06/07/2009 6:53PM

Belmont Day Recap

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Belmont Stakes Day was a superb afternoon of top-flight racing and oustanding performances, though not so much in the main event itself. Don't get me wrong: I'm selfishly delighted the Belmont turned out the way it did, as I was alive to the eventual top three finishers in pick-4's and Summer Bird was the best result for my bankroll, but this Belmont was weirdly run and comes up a distinctly slow one once you modify the time of the race for the exceptionally quick racing surface Saturday afternoon.

The Belmont earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100, the second slowest (Da'Tara got a 99 last year) since the figures were first published in 1991 and seven points below the average winning BSF during that time. If you want to be literal-minded about it, the Belmont was only the sixth fastest race of the day (and only the third best of the day by a 3-year-old colt) behind the winning efforts of Fabulous Strike (111 in the True North), Munnings (110 in the Woody Stephens), Just Ben (109 in a N1x allowance), Gio Ponti (106 in the Manhattan), and Diamondrella (104 in the Just a Game).

Belmont Day was about as perfect an afternoon as you could ask for, with sunny skies, temperatures in the low 70's, and a main track that was in astoundingly good condition after two preceding days of heavy rain. The first extraordinary performance came just seven minutes after noon, when Just Ben stamped himself a very serious 3-year-old sprinter with a breathtaking 13 3/4-length victory in 1:21.18. This Zayat/Zito Speightstown colt had looked good winning a Gulfstream maiden race by seven, had less than ideal trips in his last two, but jumped to a new level here in his fifth career start.

In the third, a maiden race at a mile, I got a completely undeserved good start to my wagering day when I made a seven-horse dime-super box ($84) because I thought even-money Convocation was being overbet. He won laughing, and with the third and fourth favorites also hitting the frame I wondered whether I'd get a $1,680-for-$2 payoff to get my $84 back, but somehow the super paid $6,997.

The stakes action, and the pick-6, began with the True North in the 6th race. Fabulous Strike and Forever Together looked like such standouts in the first two legs that I crafted a play leaning heavily on both of them -- the "main" ticket was an all a/b 1x1x5x5x5x3 for $750 -- with the thought that I could then reload in the 8-11 pick four if they tanked, or could use the pick-4 as a hedge if they both got home:

Fabulous Strike was fabulous in victory. The horse capable of bothering him early, Sixthirteen, broke poorly but then rushed up crazily and pushed him through an opening half-mile in an ungodly 43.62. Fabulous Strike shook him off and had a three-length lead after five frlongs in 55.28, but now Benny the Bull was gaining and for a moment it looked like he might reel him in -- but only for a moment, as Fabulous Strike had enough left to win by a length and a quarter in 1:07.85. It was a brave and well-deserved victory for Fabulous Strike and also a very encouraging comeback for Benny the Bull, returning from knee surgery and 11 months on the sidelines.

Obviously, I completely missed Diamondrella in the Just a Game, not that it would have mattered if I had made her one of my four C's behind Forever Together. I've always liked Diamondrella, now a winner of six straight, but I perceived her as a turf sprinter making her graded-stakes debut against much tougher than she'd ever faced. In retrospect, there was no reason to think this 5-year-old Rock of Gibraltar mare shouldn't have relished a mile as much as the Europeans I instead used as backups. In any case, while taking nothing away from Diamondrella, Forever Together had an awful trip -- blocked behind a wall at the top of the stretch and then unfortunately steered to the rail. A highly unfortunate pick-6 result, as it turned out, since I had the rest of it. I understand it would have paid a lot less than the $969,345 that it did had Forever Together won, but I wouldn't have thrown back a $40k payoff.

So I reloaded for the pick-4, putting in basically the same tickets I had in the pick-6 with a few more C's thrown in for insanity-insurance.

The sequence began with the Woody Stephens, and Munnings was tremendous in victory. Granted, he raced on the inside of the track, which may have been the best place to be all day, but he turned in an explosive performance. The pace was mild for the day (45.01) and Munnings was fourth behind it awaiting room on the turn, then exploded through the opening that finally developed and was smashing opening a a 1 1/2-length lead in 1:08.89 and stopping the timer in 1:20.63 while beating previously undefeated Everyday Heroes by 5 1/4 lengths. Munnings, a Coolmore/Pletcher production is (like Just Ben) a son of Speightstown and is being pointed for the King's Bishop at Saratoga.

Gabby's Golden Gal's Acorn victory obviously blew up all the mutirace payoffs. While technically, the seventh choice in a field of nine, she was one of five horses who went off at between 10-1 and 13-1 behind favorites Justwhistledixe (4-5) and Funny Moon (4-1). Once Dream Play didn't show up, Gabby was loose on the lead, and no one could catch her despite a slow final quarter of 25.79. Justwhistledixie just didn't have the sharpness she did in Florida this winter while again defeating Casanova Move. Livin Lovin should advance off a bumpy fourth in her first start since November.

GGG is by Medaglia d'Oro, as is Rachel Alexandra. So while Birdstone has sired the winners of the Derby and Belmont in his first crop, Medaglia d'Oro (bought last week by Darley) has sired the winners of the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness and Acorn.

