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The Belmont Stakes aside, there was some very competitive and high-quality racing at Belmont Saturday on what was the best overall day of racing of this year's three Triple Crown cards:
Race 1: Desert Key, 3-year-old Centennial/J. Jerkens colt by E Dubai, got a soft opening half of 45.12 and made the most of it, rocketing away from a sold N1x field with a final quarter of 23.68 for a five-length victory in 1:08.80, good for a 104 Beyer even though the track was judged faster in races 1-4 than later in the day. Desert Key, now 2 for 4, had been second to Ready's Image in the overnight Adjudicating Stakes May 14, a race where I had been unimpressed by the winner's time and how hard he seemed to work to get up, a position that I now unfortunately rethunk, causing me to waste money adding Ready's Image to my tickets later on.
Race 4: Forefathers, dropped back to the N2x level after making seven of his eight previous starts in graded stakes, including a second to Daaher in the Jerome, shot through at the rail and won this N2x allowance by 6 1/2 lengths. The 4-year-old Zayat/Mott Gone West colt ran the mile in 1:34.48, good for a 107 Beyer.
Race 6: Benny the Bull was 1-2 in the G2 True North Handicap but didn't look like a winner until the final strides, when he belatedly kicked in and made up four lengths in the final furlong to nail loose-on-the-lead Man of Danger by a neck. The race got a Beyer 106, not comparable to BTB's best efforts, but this was not one of them, more a case of a superior horse doing an inch more than he had to in order to get the win. It was a pretty solid return for Thor's Echo, the 2006 sprint champion making his first start in almost 15 months, who broke well, chased Man of Dangerto the eighth pole, and settled for fourth, beaten 1 3/4 lengths.
Race 7: Ventura probably busted out any pick-six tickets that would have been alive to Da 'Tara here in the newly G1 Just a Game for filly turf-milers after getting through at the rail under Gomez and holding off the more troubled Lady of Venice by three-quarters of a length in 1:32.75. The Juddmonte/Frankel 4-year-old Chester House filly is now 3-for-4 in North America and was coming off a loss in the Distaff Turf Mile on Derby Day behind Bayou's Lassie, who got loose that day over a softer course (1:37.70) but faded to fourth here. Vacare chased the pace early and flattened out late in her first start since October. Nice late move from 44-1 Augustin/Sheppard Forever Together, who flew home from last to be third in her second grass start and may have a future in this division.
Race 8: There may be more strength at the top of the 3-year-old filly than colt division this year. In addition to the late Eight Belles and Proud Spell, add Zaftig to the leaderboard after a 4 1/2-length drubbing of 7-10 champ Indian Blessing in the Acorn, run in a sparkling 1:34.50 -- just two-hundredths off Forefather's allowance time and provisionally awarded a gaudy Beyer of 113. Even if you didn't split the variant and gave it "only" a 107, that would tie Sky Beauty's 1993 victory as the highest Acorn fig since the Beyers were first published in 1991. The only other triple-digit Acorns during that span have been Sharp Cat's 103 in 1997 and the 101's earned by Island Sand and Round Pond in 2004-05. Zaftig, a gray Gone West filly owned by Susan Moore and partners and trained by Jimmy Jerkens, is now 3 for 5 and was coming off a 5 1/4-length victory in the G3 Nassau County May 3. Jerkens said he thinks she'll go farther, though it's unclear if she'll take on Proud Spell in the Mother Goose June 28.
Race 9: Maybe Harlem Rocker's flop in the Queen's Plate Trial made people question J Be K's second-place finish behind him in the Withers, and maybe Desert Run's first-race victory made dodos other than me overrate Ready's Image, but it's pretty amazing that J Be K went off at 2.60-1 instead of half that price here in the G2 Woody Stephens. J Be K was probably the leader of the nation's 3-year-old sprinters (at least until Bob Black Jack returns at more reasonable distances) going in, and he certainly was after a smashing 5 1/2-length victory here in 1:21.85. (By the way, why do Big Brown's connections keep talking about a "loose," "slow" and "deep" track when the day's winning times included six furlongs in 1:08.80, seven furlongs in 1:21.85 and two miles in 1:34.48 and 1:34.50?) J Be K, a Zayat/Mott Silver Deputy colt, is 3-for-3 under a mile, 0-for-2 at a mile or more, and earned a 108 Beyer here.
Race 10: Only 2 1/4 lengths separated the first five finishers in the G1 Manhattan Handicap, where trips made the difference in a very closely-matched field. Dancing Forever, the late-blooming Phipps/McGaughey 5-year-old by Rahy, got the clearest run under a perfect ride by Rene Douglas and outgamed 3-1 fave Out of Control to score by a nose. Pays to Dream finished well for third but came out of the race with a career-ending sesamoid fracture, and 9-year-old Better Talk Now was a good fifth despite being taken up near the wire while checking inside fourth-place Strike a Deal. Dancing Forever and Out of Control have both run second in G1 races this year to Einstein, the division leader who would have been favored here but was not allowed to run because of licensing issues surrounding his ownership group.
