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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Big Day at the Big A

- It was quite a special day at Aqueduct today where under a perfect spring sky, I got to see three potential superstars in the making. Lost in the Fog had a virtual public workout winning the Bay Shore; his half mile fraction was nearly two full seconds slower than that of Carter leader Don Six. Forest Danger showed scary versatility in rallying from several lengths off the pace to take the Carter.

And then there was Bellamy Road, whose astounding 17 length destruction of the Wood Memorial fields blows up the Derby picture with him landing at the top. He shattered the stakes record and tied the track record with his 1:47.16, and did so as jockey Javier Castellano pumped his fist at the crowd as he approached the finish. Not only that, but Castellano needed help from an outrider to get the horse pulled up at the six-furlong marker on the backside. [Daily Racing Form]

Bellamy Road’s devastating win immediately plunged the Illinois Derby into irrelevancy (no disrepect meant to winner Greeley's Galaxy), and only a similarly convincing winner in the Santa Anita Derby would suffice, something which did not occur. The winners of the two remaining major preps (three if Rockport Harbor goes in the Lexington) will no doubt have their performance measured against this one. Perhaps this settles the Derby picture, and I can turn my time and attention to something else, perhaps heading a humanitarian relief effort for Mets manager Willie Randolph.

Were there any factors that can be used to downgrade his performance? The Wood field was not a great one to be sure; with the exception of Going Wild and Survivalist, these were horses who spent the winter in New York and have been considered a notch below all along. Like the Louisiana Derby when High Limit was unchallenged, you could say that nobody ran behind the winner. Though maybe in this case it was because simply nobody could keep up with him. And, of course, he’ll only have had two preps, though that seems a bit irrelevant now in the wake of the Wood?

Of course, where there’s any uncertainty, there’s always hope. He will face better in Louisville, and he will presumably face someone willing and/or able to keep pace early. So there will be cases to be made for others no matter what happens between now and Derby Day, especially and hopefully after someone wins as impressively (if that’s possible) next week.

- The sport could do worse than to have Bellamy Road’s owner George Steinbrenner in the spotlight throughout a Triple Crown campaign. When things are going well, he can be delightful, and when they’re not, he can be, let’s say, colorful. Either way, he’s a high profile guy who attracts attention. He’s mellowed considerably over the last decade or so, and whatever you think of the way he’s handled his baseball team and campaign contributions in the past, when it comes to horse racing he loves the sport, isn’t afraid to promote it, and has a great vehicle to do so - I always remember the way he held up a Yankees game between innings in 1998 to show the fans the complete replay of Victory Gallop nosing Real Quiet in the Belmont.

- There were a little less than 10,000 fans in attendance at the Big A today....I don’t know if it’s the smallest crowd ever for the Wood, but in any event, it sure ain’t the old days. Given what the attendance has been like recently however, it seemed a bit crowded, and I actually had to wait about a minute on line to get some bets in. I was able to pick and choose prime seats right before the finish line, in the almost secret sanctuary of the third floor clubhouse (which used to be the grandstand). The New York press and fans knew that, as far as Derby preps go, the field was mostly a second-tier affair (this of course, before the race). I would hope that if there was a different scenario and say, a healthy Declan’s Moon was taking on Sweet Catomine, that the crowd would have been larger.

But still, as the horses loaded into the gate, the crowd started to buzz and you could hear the anticipation build, and when they were off, there was a little cheer, just like the one that more than 10 ten times as many people will make in 9 weeks when they’re off in the Belmont. It was a big race. Even if run before a small crowd.

- I had picked Naughty New Yorker here, but since he was 9-2, I was relieved of any moral obligation to bet him since I specified that I would not accept less than 6-1. So I was free to reevaluate, but when I saw Bellamy Road in the paddock and on the track, it was time to check out the exacta payoffs with him on top. I’m hardly an expert in evaluating a horse pre-race by his appearance, but even I could tell that this horse was ready to explode. He was a gleaming bundle of energy, but a controlled one; you could sense his determination and focus. Whatsmore, he was being bet squarely on the nose. If you didn’t like Going Wild, which I didn’t, there was some decent value in the exacta pools, so I bet him with Survivalist and a couple of others, and won a few bucks. The Head Chef came with me and was quite impressed with both horse and handicapper.