The Manhattan confirmed the arrival of Gio Ponti as the best American grass male in training with the possible exception of Einstein. Gio Ponti now has back-to-back Grade 1 victories on two coasts, nailing Ventura to win the Kilroe Mile last time out and successfully negotiating two extra furlongs yesterday while showing the same powerful late kick. But the most pleasing sight in the race was seeing 10-year-old Better Talk Now getting up for third -- edging Court Vision, whom Ramon Domiguez got off Better Talk Now (after 20 straight rides together) to ride. It was Better Talk Now's 50th career start, and he joins what has to be a very short list of 10-year-olds who have hit the board in Grade 1 races.

On to the Belmont, where there were 5 to 7 pick-6 tickets alive to Charitable Man, Dunkirk and Mine That Bird and one each to Chocolate Candy, Summer Bird and Miner's Escape. (There would have been a $989k carryover at Belmont wednesday had Mr. Hot Stuff, Luv Gov, Flying Private or Brave Victory won.) My $2 pick-4 to Mine That Bird was paying $5838 and I had dollars to Dunkirk ($6875 for $2) and Summer Bird ($17,085 for $2.)

Dunkirk's going to the lead was a surprise to me, as was Borel's premature and overconfident wide sweep to the lead around the turn on Mine That Bird. As flawless as his Derby and Preakness rides were, this one made no sense. Borel later said the rail wasn't the best part of the track, but I'd be interested to hear how he came to that conclusion since he didn't bother to get a mount on the undercard (and hadn't ridden in a race of any kind while making the celebrity rounds in Manhattan all week.) Maybe it didn't matter, and Mine That Bird was just a little knocked out from the Derby and Preakness, but he would have had a much better chance of winning had he received the perfect inside-out ride that Desormeaux gave Summer Bird. Whatever the case, Mine That Bird regressed from Beyers of 105 and 106 in the Derby and Preakness to a 96 in the Belmont.

I think we can all agree that while this Triple Crown was entertaining and dramatic, it was not a vintage year for quality except when Rachel Alexandra stepped outside her division. That's no knock on Mine That Bird, a likeable and nifty gelding who emerged from the series as the clear leader of the 3-year-old males and who I hope will be racing for years to come. I also think we may have to be more careful these days than in the past about juding these crops in early June because these 3-year-olds are now so lightly raced in comparison to the way they used to be. After all, the first, second and fourth finishers in the Belmont were all making only their fifth career starts, and still have plenty of room for improvement.

On the other hand, both the figs and the gut say that this year's 3-year-old males who contested the Triple Crown races would have been fighting it out for minor awards the last five weeks behind the best efforts by Big Brown, Curlin and Street Sense, Barbaro and Bernardini, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Empire Maker and Funny Cide.

