Belmont Stakes Preview

Belmont Stakes Preview

Belmont Stakes Preview
By Anthony Stabile

As expected, Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Mine That Bird has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorite in a field of 10 for the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes this Saturday at beautiful Belmont Park.

An anonymous longshot coming into this years’ Run for the Roses, Mine That Bird thrust himself into the national spotlight with an equally awesome and surprising last-to-first, rail skimming move to win the Derby by a widening 6 ¾ lengths under jockey Calvin Borel.

In the Preakness, trainer Chip Woolley was forced to find a new rider for his little gelding after Borel, in an unprecedented move, opted to ride Kentucky Oaks winning superfilly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, marking the first time a rider took off the Derby winner to ride a different horse in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
   
Under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, Mine That Bird put in another explosive late rally in the Preakness but fell a length short of Rachel Alexandra and Borel, who won the Preakness in gate-to-wire fashion.

After the Preakness, Smith announced he wouldn’t ride Mine That Bird in the Belmont due to a prior riding commitment in California leaving Mine That Bird without a rider again. But after the connections of Rachel Alexandra announced she wouldn’t contest the 1 ½ mile “Test of the Champion,” a confident Borel finds himself back aboard the Derby winner.

“We’re going to win,” Borel guaranteed earlier this week. “No questions asked.”

Woolley, who has become a celebrity in his own right over the past few months, with his customary cowboy hat and crutches he needs to get around with after breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident earlier this year, has changed things up a bit going into the Belmont. First, he has decided not to give Mine That Bird a workout over the Belmont strip, known as “Big Sandy.” Secondly, Mine That Bird actually flew into New York from Churchill Downs on Wednesday as opposed to taking his usual van ride with Woolley at the wheel. Still, he’s confident in his horses’ chances and loves the enthusiasm exuded by his rider.

“That’s just Calvin. I’m fine with that,” Woolley said at the Belmont Stakes draw Wednesday morning. “I love a man who’s confident and he’ll be comfortable when he gets on the horse, because he won’t be afraid.”

One thing Borel and Woolley surely do have to be afraid of is the apparent lack of pace in the Belmont and the fact that second choice Charitable Man figures to be the one that will control the early happenings may not bode well for the Derby winner as well. Undefeated in three starts on dirt, Charitable Man won the first two starts of his career before being sidelined with a leg injury that forced him to miss the Derby despite last ditch efforts when he was off the board in his first start of the year in the Blue Grass at Keeneland over a synthetic surface. In his most recent start, Charitable Man, who’ll be ridden again by Alan Garcia, won the Peter Pan, the traditional New York prep for the Belmont by almost four lengths.

While formidable on paper, perhaps the most telling sign of how well Charitable Man is doing is by the words of his trainer Kiaran McLaughlin over the past few days. Usually soft-spoken, McLaughlin has been just as excited, and almost as boisterous as Borel in the days leading up to the Belmont.

“Our horse couldn’t be doing any better,” McLaughlin said. “We’re very excited. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”

Another trainer who is more than pleased with how his horse is coming into the Belmont is Todd Pletcher who’ll saddle the highly regarded Dunkirk on Saturday. After breaking his maiden and winning an entry level allowance contest in his first two starts by daylight, Dunkirk was a game second in the Florida Derby over a speed favoring course that severely hampered his chances of winning.

His Kentucky Derby try was a series of calamities. He stumbled out of the starting gate, was steadied into the first turn and never handled the cuppy, muddy Churchill Downs surface that day. Since the Derby, he’s trained brilliantly at Belmont over the past couple of weeks, a sure sign that the $3.7 million yearling purchase is poised to run well this Saturday.

“That’s not really my style, but it shows how talented he is,” Pletcher said, in regards to the fast times Dunkirk has posted in the morning works.

It’s worth noting that Pletcher and Velazquez, along with part owner Michael Tabor teamed up to win a thrilling 2007 renewal of the Belmont with the filly Rags to Riches, who defeated the sports eventual all-time leading money earner Curlin.

Trainer Nick Zito is another who is familiar with winning the Belmont and toppling Derby winners. In 2004, the Zito trained Birdstone, sire of Mine That Bird, ran down the undefeated Smarty Jones, stopping his bid to become the twelfth Triple Crown winner and just last year sent out Da’ Tara who went wire-to-wire as 2-5 favorite Big Brown was eased in the stretch in his bid for a Triple Crown.

