06/09/2010 11:00PM

Belmont roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Rock Hard Ten

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times . . . ?

That pretty much sums up my three whiffs on 3-year-old turf-race winners sired by Rock Hard Ten last Friday and Saturday: Krypton ($6) handed odds-on Nordic Truce his first defeat in the Hill Prince; Shirley She Can ($16.80) was the first Nick Zito-trained grass winner since at least 2008; and Devon Rock ($7), a $440,000 purchase as a juvenile, was a good-looking maiden graduate switching to grass second time out.

Rock Hard Ten was fifth by a dozen lengths in the 2004 Belmont Stakes and never raced on turf through an 11-race career that produced seven wins and Grade 1 victories from seven to 10 furlongs. Hence, the knee-jerk inclination is to disregard his grass runners.

As we learned repeatedly last week, that is a mistake. Delving into Rock Hard Ten's bloodlines, his sire was the exceptionally versatile Kris S., who has produced such notables as Prized, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf, and Soaring Softly, winner of the BC Filly & Mare Turf. Moreover, his grandsire was Roberto (named for ill-fated baseball star Roberto Clemente), the Darby Dan Farm homebred who won the Epsom Derby and thus made Darby Dan and Pittsburgh Pirates' owner John Galbreath the first person to win English Derby and Kentucky Derby (Proud Clarion won the Kentucky Derby in 1967).

I am ready for the next Rock Hard Ten that sets foot on turf.

Gary Sciacca

I spotted him having dinner at King Umberto's during Belmont Stakes week, and it turned out to be an omen. He proceeded to saddle turf winners who came from Hempstead Turnpike with scintillating stretch runs on back-to-back days: Piazza Di Spagna ($36) and Loyal Shadow ($24.60).

The next time a trainer is sitting across from me in a restaurant, I will bet his horses first and ask questions later for a few days.

WHAT'S NOT

The Belmont Stakes

Absent the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners, handle and TV ratings were way down. So was Drosselmeyer's time of 2:31.57, the second-slowest since 1970. But even Thunder Gulch's time of 2:32.02 translated to a 101 Beyer, several lengths faster than Drosselmeyer's 94.

TRACK TRENDS

It's been difficult to get a handle on Big Sandy, because typically only four dirt races are being run daily and they're often short fields of suspect quality.

Consider that through Belmont Day, favorites had won 43 percent (58 for 136) on dirt, but only 26 percent (35 for 133) on turf. During the corresponding (wetter) stretch last year, 40 fewer grass races had been run.

To get up to speed the past couple weeks, the track was mildly speed-favoring on Memorial Day.

And though I haven't seen this anywhere else, I thought the outside was the place to be Belmont Day. I can't explain Champagne d'Oro ($81) wiring the Acorn inside, except to note she broke from post 11 and set an easy pace after angling over. But every other dirt winner on the card took control of things from outside, including Drosselmeyer, who was three to five wide every step;

D' Funnybone ($4.40), who got a dream setup stalking an insane pace duel in the Woody Stephens; and Bribon ($7.50), who looped the field to win the True North.

The parched turf courses were rock hard and crying for some rain and time off after an 11-day stretch with just one dark day, and 51 races on the Widener and inner courses.

Speed was good, except when it wasn't (more on the Manhattan Handicap in a bit).

COMING ATTRACTIONS

With defending titlist Seattle Smooth recently retired, and no fewer than three competing filly-and-mare stakes across the nation this weekend - the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs, the Obeah at Delaware Park, and the Vanity at Hollywood Park - Saturday's 42nd running of the Ogden Phipps Handicap was expected to come up light.

After the Phipps, only three Grade 1 races remain at this meet: the Mother Goose (June 26), the Prioress (July 4), and the Man o' War (July 10).

Among the 28 nominations for next Saturday's New York Breeders' Cup, six are trained by Christophe Clement. The most exciting prospect among them is Daveron, a German-bred import who throttled second-level allowance runners in her U.S. debut. Also nominated are Gozzip Girl, a three-time graded stakes winner at 3, and Sheepshead Bay winner Treat Gently.

Next Sunday's stakes doubleheader is the Mike Lee and Bouwerie, a pair of $100,000 seven-furlong races for New York-breds.

