06/11/2011 9:27AM

Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park


It’s Belmont Stakes morning at Belmont Park, and while it is good news that the intense heat of the last few days has broken, the bad news is it is still very humid with low overcast. There were showers in the area overnight, and showers are supposed to pop up from time to time during the day. The NYRA’s early morning main track and turf conditions are listed as good for both. The main track is currently sealed, which makes sense because as I write this, the first main track race on the card (race 2) is still a little more than 2 ½ hours away.

I will be back here during the day with updates. See you later, and Happy Belmont Day!

11:04 - A period of rain has resulted in the main track being downgraded to muddy. However, the main track is still sealed, so if we get a dry spell as the afternoon wears on, then the track should be in good shape once they cut it open. The turf is still good.

12:10 - Two races in the books, and while the running styles of the winners were interesting, it is way too early to draw any conclusions about how the main track and turf might be playing.

Seal Cove was tons the best winning the lid lifter on the Widener Turf Course, coming from way back after stumbling at the start, and despite being floated eight wide into the stretch. Runner up Eternal Ruler also came from way back to be a narrowly beaten second in a nice U. S. debut.

In the second race on the main track, which was still muddy and sealed, August Osage prevailed after pressing a solid pace two wide. But he and everyone else in this one was fortunate Crushing was shut off on the rail late on the far turn when in the midst of what sure looked like a winning move. I didn't see anyone making any sort of moves from off the pace here, but as I said, it is very early.

1:21 - Two more main track races behind us, and while I'm not suggesting there is an outright bias, I'm not sure that you would want to have to come from that far back as long as the track remains muddy and sealed. In Just We Trust, winner of the third, and Johannesburg Smile, winner of the fourth, both rated off the lead in the three to four path, but neither was really that far off the early lead. In contrast, Rattlesnake Bridge, who looked strong on paper as the 2-1 favorite in the fourth, attempted to rally from far back. He did manage to finish second, but he made no dent whatsoever on Johannesburg Smile.

2:42 - When It's Tricky was crushed in the Gulfstream Park Oaks in her most recent appearance after romping in her first three starts at Aqueduct, the natual inclination was to consider her something of an inner track fluke. Well, It's Tricky proved that is certainly not the case in the Grade 1 Acorn, taking command turning for home after prompting the early pace, and then turning back heavily favored Turbulent Descent to score decisively. Turbulent Descent, 3-5 off two Grade 1 wins and a Grade 2 score in her last four starts, had dead aim on It's Tricky in mid stretch, and just wasn't good enough.

3:27 - Trappe Shot was miles the best winning the True North, albeit with a sweet rail trip. He's an interesting colt. By virtue of this performance, in which he crushed such capable sprinters as This Ones for Phil and Calibrachoa, Trappe Shot has already entered the discussion when it comes to the best sprinters in the country. But last year, Trappe Shot ran well winning the Long Branch and finishing second in the Haskell going two turns, so his connections have the option of stretching him out if they wish. It will be interesting to see what path Trappe Shot's people take with him. Oh, and by the way, Trappe Shot's trainer is Kiaran McLaughlin, who also trains Acorn winner It's Tricky.

At this point in the card, it seems that while you don't need the lead to win on the main track, you do not want to be too far out of it either. It's not a bias, but it is a little something.

4:05 - Maybe it is a bias. Justin Phillip was staggering in mid stretch of the Woody Stephens after disputing a fast early pace. But as tired as Justin Phillip was, and he was really tired as he went his last eighth of a mile in this seven furlong race in 14 seconds, closers J J's Lucky Train and Arch Traveler still couldn't get close enough to even remotely threaten him late.

As to what this all means regarding the Belmont Stakes, who knows? There is almost 2 1/2 hours to post time for the Belmont, allowing lots of time for the track to change. And if it changes, we won't know it, because the two races we have until the Belmont are on the turf. And anyway, just because the main track might be tilted to speed in one turn races, that doesn't mean it has to be biased in a two turn race at 1 1/2 miles such as the Belmont.

4:15 - Regarding Mooch's comment concerning the sealed track, the track is still sealed, and the condition has been changed to sloppy. It is currently raining with low overcast. Right now, conditions are not conducive to cutting this track open. There is too much water on top of it to do so right now. We never got the break in precipitation during the afternoon that we needed to allow cutting the track open.

One other update, Kiaran McLaughlin said after the True North that Trappe Shot will probably focus on races at a mile or under.

4:55 - The turf is labled "good," but after the Just A Game is run about nine seconds slower than the course record, the course conditions have to be worse than that. C. S. Silk won the Just A Game in front running fashion and despite drifting out through the stretch, but I have to think a few members of the beaten field, most notably Aviate and Gypsy's Warning, just did not handle the footing.

Indeed, the course condition for the next race, the Manhattan, has been downgraded to yielding.

5:56 - If you thought Mission Approved's implausible upset of the Manhattan Handicap guaranteed a massive Pick 6 carryover into Belmont's next card on Wednesday, you would be wrong. Somehow, Master of Hounds, Santiva, Nehro, and Mucho Macho Man are all covered in the Pick 6 with a payoff of $1,130,718. Everyone else is uncovered.

As for Mission Improved, he was making his first start since he nearly upset Gio Ponti at 53-1 in the Man o' War Stakes 11 months ago, which was his first start off the $35,000 claim. This time, Gio Ponti couldn't get him with a game, but insufficient late run that left him short of second behind the also implausible Bim Bam.

Anyway, Mission Approved, Grade 1 winner off a layoff of like, forever ... tough to wrap my head around that.

6:52 - I don't know if it was the sloppy surface, or that he was close up on a track that favored horses with that sort of running style, or if it was the blinkers on, but Ruler On Ice, whose consistent prior form was fashioned against much weaker, picked a great time to run the best race of his career. He fought off challenges from both sides in the stretch to win the Belmont Stakes at 24-1 in yet another upset on the Saturday card. Before this, Ruler On Ice's biggest claim to fame was either his second in the Federico Tesio or his third in the Sunland Derby, take your pick.

Even though he finished a distant 12th in the Kentucky Derby, I found Stay Thirsty's close second to make more sense, because at least he raced on a dead rail at Churchill Downs.

The one I feel badly for is Animal Kingdom, who was squeezed back so badly in the initial strides that his jock lost his iron. That put Animal Kingdom far off the pace, an impossible spot given the way the track played Saturday. But to his credit, he made a big move on the far turn before understandably running out of gas. I also think Brilliant Speed deserves extra credit for rallying against the grain of the track to finish third, beaten only a little more than two lengths for it all.

Anyway, thanks for reading today. And just a heads up, there is a Pick 6 carryover of $1.1 million and change into Belmont's Wednesday card.