This year, Zito sends out a pair of longshots in Miner’s Escape, winner of the Federico Tesio at Pimlico last out who might have a say in the early going and stablemate Brave Victory who was a hard charging third in the Peter Pan despite the fact that jockey Rajiv Maragh lost his whip in the stretch. Both colts are owned by Bob LaPenta who also owns Da’ Tara. Maragh returns aboard Brave Victory while Jose Lezcano will be back aboard Miner’s Escape.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will look to join the great Woody Stephens, who won five Belmont Stakes in his career, when he sends out a pair of longshots in Flying Private and Luv Gov. The former finished last in the Derby before closing well to be fourth in the Preakness despite encountering some trouble on the far turn while the latter has won just one of his eleven starts and is better known for being named after disgraced former New York governor Elliott Spitzer. Julien Leparoux rides Flying Private while Miguel Mena will pilot Luv Gov.

The Belmont field is rounded out by three Kentucky Derby also rans. Chocolate Candy was fifth in the Derby for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and will get the services of Garrett Gomez in the Belmont. Sixth place Derby finisher Summer Bird will get blinkers and a key rider switch to Kent Desormeaux for trainer Tim Ice while the Eoin Harty trained Mr. Hot Stuff, fifteenth in Louisville, will get Edgar Prado in the saddle for the first time. Prado won the 2002 Belmont aboard Sarava, the longest priced winner in the history of the race at $142.50 and was also aboard Birdstone in 2004

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Re: Belmont Stakes Preview

Belmont Features Six Pretenders and Four Contenders
by Greg Melikov

The last 10-horse field in the Belmont Stakes was 20 years ago when Easy Goer lived up to his name, thwarting Sunday Silence's bid to become the 12th Triple Crown champ by eight lengths.

There's no such title for a horse at stake, but there is a more historic prize on the table for a person. If Mine That Bird repeated his victory in the Kentucky Derby, Calvin Borel becomes the first jockey to win the Triple Crown on different horses having rode Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness.

Of the other nine three-year-olds entered in the 141st Belmont, six appear to be Pretenders:

Brave Victory: The son of Lion Heart` is 1-2-1 of four at Belmont, but both wins were in maiden and allowance sprints.

Chocolate Candy: The son of Candy Ride won four of nine on California synthetic surfaces, but finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, more 13 lengths behind at the wire. Garret Gomez rides again - he guided him to victory in last fall's Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood. Real Quiet was deprived of the Triple Crown by Victory Gallop's nose in '98.

Flying Private: He ran a fabulous fourth in the Preakness, but has only a maiden victory at six furlongs back in August in a dozen outings.

Luv Gov: One maiden score in 11 outings does not a contender make.

Mr. Hot Stuff: His 1-for-7 showing on synthetic surfaces accurately indicated the 15th place finish in the Derby. Two-time Belmont winning jockey Edgar Prado can only do so much.

Summer Bird: The son of 2004 Belmont winner Birdstone has a lone maiden triumph in four races. He did run sixth in the Derby, but was beaten more than 13 lengths.

The Contenders:

Miner's Escape:
One of two Nick Zito trainees, 15-1 in the morning line, has steadily improved during the year. The son of Mineshaft posted two straight victories on dirt, breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park and capturing the Federico Tesio by 4 ½ lengths, both at 1 1/8 miles.

He runs close to the pace and his granddad A. P. Indy scored in '92 after missing the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Zito has saddled two longshot winners during the past five races: Da' Tara last year and Birdstone in '04. The price merits a win wager.

Dunkirk: The buzz horse for the Kentucky Derby had the worst trip of the 19 runners right from the break -- stumbling, being bumped and steadied before the first turn. His granddad also is A.P. Indy while '90 Derby victor Unbridled is the dam sire.

Todd Pletcher won in '07 with Rags to Riches, guided by his new rider John Velazquez. The early 4-1 second choice has two wins in four outings stalking the pace. The rested colt has the highest speed figure of the field, recorded when he ran second in the Florida Derby.

