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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Fit To a T

I left my camera in the car which, despite what by recent Belmont standards was a modest crowd of 52,861, was still parked several furlongs away since we got there relatively late. So I had to depend on the Head Chef, and, despite excellent positioning in the paddock, this photo above was the only usable pre-race shot she got of winning jockey Kent Desormeaux. "I blew the money shot," she explained.

Actually, it appears she was late pulling the trigger across the board...notice a pattern here?

I do like this one though of Mine That Bird and (most of) Calvin Borel.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day in the backyard, crowded enough to provide more than enough buzz for the occasion, but plenty of space as you can see from this shot, taken at around 2:30. No lines to speak of for food, betting, or bathrooms (if you know where to go), and the generous addition of wide screen TV's throughout the park made viewing easy for those who didn't want to pay up for seating. Crowds of this size on big days fits Belmont to a T.

NYRA made sure that there was plenty to do.....or at least plenty to listen the backyard. It was a full-fledged aural assault of varying quality in the backyard, with a live band in one corner (missed the band Afterburner, who this reader said was worthwhile), Munick (I think) in the paddock tent, and another guitar picker at the ESPN radio remote, broadcasting live smack dab in the middle. Don't quite know why we had to hear talk of the Orlando Magic and the Mets' injury woes while at the track....and, in fact, even while a race was in progress. Because the one thing that you could not hear anywhere I was throughout the day - in the backyard, the paddock area, or even standing directly under the (inoperable) speakers over the doors to the apron in the first floor grandstand - was Tom Durkin. That's a problem that has never been successfully addressed in all the years I've been going to Belmont and Aqueduct.

Like the commenter, on these days I try to do my handicapping and my serious horseplaying early - in this case starting the day with a horse who ran dead last all the way around the track in the first - and just kick back and enjoy the sights and sounds later on. Not that I didn't throw away some money during the stakes sequence, but the focus was primarily on the good company, the Head Chef's feast, and a flask of bourbon. To be honest, when it comes to playing the races, I'll take those 35K claimers over these big days anytime.

As it turned out, Summer Bird truly did fit the Belmont Stakes to a T....or maybe it was the other way around? That's despite the fact that his form coming into the race was the kind we've been trained to not bet in this race, given his total lack of early speed, with just enough late pep to project him as dangerous at a mile and a half. I wonder if that needs to be reevaluated? Summer Bird was actually far closer to a pretty lively pace this time; but Kent Desormeaux, who, as we recall from last year, still has Real Quiet very much on his mind, saved his run for the end, while Borel made the mistake of moving too soon that we've seen many times in this race throughout the years. Summer Bird earned a moderate Beyer of 100, getting the last quarter in a respectable 25.20 while the others were gasping for breath - not to take away from game efforts by runner-up Dunkirk and the valiant Derby winner, who had the crowd temporarily delirious with his electrifying, if premature, move to the lead.

As is often usually the case, I don't believe that this year's Belmont tells us anything about the relative merits of these horses at the distances at which they'll be facing each other for the rest of the year (which, for the winner and the runner-up, likely means for the rest of their racing careers). Dunkirk figures to improve, Mine That Bird has proven his class and consistency. Charitable Man looked like a beast in the paddock, and those who liked him at 5-2 got their money's worth at 9-2 with a threatening move turning for home. These three could provide some good entertainment for the rest of the year. On this day, at this freak distance, with a perfectly timed ride and that Birdstone blood, Summer Bird was the best. But I'll be poised to oppose him if any of those other three are higher odds than he next time.

I thought that the most impressive three-year old I saw on Saturday was Pletcher's "other" multi-million dollar sale horse, Munnings. He hinted at a breakthrough with a sharp, triple-digit Beyer second place finish at seven furlongs at Churchill. Here, Johnny V waited patiently for room, and Munnings just exploded through, storming on to a five length win with a sparkling final eighth in 11.74. The son of the sprint champ Speightstown earned a Beyer of 110. Pletcher plans to keep him at one turn, with the Dwyer mentioned as a possible prep for the King's Bishop.

Munnings is the 5th stakes winner of the year for his sire, and the second in two days with Despite the Odds taking the off-the-turf Hill Prince on Friday.

I read somewhere where Angel Penna was incredulous over Diamondrella being 9-1 in the Just A Game considering she'd won five in a row, just a head short of six since he took over the training duties from Violette. I thought it about right considering that those wins came in sprints and she was o-for-1 at a route. The daughter of Rock of Gibraltar ran down champion Forever Together with relative ease with a final quarter of 23.70 in the soft going.


onecalicocat said...

