1) Big Brown - I find myself wavering back and forth between thinking he's going to win by 20 lengths, or not at all. Any interruption of a routine, especially one that's been so successful to this point, is nothing but a negative in my mind; and slight or not, the horse's quarter crack caused Dutrow to alter his schedule. And how much did it have to do with a workout that has received some mixed reviews? We've read about how he slowed down in the last quarter, and Joe Drape noted in his Q#A on The Rail that he was pulled up quickly, which I don’t like to see.
I'm not worried about his ability to get the distance, and I'm not the least bit concerned about Casino Drive. But I'm uneasy. I don't have nearly the same secure feeling that I did before the Preakness. And we've been through this scenario before, only to be disappointed.
2) Guadalcanal - Well, at least this maiden has been a mile and a half, albeit on the grass. There's some recent precedent here, as Nolan's Cat ran third as a maiden in 2005, but he at least had run against winners before. Guadalcanal lost by 26 in his only two turn dirt effort, and may do well to lose by that little in here.
3) Macho Again outran his breeding to be second best in the Preakness, and appears to be in raging form for trainer Dallas Stewart.
“We’re very happy with our horse. He’s trained well, he had a good work the other day, he seems energetic and his weight looks good — all the things we look for to stay on the right path. He’s an improving colt, and his last race was very nice. He’s showing he’s got a lot of fight and tenacity, and it looks like he really wants to win a race. [Schenectady Gazette]I wouldn't wanna get beat by him again as I did in the Preakness, but pedigree questions persist.
4) Denis of Cork has had five weeks off since his rail-skimming third in the Derby, though his best races have come second off the layoff. He was one of the training stars prior to Churchill, and trainer David Carroll called his Belmont works pre-Derby like.
The final work, on Friday, was especially strong -- four furlongs in 48 1/5 seconds under jockey Robby Albarado, with the final eighth of a mile in a swift 11.1 seconds. [Washington Post]Albarado replaced Calvin Borel, so perhaps we'll see this one rallying down the center of the track this time for a share.
5) Casino Drive - Two races, no proper workouts since the Peter Pan, and way too short at 7-2, or less, as I think he'll be. Three Belmont starters in a row for dam Better Than Honour is an amazing thing. But I don't like him one bit. [That was written before the news that he has a small stone bruise in his left hind foot. Three Belmont starters in a row for Better Than Honour? Could be that the odds are catching up.]
6) Da' Tara - This son of Tiznow is eligible for entry level allowance races, and actually is a maiden when it comes to fast tracks. Another unqualified entry for the team of Nick Zito and Robert LaPenta, nice going guys.
7) Tale of Ekati - Barclay Tagg runs this one on steroids, but I wonder how much outcry we'll hear about that if he wins. I'd come around on him since the Derby, but the more I look, he just hasn't shown any progress at age three, and I cannot get excited about him here.
8) Anak Nakal - It's been said that Zito's other entry shows similarities to Birdstone. That may be true in that they both, as two-year olds, had a maiden and stakes win sandwiched around a losing stakes effort. But any comparison ends there. Birdstone showed flashes of his ample ability with a 99 Beyer in his debut that Anak Nakal has never approached; and he won the Grade 1 Champagne over this track. He also won his 2008 debut, and had excuses in his disappointing Lane's End and Derby tries. Anak Nakal has never Beyer'd over 87, and his races have been nothing short of dismal this year. It's also said that he has the pedigree for this, based on the fact that 1998 Belmont winner Victory Gallop is his sire. That may be true, but, if you buy pedigree numbers, his dosage (4.0) and Tomlinson (287) are borderline at best. In any event, the only time he's closed in the stretch this year was in the Wood, when they walked home in 41 seconds for the last 3/8ths. I'm throwing him out completely.
9) Ready's Echo - Pletcher has been virtually invisible this week, except to decline to comment on whether this horse is running on steroids (as did Zito). So I think we can presume that he is. Ridgling son of More Than Ready has shown Beyer progression in each of his four starts, starting with one of the more spectacular seconds one could ever see in his debut. He trailed Casino Drive in the Peter Pan; but his only two turn effort, in a Keeneland allowance two races back, was an excellent one, as he closed very strongly into a negative pace scenario. If you like him to win and want a little company, Dick Powell makes a case for him over at Bris. I'd be more inclined to use him to rally for minor awards; how can you not like him to do so over Anak Nakal?
10) Icabad Crane started his career competing against NY-breds at the Big A last fall and winter, and has stepped up big time since then, with his Tesio win and Preakness third. Trainer Graham Motion thinks there's more improvement where that came from.
“You kind of think the Preakness would have been an exhausting race, and maybe after the Belmont [Stakes (G1)] I’ll feel differently, but right now I didn’t notice that it knocked him out in the slightest....He looks like he’s put weight on and filled out.Son of the AP Indy sire Jump Start, out of a Rahy half-sister to graded winner Adcat has never failed to fire with a record of 5-3-0-2, and rates as my top choice to upset the favorite.
“It sounds odd to say this in three weeks, but it seems like he’s really changed since the Preakness,” Motion said. “He’s just really matured. Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but he’s really grown up.” [Thoroughbred Times]
So, I'm not going to make a definitive pick here, as I'm not planning to bet the race. I don't feel secure enough about Big Brown to invest on exotics with him on top, especially with the strong possibility that Casino Drive, who I was counting on to create value by leaving him out, won't run. And I'm not going to make anything more than a token wager against him because I simply don't want to root against a Triple Crown. I want Big Brown to win. I've read some people who say that the sport does not "need" a Triple Crown winner, and that it will do nothing for the sport. I don't at all agree with that, and here's one reason why. It would create more interest, and how can that not be good, even if just for the remainder of this year? But as far as wagering goes, I think I'll just sit this one out, other than perhaps fool around with Icabad Crane.
That's going to be a wrap for me as far as the Belmont goes; thanks as always for checking in. Any free time I manage to have between now and my early departure tomorrow will be devoted to handicapping the rest of the card, especially the non-stakes races; perhaps I'll have time to post some quick picks. To those of you who have written to ask, no, I will not be in the pressbox and will not be live blogging; though thanks much for the interest. It will be a historic day in one way or another, and I intend to hang out with the masses, nab some real estate in the back (to go with my seat in section 3S), violate my no-drinking and betting rule, and have a fantastic time on what promises to be a great, if somewhat warm, day. So, here's, hopefully, to a Triple Crown and, definitely, to a momentous day of our favorite sport. Best of luck to you all!