06/07/2012 8:50AM

Some Pre-Belmont Stakes Thoughts


Handicappers who have an appreciation for good work by trainers have to love the way Doug O'Neill has handled I'll Have Another. I’ll Have Another didn’t lose a thing when he took a planned, but very unconventional two-month break smack in the middle of the Triple Crown prep season. And when he returned with what could have been viewed as a draining victory in the Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another didn’t regress in his next start. Instead, he moved forward in the Kentucky Derby, and moved forward form-wise yet again in the Preakness.

But even acknowledging that O’Neill really knows his horse and has, to this point, pushed all the right buttons, it is understandable if some are slightly disconcerted that I’ll Have Another has not had an actual published workout in the three weeks between the Preakness and Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. It made sense that I’ll Have Another didn’t have one in the short two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness. But no works since the Preakness? One could see how some might wonder about that.

The approach O’Neill has taken instead is allowing I’ll Have Another open up a bit at the end of his regular gallops. It would seem this is meant to build up I’ll Have Another’s stamina. It also looks like an attempt to combat a form regression from the Preakness, which had to be a demanding effort for I’ll Have Another considering he had to overcome an unfavorable pace scenario, by not pushing him over the top with a workout.

From a pure handicapping standpoint, this approach also seems very much in keeping with what O’Neill has done with I’ll Have Another most of this year. In the nine weeks between his wins in the Robert Lewis and Santa Anita Derby, I’ll Have Another had five published workouts. The last three of those were one slow-timed mile work, and two slow-timed seven furlong moves. And in the four weeks between the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another had two published workouts, both easy six furlong breezes.

In other words, working long and working slow (at least in terms of conventional workout times) is what I’ll Have Another does. So the lack of a conventional workout between the Preakness and the Belmont by I’ll Have Another is, for me, a non-issue. If he gets beat Saturday, it won’t be because of this.

I’m glad we have a good weather forecast for Saturday in New York. With all that’s on the line, it would stink if the conditions for the Belmont Stakes were like they were last year.

It goes without saying that if I’ll Have Another makes history and completes a Triple Crown sweep, it won’t do much to alleviate our sport’s real ills. But we all do hope that maybe such an accomplishment would create some new fans.

However, one thing that no one talks about is, all potential new fans are not created equal. Which new fan do you think would be better for racing: A young professional who might come to the races two or three times a year and put about $40 through the window? Or, an older person who has more disposable time and income, and likely a greater appreciation for the intellectual aspects of handicapping, who might come to the track two or three times a month and bet $100 each time? It’s a no-brainer, yet everyone always seems to target the first group.

For what it’s worth, three Belmont Stakes jockeys – Ramon Dominguez, Kent Desormeaux, and Rosie Napravnik – are named on mounts in Saturday’s 12th race, the race after the Belmont. I would imagine that if any of them were to win the Belmont, they would have an easier time than usual taking off their mounts in the 12th. Of course, if Desormeaux (Guyana Star Dweej) or Napravnik (Five Sixteen) were to win the Belmont, I would imagine a lot of people would be taking off the 12th, and maybe more than a few races after that.

There are three New York bred races on Saturday’s Belmont card. I guess it wouldn’t be a day of New York racing without them … or a conditioned claimer … or a turf sprint.

There is also a special double wager linking Friday’s featured Brooklyn Handicap with the Belmont Stakes, a la the very popular Kentucky Oaks/Derby double. I’m not saying that every wager I personally don’t care for should be outlawed, but I just don’t see why anyone would want to play this unless they were independently wealthy and didn’t have to care about their dollars. I don’t see the appeal of tying up your betting capital overnight.

Belmont Park will be dark Sunday, the day after the Belmont Stakes. I kind of miss the not-so-old days when Belmont was the only Triple Crown track man enough to race the day after its Triple Crown race. Anyway, after the Belmont, there will be only 24 New York racing days until opening day at Saratoga.