06/04/2015 11:45AM

Test of a champion


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In a world dominated by folks with short attention spans seeking instant gratification, some of us still don't mind a long walk on the beach as a vacation from the ordinary.

No cell phones. No internet. Just time and space.

A lot of space to cover. A lot of time to contemplate the good old days of mom-and-pop stores, vinyl records, letter-writing, porch swings and Triple Crown winners.

In a thoroughbred world now dominated by one-furlong breeze-up times, 2-year-old-in-training sales and an overall emphasis on speed, speed, and even more speed, the lovable 1 1/2-mile dinosaur known as the Belmont Stakes is still referred to as "The Test of the Champion."

This isn't your average one-oh-eight fare. The two-and-a-half odd minutes or so of the Belmont is a lot of time to contemplate the merits of a very good horse. It's a lot of space to cover, even if it's only one trip around Big Sandy.

With each step American Pharoah takes this Saturday, he'll be one closer to immortality or also-ran.

An all-time great like Gallant Fox or a very good horse like Smarty Jones?

The Belmont, even in this day and age, with the Triple Crown on the line, is the measuring stick for such rankings.

There's no denying American Pharoah's immense ability. In the Rebel, he showed there were no lingering issues from a foot problem that curtailed his championship juvenile campaign while scooting over a wet track. In the Arkansas Derby, he proved that he was just as effective sitting off a horse as he is when allowed the lead. In the Kentucky Derby, he was impervious to a boisterous crowd and relished a stretch battle. In Baltimore, he was unfazed by a Old Testament-inspired downpour that turned Pimlico into a sea of slop.

Woody Stephens trained five consecutive Belmont Stakes winners in the 1980's. He liked to say that "when you cross the Hudson, the buildings get taller." This wasn't merely East Coast bravado. It's a nod to the Belmont Stakes distance. When you cross the Hudson, the distance gets longer and longer and longer, especially at the end of a demanding Triple Crown season.

American Pharoah will attempt to scale the biggest tower of them all on Saturday. Certainly, he can do it. But as much as I'd like him to win the Triple Crown, he doesn't seem like a safe bet at odds-on. When you're backing a short-priced favorite, whether to win or as a single in a multiple-race wager, you'd best be sure.

The only certainty regarding any Belmont Stakes is its uncertainty.

I backed Materiality in the Kentucky Derby. If you watch the video replay closely, you can see the shadow of Apollo looming over the lightly-raced colt. Perhaps that's why he broke so poorly for the first time in his life. You can argue the race was lost after two strides. After that, it took six furlongs for his rider to extricate him from the inside and all of that hallowed Churchill Downs dirt battering him in the face.

Materiality seemed a truly beaten horse as Frosted zoomed by him like he was standing still at the five-sixteenths pole. For a moment, it appeared he would be eased. To his credit, he re-rallied past tired horses, bobbing and weaving and running at the end of the race.

He performed in spots as could be expected from such an inexperienced performer. He's had five weeks to grow up. We know he's talented. Perhaps the Belmont is where he lives up to his potential at a playable price to boot.

It won't be easy. He'll likely track American Pharoah from the get-go. If he does collar and submit the Derby and Preakness winner, he'll then have to deal with some quality closers. It's a daunting task to be sure.

Frosted ran a huge race in the Derby as the only horse rallying from off the pace to make an impact on the finish. He was extremely wide on the backstretch and sustained a half-mile run with gusto. He might sit a great trip tracking Materiality and American Pharoah. The race shape of the Belmont could be a 180-degree shift from the Belmont. That aids Frosted.

On paper, and it's difficult to simply trust the cold dope considering the odd distance, this is a three-horse race. It's either American Pharoah, Frosted or Materiality.  Although, would you really be surprised if Nick Zito smashes another Triple Crown bid, or another Peter Pan winner takes down a Triple Crown aspirant, or a Dallas Stewart closer finally gets there first, or Mubtaahij’s pedigree wins out at the end?

