06/06/2007 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes analysis and selections

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From Brad Free, Byron King, Steve Klein, Dave Litfin, Mike Watchmaker, Mike Welsch, and DRF handicappers

Analysis: Tiago and filly main threats to Curlin

If Curlin had won the Preakness by four lengths rather than a head, he would appear even more formidable in the Belmont. Since the Preakness runner-up did not enter back, it means Curlin did finish four clear of his nearest Preakness foe, and that makes him a standout in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Brad Free

Curlin

Imawildandcrazyguy

Tiago

Rags to Riches

The wide-rally move Curlin unleashed at Pimlico suggests he will enjoy the sweeping Belmont turns. His only loss was after a troubled start in the Derby. Curlin is a very good horse (gee, no kidding) and a deserving favorite.

Even if the favorite wins, the Belmont exacta offers value because the next two betting choices face issues. The filly Rags to Riches has never faced males, and Hard Spun is hampered by the distance of 1 1/2 miles. Furthermore, the pace scenario is no benefit to them. Rags to Riches, Hard Spun, and Slew’s Tizzy all race near the lead.

The gamble is that the Belmont pace will collapse and the top three spots will be filled by closers. Curlin runs from behind; so do Imawild-andcrazyguy and Tiago.

Imawildandcrazyguy lost a ton of ground rallying 10 wide in the Kentucky Derby. Despite the ground loss, he was up for fourth. He skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont, and will be finishing. Tiago was seventh in the Derby, but galloped out in front. At 1 1/4 miles, he was just getting started. He also skipped the Preakness and is well suited by 1 1/2 miles.

There is one main question regarding Imawildandcrazyguy and Tiago. That is, are they good enough? Not yet. Neither were the recent Belmont winners Jazil ($14.40), Birdstone ($74), Sarava ($142.50), and Commendable ($39.60). Imawildandcrazyguy and Tiago enter as fresh, dangerous closers at overlaid odds.

Rags to Riches is bred for this race – sired by Belmont winner A.P. Indy, out of a dam who produced Jazil – but she will be undervalued based on name recognition. Hard Spun pulled the trigger too soon in the Preakness and ran third, but he lost to better horses. Second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, Hard Spun does not benefit by this 1 1/2-mile distance.

C P West enters with past performances that look quite a bit like 2004 Belmont upset winner Birdstone, and both have the same trainer – Nick Zito. Pace-presser/front-runner Slew’s Tizzy will keep things honest up front. - BRAD FREE


As well as Curlin ran in defeating Street Sense in the Preakness, he is poised for a stronger performance in the Belmont Stakes.

A long-striding colt, he has the right mindset to relax and be effective going the 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont. Further, his weakness – his inability to negotiate turns without drifting wide – is seemingly less of an issue over the sweeping turns of Belmont Park. He does not have the stamina influences in his pedigree of other entrants, but beyond that, little about him suggests he could be vulnerable to regression.

Byron King

Curlin

Hard Spun

Tiago

Rags to Riches

His duel with Street Sense in the Preakness appeared to take little out of him, and being a strong, powerfully made horse, he seems capable of handling the rigors of racing through the Triple Crown.

There are no excuses. Curlin should win the Belmont.

Hard Spun was allowed to move too early in the Preakness. Cut loose by jockey Mario Pino down the backstretch, he quickly went from third after a half-mile to first by the three-quarter-mile call. He covered the first six furlongs in 1:09.80, much too fast for a 1 3/16-mile race like the Preakness. The premature backstretch rush to the lead was not all Pino’s doing. Hard Spun is a speedy, aggressive horse. Even when he is rated, he typically tugs at his rider, wanting to do more.

Hard Spun, with Garrett Gomez aboard for the Belmont, has the class to challenge Curlin. He proved his quality with a runner-up finish in the Derby and third-place finish in the Preakness. But his aggressive style is reminiscent of 2003 Derby winner Funny Cide, who pulled at jockey Jose Santos in the Belmont that year and ended tiring to third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted.

Tiago does not appear to be in the same class as Curlin or Hard Spun, but he showed promise to win the Santa Anita Derby in his fourth start. Although he never seriously challenged in the Derby, he still beat over half the field in finishing seventh. He has the look of a horse that should move up in the Belmont.

