classic, I may waver a bit.

Regardless, as a bettor, I’m not interested in chalky payoffs, so I’m looking for real alternatives to Big Brown in Saturday’s Belmont. The likely second favorite will be Casino Drive, and rightly so. As a half-brother to 2006 Belmont winner Jazil and a three-quarter brother to 2007 Belmont winner Rags to Riches, Casino Drive has the proven breeding through his dam Better Than HonOur. He’s already won over the Belmont track, and I like Edgar Prado up. If anyone can spoil a Triple Crown, it’s Prado (just ask War Emblem and Smarty Jones). I’ll include Casino Drive in all my exotics and for a straight win bet.

Icabad Crane drew a terrible post position (10), but will do his best running late. If Jeremy Rose can keep him within striking distance early on, he may get some money, but I think the Preakness was really his best chance. Still, I will cover him in my exotics. I also think MACho again will bounce from his Preakness effort—he’s just not that well-conditioned or bred to run another (even longer) route so soon. I’ll pass on him this time around.

The maiden entry Guadalcanal is surprising, but hardly fear-inspiring—his trainer/owner Fred Seitz may believe this colt wants 12 furlongs, but not against this bunch. Nick Zito’s duo Da’ Tara and Anak Nakal are complete toss-outs, as far as I’m concerned. Likely early speed horse Da’ Tara lost to his stablemate in his maiden effort at Belmont, was a complete non-factor in the G1 Florida Derby, and couldn’t beat MACho again (and three others) in the Derby Trial. For this race, conditioning is everything and Anak Nakal hasn’t posted a workout over Four furlongs since late March; other than his one-turn maiden victory at Belmont, he hasn’t worked over this track (Zito has kept him at Saratoga) and since his win in G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill last November, he hasn’t finished in the money this year in Four tries. Despite his third-place finish in the G2 Peter Pan at Belmont, I would be surprised if Ready’s Echo finished in the top three—but may cover him in the exotics just to be sure.

Two far more likely contenders to flesh out the exotics are Kentucky Derby third (Denis of Cork) and Fourth (Tale of Ekati) place finishers, both who come in better rested, having missed the Preakness. Denis of Cork’s connections (specifically his owners) have jerked him around this campaign, leaving him, I fear, ill-prepared to win this race—although a place in the exotics would not surprise. I do like the jockey change to Robby Albarado, who also rode him to victory in the G3 Southwest in February. I’m really counting on Tale of Ekati to finally live up to expectations. He has the home cOurt advantage, having won 2 of 2 races at Belmont, and his curmudgeon trainer Barclay Tagg bitches just a little too much about his workouts, almost like he doesn’t want to curse his chances. Still, notice that two of those posted workouts were six furlongs, including a very impressive 1:12 over a muddy Belmont track. That, along with his previous experience over the quagmire that was Monmouth on Breeders’ Cup day, could serve him well if a deluge lets loose before post time. Icabad Crane won his maiden over a muddy Aqueduct, and Denis of Cork won over a sloppy Fair Grounds surface—interesting tidbits to keep in mind.

Depending on post time odds, I’ll key Casino Drive and Tale of Ekati over Big Brown and Icabad Crane, with Denis of Cork and Ready’s Echo thrown in for good measure. Good luck!


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