06/07/2014 8:59PM

Belmont thoughts, and other notes

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Belmont Stakes Notes

Even with the disappointment of the Triple Crown going unhit for another year, you have to offer kudos to Tonalist for delivering on the immense promise he had offered since early this year by winning the Belmont in determined fashion. A Belmont win is huge for any horse, and this is the biggest win so far for Tonalist’s trainer, Christophe Clement. Clement is so good that it’s surprising he doesn’t have many more victories of this magnitude.

::2014 BELMONT STAKES: Recap, video, chart, and more

But I can’t beat around the bush here. I don’t think this Belmont was particularly good. It was very strangely run, with the plodding Commissioner setting the pace, and Samraat, who has plenty of positional speed, somehow trailing the 11-horse field into the backstretch. This seemed so weird that if those two reversed their early positions, it would have actually made more sense.

And then, there is the final time. On the face of it, Tonalist’s time of 2:28.52 (after fractions of 24.06, 48.52, 1;12.84, 1:37.13, and 2:02.43) looks pretty good. But when compared to the final time posted by very average older horses in the Brooklyn earlier in the card of 2:27.13 (after fractions of 24.16, 48.73, 1:13.41, 1:37.87, and 2:02.47), it turns out to be a slow race. And when you consider that Belmont’s main track was heavily watered 19 minutes before the Belmont, which should have only sped up the track, and the Belmont’s final time suffers further by comparison.

I’m not going to jump ugly on California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn for his unfortunate post-race comments. While it is important that you lose as well as you win, this had to be an extremely disappointing and emotional moment for California Chrome’s connections, and who among us can say we never did or said something we regretted in a pressure situation.

That said, the notion that the 20 horses who qualify for the Kentucky Derby are the only ones who should be able to compete in the Belmont is even more ridiculous than the idea of sticking a month between each of the Triple Crown events, and that, I strongly feel, is pretty ridiculous. Both are wrongheaded concepts. And oh yeah, if Coburn’s Belmont qualification was in effect Saturday, Medal Count would have been your Belmont winner.

I would have to think that if Victor Espinoza had it to do all over again, he might have ridden California Chrome a little differently. To me, the issue with California Chrome’s trip wasn’t about whether he should have gone on to the lead or taken back. To me, the big deal was staying inside and not getting out. I don’t know if California Chrome had enough left in the tank to win Saturday even with a perfect trip. No one does. But it does seem he’s more comfortable running outside of horses, and California Chrome would have been better served Saturday if he had a trip running outside of opponents. And it wouldn’t have mattered how he got there, whether by going to the lead and getting out, or taking back and getting out.

I’ve been on record several times to the effect that the Triple Crown is one racing tradition you don’t mess with. If you put more time between the three races, how could you ever compare a Triple Crown winner who won three races spread over three months, to an Affirmed or Seattle Slew, who won the three races over five weeks. You simply couldn’t, and it would undercut the history that is such an important part of the three Triple Crown races. But it does seem there is a growing movement to do something. Even Robert Evans, the owner of Tonalist, said in his post-Belmont Stakes press conference that he would like to see more time between the races, and Tonalist didn’t run in the Derby or Preakness.

Notes on the Belmont undercard stakes

My opinion of Close Hatches going into the Ogden Phipps was that she is a terrific filly, but just not quite on the same level as Beholder and Princess of Sylmar. Well, I was wrong. Close Hatches, a determined winner of the Phipps, is, right now, every bit the filly Princess of Sylmar is. Princess of Sylmar had a great set up in the Phipps and ran her race, and just came up short.

But as for how Close Hatches measures against Beholder, well, I’m going to reserve my mea culpas on that until a later date. Beholder didn’t have an obvious excuse finishing fourth in the Phipps. I suppose you could say that maybe she didn’t like the sandy nature of Belmont’s main track if you wanted to. But I think Beholder didn’t run anywhere near her “A” race Saturday, and I suspect it had more to do with her being much farther off the early pace than she is accustomed to. I realize being closer to the Phipps pace, which was fast, would have caused Beholder to expend more early energy. But hey, Close Hatches was closer to the pace, and it didn’t prevent her from gutting it out in the late stages.

For a strong favorite who was never far back, mostly inside, and got up in the final sixteenth of a mile, Palace Malice had a bit of an eventful journey in the Met Mile. Palace Malice was put in the game early from his inside post, earlier than he probably would have preferred, and that was absolutely the correct thing to do. The pace in this Met Mile was downright slow, not only in comparison to the way many past Met Miles have been run, but also in comparison to the paces seen in most of the day’s earlier main track races. Even if the rail was a nice place to be Saturday, I don’t think Palace Malice enjoyed being boxed inside horses, or eating the dirt he wound up eating. But Palace Malice is just so good right now, and was so much the best Saturday, that it didn’t matter. Palace Malice has become a very cool horse. To win the Belmont at 3 and the Met Mile at 4, well, that’s something.

You also have to tip your hat to Met Mile runner up Goldencents. That was a terrific effort first start back in more than six months, and without the aid of the sort of track bias Goldencents capitalized on when he won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

I have one word about Social Inclusion: Enough.