As for the filly Rags to Riches, she is the best of her sex and is bred for the distance. But that is unlikely to translate into success against some of the best colts in the land. - BYRON KING


Curlin won his first three races by an average margin of 9 1/2 lengths. He lacked the experience he needed to win the Kentucky Derby in his fourth career start, but rebounded impressively in a game triumph in the Preakness. With the absence of Street Sense, Curlin will be hard to deny at low odds. The key to betting on this race is which horses you would like to use beneath Curlin in the exotics.

Steve Klein

Curlin

Rags to Riches

Hard Spun

Imawildandcrazyguy

Rags to Riches lost her debut as a 2-year-old, then took seven months off. She is a different filly now, and is unbeaten in four races this year. She looked especially good when she won the Kentucky Oaks decisively without being asked for her best. She earned a 104 Beyer that suggests she is ready to be competitive with males. She deserves extra credit for being fresher than both Curlin and Hard Spun at this point. If Curlin regresses following his hard-fought Preakness victory, this filly has a legitimate chance to win.

Many handicappers are asking whether Hard Spun will be able to handle the 1 1/2-mile distance. He negotiated 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby well enough to beat everyone but Street Sense. And he handled the 1 3/16-mile Preakness distance better than his jockey did. Hard Spun was rating kindly in third place in the Preakness until jockey Mario Pino moved too early. Curlin and Street Sense were both better that day, but Hard Spun, who was beaten by four lengths, would have been closer to that pair with a more patient ride. Hard Spun is capable of grabbing the lead and slowing things down under his new rider, Garrett Gomez. If Slew’s Tizzy isn’t asked to utilize his tactical speed early enough, Hard Spun can take this field a long way.

Imawildandcrazyguy rallied 10 wide and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, just a half-length behind Curlin. Remember that Curlin had never run so poorly, and Imawildandcrazyguy had never run so well. If you are looking for a longshot in the exotics, he is a good candidate.

Tiago fell too far back early, then ran creditably while finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby. He deserves to be on some of your exotic tickets. Slew’s Tizzy is going well now, but must prove that he fits with the leading contenders. - STEVE KLEIN


Curlin did a lot of things wrong in the Preakness, and still won. He stumbled at the start, lost position on the backstretch, drifted wide on the turn for home, was aggressively finessed into finally changing leads in deep stretch, and came again to nail Street Sense, a top-quality horse who had run by him with a full head of steam. The Preakness showed that Curlin has immense raw talent and determination, and there are still several areas in which the lightly raced colt can improve. Curlin lost momentum coming out of the far turn at Pimlico, but is very likely to keep a straighter line on Belmont’s sweeping turn, in much the same way another muscular, long-striding chestnut locomotive relished this massive track winning the 1989 Belmont by eight lengths; his name was Easy Goer.

Dave Litfin

Curlin

Rags to Riches

Hard Spun

Tiago

Rags to Riches has dominated the 3-year-old filly division, and looked to be merely getting warmed up as she left hard-knocking stablemate Octave behind through the stretch of the Kentucky Oaks. Her figures have risen each time she has attempted a longer distance, and being by a Belmont winner and out of the producer of last year’s Belmont winner, she should find the distance within her scope. She has the benefit of 36 days between starts, has tractable speed, and will be within easy striking range after the first mile is run.

Hard Spun might have wired the Kentucky Derby had Street Sense stalled in traffic at any point of his prolonged and miraculous inside rally. Two weeks later, he finished with good courage in the Preakness after being sent up to take command with a premature middle move through a blistering pace. He has a terrific pedigree for 1 1/2 miles, but the key will be whether he can relax and settle into a rhythmic tempo down the backstretch.

Tiago and Imawildandcrazyguy gained some ground late in the Derby and bypassed the Preakness, a schedule that paid dividends for recent Belmont winners Jazil, Birdstone, Empire Maker, and Commendable.

C P West moved after Hard Spun around the far turn of the Preakness and finished evenly in a creditable effort. His best race as a 2-year-old was a close second in the Futurity on this track.

Slew’s Tizzy will be an early factor, but this is a tall order first time beyond 1 1/16 miles. - DAVE LITFIN


Despite the fact that the first two legs of the Triple Crown were formful affairs, with favored Street Sense winning the Kentucky Derby and second choice Curlin winning the Preakness, I’m going with Tiago to upset the Belmont Stakes.

