06/11/2012 1:46PM

Belmont Day 2012 Notes and Afterthoughts


Just about recovered from a long but generally happy Belmont Day. Here's what's left of my scrawled notes from a day at the races, stained with the few drops of rain that fell and drippings from three Jumbo Franks:

*Ran into Paul Reddam, I'll Have Another's owner, about two hours before the Belmont and he couldn't have been more mellow and philosophical despite the circumstances of the previous 36 hours. Chatted about the slings and arrows of the week and he said he could "forgive" my having picked against him with Union Rags and Paynter.

"You look at the recent history and it's hard to say 4-to-5 was going to be a good bet," he said, "but we really, really thought he was sitting on top of a big race and was going to do something spcial today."

The way the race turned out, he might not have had to in order to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner. Of course I'm happy Union Rags won, and it was an exciting stretch run, but it's hard not to believe that a healthy I'll Have Another would have won the race decisively. The winning time of 2:30.42, over a track that was producing times such as 1:09.52 in the True North and 1:22.26 in the Woody Stephens, was uninspiring and translated cleanly to a Beyer Speed Figure of 96. Maybe IHA wouldn't have handled the mile and a half, maybe a butterfly would have flapped his wings a continent away and set off a chain of events leading to his defeat, but I'll Have Another's "A" race would have won this by open lengths.


*Hope the people at the Graded Stakes Committee are rethinking their unwarranted downgrading of Saratoga's Hopeful Stakes from a G1 to a G2 after recent events. It was an ill-conceived move in general -- destroying geographic and gender balance (how are the Del Mar Futurity and Spinaway still G1's if the Hopeful isn't?) and a particularly bad judgment on the quality of last year's field: Currency Swap and Trinniberg, who ran 1-2 in the 2011 Hopeful, returned to run 1-2 in inverted order in the Woody Stephens on Belmont Day, the most important 3-year-old sprint so far this year and Trinniberg's third graded stakes win of 2011. And the 6th-place finisher in the Hopeful was a colt named I'll Have Another.


*Can Union Rags or anyone else do enough to deny I'll Have Another the 3-year-old title? It's possible but unlikely. The previous 11  Derby-Preakness winners who failed in the Belmont all won the 3-year-old title at year's end. In 2003, even though Empire Maker beat Funny Cide in the Belmont and in two of their three meetings, Funny Cide was a decisive winner despite not winning after May. In 2004, Birdstone made a bid by winning the Belmont and Travers after Smarty Jones won the Derby and Preakness, and he might have wrested the title away has he run 1st or 2nd in that year's strong Breeders' Cup Classic but he finished 7th and Smarty Jones won by a landslide.

Union Rags would probably have to add the Travers and a Gold Cup and/or Classic victory over older horses to his Belmont to have even a fighting chance.


*Especially given the chaos surrounding the state takeover of the New York Racing Association, I thought the battered Belmont Park employees did an extraordinary job of accomodating nearly 86,000 people with few hitches. The plant was packed but navigable, the plumbing held out, and I was able to purchase Jumbo Frank #3 at 5 pm with only a one-minute wait. My only operational complaint, and I don't know if anything can be done about it: Cell-phone reception was just about impossible for me (or AT&T) once the place filled up after 2:30 pm. This proved especially troublesome for me because Mrs. Blog was due to arrive at the track at 3 pm but Junior (the striped greyhound) tore off a toenail just as she was leaving and that necessitated an emergency trip to the vet and our calls and texts to each other didn't go through all afternoon. She finally arrived about 5:30. And Junior's toe is just fine.


*The six stakes races were a dandy stretch of excellent racing, but I found the other seven races on the card a disappointing lineup. I don't think it speaks too well for New York racing that on its biggest day of the year, it can't card a baker's dozen of races without resorting to three statebred events, three maiden races and two low-level conditioned claimers. What was missing were the open N1x and N2x allowance races that might showcase future stars instead of chronic mediocrities. Here's a comparison of the 13-race cards offered on Derby Day, Preakness Day and Belmont Day:


Given the fuss, warranted or not, over low-level claimers running for racino-inflated purses, it also seemed a particularly bad idea to run a statebred optional claimer where horses entered for a $14k tag were running for a $62k purse.


*I somehow botched the $15k pick-6 Saturday despite a published analysis posted Saturday morning that led many of you to assume I had it. All six stakes-winners were perfectly logical but I cheaped out and ended up making Winter Memories a solo A and Tapitsfly and Hungry Island only C's and stupidly downgraded Trinniberg to a B.  Realizing what I had set myself up for after the first two legs, I was able to step on the pick-4 (which paid a generous $1,283 vs. an $897 parlay) hard enough to have a decent day, but still: arggggh.


*Only 39 days until first post at Saratoga.