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Friday, June 10, 2005

Belmont Stakes

- Try as I may, I haven’t been able to come up with any brilliant revelations on how to beat Afleet Alex in the Belmont Stakes. It’s not that he doesn’t have some susceptibility here. It’s been pointed out that he did come up a bit short at the 1 1/4 Derby distance, and you just never know about the Belmont route. He’s regressed each time he’s raced after earning a triple digit Beyer. His athleticism that allowed him to gain so dramatically on the final turn in his best races may not be as much of an advantage on the Belmont turns. If Jeremy Rose makes that move too soon and too wide, it could leave him vulnerable at the finish. There are always questions whether a horse that’s been through the entire grind will be able to fire his best shot again in the Belmont. And, of course, he’ll be too short of a price for a win bet, and it will take some creativity to make a worthwhile score with exotics.

The problem is that it’s hard for me to get too enthusiastic about any of the others. I’ve made my case against Giacomo before, and I’m sticking with that even though I don’t take lightly the confidence of his cautious connections. It's been a long haul for this colt, who hasn't had much of a break since last October, and I just don't think he'll get the perfect setup he needs in order to be close.

Reverberate is the standout amongst the rest, as reflected in his 6-1 morning line. I would not be totally shocked if he gives Giacomo a run for second betting choice given his stellar effort and 106 Beyer in the Peter Pan. His connections, however, have been expressing concern at the fact that it’s his third race in a bit over a month, and only two weeks after the Peter Pan.

''I wish we had three weeks instead of two since the Peter Pan," said [Centennial farm chairman Donald] Little. ''He ran his eyeballs out in the Peter Pan. He did as much as you can ask of a horse. We had a race in April, two weeks before the race he ran in [an allowance victory at Belmont May 8], but we were stuck down in Florida. He didn't have strangles, but he had to be tested twice before New York would let him in. We lost two weeks and we didn't run in the race we wanted to run in." []
He ran head and head for most of both of these races; in the Peter Pan, he tried to keep up with Oratory as he sprinted home after a slow opening half. It had to be a grueling effort, and to come back two weeks later to try a mile and a half may be too much to ask. Besides, I think he’ll be a solid underlay.

Andromeda’s Hero obviously has talent and pedigree, but has yet to figure out the game. rallying (much) too late and only catching the leader far past the wire. He was far back off the Derby pace and had his opportunity to show his closing kick then, but could only manage 8th. He does repeat the pattern Zito used with Birdstone last year, skipping the Preakness after a Derby 8th and training well up at Saratoga. But I can’t see him for more than a piece of the purse.

Indy Storm has improved in his last two against entry-allowance horses, which actually should make him comfortable against some of these. Brad Free makes the case for him in the Form.
Indy Storm's recent improvement coincides with an exit from speed-friendly races at Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, and Keeneland. Further, trainer Nick Zito coaxed rapid improvement this spring from other 3-year-olds. When they get good, they get good in a hurry - Bellamy Road and Noble Causeway catapulted from Beyer Figures in the 70's to the 100's in just a few weeks this spring. Indy Storm fits the pattern. [DRF]
Still, he got slow final fractions to close into in his last two, and despite his stellar pedigree, it seems like a stretch to think he could win.

Southern Africa is the only graded stakes winner other than Alex and Giacomo, and he's improved markedly since adding blinkers. His trainer Michael Puhich is supremely confident, but admits that the distance is a question. "Anybody that says they're totally convinced their horse is going to get the distance is trying to fool themselves….I'll tell you about 6:30 (Saturday night) if he (Southern Africa) can, but I think he'll handle it." [Times-Picayune] I have my doubts about that and picked up this note from Jerry Klein at FOX (recommended link, nice job):
Last year, his European trainer said, "He is made for a mile or mile and an eighth," and looks spot on, since his two stakes victories have been at 8.5 furlongs. His English-bred dam's family is surprisingly short of stamina so there's no reason to think he'll become a tiger at 1 1/2 miles.
Pinpoint won the Sir Barton after setting snail-like fractions on the front end. Nolan’s Cat and A.P. Arrow don’t even warrant bold type.

So, that leaves me with a timid vote for Chekhov. I know, I’ve been ranting against his owners for the Spanish Chestnut debacle, but picking winners is a cold game; there’s no place for sentimentality or lack thereof. The running lines of the $3.3 million Keeneland 2 yo by hot sire Pulpit are just crying for more track. He’s out of a Canadian Grade 1 winning mare by Vice Regent who is the granddam of Albert the Great. He’s inbred to Buckpasser and Somethingroyalm, the dam of Secretariat. He also has champion and Travers winner Honest Pleasure in his pedigree, and how often do you see that these days? He’s probably best known for getting caught at the wire in the Marlboro Cup by freight train Forego.

Chekhov ran just a length and a half behind Giacomo in the Sham as a maiden in February. After a layoff, he’s run here at Belmont on the same two days as Reverberate; but his maiden win was accomplished effortlessly (in the same time as Reverberate), and his Peter Pan can be discarded. He broke bad, and according to Patrick Biancone, pouted after being bumped leaving the gate [FOX]. He then made a 4 wide move on the turn into the impossible fractions being blazed by Oratory after the slow opening, and had no shot, settling for 4th (and costing me the triple). Biancone is at least honest about his distance prospects. "He's better coming into this race than at anytime before…The only thing I don't know about is the distance." [USA Today] Neither do I, or anyone, but at something around 15-1, it could be worth it to find out, especially with 3-time Belmont winner Gary Stevens in the saddle. He'd do fine to help complete exotic tickets with Alex on top as well.

Afleet Alex
Indy Storm
Andromeda’s Hero

- Wherever you’re watching the race, and whoever you like, please be sure to have a glass of lemonade tomorrow.
There'll be more than a thousand lemonade stands this weekend across North America, 30 of them at race tracks. Little front-yard stands with pitchers of lemonade, stacks of paper cups and these three words emblazoned on each display -- "Alex's Lemonade Stand."

"And I had this fear that my daughter's memory would fade out," says Liz Scott from her home in Philadelphia.
"I think how lucky we are to have Alex's legacy live on like this….But I see it different than others. She was my daughter above everything else. The things I think about are the little things when she was home, of doing things together."

And while Alex's memory burns bright in so many, "what's here of her is not all of her," Scott aid. Yet, like thousands of other families this weekend, the Scotts will gather to raise money for pediatric cancer research and cheer on a gutsy little colt named Afleet Alex.

And they'll drink a cup of lemonade to the memory of Alex Scott. [Sun-Sentinal]


Anonymous said...

Alan- Your Belmont breakdown is one of the best i've read -- nicely done. Also, i fully hope you're correct, as i, too, have settled on Chekhov as my longshot pick here. As i posted on another site, i think this race may be run similar to the Ark. Derby, with the front-runners easing around the track. If any of them were any good, they'd have a huge tactical advantage, but alas, only Reverberate offers the possibility, and i share your concern about his fitness. And so, the front-end will probably collapse, even with slow fractions, as the better quality horses from off the pace make their charge. Alex should be there again, but i like the way Chekhov closed 2 back, and if Stevens can get him back to that effort, maybe we'll be in for a nice surprise. Good luck Saturday.

Alan Mann said...

Jeff- Thanks for the compliment. It sounded good on paper, eh? Nonetheless, I would have had the triple if not for Nolan's Cat, yuck...