I’ll take the price of the “big three.” Materiality to Win at 6 to 1 or greater.

If I don't get my odds, I'll sit and contemplate the merits of a very good horse.


I sent Dan a list of track dimensions I've collected or calculated, which includes radii of turns (mostly on main tracks). I don't have the info for Gulfstream because I've never found the distance from the finish line to the first turn, which is what I would need. If I had the width of the turf courses, in most cases the radii could also be figured out, at least as accurately as the stated circumference of the course...Palace Malice is a non-runner, not at all surprisingly. I sent Dan a file with 2 photos, one from last year and one from this year so people can see the difference in his fitness that I was talking about a couple weeks ago.

The files are available at the bottom of this blog post.


On Twitter, Luke Clowes (@lukegclowes) requested the lifetime past performances for Dixie Brass and Fappiano

They're available at the bottom of the blog post.


You can follow me on Twitter @DRF_DanIllman.

Remember to check out DRF LIVE's handicapping coverage. Matt Bernier and I will be handicapping the last three races at Belmont on Friday. Marty McGee and I will handle the Belmont Stakes day card beginning Saturday morning at 11am at live.drf.com.


Congrats to RkCasselberry for finishing first in the most recent HandiGambling tournament.

Rick M's official scoresheet is available at the bottom of this blog post.

Let's go with Saturday's Belmont Stakes for this week's exercise. As part of the 2-day wagering menu for special events, we can add the Belmont Gold Cup - Belmont Stakes daily double.


SR Vegas and Rick M. have graciously decided to streamline all of the HG rules in order to make them an easier read for everyone...


With so many new people attending Dan's Formblog we thought it would be a good time to update the Handigambling Guidelines and Rules as we go forward in 2014.


Let's remember WHY we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses and why we're betting them the way we are. We are not asking for a novel but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.




Please start your post with  HG or HANDIGAMBLING to better recognize and find your entry.


-  You have a mythical $100 to wager in whatever format you choose and that is available for that HG race.

Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.


- Post your WAGER and ANALYSIS to the blog WITH YOUR NAME/OR MONIKER AT THE END OF THE POST.  Remember that posts may start as 'anonymous' or an 'alternate name'. You MUST sign yourself at the end (even if it is the same) This enables the scorekeeper to recognize you .


- (1) ONE ENTRY per person for the Handigambling contest. If you have multiple email addresses, use just ONE for contest purposes.  Multiple entries will be cause for disqualification.


- Separate your analysis from the wager and use the horses # in your wager. Just like you would do in a real wager. No horse names.


-In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. Dan reserves the right to approve or deny any entries.


- The winner will receive a "60-Card Quarterly Formulator Past Performance Plan"


As an example :


HG 2014

The speed in this race goes to  horses # 1, 4 ,6 ..Ennie , Meenie, and Mo

Since it's a sprint I don't see any closers catching them.. like # 9 Miney.

I think trainer Groucho with the #6 Mo has the best stats in this condition, route to sprint.. just a gut feeling at large odds ML 20-1


HG wager

50$ Ex box 1-6

total $100


Thanks Dan!










