06/04/2010 4:02PM

Two pressing Belmont questions

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     Handicapping the Belmont Stakes - to me, at least - involves answering two questions.  How much was Ice Box's performance in the Kentucky Derby flattered by the pace?  And is First Dude likely to get the same trip in the Belmont as he got in the Preakness?

     If those are indeed the keys to deciphering the race, pace figures can provide assistance.

     First, the Derby pace was borderline suicidal, so Ice Box's running style had to be boosted by the race shape. Given that pace, there was no doubt he was the best horse, and with a clean trip he might have won by daylight in a Beyer Speed Figure of 106 or 107.  The Florida Derby pace probably worked somewhat to his advantage as well. 

     But the Belmont Stakes pace is likely to be more competitive than many think.  Based on the pacefigs, the early pace figures to boil down to First Dude, Game On Dude and Uptowncharlybrown, but my opinion is that First Dude probably won't be left alone the way he was three weeks ago.  When they squared off in the Florida Derby, Game On Dude had the advantage on First Dude at almost every call, and he earned competitive pace figures in his Lone Star Derby as well.

     In this opinion, Uptowncharlybrown is better than his recent figures indicate but still not in the upper tier.  Make Music For Me hung somewhat in the last furlong of the Derby, especially relative to Ice Box, which makes his mile-and-a-half chances suspect given the Carson City influence on his dam's side. Drosselmeyer, Stay Put and Interactif are admirably consistent but not fast enough.  Dave in Dixie, Spangled Star and Game On Dude have a better chance of finishing last than first.

     So that leaves my wagering strategy as this:  Ice Box as my "A" horse on most tickets, with Fly Down as the "A" on some backups, with First Dude, Stately Victor and Uptowncharlybrown underneath.