06/03/2009 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes analysis


1. Dunkirk

2. Mine That Bird

3. Flying Private

4. Charitable Man

Dunkirk was very impressive in his first three races. He overcame a slow start and beat maiden specials by 5 3/4 lengths. He stretched out from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles and won comfortably again, with a 98 Beyer. He finished a contending second behind Quality Road, six lengths clear of third, in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, and raised his Beyer to 108, which is very close to the average Beyer Figure needed win the Kentucky Derby. Continued progress would have made him very tough in the Kentucky Derby, but he stumbled at the start and never got hold of the wet track that day. The result was an 11th-place finish that is not indicative of his true ability. He has been freshened and has trained strongly since that race, and will be formidable in the Belmont if he rebounds. He should be able to rally into contention when asked to do so, and figures to enjoy a good trip. His 4-1 morning-line odds are an overlay. Mine That Bird made good late progress while finishing second behind Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, and seems ready to handle more distance. If the top selection isn't on his game, Mine That Bird will be the horse to beat. Flying Private hasn't beaten winners yet, but he ran well while finishing second in the Lane's End at Turfway, then ran a career-best race when he finished a solid fourth in the Preakness, four lengths behind Rachel Alexandra and only three lengths behind Mine That Bird. Continued improvement would make him a possible upsetter. He'll offer good betting value in the exotics. Rate Charitable Man only on his dirt form and he is a perfect 3 for 3. He is also 2 for 2 on the dirt at Belmont. The concern is that he'll have to improve to win this race, but he has made very little Beyer progress since earning a 96 in his debut. I'll see if I can beat him at underlaid odds. Chocolate Candy made a move into contention in the Kentucky Derby, then was outkicked and finished fifth, beaten by 13 lengths. He's capable of a better performance, and might participate in the Belmont exotics. Summer Bird rallied wide and finished a respectable sixth in the Kentucky Derby. He's lightly raced, and has more upside potential.1. Dunkirk

2. Charitable Man

3. Mine That Bird

4. Miner's Escape

Dunkirk developed quickly, running three progressively faster races and leaving strong visual impressions each time.

First out, he drew away powerfully from Santana Six, who has since run three Beyer Speed Figures in the mid-90s.

Up in class and distance, he was very wide on the clubhouse turn, a road to ruin at Gulfstream, yet still dominated Warrior's Reward, who ran a 106 Beyer winning an allowance on Kentucky Oaks Day.

Dunkirk was repelled in track-record time by Quality Road in the Florida Derby. However, that was on a lightning-fast track (the seven-furlong mark also fell in the Swale) that received a Racing Flow rating of -151, one of the five most speed-favoring days of the meet. Dunkirk's electrifying wide turn move was into the teeth of the bias.

Provided the track is fast, Dunkirk's Derby debacle is a routine throw-out, and Todd Pletcher is peerless at regrouping with horses after an off race.

Charitable Man has Belmont Stakes written all over his pedigree, as his sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won the race off a third in the Peter Pan and was out of a Seattle Slew mare.

Excluding a wide trip on a synthetic surface off a seven-month layoff, Charitable Man has been much the best every time. He has tractable speed and clearly gets over Big Sandy exceptionally well.

While Charitable Man may be sitting on a forward move after bettering his best juvenile figures by a couple lengths, he has to improve if Dunkirk or Mine That Bird also fire their best shot. Though he won't be a bargain in the win pool, it would be foolish to leave him out of exotics.

Had Rachel Alexandra run in Saturday's Acorn, as originally planned by her former connections, instead of wiring the Preakness off a private purchase, Mine That Bird would be The Word, with an improbable but very real shot at a Triple Crown.

Two caution flags:

* Mine That Bird's dramatic improvement coincided with a transformation to deep closer, a style that hasn't historically played well in the Belmont unless a suicidal pace develops.

* If one 25-point jump to a new Beyer top doesn't cause a bounce, a pair-up usually will.

