06/11/2012 2:46PM

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.



Kent Vanden Oever More than 1 year ago
It's been several weeks since the Belmont, but today something much more important has come up, and this was the most recent entry on which I could comment. Apparently, there is big trouble between Hattie's, NYRA, and the Hattie's location at Saratoga. I trust, Steve, you've made a call or two? If you haven't heard: http://www.saratoga.com/whatsnew/2012/07/hatties-new-track-location.html
Clark McCormick More than 1 year ago
Steve, My ladyfriend gave me your book for Christmas. I was busy graduating from college so I didn't get to read it until about Derby time. I just wanted to say thanks for an informative and thoughtful read. Reading your book, I learned a ton about the racing industry and handicappin' in general. I would love to have been a 'fly on the wall' when you told your graduate prof that you were bypassing grad school for dog racing. But I will admit his response trumped your proposition. He was totally cool with it!! If only college was like that for all of us.
Robert Healy More than 1 year ago
Richard Manny More than 1 year ago
After my horse Union Rags got in trouble in the Derby, I hoped he would get another chance to prove himself. As it turns out he gets to do it 3 more times!!! With the wacky Derby and preordained Preakness, it seemed like a good time to do the 10th and 11th race daily double what with all the new pretenders to cloud the field instead of trying to figure the triple and I'll be darned, thats a pretty good payoff too if ya got it a bunch and can beat the three favs in the grass race, plus the girl...
Charlie No-nothin' More than 1 year ago
Mike Smith blew it for Zenyatta in the BC with a bad ride, blew it for Budenmeister by chasing a doomed rabbit, and then blew it for Paynter by not keeping Union Rags contained, which makes him now a negative factor to consider in any big race. Methinks he doesnt THIMK!
Clark McCormick More than 1 year ago
I can understand the disappointment. But Zenyatta lost because GGomez got first run on a horse that loved the setup and distance. Blame fired big. Take nothing away from him. Zenyatta ran big, too. But she was asking a lot in a field with runners that could match her late-running style. Great horse, take nothing away from her, but Blame had been improving all summer. I think he won it more than the great Zenny lost it.
LamarH More than 1 year ago
Big Brown. I Want Revenge. Eskendereya. Uncle Mo. I'll Have Another. All considered real triple crown threats, some more than others. All removed from contention due to 'minor or mysterious' illness. There are always injuries, but 'THE' horse each time - pulled up, scratched morning of, a week before, 2 days before and 1 day before. Conspiracy theorist? Maybe, but 5 years in a row now it looks like a lot more than coincidence. I love this sport and have become completely and utterly disgusted with it this year. It's hard to become a fan of a horse that's pulled from racing prematurely. It's sad enough when owners retire them early for money, but at least those aren't being pulled with a TC on the line. You want to fix racing? A triple crown wouldn't fix it, but it sure would help. Apparently there are people out there who disagree. I'm pretty sure O'Neill and Reddam don't belong to that group. I'm pretty sure IAH passed all of the tests from the Derby and Preakness so there is no reason to believe he was being given anything prior to the Belmont. It doesn't mean O'Neill has never done wrong, but it looks like the horse was as clean as any other. Grats to Union Rags. If the Belmont was decided on looks, he would have won by a dozen.
John Cicale More than 1 year ago
This is the third year in a row in which no horse could get the 12 furlong distance. All of the pedigree "experts" keep failing time and again when it comes to handicapping this race, and most classic distance races. I kept hearing about My Adonis and Alpha's breeding; the first and foremost thing that should have been stressed is how slow these horses are. Even if IHA couldn't get the 12f, he would have beaten this group; he had already proved that he was in a class by himself, a notch above the second best horse of this group, yet another distance-challenged horse, Bodemeister. Union Rags could be/is a very good horse, but like most of these horses, he will be able to shine only at 8f or 9f and shorter distances. I hope that you and most people are sick of reading the cynical comments from people who would believe any comment/accusation about any horseman, as long as it's negative and sounds conspiratorial.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
AT&T is terrible. I had the same problem Derby day. And don't get me started on the high-speed internet. Apparently I'm the only one who didn't cash on the Belmont...
Gary Mink More than 1 year ago
totally disagree that I'll Have Another was a lock for the Belmont. Slow Beyer was due to the crawling pace that Paynter set. If IHA gets into a pace duel with Paynter, that may have set it up for a faster Beyer for Union Rags as he ends up blowing by both of them. The taint on IHA as a result of O'Neills "milkshake" hijinks leaves a bad taste about the entire Three Race Series. Happy Matz won and nobody has to wonder what performance enhancements to use to get the 1-1/2.
Jerry More than 1 year ago
i totally agree.....too bad there wasn t more early speed to go with paynter.didn t hurt ur s tracking tactics,but sure screwed up ol one run dullahans chances...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
some how racing form failed to mention that the high 5 at arlington was finaly hit by one ticket only,i think what happened in the 9th race deserves a little scrutiny by the prominent racing newspapper.the winner at 42/1 BETTER MAKE MONEY was followed home by a 20/1 shot,longshot winners are nothing new but when a hopeless longshot with a name like that wins for fun in a race were theres over 1 million dolars in a carryover pool that results in a 1 115 000 payout an effort should be made to report the race and were the winning ticket was placed and possibly who took down the pool,how was the ticket structured etc.it would be interesting if the winner singled the 42/1 BETTER MAKE MONEY on top.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Somebody or a combination has to sign for the ticket, SS#, full identity. And this is a bet with a full payout only, if there is just one winner. Two or more is a carryover. Went to website and they showed the photo finish of the race. Didn't watch the race itself video replay. Looked like a bunch of horses nearing the finish line. With this much "free odds" the winner prob. put the long shot on top, and wheeled chalk in bottom four slots. An all or nothing bet for an all or nothing return.