"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." - Thomas Jefferson
Fresh off of my first winner in a Triple Crown race since I had Smarty Jones in the Preakness before any of my kids were born (or lived in my current house, or my company moved down to the Jersey Shore, or was promoted to my current position, or... well, you get the point), I have had a lot of time to think about, and over-analyze, this year's Belmont Stakes.
I have read everything from how American Pharoah is essentially the second coming of Christ to how he will labor to finish last from respected pundits and random online posters in various groups on social media. Trends are tossed around (we all saw how the dreaded rail post fared for American Pharoah in the Preakness, right?), but I tend not to give most of those any merit. Some people claim that we need a Triple Crown winner to save the sport and garner more interest, which while it would be nice to see one, I disagree and could fill another blog post or two about that topic - especially knowing that win or lose, the chance of seeing American Pharoah race beyond 3 years old is almost zero since his future breeding plans have already been locked up. I would rather see a horse win and race for another few years. I think a champion that continues to keep proving himself would make him (or her) a 'superstar' of the sport, but in the new world of boxers going nine to twelve months between bouts, pitchers having pitch counts, and horses being retired for breeding at three years old - how likely are we to ever see that? I can dream, can't I?
Undeterred and ready to move forward with my new found momentum, I am ready to pick what will be my first Belmont Stakes winner, ever.
What makes this race so tough to handicap? Essentially we are taking developing three year old horses and speculating on what will they be able to do at a distance they have never run before or have really been bred for, based on both pedigree and shorter races, and in some cases, over a track they have never touched in race conditions or for even a workout. Six of the eight starters ran in the Derby and two of the eight went to post in the Preakness. Only two starters have run races over this course (one at 2 years old, one less than a month ago) and one did not race in either of the other two legs of the Triple Crown. Some horses have had three weeks to prepare, others four or five weeks. Belmont is a quirky oval with a L-O-N-G stretch.
Over the last 37 years thirteen horses that had a shot at the Triple Crown have failed, granted one of them scratched and never made it to the starting gate. All were bet heavily by folks betting with their heart and not their wallet. I expect to see history repeat itself again here on Saturday with a lot of money dumped on American Pharoah who is already listed as the 3/5 morning line favorite.
With only eight starters, here is my graded analysis of the field:
#6 Frosted (5-1) - My choice in the Derby bounces back after ta long rest and won't need to make a five wide move in this race with the shorted field. I expect Rosario to keep him somewhat closer to the pace here and this son of Tapit (who sired last year's spoiler, Tonalist, coupled with a G2 winning dam in Fast Cookie) has the pedigree to be a marathoner. I expect him to bounce upwards off of the Derby with a long, solid stretch drive.
#2 Tale of Verve (15-1) - Would have been the lone horse in the Derby with the Rasmussen Factor should he have drawn in, which may have made things a little more interesting. He made a wide move in the Preakness and despite some trouble did finish strong on a track that was not favoring closers. I like the move forward he made after only just breaking his maiden prior to the Preakness. My Preakness spoiler is also looking to spoil here at a nice price.
#5 American Pharoah (3-5) - Good horse, not a great horse, but probably one of the best of yet another weak three year old crop. I don't like that he has not even worked over this surface and Espinoza has been uncharacteristically unsuccessful over this course - not that these are keys to failure, but they certainly don't help. I expect him to feel more pressure than he did three weeks ago and he will not have his rabbit (Dortmund) here to set and allow him to control the late pace. Most likely scenario will have him on the lead early and we'll see if he can hold off the pressure while once again "running beyond his pedigree".
#1 Mubtaahij (10-1) - He has had time to acclimate to the US and gets a solid local rider with Irad Ortiz, Jr. I like the work pattern he has displayed (and still think he will excel if given the chance to go two turns on the grass). I expect a big improvement here since he can get the distance and will be part of the late pace for a minor share.
#3 Madefromlucky (12-1) - Took the Peter Pan with Castellano in the irons over this course last out after a weak showing prior in the Arkansas Derby that featured a hot pace (45.4 / 1:10.2) that was pressured by American Pharoah. The effort in the Peter Pan was also an aggressive pace (46.2 / 1:10.1) and he rebounded nicely to made a wide move late and rally. It is hard to ignore that this one is a bit of a late bloomer and will be a contender late in this race.
#7 Keen Ice (20-1) - He has struggled since breaking his maiden with a fair share of wide moves resulting in mild rallies. He leaves too much ground to cover too late to be effective here other than for a minor share.
#8 Materiality (6-1) - He showed a lot of promise heading into the Derby only to have a bad start but did make up some ground late. Pletcher puts Velazquez back in the irons here, leaving Castellano with #3. The pace will likely be too hot for him here though with American Pharoah out early so he will be chasing at a faster pace than he can handle. Pedigree suggests that he could get he distance, but would be better suited to a turf marathon. I see him being used early and flat late - maybe a shot at the superfecta at best.
#4 Frammento (30-1) - Didn't look impressive last fall in N1X conditions and has shown very little this year. Not much to like here other than he'll have a good view of the other seven entrants.
So how am I planning on playing this one? I think the bottom of exotics are in flux so this will require you to go deep on trifectas and superfectas. The prospect of American Pharoah at least hitting the board with the second favorite (Frosted) in the mix tends to take some of the nice prices off the table.
WP on #6 Frosted
Small Exacta - 2,6 / 1,2,3,5,6 (8 combinations - hoping to keep AP out of the exacta, but if he gets second, we should at least cover the bet with Frosted on top)
Should you dare to go with a trifecta - the only two horses I would be keeping off of my tickets are #4 Frammento and #8 Materiality, with the latter being a possibility for the bottom of the superfecta.
Good luck all!