Mine That Bird: Eleven Derby winners that lost the Preakness since '23 captured the Belmont. Borel loves his chances so much he has guaranteed victory.

However, this son of Birdstone was more than six lengths from the lead after a mile in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, losing the Preakness by a length. If the early 2-1 favorite is closer to the pace turning for home, he should win. Can he post his third straight triple-digit speed figure? We shall see.

Charitable Man: The son of '99 Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid has several things going for him besides breaking from the same post as his dad - No. 6. He had the lead in the stretch for three of four wins on dirt, including two scores at Belmont. His connections have been successful recently: Alan Garcia rode Rag to Riches two years ago and Kiaran McLaughlin trained '06 champ Jazil.

The 4-1 second choice has good tactical speed while his running style fits the winning scenario -- stalking before kicking in down the lane. His 3 ¾-length score in the Peter Pan was excellent. And that race has produced at least one Belmont champ each decade since '44 when Bounding scored.

In case you believe in names, horses beginning with "C" have visited the winner's circle the most - 20 times. Make that 21.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Preview

2009 Belmont Stakes Predictions
by T.O. Whenham

The field is set for the final jewel in this year's Triple Crown. After seeing 19 horses contest the Derby and 13 give the Preakness a shot we are down to just 10 for the Belmont. Though superstar filly Rachel Alexandra won't be in the field, it's still a very compelling and surprisingly deep event. It's a sign of how tight the event could be that the longest shot on the board was installed at just 20/1. That's nothing compared to some of the prices we have seen from winners and also-rans in recent years.

As I have looked at this race and how it is going to go down, I have been asking myself several questions. Here are five, and my take on them:

Is Mine That Bird for real? - This is the big one. Like virtually everyone else on the planet I gave this horse no credit coming into the Derby, and I was totally shocked by what he pulled off. The more I have watched the replay of that race, though, the more impressed I have been. He was running like the wind at the end of the grueling event, and he showed impossible courage pushing through the gaps he found. The last several races he ran before the Derby gave no indication of the horse's capabilities, but his win was, I am now convinced, no fluke. That opinion has been further reinforced by his Preakness effort. He didn't win, but he was again closing very fast, and he showed tremendous courage again when he was forced to overcome running into a wall of horses. This horse is bred to run this race - his sire won the race just five years ago - and he has the heart and determination that it takes to win it all. I have very little trouble imagining this horse crossing the line first.

What's the pace going to look like? - There's a good chance that this race could be a mess. There's no horse in the race that typically likes to be on the lead early on. Miner's Escape is the closest - he typically sits just behind the leader. There are also at least seven horses that prefer to sit well off the pace and then mount a late charge. They can't all sit off the pace if there is no pace to sit off of. That could lead to a couple of possible situations. One possibility is that a horse could decide to run beyond their style and press the pace early on. If that doesn't happen, and I'm not convinced it will, then the race could look a lot like the 2007 race did. In that race, the early pace was totally lethargic, leaving Curlin and Rags To Riches totally fresh to launch their bid at the top of the stretch and engage in an epic duel. I can't promise an equally great stretch drive this time around, but I can certainly imagine a race that sets up well for the best horses to be at their best down the stretch.

Does Charitable Man justify his price? - He's a very popular choice in this race, and he's all the way down to 3/1. Is he worth it? With some hesitation, I say no. He's got a lot going for him - his trainer has won the race, he's bred well for the distance, and he's 2-for-2 on this track. Despite that, though, I have some real doubts. He's only run around two turns once, and he was disastrous. He's too raw and green because of the seven months he lost to injury to be trusted here at this distance. If the horse was at 8/1 or higher then I would really like him. At this price I don't see a lot of value.

What about Dunkirk? - In a word, no. Again, there is absolutely no value in his price. When I saw this horse win an allowance race at Gulfstream in February I was very impressed. That has consistently faded since then. He showed in the Derby that he was too raw and inexperienced to achieve his full potential. Since that race he has had a five-week break. I just don't see how he has become more mature and ready to run in the last month, and he certainly wasn't ready for this challenge the last time we saw him. I'll consider him lower down in exotics, but this is not a horse I will bet to win.

