06/02/2013 3:02PM

Projecting The Belmont Stakes Pace


Pace, a critical component in every race, was hugely important in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The pace in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy, sealed track was 22.57, 45.33, and 1:09.80, or, in other words, extremely fast. Orb, Golden Soul, and Revolutionary were racing 16th, 15th, and 18th, respectively, a half mile into the Derby, 18, 18, and 19 lengths off the lead. They finished one-two-three.

Conversely, the pace in the Preakness was 23.94, 48.60, and 1:13.26, which was slow even when you consider that the fast track those fractions were recorded on was on the dull side. Since Oxbow, the horse who was allowed to set those splits unchallenged, was not a totally overmatched no-hoper, it was no surprise that he proved impossible to catch.

So what kind of pace should we look for in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes? Truth be told, handicappers can be forgiven if they are a little gun shy these days when it comes to projecting potential pace scenarios. And that is because of the epidemic of riders taking hold early of speed horses that seems to have taken hold in the jockey colonies of several racing circuits.

This used to only happen in turf races, but now it happens in all sorts of races on all surfaces, and at all distances. It happened in the Preakness when the speed of Titletown Five and Govenor Charlie was never used to challenge Oxbow early. Hey, it happened Saturday at Belmont in the Dancing Renee Handicap for New York breds. Beautiful But Blue and Clear Pasaj were head and head for the lead in the initial stages when the rider of Beautiful But Blue suddenly put the brakes on and conceded Clear Pasaj a clear early lead. That move turned out to be a big deal, because with no more early pressure to absorb, Clear Pasaj had just enough left in reserve late to hold on. Unfortunately, jockeys taking hold on speed horses happens all too frequently now.

Anyway, back to the potential Belmont Stakes pace scenario. With the projected field of 15 as of this writing Sunday afternoon, I can see two horses wanting the lead, three horses laying close, and another group of three who I will call mid-range stalkers who might move in the third quarter.

The two I see wanting the lead are Oxbow and Freedom Child. After just winning the Preakness in front-running fashion, Oxbow wanting the lead is obvious. And it should also be noted that the two other victories in Oxbow’s 11 race career were also achieved in front-running fashion. Freedom Child is a similar case. His breakthrough performance in the Peter Pan last time out came when he went to the top and widened on a speed-favoring sloppy track, but his only other victory also came when he was on the engine. The difference between them is Oxbow doesn’t have to have the lead to be effective, whereas I’m not so sure the same is true of Freedom Child yet. So I can see Oxbow conceding the lead to Freedom Child, but staying right on his hip.

The three I envision laying close are Palace Malice, Midnight Taboo, and Giant Finish. Palace Malice is the one who, with blinkers on, took off like a rocket and set those fast fractions in the Derby before tiring to finish 12th, which wasn’t bad considering the circumstances. Palace Malice isn’t really a speedball and he’s losing the blinkers, so I see him rating close up. Midnight Taboo wasn’t far off a hot pace in an allowance race in the mud last time, and Giant Finish showed positional speed from tough outside posts prior to his unsuccessful attempt in the Derby, so I see them close, too.

The mid-range stalkers, the ones I see turning up the pace pressure by moving in the third quarter, or thereabouts, are the filly, Unlimited Budget, Vyjack, and Will Take Charge. Unlimited Budget stalked solid paces in her last two starts and this really seems to be her preferred style. Vyjack is a gelding with sprint-speed who they want to turn into a closer, so this kind of trip might be his happy middle ground. Will Take Charge wouldn’t seem to fit with this group as he showed no speed of any sort in his last four starts. But he did show positional speed in his two starts before that, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him placed closer this time, if only just to shake him up.

Taking all of this into account, while also being aware that the biggest wild card might be the approach the Belmont Stakes jockeys take toward the 12 furlong distance, I believe we will see a different type of pace in the Belmont than we saw in the Derby and the Preakness. I’m not exactly going out on a limb there regarding the Derby because it would be insanity if the pace Saturday is anywhere near as destructive as it was in Kentucky. But while the Belmont fractions might prove to be as slow or slower than they were in the Preakness, I don’t think we will again see someone cruise to the lead and lope along uncontested. In a word, honest is the Belmont pace I’m anticipating.

Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
How can it be justified to put a horse in a race of this magnitude with nothing more than a maiden win to his credit in only 3 starts, that horse being Midnight Taboo He couldn't even win an allowance race at Belmont last month. I don't see his pedigree at being super hot, and the highest speed figure he achieved was an 85, with the others being in the 70s. Just because you can to me is not enough justification to put a horse with such limited experience and nothing on his resume suggesting he is prepared for a race like this. It concerns me that a horse like this could compromise the chances of other horses to run their best race, and possibly even the safety of not only himself, but others as well. All of the other horses have at least 6 starts or more, except for Unlimited Budget, who has 5 and she has won 4 of those. Just seems like an ego trip at the expense of a race and the horse. I noted in Mike's and Jay's analysis section had these comments about Taboo: JP: Lightly raced, and still eligible to first-level allowance. Think this is way too ambitious for him. MW: He's so out of place here it has me thinking he might be in to ensure an honest early pace. Makes me want to suggest that Belmont and the Preakness have some minimum standards, maybe not the point system of the Derby, but some kind of qualification requirements instead of "just because you can".
Marc More than 1 year ago
" jockeys taking hold on speed horses happens all too frequently now,This used to only happen in turf races, but now it happens in all sorts of races on all surfaces, and at all distances " including mayor stakes races like the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. Going a mile 1/2 with equal weights, pace is less of a factor. Honest or not, the jockey with the most horse in the final 1/4 should put away the rest , and that should be Revolutionary.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
Wow, Mike. An entire article on the Belmont and not a mention of Overanalyze. He doesn't get the same trip as Orb and other mid-pack stalkers? Again, WOW.
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
It is very, very clear that this posting is about the Belmont Stakes pace. Overanalyze (and Orb, for that matter), will not be significant players in the pace. That's why they weren't mentioned. This seems obvious.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
I see. If i were writing about pace, i would include the horses that should take advantage of the [rojected pace the best, such as Orb, Oxbow, Overanalyze and Palace malice, but I see your point. I handicap a little different in regards to PACE. i use it to project winners and when i hear PACE in this race, i thnk OVERANALYZE as the one who take advantage of it. You did write a nice article though, but I expect the filly to amke some noice early.
Craig More than 1 year ago
Rain in the forecast. Replay of the derby. Except this time Golden Soul prevails. Freedom Child/ Golden Soul exacta box. The mile and a half will catch up to all Derby & Preakness horses. Those who rest usually prevail.
russell More than 1 year ago
I think it will be a fair pace, :49, 113, 138, 228 finish. With Palice Malice, Oxbow, and Freedom Child it should be an honest race.
Brad More than 1 year ago
Golden Soul easiest of all easy winners by 4 1/2 lengths going away! Mutuals: 19.20 8.80 5.80 KY Derby 2nd place finish no fluke and now well rested by skipping the Preakness. Will love the 1 1/2 mile distance and Robbie Albarado back aboard. Walks by these with an eighth of a mile to run and is easily hand ridden to winners circle! Orb and Revolutionary would be overachieving to even be involved in the superfecta in New York.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Its the jock that knows the track, once around for the mile & 1/2, remember smarty jones ? Stewart Elliott started moving, mid backstretch, too soon, 3/4 of a mile to go, should of won TC.......weather speed/closer, ya turn it on w. 3/8 mile to go.......................period
jimf552 More than 1 year ago
Poor Stewart Elliot got race ridden by Bailey and Stevens.
Tom Mallios More than 1 year ago
do you actually watch a race or just see what you want to see.smarty beat everyone else by 10 lengths.he lost to a horse that freaked out and ran the race of his life.if smarty were passed by other horses,then you can trash him.he did nothing wrong in that race.he rode with confidence and except for the 1 inexplainable freak.smarty would of been talked about in the same breath with slew and affirmed.he would of destroyed his competition in all 3 races.i know genius,your comeback will be "if".but going into a race,i guess you were the only smart one whothought zito would run so big.ergo the trashing of elliot.
Scott More than 1 year ago
I think if you watch the replay of Smarty Jones' Belmont, you'll see that the horse was fighting to be released. Stewart Elliott had little choice, but to give the horse his head. If you want to see a jockey move his horse too soon in the Belmont then refer to 2009, Calvin Borel and Mine That Bird. I will never understand what happened with MTB over the 3 TC races in 2009, but that horse was geeked to go and hadn't ran at that level before or after those 3 races. I don't think he could have beaten Summer Bird on that day even if he was moved at the proper time, but he would have held 2nd place in my opinion.
Craig More than 1 year ago
Oxbow will be in a perfect spot,thanks to Gary Stevens.They seem to always crawl up front in the Belmont more times than not.Orb, Oxbow over whoever.They stand out on class and guts alone.
richard montgomery More than 1 year ago
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? FYI : just in case you don't know this is 2013 comeback to the future Oh and don't forget to make a bet on the Belmont we need more guys like you out there placing wagers to create sucker favorites, gamblers that don't know what they are doing, you'll fit right in.......... LMAO
Eric More than 1 year ago
In regards to pace, I'd lean towards likely fast (at least fast for 1.5 miles) and definately contested....and for many horses, being pressured through a slower pace is worse than running fast, uncontested. With 15 horses trying to get position, it just often naturally leads to a faster than par pace, especially if the Oxbow's and Freedom Child's of the world are stuck inside. But also, the mere presence of Midnight Taboo, who I believe is in here as a rabbit, will ensure a fast pace.
Derek Michael More than 1 year ago
➕ 1 million ...couldnt agree more. Also the same about midnight taboo blowing out his work today that hell be the early speed. If the weather holds true to be a slop fest, watch out for freedom child, orb, golden soul
Scott More than 1 year ago
I agree Eric. I still can't believe that the Preakness played out the way it did, but I really don't expect it to happen twice during the same TC season. I truly think that the Derby top 3 finishers will again finish 1, 2, 3 and I do think that Orb is the best of this class. The only reason I'm boxing him with Golden Soul and Revolutionary is because of the fresh horse angle. Oxbow is a nice horse for sure, but even Gary Stevens suggested he was starting to falter despite having the Preakness all his way. Another 1/16th of a mile and he would have finished 3rd.