Miner's Escape is improving for owner Bob LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito, and will be able to slow things down on the lead. Ring a bell?1. Dunkirk

2. Mine That Bird

3. Charitable Man

4. Summer Bird

One of the few horses from the beaten field in the Kentucky Derby who I was interested in betting back was Dunkirk, and not just because I picked him in the Derby. Well, Dunkirk is making his first start since the Derby in the Belmont Stakes, and I'm picking him. Again.

Dunkirk's performance in the Derby was a complete throwout. He stumbled after the start and was knocked around between horses a couple of times in the run to the first turn, which I think put him in the bridle too early. Moreover, he never got to the rail on what was a strongly rail-biased track, and there's no guarantee he liked the sloppy footing, which I thought was sticky and tiring.

But two starts back, Dunkirk ran every bit as well as Quality Road when second to that opponent in the highly rated Florida Derby. Dunkirk made a big move from off the pace against the grain of a speed-favoring surface and into fractions that were only moderate, considering how fast the track was that day. Yet with all of that, the 108 Beyer Figure Dunkirk got for that performance is the highest anyone in this field has ever earned.

Whether it's because he has suddenly found himself, or because he wanted to be a deep closer all along, Mine That Bird proved in the Preakness that he is no fluke. In fact, his Preakness might have been an ever better performance than his runaway win in the Kentucky Derby, because he didn't have a dream trip on a gold rail like he did at Churchill. He will be very tough, but I'm not sure he'll get quite enough early pace to really enhance his closing-from-downtown style.

Charitable Man proved in his solid Peter Pan win that he is all the way back from injury. He has never lost on dirt, and will be a major pace player on a pace that doesn't figure to be all that fast. Charitable Man will, however, be facing stronger company than he ever has before. He is a strong second choice on the morning line, and I think he's an underlay.

Summer Bird put in a nice run to finish sixth in the Derby while racing against the bias. He was three wide on the first and far turns, and then angled out late on the far turn to be seven or eight wide into the stretch. But he also has become a very deep closer, and I'm not sure he'll get the pace he needs.1. Charitable Man

2. Dunkirk

3. Mine That Bird

4. Brave Victory

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the key to this year's Belmont Stakes may boil down to whether Mine That Bird is capable of maintaining the form that carried him to an easy Derby win and sharp Preakness second through the final leg of the grueling Triple Crown series.

Far more talented and physically imposing 3-year-olds have fallen by the wayside over the years attempting to withstand the rigors of running three hard races during a five-week span, and while Mine That Bird undoubtedly brings the best resume to the table, under those specific circumstances it's hard to accept what figures to be a very short price, even with Calvin Borel back in the irons.

On the other hand, Charitable Man has been lightly raced and pointed specifically for this assignment by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin for quite some time. He also appears to have a distinct pace advantage over the field, no small matter when going 1 1/2 miles, unless one of his rivals decides to play sacrificial lamb and takes a run at the likely leader earlier than expected. Charitable Man is perfect in two starts over his home course, is undefeated anywhere over conventional dirt, and should prove to be a very viable alternative to the favorite, especially if able to dictate the early fractions.

Dunkirk figures to benefit as much as anybody from the five-week layoff between the Derby and Belmont. His relative inexperience and gut-wrenching final Derby prep in Florida certainly didn't enhance his chances on the first Saturday in May. Neither did the eventful start and early trouble he encountered in Louisville. Bred to handle the Belmont distance, Dunkirk displayed too much potential earlier this season not to get a mulligan for his Derby performance, and he has a big chance to make amends Saturday.

Brave Victory and stablemate Miner's Escape are both moving in the right direction at this time. Brave Victory has already turned in a couple of good runs over the track, including an encouraging performance behind Charitable Man in the Peter Pan, and Nick Zito's barn is usually hard to ignore on Belmont Day. Right or wrong?