Noel Michaels More than 1 year ago
The NYRA steward stand is a pathetic place. In regards to the horrific call made by the NYRA stewards last Saturday, June 27 in the final race of the day at Belmont Park (Race 10). Sadly, this unjust takedown is all the more appalling due to the fact that it was certainly not the first absolutely terrible call made by the NYRA stewards in the last several years, and it definitely won’t be the last. New York’s stewards are a national laughing stock amongst bettors from coast-to-coast, and once again on June 27, they proved it. This latest heinous abomination occurred when the rightful winner of Race 10 at Belmont on June 27, Western Connection, was disqualified and placed second behind the runner-up, favored Separatist, for a phantom interference in the stretch. What race, exactly were the stewards watching? Certainly not the same race I watched, as well as the other 230 flabbergasted participants of the Belmont $80,000 Handicapping Challenge last weekend. The horseplayers in the room at the time, all seasoned players, were shaking their heads – including the lucky few with bets on the horse who benefited from the DQ. The question I heard most often was said mostly in jest, but in this case seemed fair: Did the stewards have a bet on the runner up? Anyone who watched that race knows that the horses could have gone around the track again and the runner-up was never, ever, going to get by the winner of that race. Alan Garcia, the rider of the winning Western Connection, dove down to the rail when pulling away from the field past mid-stretch. Ramon Dominguez, the rider of runner-up Separatist, then a length-and-a-half behind Western Connection, had no hole on the inside and redirected his mount toward the outside of Western Connection in a too late attempt to pass as the wire approached. His bid failed and he settled for second. He lodged no objection. Then, from out of nowhere, the stewards posted the Inquiry sign and then proceeded to deliberate for 10 minutes before reversing the order of finish in an inexplicable move that had horseplayers all around me shaking their heads. The fact is this. The best horse won the race. The second best horse came in second. The supposed “incident” did not alter the final order of finish, nor did it cost the second horse any placing in the race (the second horse was second, and he was always going to be second). The race was over and the crowd was heading to the exits (or to the mutuel windows to cash their tickets on the winner). The stewards interjected their will on this race’s outcome with no just cause, and the best horse in the race and rightful winner was thereby denied his deserved victory. Bettors have gotten far to used to this scenario and similar ones like it over the course of the last several years, when New York’s stewards have again and again proven themselves to be, by far, the worst in the country. Until changes are made in the New York stewards stand, bettors at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga can no longer count on any level of integrity in the outcomes of the races in cases where the stewards interject themselves. This, unfortunately is something for us bettors to consider before placing our next wagers at NYRA racetracks.
Unitas More than 1 year ago
It was just announced that the once mighty Overbrook Farm is dispersing it's stock, adding another chapter to the sad tale of once prominent, dominant farms going by the wayside. Sad indeed. I figure the pensioning of Storm Cat is the major reason why Overbrook, led by it's late founders(William T. Young) son, has decide to cease it's operation after it's stock is sold. Depressing. Saratoga can't get here fast enough. Sigh.
Virgin Queen More than 1 year ago
i'm not in the chemical biz nor am i a longtime handicapper but the so called plastic surfaces being " unhandicapable" is b.s.
Evan Gewirtz More than 1 year ago
Bochalls, I arrived in Provideniya, Siberia early this morning, and, per your excellent DRF newstand tip, I took a private jet a few thousand miles to Irkutsk to pick up the newspaper copy of the Form. The few thousand mile trip was worth it, as I really feel more comfortable with the newspaper copy. The owner of the newstand in Irkutsk remembers you and sends his regards. Since NYRA and Nassau OTB are still fueding and there is no cablevision signal of the NYRA races to home or office in Nassau County,I've decided to stay here in Siberia to watch the NYRA races via Slingbox. There is truly nothing like the serenity of watching races from Belmont Park during the Siberian summer. Steve, The track was indeed slower the first three races from Belmont on Saturday. That was so, because the track was backraked. A backraked track almost always yields slower times than a fully harrowed track. Additionally, the track surface has a distinctly different look when it is harrowed straight through as opposed to backraked (sealed and then partially harrowed.)
Ryan More than 1 year ago
Steve - another miserable move by NYRA on Saturday to run the G1 Ogden Phipps at 2:36 in the afternon! People on the west coast not even out of bed yet. It's the 4th race so will be out of the P6. Reason obviously being the 1-20 Darley entry including Music Note. Give them one free square and keep the Grade 1 horses in the late afternoon.
Arcstats More than 1 year ago
It started as a trickle, but now it seems to be flowing freely. I'm talking about posters rooting for the start of Saratoga. Has everyone forgotten how dreadful the majority of last year's meet was (especially the second half). Steve you might want to make available last July and August archieves to remind everyone what's in store. Folks, the current New York product is as good as it's going to get. Other than a bunch of unraced 2YO's, there are no farms or barns full of quality horses waiting to race upstate. Sorry for the dose of truth, but the only thing that changes when racing goes to Saratoga anymore are people at the track.
Plod Boy JJ More than 1 year ago
www.racingflow.com pegs the Belmont Day dirt BIAS as a neutral -30. Pennington wired with a beneficial -164 FLOW. Gio Ponti & Summer Bird closed while getting favorable FLOWs of +107 & +133, respectively. Wanda’s Double was the only vs. FLOW winner, going wire-to-wire despite FLOW +116.
Paul S More than 1 year ago
***2 questions ??what was the comment on Siro's and the handicapping at saratoga this yr??! and I am coming up from Philly for the Whitney- any advise from anyone and how long of a trip from philly to SSprings and any help on the route to race heaven?? thanks!*** My comment was that Mr.Crist often does a prerace (10:45 A.M.) session of handicapping the day's races... in past years it was held at Siros restaurant - across the street from the track. For this year, the seminar is being switched to inside the race track at a location called the carousel. To get to Saratoga, take either Route 287 or the Garden State Parkway (north) to their respective end; get on the New York State Thruway, get off at exit 24, then take the Northway (Route 87 North) to exit 14. It's a pretty simple drive, and well worth it. I did it for 30 years from New Jersey until moving up here 6 years ago. And, it takes me around 5 hours to get from Saratoga to Columbus, NJ (across the bridge from PA) if that helps any.
Paul S More than 1 year ago
A couple of points to ponder, if anyone has any comments... First off, I see Kent Desormeaux gets lots of negative publicity - some of it deserved IMO - but, still, he does win races, often in bunches. OTOH, what about Julien Leparoux? He lost on two heavy favorites Saturday, and it could be argued that he could possibly be the main reason (poorly placed positioning of his runners). I know he wins often in KY, but as far as I recall, his record in NY is less than stellar. Should he be avoided in big races? And, what about the DRF's bizarre morning line in the Manhattan? While it didn't matter - in the least - how did they have Marsh Side 3-5, and the rest from 10-1 (the #2 entry) and the others close to 20-1? Isn't the DRF "the Bible" for horse racing - how can they screw up a ML like that?
English Channel More than 1 year ago
Great blogging here as usual. Hoping you keep this going for a long long time Steve. I've read 'EB' a couple of times and think I have a decent handle on the strategies but I haven't been getting to the right horses often enough. 'Betting on myself' revealed some of your process but I'd like to know how you go about it now and how it's evolving for you. I read alot of the drf press books and think they are great. I'm thinking I'm going to get the 07 expo dvd set, it sounds like a great line up and like it could help me out. Are there any plans for another Expo? Keep up the great work, looking forward to seeing you at Toga.