Social Inclusion had no excuse when third as the favorite in the Woody Stephens. He was cool and collected in the post parade by his standards, he went into the gate relatively smoothly, and he sat a perfect outside stalking trip. And yet after everything broke as well for him as anyone could have asked, Social Inclusion was thoroughly outrun in the Stephens by Bayern, and finished a weary third.

Social Inclusion rode the crest of an inside speed bias when he won his debut, and he got away with the easiest of early leads when he beat Honor Code in his second start. His Wood Memorial third was a legitimately good effort, but the time for making allowances for Social Inclusion on the basis of his potential is over. It’s now up to him to deliver, and he was found woefully wanting Saturday.

As for Bayern, all you can say is, Wow! Always highly regarded by trainer Bob Baffert, Bayern emphatically demonstrated why that was so with blinkers back on in the Stephens, making a show of his field after disputing a very fast early pace. And what’s especially intriguing about Bayern is, although the Stephens was a seven-furlong sprint, there is absolutely no reason to think he won’t be highly effective stretching back out to a route.

Sweet Reason was a perfectly plausible upsetter in the Acorn. She badly needed a cut back to a one-turn race like the Acorn after mediocre efforts going two turns in her first two starts this year. And let’s not forget that for a time after she won the Spinaway last summer, Sweet Reason was considered the top 2-year-old filly in the land.

The cut back to one turn did not work well for My Miss Sophia, the odds-on Acorn favorite. After running very well in slower paced nine-furlong races in her last two starts, My Miss Sophia gave it up in the stretch after attending the Acorn pace. The Acorn pace, while not especially fast given the pace in the Woody Stephens in the race before, was still much faster than what My Miss Sophia had seen lately, and she couldn’t handle being close to it.

I really felt Real Solution was the best horse going into the Manhattan. I also really felt that Real Solution wouldn’t pass me in the stretch if it meant actually finishing first in a race. His hang job when second in last month’s Man o’ War was beautiful in its strange way. But on Saturday, Real Solution rolled right on by his opponents in the stretch of the Manhattan without the slightest bit of hesitation. Maybe Real Solution’s hanging act is behind him. Or maybe the horses Real Solution steamrolled were so limited that even Real Solution couldn’t indulge them.

I hate to knock Coffee Clique, who gained a coveted Grade 1 win in the Just a Game by out-nodding Strathnaver, but the female turf division continues to want for someone who can really run. I mean, Strathnaver’s form is well established, and she is, at best, a Grade 3 mare.