Dancing Forever's victory came two Belmost Stakes Days too late for me. I needed him to win his second career start at 12-1 to complete a pick-four score two races after Jazil's Belmont. Instead he was beaten an agonizing half-length that day by a completely impossible 28-1 Contessa trainee named Taken Not Given, whose past performances you can find in the second leg of Belmont's $1.18 million carryover tomorrow. Since that day, Dancing Forever has become a G1 winner while Taken Not Given is 0-for-16 and is in for $35k N2L tomorrow.
--Speaking of which, here's the lineup for the largest one-day carryover in New York pick-six annals:
Race 4: 3+F NY AlwN2x/OC25k -- 1 mile (10 entered)
Race 5: 3+ Clm35k N2L -- 1 1/8m-IT (14)
Race 6: 3+ StAlw C50+N1x -- 1 1/16m-WT (12)
Race 7: 3+F NY AlwN1x -- 6f-IT (13)
Race 8: 3+ AlwN1x -- 7f-WT (10)
Race 9: 3+ Clm25k N2L -- 6f (14)
It ain't easy.
[Update 10:35 pm:] It just started raining here 5 miles northeast of Belmont, and there's a "Severe Thunderstorm Warning" in effect for the next six hours. It's all supposed to blow out by dawn and be clear and sunny in the 80's thereafter. Since Belmont Day, when the grass course was already fast enough to produce a 1:32.75 mile in the Just a Game. there have been three straight hot and sunny days here. But on the off chance the meteorologists are wrong and tonight's storms prove severe, it might pay to check track conditions in the morning.
Re arcstats post regarding steroids/drugs and the need for the press to look into it... I wholeheartedly agree. I will never understand why Pletcher, Dutrow, Asmussen et al get free passes from the media on their medication violations and their medication regimens. In the case of baseball, those that admitted or are suspected of performance enhancing drugs are rarely mentioned without also mentioning the drugs. In the case of many top flight trainers, we have people who have been suspended for breaking the rules and admit to running their horses as hopped up as they can possibly get them within the rules. And yet the media falls all over these guys and does not treat them like the rogues that they should be considered.
OK,some fuel to the fire: Former jockey JERRY BAILEY said Tuesday that he detected "a small amount of panic" in Desormeaux's actions in the opening quarter mile after the dominant winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes broke awkwardly from the rail in the 1½-mile Belmont. Hall of Fame jockey GARY STEVENS said he agreed with Bailey and faulted the jockey for contact made with Anak Nakal entering the first turn. "He basically banged his way out with a mile-and-a-quarter left in the race," Stevens said. "It wasn't a casual bump." Although Anak Nakal recovered to finish in a dead heat for third with Ready's Echo behind wire-to-wire long shot Da' Tara, Stevens theorized the contact might have been more than a glancing blow. "It could have knocked the wind out of him," said Stevens, who said to his son, "It's over," as soon as the collision occurred. "It looked like Kent was having a hard time with Big Brown," Bailey said. "It's a reflection of the partnership you have between the two. The way is to finesse these horses into doing what you want them to do — and it wasn't that." "I think Kent will tell you it was not one of his best rides," IVARONE said. STEVE CAUTHEN, who rode Affirmed, was shocked when Big Brown was eased well before the wire. "It's one of these things where everybody is scratching his head and there are no real answers," he said. Cauthen said of the contact with Anak Nakal: "If that's what stopped him, he's a big (wimp)."
acrstats and mudhoundmojo - thanks for two of great posts. Agree with almost everything both of you said. Unfortunately, I think the industry is beyond saving itself. Then again, I'm a half empty glass kind of guy. Relating to what both of you discussed, I see that a congressional committee is due to hold hearings into "the sport." If even a hint of Federal involvement doesn't get the movers and shakers in horse racing to take action I don't know what will.