Palace Malice 2014-2015 Photos.pdf1.62 MB
US Track Dimensions List - May 2015.pdf53.79 KB
DixieBrass,Fappiano.pdf602.43 KB
Copy of Formblog Californian 5-30-15.xls76 KB
HGBELMONT.pdf183.22 KB
Jerry Townsend More than 1 year ago
Stuart, Taking nothing away from AP (he is a deserving TC Champion); I again agree with you that no one pressured AP for the first 3/4......No one played the SHAM role and therefore the pace was a soft 1:13 & change. If AP gets pressure and the 3/4 goes 8-10 lengths faster then maybe Frosted makes a race of it. But that's racing and something we're all glad didn't happen. One final point; Look at AP's Preakness........Although we all expected a slower time on a sloppy Pimlico track, 1:58 2/5 is extremely slow (slowest Preakness in last 65 years). But AP wins easily with hardly any exertion. I think his slow Preakness helped him keep more gas in the tank for the Belmont. It's a case where running in the Preakness finally did not diminish a horse's chances in the Belmont. So much for those wanting to change the TC rules. Regards, Jerry "T".
Harold Crenshaw More than 1 year ago
VicStu, I would contend that Victor actually made his move too soon......and just powered away like a good thing. If he had spurted away(as he did) and than Frosted would have run him down in the last 1/16th....he would have been criticized to the nth degree.....he basically did what Real Quiet did.....but AP was better. Frosted actually ran AWESOME...but that last quarter "quicken" was astounding....as was stated earlier he was running like a "tremendous machine"...if times are to be CRUCIAL as most will state. Appearance Money for American Pharoah will have the biggest determinate on where he shows next. I'll get 50 cents from the many "big" players in MD....put together a fund and have AP show up at TIMONIUM.....a little 5/8ths FAIR track that is so much fun. It is small...but the roars are real and being right next to the State Fair means that Zayats and the Bafferts can get some cotton candy, fried oreo's and welcoming from some carnies.....who scare me more than clowns. Anyone who hasn't been there should see it......the people are into it and it is tiny and loud. A festive crowd. Dog days of racing in MD....but Laurel is opening early to take advantage of the GIANT turf course.....new racing guru Sal Sinatra is planning on Friday twilight cards and bands and thingies and beer and FREE ADMISSION. His words...just get people in your place......in other words no one should pay to see this.
CM Vongole More than 1 year ago
Ed, I never said Materiality was a closer. He's a close-up stalker. I cannot say he's a front-running need-the-lead type, as he's never actually been the pacesetter in any race. He was most forwardly-placed in the Florida Derby, but was very content to wait for Jack Tripp to pack it in.
Ed Bechs More than 1 year ago
victstu: You are absolutely correct about Secretariat. He got the clear nose lead at 50 sec. and the rest was history. And I also agree that Moreno would not let AP anywhere near the lead at 1:13. I was using a little sarcasm on C. I would classify AP more as a front runner or even a stalker, not a closer. His "close" in the Derby made him more of a loser than a closer. Done at the start and taken away from his style of race. Congrats to Mooch on his HG score. Made money in a small yielding race. Nice job. Bernard, Thanks for your input on FIFA. It is a shame that there were more games off the pitch instead of on it. I hope all guilty officials learn how to play soccer in prison. edb
hahafunnyfunny1 More than 1 year ago
Vic: in one post you ask: "Why did no one take it upon themselves to press things up front?" referring to the Belmont, yet in your very next posit that: "AP minions are saying he will take off after Moreno and run him into the ground!" Of course, you follow the second quote with: "What would that prove?" Exactly, if that's the case for one race, why not the other. just saying... pe
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
At least one US Trainer continues to show some spirit of adventure. Wesley Ward has apparently assembled a massive team of 11 horses (including 7 youngsters) to bring over to contest Royal Ascot next week. I hope he gets some proper reward for his effort. Best Regards - Bernard Downes
DavidM9999 More than 1 year ago