And how weird was Stephanie’s Kitten’s performance in the Just a Game? She was being asked down the backstretch just to remain a distant trailer, but then she suddenly leveled off in the late stages, and actually galloped out past the wire with the leaders.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The card was bleeping fantastic, yet I was getting my butt handed to me until I it the 11-8 exacta a few times. My biggest problem was not Handicapping it like I normally do the breeder's cup. Case in point. Palace Malice , and Real Solution would have been my only pick on top or win bet. Why? My theory for Big days is look for Horse who in the past ran well on Big days. Last year Palace Malice won the Belmont and Real Solution won the Arlington Million. Then Coffee Clique ran well on Derby day in front of 100,000. Man, I screwed that up
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Honestly Mike even writing about Social Inclusion is bit on the "commercial" side..working a horse in 33 and then asking him to run any kind of race is plain dumb...i have to respect mr. Azapurua, but he what he has done with this horse requires a drastic change of options for this talented horse... the man is good with claimers and nothing else...Social Inclusion is no claimer.... give the horse good care and he pays you back...in multitudes. When will be enough for owners?
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
How do you choose between the Belmont 1 1/2 mile and Woody stephens 7 fur. What distance was he training for ? You cant just throw a horse anywhere can you ? He had to have been training for DISTANCE and then run a 44 Second 1/2 mile WHAT ???
Bob More than 1 year ago
Azapurua knew all along he isn't choosing mile and half. It's all for media and reading material. How can a horse this fast ever make the distance.
JeanK More than 1 year ago
ok Bayern was best thoroughbred of the day! Palace has no malice, he's good from top to bottom. As for Espinoxa he may have lost ground taking the Chrome wide on final, he still put him in position to win...the only thing that irked me going into this race is galloping the horse CC repeatedly over 2 miles, a mile and a half gallop is and has proven to be sufficient, over training a favorite is a common mistake for trainers not accustomed to prime time they feel the pressure and dance to the music. it was a great day for racing Saturday i lost a bunch of money but what i do or did is not worth talking about, we saw some real good blood showing their true worth... give me another New York... you are the best!
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
NYRA is the best - LEADING THE WAY , Where the big $ should be in play ( a fair secure racetrack ) With INTEGRITY
David Gray More than 1 year ago
Allowing a month between the events would open the gate wider for other horses to enter the last two races. Why? Horses mature differently, and late bloomers would be able to wait until both the Preakness (early June) and the Belmont (early July) to participate. Tonalist didn't run his first race until last November, whilst CC ran in the early summer of his two year old season. We all know of the kid in 7th grade in school who shaved!? He was the fastest and strongest kid. By 10th grade, he was sitting on the bench. Well bred late bloomers who are still growing into their bodies would be on board for the later two races, especially the Belmont if it were run in July.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Secretariat had time off from November to March. Seattle Slew did not run from October until March. Same for Affirmed. With the current point system, it might be doubtful that Street Sense, with a win in the Tampa Bay Derby (does that race even count anymore?) and a second in the Blue Grass, may have even been in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Carl Nafzger would have been dictated by the racing schedule set forth by a posse of suits who stay in the air conditioned offices at Churchill Downs. The problem is not fresh horses in the Belmont. The problem is the haughty attitude in Louisville that prevents REAL horsemen from being able to train three year olds in the way that is best for the horse. They made the meat grinder of getting to their race, WORSE! Yes, Houston, we have a problem. Might as well face it.
John Roark More than 1 year ago
One word about Wicked Strong: Enough II.
Mike_Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
I get what you're saying, but at least he won a Grade 1.
MIKE MOBLEY More than 1 year ago
Commissioner's loss cost me the pick 4! Wicked strong and Samraat cost me the Trifecta! Close only counts in Horseshoes and Hand grenades!!!!!!!!!!!
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
I hit the pick 4 .I had commissioner tonalist and California chrome closing my pick four. Also hot the win bet and 11-8 exacta. Spent $13.50 in a fifty cents pick four. Medal count cost me the tri and super. I went 11/2,8 tri and exacta. Then 11/2,8/2,8/4,5,6,7,9 super. I had that 25 x $.10 super and the 11/2,8/2,8 tri for $6.....eerrrrr
John Roark More than 1 year ago
Let's hold the phone for minute. In truth, the Triple Crown has already been tinkered with, so we can stop with the purity of the sport nonsense. First, these three races haven't always been in the same order. In 1978 and any time before, there were no Derby points to get an entry into the starting gate. There weren't preps with points riding on them. Plus, the Derby didn't consist of 20 starters until 1975. So let's no act as if this system has been "holier than thou" since the beginning of time. It hasn't. Even the first Derby was 1 1/2 miles. Yet cutting through the malarky ... I would like to suggest a format/system that might very well play fair on the Triple Crown trail. First of all, the Triple Crown series should have restricted conditions. That's no different than any other race you may stumble upon on an any given card. This year, 38 colts scored "Derby points." Rather, change the Derby point system to a Triple Crown points system. To wit: This year, the 24th Triple Crown-nominated colt on the list -- Commanding Curve -- was the 20th and final Derby starter. That left 14 other runners under Curve — and four others up higher who decided not to run in the Derby (injuries, other defections, etc.). Under my proposed system, those colts/fillies who EARNED what would be considered TC points (not just Derby points) would be given first right of choice/option to run in any of the three races, by highest total and downward. Also, keep awarding points through the TC races, so that those totals can be used in the draw formula, straight through the Belmont. If the Preakness of Belmont starting gates cannot be filled, proceed with graded-stakes earnings, and if need be, straight earnings. The argument will be that, under this system, that Tonalist would not have won. I understand Coburn's argument to a point. Sure, it was sour grapes, he knew the rules and circumstances coming in. However, there are chinks in the system, not the least of which is not rewarding fillies for points into the Derby. Though she might not have won, I would have rather seen Untapable get a shot at 1 1/4 miles rather than a stinkbomb like Ring Weekend. But that's the way the game is played now.
Geronimo2123 . More than 1 year ago
Interesting post, John. The traditonalist argument is all wet... The old T/C spacing was moved to 2 weeks to the Preakness and 3 to the Belmont several decade ago to accomodate the horses because they ran every 2 to 3 weeks back then. They do not run 2-3 weeks back these days, lasix makes recovery time longer, and the breed is less sound. How many times do we have to watch this to understand its time to adjust the T/C races. BTW, in England their T/c races are run over one month apart. And yet it has been since 1970 since Nijinsky won their T/C. Canada's T/C is spaced further apart than the U.S.'s, and its been over 10 years since there has been a Canadian T/C winner. It is not going to make it easier to space the races to where the horses have time to recover.
Wagthetongue More than 1 year ago
I have yet to see any explanation for Ride On Curlin's pulling up in the Belmont. Does anyone have any have any insight? I am looking for something other than the obvious tough schedule, i.e. lameness.
Mike_Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
He bled. Trainer characterized it a 3 on a scale of 10.
nancyb More than 1 year ago
Flipped his palate
Crickett Hoffman More than 1 year ago
If you competed in the first two legs of a triathlon and some guys who just rolled out of bed come and compete in just the last leg, beating you to the finish line and denying you a trophy, I bet you'd be more than bent. (Especially when running on an injured foot. Which someone forgot to mention.) Look, either the Triple Crown is a championship or it is just three stakes races that happen to be few weeks apart. If it is a championship then treat it like one. Like Horse of the Year, that high school popularity contest for horses, it comes off as disorganized and subjective when trying to explain it to someone outside the industry. No wonder the non-horse public could really care less about a sport that can't sort itself out. The Breeders' Cup is a real championship and probably the only thing this sport has left.
Mike R More than 1 year ago
Wonderful day of racing!