Mike Watchmaker

Tiago

Curlin

Hard Spun

Rags to Riches

Tiago did not run badly when seventh last time out in the Derby, even though he was beaten 10 lengths. He encountered a touch of traffic in upper stretch, and finished only two lengths behind Curlin, who was third that day. And since that was only his fifth career start, Tiago has almost as much license to improve off the Kentucky Derby as Curlin had when he ran back in the Preakness. But what really distinguished Tiago’s performance at Churchill Downs was the way he galloped out after the finish. Less than an eighth of a mile past the wire, Tiago was in front of everyone, and pulling away, which strongly suggests he will relish the 1 1/2 miles he gets Saturday. If there is a downside to taking a shot with Tiago in the Belmont, it is that many others noticed how powerfully he galloped out after the finish of the Derby, which could depress his odds a bit.

Curlin has done remarkable things for a colt who only began his career in February, and he showed by getting up in the Preakness that he has courage to go with his considerable talent. But this will be his sixth race in 18 weeks, and unless he is a throwback to the days when horses were a lot tougher than they now seem to be, he is susceptible to a regression of form. That, combined with low odds, are the only reasons to go against Curlin Saturday.

There is no question that Hard Spun moved too early in the Preakness before fading to finish third. The early fractions this time should be softer than they were in the Preakness or in the Derby, in which Hard Spun was a fine second after setting the pace. But I can’t help envisioning Hard Spun being pushed into going faster than he would prefer in the middle stages by Slew’s Tizzy, and that it will have a debilitating effect on him in the stretch.

Rags to Riches looked like she was only getting warmed up when she romped in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks most recently. But the fillies she has been dominating aren’t that special, and she is facing much tougher colts this time. - MIKE WATCHMAKER


Two of the three division leaders are back for the third leg of the Triple Crown, although both Hard Spun and Curlin have some important questions to answer Saturday. The questions include how much did their hard performances in the Derby and Preakness drain the tank, and the obvious one of whether either really wants to go 1 1/2 miles. There is enough uncertainty not to settle for the short price either horse figures to offer in a race whose combination of distance and position on the calendar has so often proven the undoing of even the best of 3-year-olds.

Mike Welsch

Tiago

Imawildandcrazyguy

Hard Spun

Curlin

With that in mind, Tiago and Imawildandcrazyguy become viable options at what figure to be generous odds. Both horses have been freshened since the Derby and pointed exclusively for this race, and both give the impression they will handle the distance.

Tiago, in particular, has continued to improve with every start. He galloped out strongest of all after the Derby and looks like a horse capable of moving forward enough figure-wise to hold his own with the big boys (and girl) in this field. He will need some help up front with the pace.

Imawildandcrazyguy might have outfinished Curlin for third in Louisville had he not lost so much ground turning for home. He is a one-paced runner who seems well suited for this type of event, although, like Tiago, he will be at the mercy of the pace.

That pace scenario could end up favoring Hard Spun, who has done himself proud up to this point in the Triple Crown series. He may well have enough left in the tank to hold off the closers if allowed to relax long enough on the front end.

Curlin has been nothing short of amazing, having already produced so much in so little time since being unveiled for the first time this winter. But logic dictates there has to be some point at which he begins to regress, and attempting to stay 12 furlongs, especially coming off such a grueling performance in Maryland, might just be enough to put him at that point. - MIKE WELSCH


Selections

Steve Andersen

Curlin

Tiago

Rags to Riches

Hard Spun

Andrew Beyer

Curlin

Rags to Riches

C P West

Hard Spun

Steven Crist

Curlin

C P West

Rags to Riches

Tiago

Chuck Dybdal

Curlin

Rags to Riches

Hard Spun

Tiago

Ron Gierkink

Rags to Riches

Curlin

Imawildandcrazyguy

Tiago

David Grening

Rags to Riches

Curlin

Tiago

Hard Spun

Mike Hammersly

Curlin

Tiago

Rags to Riches

Hard Spun

Marcus Hersh

Rags to Riches

Tiago

Curlin

Hard Spun

Jay Hovdey

Tiago

Slew’s Tizzy

Curlin

Hard Spun

Marty McGee

Hard Spun

Curlin

Rags to Riches

Slew's Tizzy

Jay Privman

Curlin

Hard Spun

Tiago

Rags to Riches

Mary Rampellini

Curlin

Hard Spun

C P West

Slew’s Tizzy

Lauren Stich

Rags to Riches

Tiago

Hard Spun

Curlin

Consensus

Curlin65

Rags to Riches32

Tiago27

Hard Spun17