Kudos on Rap tale's fast-closing second in the Candy Eclair stakes at Monmouth.
Has the trainer adopted the Mine That Bird racing style? I didn't particularly like Rap Tale as a front runner because she faded in the stretch.
So you're a bourbon drinker -- you're well on your way to becoming a "real" journalist.

Sunny Jim said...

Mine That Bird was also passed for the place spot by the pacesetter, a sign of a truly spent horse. Which leads one to ask:

Is the chorus of criticism aimed at Borel justified? Even if he had waited to make his move, and instead of passing Summer Bird down the backstretch, followed him around the turn, can you be so sure that his horse would have had enough to catch the winner anyway?

For the hundredth time: Is the five-week stretch of Triple Crown races too condensed? Would spreading them out actually produce a truer test of champions?

Were the best pre-race analyses from those who said that it would be HIGHLY unlikely for Mine That Bird to improve and go forward off of his Derby and Preakness efforts?

Beginning with Lemon Drop Kid, has there been another big race which produces more unlikely longshot winners than the Belmont?

Anonymous said...

NYRA just ceases to amaze. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Anonymous said...

Five other minor notes;

1) Gabby ran faster than MTB on the same day in the Sunland Oaks, Sunland Park is transforming into a legit place to prep before our very eyes.

2) If Summer Bird were a Whitney home bred trained by Zito what would his odds have been?

3) Considering how hot Penna and this horse have been, 9-1 was ridiculous on Diamondrella. I did not use her and felt like a fool afterward, the one time all day I wish I was watching the board instead of playing the races early.

4)ESPN radio was set up right next to the outside mutual teller, the completely irrelevant noise emanating from the booth made it impossible to make a wager there. The poor rookie mutual teller had a horror day.

5) The First dime spent of the VLT money allocated to capital imrovements has to go to a new sound system, it is absurd that you could here durkin from the new flat screen tv but not from the PA.

Anonymous said...

From the NY Daily News, even a New Mexican can see how screwed up NY is;

"One thing Woolley can't understand is how the Racino at Aqueduct isn't up and running yet.

"They make $100 million a year in New Mexico," Woolley said. "What would New York do? Possibly, one billion if they do it right. It would help fix all the potholes here."

When told the money goes to education, the trainer said, "It wouldn't hurt to educate some people, either."

A 4,500 video lottery terminal Racino was approved by Albany in October 2001, but construction still has not started."

Anonymous said...

I think that Arts And Letters and Sword Dancer were pretty decent horses and they both squeezed in Metropolitan wins before winning the Belmont. Native Dancer used the Withers as his tuneup for the Belmont. So if 5 weeks is to much for todays participants then what are we watching? Just horses. Couple of steps up from Mountaineer.

Erin said...

Contrary to what many say every year the Triple Crown is lost, I think that fact provides conclusive proof that indeed the Belmont is the test of champions.

It's just that we haven't had any in a while.

SaratogaSpa said...

right on with your comment on not hearing Durkin. I have been to Belmont many times, but not once have I ever heard Durkin clearly over the PA system.

It is pure stupidity that NYRA does not address this.

Sunny Jim said...

Erin -

Flying Private, with one fourth place finish in the Preakness, was the only horse in addition to Mine That Bird to run in all three of the Triple Crown races.

What if they had something like four weeks between each race, from the first Saturday in May to the last one in June? Wouldn't it be better on the horses and great for the fans - especially the new ones and the casual ones which the sport so desperately needs right now?

What if we were able to see the majority of the 20-horse Derby field knock heads in all three races? This is what I meant by a truer test of champions.


El Angelo said...

If you space out the Triple Crown over more time, you divorce it from history and make any comparisons between then and now impossible. One of the best things racing has going for it is its history. Why throw all that away?

alan said...

Surgery for Dunkirk:

Anonymous said...

If the Yankees can build a new stadium, then horse racing needs to demolish its status quo schedule for the Triple Crown.

The first Saturday in May, then Memorial Day or Memorial Day weekend for the Preakness, and then July 4th or July 4th weekend (as close as possible) for the Belmont. Add the Travers for a winner take all prize of $10 million.

Anonymous said...

I must give credit where credit is due, and NYRA certainly has gotten it right with their innovative Turf Course update.

Its 8am, and I already know that the dirt track is rated "good", the turf course is yielding, they are OFF the turf for the first race, and the 4th has been switched to the inner turf course.

The trainers have long been informed the night before or early morning of changes like these, finally the customers are brought into the loop.

Finally, a brilliant use of modern technology.