Longshots? - There are a couple I like. You can't really call Chocolate Candy, at 10/1, a longshot, but I include him here because his price is much higher than I was expecting. If he goes off at anywhere near this price then he's a great value - especially in exotics. The other one I like is Summer Bird. His sire is Birdstone, the 2004 Belmont winner who has already proven his worth as a sire with Mine That Bird. Like the Derby winner he's a closer who would like to be far back early on. He made a very solid and underappreciated move in the Derby, and he has worked very well since then. He's also made a huge upgrade in jockeys - Kent Desormeaux gets the nod this time. The pace should set up well for him, and he could certainly be a factor. Again, at 10/1 he's not a huge longshot, but he'd provide real value in exotics if he hits the board.

The final word - I think that this race is Mine That Bird's to lose. He's proven himself, he should handle the distance, and the pace will set up reasonably well for him. He's the horse I like most in this race, and it's not even close. Given his price - I expect him to be bet down to 3/2 or so - I don't think a win bet is going to be particularly attractive. Instead, I'll likely look to key him in first on top of the trifecta and superfecta. That will make those bets a comparative bargain, and increase the chances of return. Underneath him I would have to include Charitable Man and Dunkirk as well as Summer Bird and Chocolate Candy. Flying Private and Brave Victory would also get consideration for third and lower.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Preview

Horse-by-horse analysis and picks
By Patrick Patten

Billy Joel once said he was in a New York State of mind.  He was probably drunk.  I’m sober and it doesn’t change the fact that all I’m thinking about is the Belmont this weekend.

Now, so far writing for you all I went with the favorite in the Derby and got crushed, then I went against the favorite in the Preakness and got embarrassed. So third time is a charm right?

Let’s have a look at the field and see what we can do.

Mine That Bird (9-5) – The Preakness proved he was the real deal and I’ll take Calvin Borel for his word when he says he guarantees a win. I’d use him on top of all my exotic tickets horizontal and vertical.  I think it’s almost a free space.

That’s not to say there might be another angle to play this. Watch the place and show pools, there’s a good chance that Mine That Bird will pay more to place than to win.  This has happened before when there is a crowd favorite.

Charitable Man (3-1) – This is the horse that scares me. The Belmont likes a horse on or near the lead. They are able to dictate pace more so than in any other race and Charitable Man fits that bill. He also has the best long distance pedigree of them all with Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid being his father and also including Seeking the Gold, Seattle Slew, and Buckpasser all close up.

The unknown always scares me and this horse has only raced one time around two turns (on poly) and you could probably put a line through it.

Dunkirk (4-1) – A son of Unbridled’s Song doesn’t scream “mile and a half” and as possible second choice I think I’ll pass. I think he’ll clunk up for third or fourth, however. His recent works at Belmont show he’s in shape - it’s just a guess as to whether he can go a mile and a half.

Chocolate Candy (12-1) – I thought he had something to show in the Derby and I was proven very wrong. However, the one thing that everyone said about him was he had a great stride. You need one of those in the Belmont and looking over his older races he really does just cruise out there. I’ll be letting him burn me one more time I guess.

Summer Bird (12-1) – When I was in Kentucky I decided to pick a bomb of a horse and this was it. He didn’t really disappoint running well in front of his odds, but it still didn’t cash a check for me. I like the switch to Desormeaux and he seems to have made himself comfortable at Belmont. I’ll be using him. 

Flying Private (16-1) – He ran in the Derby and Preakness and now will complete his own TC. Good for him.

Mr Hot Stuff (25-1) – The full brother to Colonel John is a good horse and he has faired well in his races, but he also seems just a cut below.

Miner’s Escape (33-1) – I’m from New Jersey and I’ve cashed many a ticket on Jose Lezcano, I just don’t think this will be one of those times.  He’d have to be much higher than 15-1 for me to take a real look.  A horse that needs 6 times to break his maiden just doesn’t instill me with confidence.  He has the right running style, trainer, and breeding, but you haven’t seen it on the track that this horse can go 1.5 miles.

Luv Gov (50-1) – I’m sure Marylou will get a chuckle out of seeing her horse in the program, I just don’t expect much more.

Brave Victory (50-1) – It would be a stunning victory.


I’m going Mine That Bird – Chocolate Candy - Charitable Man – Summer Bird in a superfecta in that exact order. 

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