The 3-year-old statebred male division is exceptionally deep: Though it would be a little quick back for Stormy's Majesty, who is 3 for 3 after a facile comeback score (see Horses to Watch) last week, others likely to go include General Maximus, who has won 3 of 4; Friend or Foe, 2 for 2 after winning his local bow with a 95 Beyer; multiple stakes winner Ibboyee; and Shrewd One, who won a first-level allowance by better than a dozen lengths on May 27.

Franny Freud is expected to pass the Bouwerie and await the Prioress.

RED-BOARDING OF THE WEEK

Apropos (sort of) to the onslaught of hard-to-figure results from Belmont Day's all-stakes pick four, I was reading Michael Pollan's "Food Rules" the other day, and came upon this fairly relevant observation from the introduction:

"As a journalist I fully appreciate the value of widespread public confusion: We're in the explanation business, and if the answers to the questions we explore get too simple, we'd be out of work."

With that in mind, here were some potential (and missed) keys to a pick four that paid $167,056 for $2.

True North: After the scratch of morning-line favorite Custom for Carlos, who suffered a stall injury the night before, there were two graded stakes winners left - Elusive Warning, who won something called the Group 3 Burj Nahaar at Nad Al Sheba back in March 2008, and Bribon ($7.50), last year's winner of the Met Mile, which is the only Grade 1 race for males 3 and up at Belmont's spring-summer meet. Six furlongs seemed a little short for Bribon, whose only prior win at the distance came in 2007, but an overwhelming class edge trumped distance as a handicapping factor.

Acorn: The list of fillies with at least two dirt Beyers of 90 or better was a short one - Tidal Pool, Amen Hallelujah, and Champagne d'Oro. The latter wired the field at nearly 40-1, with Amen Hallelujah completing a $474 exacta.

Manhattan: Refer to James Quinn's article, "Fast finishers rule on turf," from the Jan. 8, 2006 edition of DRF Simulcast Weekly," sub-headlined: "It pays to calculate final fractions for grass runners at Gulfstream, Santa Anita."

Boy, it pays at Belmont, too!

Although Winchester ($44.80) had not approached his smashing U.S. debut to win the Grade 1 Secretariat in 2008, these were (roughly) the closing splits from his last five races -- 23.60, 23.40, 34.80 (three furlongs), 23.40, and 23.60.

Every time I give short shrift to consistently strong closers like Winchester in stakes routes on turf, I wind up shooting myself in the foot.

Belmont: Dosage has its critics, but in this instance the profiles pointed out Drosselmeyer.

Quick refresher: Profiles are characterized by points in the following categories, from speediest to stoutest -- Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid, and Professional.

Drosselemeyer's profile is 7-2-10-2-1. Among the others, only Interactif (12-12-15-2-2) and Stay Put (9-6-9-2-2) had points in both the Solid and Professional categories.

Here are some other notables.

Ice Box: 7-7-11-0-0

Fly Down: 11-7-12-0-0

First Dude: 8-5-13-0-0

Game On Dude: 8-0-6-0-0

Uptowncharlybrown: 5-2-7-0-0

Stately Victor: 3-2-11-0-0

HORSES TO WATCH

Devon Rock

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Last race: June 5, 3rd

Finish: 1st by 2 1/4

Purchased as a 2-year-old for $440,000, this colt by Rock Hard Ten did not run as a juvenile. After a middle move to finish third in his debut on the main track earlier at the meet, he switched to the turf for a pace-pressing maiden victory at a mile in 1:34 and change.

Miner's Reserve

Trainer: Nick Zito

Last race: May 31, 4th

Finish: 1st by 5 3/4

Following off-the-board finishes in the Florida Derby and the Derby Trial, this Mineshaft colt rebounded with a smashing score over first-level allowance rivals at 1 1/16 miles, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

Stormy's Majesty

Trainer: Dominic Galluscio

Last race: June 4, 8th

Finish: 1st by 8 3/4

Away since winning his first two starts on Aqueduct's inner track last December, this New York-bred 3-year-old improved to 3 for 3 after dueling favored Storm Bolt into defeat and drawing away under mild urging to take a second-level allowance mile; the Beyer came back at 100.

Trappe Shot

Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin

Last race: June 5, 4th

Finish: 1st by 4

This $850,000 2-year-old purchase missed the Withers because of a minor setback, but he has swept his three starts this year by a combined 27 lengths after returning to win a seven-furlong allowance in 1:22.18 on Belmont Stakes Day. Two races later, the Grade 2 Woody Stephens went in 1:22.64.