06/08/2013 8:08PM

Post-Belmont Stakes Thoughts


There were many storylines in the 2013 Triple Crown, but from a handicapping standpoint, the main storyline was pace. A wickedly fast pace in the Kentucky Derby set it up for deep closers. A trotting-horse pace in the Preakness enabled that classic to be won wire to wire. In Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the pace was strong and quick. But it wasn’t crazy-fast over a track that was glib, and it certainly wasn’t anywhere near pokey. And that set the Belmont up to be won by a species that was endangered in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, one that was burned by the fractions in Louisville, and couldn’t make any headway because of the fractions in Baltimore: the close-range stalker.

Ironically, Palace Malice, the close-range stalker who made off with the Belmont, was the one who blasted off in the Derby with blinkers on, and set that impossible pace. But the blinkers were off Saturday, Palace Malice willingly rated, and he demonstrated why trainer Todd Pletcher was always expecting this colt by Curlin to blossom once he had the chance to go a distance.

Of course, before Saturday, Palace Malice had four previous starts around two turns, but even if his route history was somewhat extensive, it was also inconclusive. He had no excuse when a close third in the Risen Star in his two turn debut. But after that, he had no chance to run in the Louisiana Derby, he was a narrowly beaten second in the Blue Grass over a Polytrack he didn’t and still doesn’t necessarily have to like, and then he cooked himself in the Derby with that impossible pace. But under more patient handling this time from Mike Smith, Palace Malice, waited, pounced, and scored as a plausible 13-1 shot. In other words, he got the kind of perfect trip you could have laid out for him on paper. It’s kind of the way I saw it, only I saw Orb getting Palace Malice late, and that obviously didn’t happen.

Right here, a reality check is necessary: Let’s not gloss over the fact that the final quarter mile of the Belmont was 27.58. This group of 3-year-olds is well-matched and entertaining. But what they aren’t as a group is strong, at least at this point in time.

Anyway, Oxbow, winner of the Preakness, deserves almost as much credit as Palace Malice for gamely finishing second in the Belmont. Oxbow was right on that lively early pace, and it is worth noting that the two others most involved on the lead, Frac Daddy and Freedom Child, finished last and next-to-last in the field of 14, beaten margins approaching a zip code. So Oxbow did some very fine work Saturday to finish where he did.

Orb, on the other hand, was a disappointment finishing third. The Kentucky Derby winner got the honest pace he lacked when fourth in the Preakness, not to mention the outside trip. But after making a big, menacing move on the far turn, Orb flattened out. Actually, it was obvious in upper stretch that Orb wasn’t doing enough to get the money.

So now, the debate on Orb begins in earnest. There are some who might have been willing to forgive his loss in the Preakness who will now say the pace and the wet track in the Derby made him look better than he actually is. And those folks will now severely discount him. Maybe they are right, and maybe I have too soft a spot in my heart for him, but I think it was probably more the Triple Crown grind that got to Orb in the Belmont. I say that because even if you want to discount his Kentucky Derby, Orb ran too well winning the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth to say he is just a fast-pace, wet-track opportunist.

A couple of quick thoughts on the graded stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard: That was a very nice comeback for Fast Bullet in the True North off a six month absence. He is a serious race horse … Stephanie’s Kitten’s decision over Better Lucky in the Just A Game was entirely due to the trips both got. Stephanie’s Kitten got a dream run and a huge opening on the rail. Better Lucky was three wide on the far turn and four wide into the stretch … I think if the main players in the Woody Stephens met seven times, you might bet five different results. That said, I fear I’m going to do nothing but lose money with Clearly Now this year. I liked Clearly Now Saturday and he finished a close third in the Stephens after again being too close to the early pace, so in the hopes that he will finally get a relaxed trip, I have to bet him back … Point of Entry is all class. I completely buy into the notion that he really doesn’t like off turf, and I think the two who were close to him at the finish of the Manhattan wouldn’t be close to him in a race run on firm turf.

