06/09/2012 8:55AM

Belmont Day at Belmont Park


Good morning from Belmont Park on a Belmont Stakes Day that doesn’t have anywhere near the buzz it would have had if I’ll Have Another was going in the big race. But I’ll Have Another will still be on the track here today, leading the post parade for the Belmont. I understand that all concerned parties are on board with this, and on one level I recognize that it is nice that fans will have the opportunity to show I’ll Have Another some love. Still, a lot of casual fans will understandably wonder how a horse not well enough to compete is well enough to lead a post parade. I have to admit that I find this to be a bit weird.

In the “when it rains, it pours” department, the weather forecast here has gone steadily downhill over the last 24 hours and there is now almost an even chance of what are being called “strong, gusty thunderstorms” in the area late in the afternoon. It’s a grey and humid morning here right now. Looking on the bright side, however, the weather forecasters have been off the mark most of the week with their threats of afternoon storms, so maybe they’ll be wrong one more time.

Getting to Belmont was a chore for some this morning. The Cross Island Parkaway (the main highway adjacent to the track) heading south was a parking lot, not because of track traffic, but because of an accident. And gate 5 into the track, a main entrance off Hempstead Turnpike, was allowing only one lane of traffic in, creating a traffic jam all of its own.

But hey, despite the bad stuff, it’s still Belmont Day. I’ll check in periodically throughout the day with thoughts on the proceedings.

10:18 - The NYRA just issued a release stating that I'll Have Another will not lead the post parade for the Belmont and will instead have a public retirement ceremony in the winner's circle between the Manhattan and the Belmont. Good call.

12:51 - With three races in the books, the last two on dirt, there doesn't appear to be an overt bias on the main track. However, all meet long at Belmont, it has clearly been preferable to be close early on the dirt, and I think that is still the case today.

After watching Tiz Yankee give away another race in the second, it looks like he'll hang to just about any horse. Eventually, Tiz Yankee will find a field that even he can't hang to and he'll probably win by 15 lengths. Until then, he's a bet against.

2:42- It was a pleasure to watch Joel Rosario's winning ride on Teeth of the Dog in the Easy Goer. After breaking with the leaders, Rosiario confidently allowed Teeth of the Dog to drop toward the back of the pack as the front runners put up a too-fast first quarter of 22.88. Before a half in 46.16, Rosario had Teeth of the Dog back in striking distance on the inside (nothing wrong with the rail here). He waited paitiently behind horses late on the far turn for a hole to open and when it did between horses in upper stretch, race over.

3:03 - Current win odds for the Belmont Stakes have Union Rags favored over Dullahan, 5-2 to 3-1. I thought it would go the other way and still might, but that's okay. Although there is still lots of time for them to blow out, what's crazy is Five Sixteen currently is 16-1 and Guyana Star Dweej is 21-1. It's nuts that at any point of the betting their prices were this low. At least you could rationalize the play on Five Sixteen as money for his rider, Rosie Napravnik. But Guyana Star Dweej?

Ridiculously low prices on horses who should be 60-1 to 70-1 is not a new phenomenon in Triple Crown races. Some think this this started after Giacomo won the Derby at 50-1. Whatever the reason, there must be a way to capitalize when there are drastic underlays such as this.

3:34 - Caixa Eletronica is as professional as race horses get. The 7-year-old won the three-turn, Grade 2 Charles Town Classic two starts ago, and he won the six furlong True North here with a wild late rally. As Caixa Eletronica proved, you can win from well back on this track if the early fractions are hot enough, and they were a sizzling 21.80 and 44.58 in this dash.

Of course, appreciation for Caixa Eletronica is tempered by concern for Giant Ryan, the Grade 1 Vosburgh winner who broke down in the stretch of the True North. Latest word is he was being evaluated in his stall, but his injury appeared to be very serious.

4:10 - You could have wondered what trainer Dale Romans was thinking when he scratched Tapitsfly out of an easy spot last week, the Mint Julep at Churchill Downs, to run in the Just a Game here. I get that the Just a Game is a Grade 1, and that was a big lure. Then again, he would also have to run against Winter Memories and Hungry Island here, and that's no picnic. But Romans sure knew what he was doing. Tapitsfly ran the best race of her life and scored decisively after setting a solid fractions. Winter Memories got plenty of pace to set up her late run thanks to Tapitsfly, and had her shot at the winner in the stretch, but had no excuse. It seems she still can look like a very special horse one day, and kind of average on another. Hungry Island also had no excuse.

4:59 - Pretty much a three-speed number as Trinniberg, Currency Swap and Il Villano run one-two-three in the Woody Stephens. Props to Trinniberg for rebounding out of a start in the Kentucky Derby that could have fried him for a long time. And while Trinniberg might be faster early than I give him credit for, I still want to see what he does when he gets hooked early by a real speed horse. It didn't happen when he won the Swale and Bay Shore in his first two starts this year, and it didn't really happen in the Stephens, either.

5:48 - The male turf division is really lacking so far this year as evidenced by the fact that Papaw Bodie, claimed five starts back for $50,000 and whose big success since was in a Grade 3 event at Sam Houston, lost the Grade 1 Manhattan by the bob of a nose. That said, the horse who edged Papaw Bodie, Desert Blanc, deserves some credit if for nothing else than he successfully rallied into a slow pace. The slow pace didn't help Omayad, the Chilean superstar by way of California, but he was totally empty after making a very brief run on the far turn.

6:52 - Even without I'll Have Another, this Belmont Stakes turned out to be a very entertaining race, with Union Rags, finally getting a clean trip and responding to the jockey change to John Velazquez, wearing down the game pacesetter Paynter to win by a neck after a thrilling stretch battle.

I will admit my doubts about Union Rags getting a distance were unfounded. He got the 12 furlongs Saturday better than anyone, albeit narrowly. And I can empathize with owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert, and understand if they would want to pull their hair out after their Paynter fell just short, completing a ridiculous Triple Crown for them. Many folks are drawing comparisons between Paynter's Belmont effort and Bodemeister getting nailed in the Preakness after setting the pace, but don't forget that Bodemeister turned in one of the best runner up performances ever in the Kentucky Derby after setting one of the fastest paces in that storied event's history.

Yes, the Belmont was great theater, but was it a quality race? The final time was a pedestrian 2:30.42. How strongly a run race could it have been when Atigun, who paired up career-best Beyers of 89 in his last two starts, was beaten a total of two lengths finishing third.

All of this, of course, begs the question of how a healthy I'll Have Another would have done in this Belmont. It's really a fruitless, pointless exercise speculating about it, because while we know how I'll Have Another handled the big crowd, and the paddock, and the racing surface at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Derby, and at Pimlico in the Preakness, who knows if he would have handled all of those things as well at Belmont Park. Who knows what he had left in the tank after the first two legs of the Triple Crown? What does it really matter? It's fantasy. Would've. Could've. Should've.

But since everyone else is or soon will be playing along, what the heck, here's my guess on how I'll Have Another would have done in this Belmont: He would have won by open lengths, and that's from someone who picked Paynter before he was scratched.

Thanks for reading today.