BPM, The "media" that you mention is not the mainstream "media", just the horse racing media. The horse racing media is so small a fraction of the overall "media", that drug use in horse racing, is still under the radar as far as the main stream media is concerned. I do, however, think the Belmont went a little ways towards the heavy drug usage of these horses ( illegal and legal ) being leaked into the mainstream press. Just my observation. I also agree, that if the mainstream media ( or even the mainstream SPORTS media )gave a rats, you know what, about horse racing, they would be all over this disgusting situation that we have in horse racing with drugs and performance enhancers. You are right that the horse racing media does very little to get the message out. One might think, the reporters that cover this wonderful sport and who cared about its well being, would do what is right. If they made enough noise, eventually, someone in the "main" would attack this story. It would probably hurt the reputation of horse racing ( which was funny just writing that, as we all know the "rep" horse racing has ) but, in the long run would go 10 fold towards making our beloved sport "mainstream" ( just think of the fans that could be brought into this sport if it was like it once was). If horses ran for 3 or 4 years ( through their 5 and 6 year old season )or more, the rivalries would be tremendous. Old and new fans alike would have a chance to "grab" hold of a horse through a career of 20+ races. Horses that you can "fall" for and watch through several seasons of racing, are what draws new fans and keeps the old ones from leaving. As one of your favs is retiring, you have 6 or 8 more underneath, that you have been following ( a continuous cycle of "crush" horses). Instead, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place ( wanting to "fall" for these great warriors ), but holding our collective breaths after every breeders cup, waiting for the hammer to fall on all the "stars" of the season that will be heading for the breeding shed. As it is now, a trainer (not all, but enough ) can "milk" a very talented but unsound horse through a season of spectacular victories. Then, it is off too the breeders shed to to dilute the breed even more ( just too damn lucrative ). Thanks, but, no thanks, it is a putrid practice. If it took 10 years to get this breed on the right track back, to being even close to what it once was, (if everyone started doing the right thing right now ) we'd be lucky. I'm afraid the evolution is already too far gone for any reasonble change too be seen in my life time. That saddens me deeply. It is my firm belief that the drug infested industry has plaqued our breeding sheds for far too many years and it is a main factor for where the breed is today ( of course their are many factors that have caused, what is in my estimation, an inferior breed to what our grandfathers produced). With the way our country is fed up with steroids and HGH in our pro athletes ( I think if the right reporter really went after this story and got it to the mainstream press ), a few sparks could get a fire going. We got one good spark from the Belmont and the publicity it garnered nationally. Now it is up to someone with some clout ( or a few ) to take the ball and run with it. Strike while the iron is hot. Now!
I have to agree with Mr Unitas, the way Big Brown was handeled early in the race, was very wierd, to say the least. Nothing a share in the pik 6 wont make me forget.
to unitas, i could not agree with you more about the ride given big brown. that being said i do not not think the owners or trainer wanted the horse to lose. it makes no sense. kent was looking at 60k if he won and future rides and possibly a breeding share and a place in the history books so i doubt he wanted the horse to lose. i think he just panicked. to steven crist. when i lived in massachusetts i spent many a weekend at saratoga. since moving to florida i have only been back there only twice. i find your saratoga blog the next best thing to being there. keep up the great work.
Re possible cheating in Pick 6, a person could play all suspect trainers with the random button. So, one ticket would read: C-2-6-8-C-7 (C standing for Cheat.)A Cheat was in leg 1 and leg 5.You then are represented by any and all sorts of animals running. Might not win, but your chance is as good as the next bird.
To PP: Funny you should ask, this guy showed speed for a half, folded like a tent and was eased like........well you know who.
Yes, your right Steve, she lost her condition with the win on friday.
Sorry to bore everyone, I am going to give my last thoughts on the Belmont: Having watched every one of Big Brown's starts(many times over), It absolutley amazes me that Kent D. would attempt to wrangle in BB before the first turn, then attempt to bring him widest of all on the clubhouse turn. This is not a way to win a 1 1/2 mile race. Watching every race of Big Browns, he had never been "held back" in the early stages before, the way that Kent tried to put a strangle hold on him a few jumps out of the gate. Besides his initial start when he was sent hard out of the gate, this horse has always been allowed to run on his own in the early stages, yet not "asked" to run by Kent D. (Jeremy Rose was on this horse in his initial start). This was both condusive to the horse(letting him run on his own)and the jockey(fantastic tactical speed & positioning). Why would Kent D. try something new(heavily rate this horse) in the possible biggest moment of his, the horses, and the connections racing careers? I tried over and over many times to comprehend Kent's strategy, and each time I am left scratching my head. Why would KD attempt to get BB so far outside of the other horses on the clubhouse turn & backstretch, giving away positioning and having his charge cover so much more ground than his opponents? The heat may have been a factor, and maybe BB's tank was near empty, but I think KD discouraged BB from running so early in the race that the horse never got back into the bit when he was called on for run at about the 5/8ths pole. You could see when Kent was attempting to pull BB up on the turn & in the stretch, BB was fighting him, thrashing his head back and forth, and looked like a horse who was very agitated and confused about this fantastic journey he had just been sent on. If you ask me, it was the worst ride I had ever seen a quality jockey give a dominant racehorse in a Gr.1 event, EVER!!!(Finishing a close second was F. Dettori's ridiculously wide stretch run aboard Swain in the Breeders Cup Classic!)