Eric More than 1 year ago
After seeing how well the derby speed horses dominated the Preakness and Belmont, I believe that Normandy Invasion might be the best of the bunch. I can't wait to see him run back.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Not a legitimate stayer in the entire generation. Not a single one. Euros should look at this race more..Go And Go, My Memoirs....
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
How bout interviewing D. Wayne, Shug, Graham, Romans, Baffert and ask them if the new Derby points system has an effect on The Triple Crown. Seems like it takes so much to qualify that a horse gets over exerted too early in the year just to run in The Derby. How can they possibly have the stamina to keep energy levels high enough to compete for The Crown? Weight loss, fatigue, injury? The system is supposed to prevent this.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
They could be trained and raced the way they were 20-25 years ago. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Victory Gallop, etc., weren't worn out by the time of the Belmont - they were as strong as ever. Bute and lasix were legal and in use then. The difference is the way trainers train.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Training is one part but let's just not pretend we are breeding frail speed horses that lacks stamina.....I have heard how training is the culprit but there is no way you can make a Black Caviar win the Melbourne Cup no matter if you were the greatest trainer in the universe...Yes, that is an extreme example but for some odd reason the denial and disregard on the breeding shed is being ignored.
jttf More than 1 year ago
calidiscopio just won from way off of the pace in the brooklyn and b.c. marathon. speed was the track bias on both of those days. forget about the loss in the tokyo stakes race. he was still running despite catching his quarter the day before. this horse is off the charts good. even at his age.
James More than 1 year ago
Lets give credit to the brilliant job Todd Pletcher did with PM. Blinkers on for the Derby and the horse could not be held back. Skip the Preakness and run him five weeks later in the Belmont, blinkers off. He turned a rabbit into the Belmont Champ in five weeks of training. Ha, ha. Boy did he pull the wool over our eyes. He set us all up. Brilliant!
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
It was like Handicapping 101 - a class i took some 30 years ago. The stalker looked like the obvious play on paper before the race, with Overanalyze, Orb, Oxbow 7 Palace malice as the ones most likely to do their best running. I don't know what is up with Orb. Although far back in the Derby, he really just ran his race, going the first 6F in 1;12 and change The Preakness took him out of his game and the Belmont looked like he should have sat a little closer and he may have won. Either way, it looked like an easy race to handicap........ Just wondering why Overanalyze didn't seem to fire. the convenient excuse is that he didn't like the track, but he had won over it in the past. I'm still confused with this one. At least I'll get 30-1 if they decide to go to the Travers........ Hmmmmm.
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
Overanalyze just isn't as good as the leaders of the crop. He beat Oxbow in the weak Arkansas Derby because the connections decided to experiment by taking Oxbow back and making one run late with him. Did not work, hasn't run a truly bad race since he reverted to front running. That Overanalyze runs poorly at longer distances is not unexpected, given his pedigree. (Dixie Union does not transmit stamina - Union Rags got whatever he had from the damside).
Bill Foley More than 1 year ago
All in all, this was a good triple crown season. Perhaps it was not in the general publics eyes, but this handicapper enjoyed it. Congrats to those who cashed tickets in any of the three races. Don't gloat for too long though, and make sure your mouth isn't open too wide when you do. This is, after all a humbling game. Like baseball, it's a game of failure. Hit 300 in baseball and you're a hall of famer. 30% as a handicapper and you're a winning player. Back to my caution about leaving your gloating mouth open too wide: At some point that crow will fly into it and you will be forced to eat. I know this from experience as on more than one occasion I've had to say, "please pass the salt." Here's to high hopes for the upcoming summer meets. May they bring us all the chance risk eating a little crow.
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Belmont trivia: For those who love trivia and the esoteric, here is a link where you can see all of the Belmont records in one place: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/13MG_BS_Records.pdf Compiled from Belmont.com's web site, for those who are critical of the overall time of the Belmont, here are some interesting comparisons with past runnings: The first 4 quarters (1 mile) of the 2013 Belmont stacked up fairly well with history, but as some have pointed out, they just crawled in the last 2 quarters. However, this year's winner actually ran faster than 18% of the winners since 1926, the year the race was set at 1 1/2 miles to the present. Among those other horses who recorded a 2:30 or higher include Union Rags (2012), Omaha (1935), Chateaugay (1963). Among those horses who ran a slower Belmont than 2013 are: Gallant Fox (1930), Thunder Gulch (1995), Drosselmeyer (2010), Whirlaway (1941), Ruler On Ice (2011), Assault (1946). 88 = number of races since 1926 when length was fixed at 1 1/2 miles 16 = number of races that were run slower than 2013, or 18%. Conversely, 82 % of the 88 races run since 1926 were run faster than 2013. 2013 Belmont: (all on Fast tracks) compared to past fastest times First quarter faster than Secretariat's 1973 Belmont First 2 quarters faster than Easy Goer in 1989 and A.P. Indy in 1992 First 3 quarters faster than Easy Goer in 1989 First 4 quarters faster than Affirmed in 1978 Secretariat's fractional times: Secretariat set a world record for 1 1/2 miles on the dirt when he won the 1973 Belmont in 2:24. In addition, Secretariat also holds the fastest 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, 1 mile and 1 1/4-mile fractions in Belmont history. Not sure what conclusions to draw from this analysis, but, I guess the only really important one is that whichever horse wins was better than all he others that day, on that track, at that moment in time. .
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
The conclusion is fairly straightforward and obvious...the breeding for milers is why you see the comparable times at a mile to past Belmonts and then the crawling at the last quarter..... The 18% of winners showed that PM beat horses mostly from 1926-1933 era...the last 4 slow Belmont times is now reflecting the same times from 1926.... the really important thing is if we can promote thoroughbred racing today to attract new fans with what we breed today......the excuse if there is more competition for the gambling dollars.....that is true - but the horses running today more or less imo reflects why the headlines has abandoned this great industry.....instead of breeding towards another Man of War or Secretariat....we now breed Seattle Slews MINUS a few furlongs......
Ann Ferland More than 1 year ago
During the 1926 and 1933 era, races used a walk-up start, not gates. And I do believe they timed from the time the tape went up, not giving the horses a running start as the gate does. Apples and oranges.
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Regardless whether that is true or not, the last 4 belmonts are on average slow....no lipstick can make that look good and we shouldn't pretend they were good.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
On the subject of poor crops of three year olds. Who did Secretariat beat in his TC races? Sham? All the others in his Belmont ran the distance in 2:30 and slower. Stop knocking these three year olds. If I was still an owner, I'd love to have Orb or Vyjack or Freedom Child in my barn. Remember, whether the winner runs fast or slow, they still pay him the purse money. As a bettor, I still collect whether the 6f is run in 1:09 or 1:13. As it was, I only bet the Preakness and Belmont and won both races.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
I guess you never heard of Forego.
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
I have always maintained that Secretariat would have had his hands full against Forego as 4 year olds.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Orb's trainer (quoted from DRF): “I don’t think I took a horse over there that wasn’t ready to run,” he said. “It was just hard to make up ground over that track. He made a long move from the five-eighths to the quarter pole. He just couldn’t sustain it. The difference between this off track and the one at Churchill is that Churchill was more like a springboard track. This was deeper, looser, sandier." Bias, in other words. It decided both the Derby and the Belmont. The Preakness was decided by pace. Hats off to anybody who got a clear read on the different bias in the Derby and the Belmont.
Eric More than 1 year ago
With a final quarter mile approaching a Clydsdale-like 28 seconds everybody had a chance if they were good enough. They just weren't.