Mike, Thanks for calling my numbers wrong. I fully understand your logic, I usually am. However, I clearly quoted Trakus in my post. They are not my home grown calculations or DRF’s. Go to Churchill/Handicapping/May2/Race10 and check it out for FAIRNESS. No one needs a mind to do the math. They do it for all of us. Whether one believes Trakus, DRF, or a sundial is up to the individual. Even though I am old school I choose to believe computer chips and electronic timing not guys smoking cigars verbally calling off lengths on a TV screen and doing arbitrary calculations. But like I have said a million times to each his own. Please notice I won’t be calling your calculations wrong. Slumber per TRAKUS – 24.58; 23.61; 23.0, 23.69; 12.15 = 1:47.03. Slumber per TRAKUS – 6F MPH = 41.3; 8F MPH = 38.6. 9F MPH = 36.7. FWake per TRAKUS – 25.44, 23.58, 22.80, 22.88, 11.92 = 1:46.62. 8F = 40.2 MPH. 9F = 37.5 MPH Forget the clock and watch the stretch replay. FW went by Slumber like he was tied to a post at the head of the lane. Slumber was slowing throughout last 3F but it was 9F. The salient point was others were too but some not as quickly including Jack Milton. Slumber was never faster than FW at any point in the serious running. Frankly a 12.15 come home or your 11.83 at 9F does not make me run to the windows not in a Grade one. Maybe in an ALW… maybe but I would not be in rush. I took a look at my 2015 winter GP workbook. 17 races at 9F ran over my measurement period. Twelve were faster than my 12.15 come home for Slumber in the Woodford. Quite a few were not stakes caliber – Steve has the same data. Using your 11.83 seven (42%) were still faster. So I am not running to the windows for 14-1 in a G1 even a weak G1 based on that. Courses can differ although CD times were quick on May 2. For example Divisdero a couple hours earlier on same course, not in a G1 AND a 3 YO was coming home at 8.5F in 40.9 MPH not 36.7 or 38.6 MPH whichever one you may use. His closing 1/16 was 5.54 not (6.07 or a generous 12.15 /2). I simply was not impressed with Slumber in that race. He finished behind Seek Again. You have taken issue with the quality of that rail runner lover Seek Again on this site. Ron Z can testify. I am not arguing pro or con on the 14-1. If you bet it or bet both Legendary and Slumber or neither one it all works for me. We have all bought an ugly shirt off the sales rack because of price. So I get it the 14-1 made you intrigued. However some of the post-race logic used seemed flawed to me. I just wanted to discuss the CD Woodford Reserve race from another perspective. Interesting dialogue pointing out everyone can see a race differently even the time keepers in this case. Again, I had no rooting interest. I did not play the race. As to Chocolate Ride for the rest of the Blog. He was claimed at FG this winter after losing a CLM40 nW2L. Brad Cox took him from Casse. Cox says his feet were sore and moved him to the turf. He says that alone explained the wake up helping his feet and training. Casse had run CR previously on the turf 3 times. His BSF improved to 87 then to 99 after the claim and then he won the Muniz. Make what you want to out of the Cox transformation but the horse had improved. The horse beat little of note at FG over the winter but did it stylishly typically on mostly clear leads. In the Muniz there was Slumber, Paroled, Highball, Coalport, Divine Oath and a 365 day + layoff Potomac River. A few of these are G3 types now maybe a G2 on an A+ day. Still not willing to say Slumber is a legit G1. No one is going to say Paroled, third in Muniz (and close by your standards) is a world beater but certainly useful. So whether Chocolate Ride stays at a graded level, improves or regresses is open for interpretation. In a paceless race, at 14-1 and against non-legit graded animals even I might consider him while wearing an ugly but cheap shirt. We all see a lot of $40K claimers get good and stay good. We see more regress eventually as they were in the claimer for a reason (Casse /Oxley generally not dummies). On the plus side he is five and lightly raced (feet I suppose). You can have the last word on Slumber and Chocolate Ride.
Dick Wright More than 1 year ago
Mooch Congrats on the HG score ! Dick W
CM Vongole More than 1 year ago
Curt, Facebook forced me to supply a last name. I wasn't going to use my real one and 'Clams'... well, every italian has a nickname, right? I don't even remember how that started. victstu, I have to guess Forego.
Stuart Hill More than 1 year ago
Ed Bechs, According to the official chart from the 1973 Belmont Stakes, Secretariat was in front at every call. He was head in front by the quarter mile call, and a head by the half mile call. By the mile call he was 7 lengths ahead. In sum: he went wire to wire. He was only able to stick his head clearly in the lead after 50 seconds. There is a big difference. Here is the chart. Cut and paste it in your browser: http://www.belmontstakes.com/UserFiles/file/1973.pdf