06/07/2012 3:34PM

Crist: In Belmont Stakes, odds call for an upsetter

Barbara D. Livingston
The argument can be made that Union Rags, impressive winner of the Champagne last year at 2, has not progressed from his juvenile form.

If I'll Have Another wins the Belmont Stakes and becomes racing's first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, he will have done something rare and magnificent that a lot of excellent horses have tried and failed to do. This does not mean, however, that he is a good bet at 4-5 or that horseplayers should feel intimidated or unpatriotic for trying to beat him.

To oppose him at the windows is not to criticize him or his connections, or to deny that on paper he's the best horse in the race by a healthy margin. He has higher earnings, more victories, and more Grade 1 victories than any of his 11 opponents, and his Beyer Speed Figure of 109 winning the Preakness is tops in the field. He is relatively fresh, still eligible to improve, and by all accounts has taken well to Belmont Park and trained well there.

Another factor in his favor is that his chief rival on the Triple Crown trail will not be having another crack at him. Whether or not you think Bodemeister would have handled 1 1/2 mile, a battle-hardened runner-up from the Derby and/or Preakness has often been the Belmont winner over a Crown bidder - Bet Twice in 1987, Easy Goer in 1989, Victory Gallop in 1998, Empire Maker in 2003. With Bodemeister sitting this one out, the second, third, and fourth choices in this Belmont are the third- and seventh-place finishers from the Kentucky Derby and the fourth-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby.

You can keep going down this road and convince yourself that something has to go terribly wrong for I'll Have Another to lose - and then you remember the recent history: Eleven consecutive horses have been in the same position as I'll Have Another, and all 11 of them lost the Belmont. You still want even money, much less 4-5, that the 12th time will be the charm?

This is always a treacherous race to handicap. Triple Crown bids aside, nine of the last 10 Belmont favorites have lost, and the last four winners paid $51.50 (Ruler On Ice), $28 (Drosselmeyer), $25.80 (Summer Bird), and $79 (Da' Tara). More power to you if you can talk yourself into one of the seven horses who are pegged at 20-1 or higher on the morning line, but I just can't make a case for any of them other than saying we live in a chaotic universe where anything can happen and sometimes does.

The more logical upsetters are Dullahan (5-1), Union Rags (6-1), and Paynter (8-1), though not necessarily in that order. My reservations about Dullahan are that he has never won a race on the dirt, may well turn out to be a better horse on grass, and that his third-place finish in Louisville may have looked better than it was. While he was beaten only 1 3/4 lengths by I'll Have Another, the Derby winner expended more energy early staying within striking distance of Bodemeister, and Dullahan essentially did his running when the race was over, passing tired horses down the stretch.

I'm very intrigued by Paynter, whose strong victory on the Preakness undercard earned a 106 Beyer, clearly second-best in this field (Dullahan's career best is a 98), and who may have the most room for further improvement with only four career starts. He also was beaten just 3 3/4 lengths by I'll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby in just his second career start. He has a legitimate chance to be a seriously good horse and post the upset, but it's still asking a lot of him.

That leaves me with Union Rags, and I'm happy to give him another chance after a troubled Derby, a Preakness-skipping freshening, and a positive rider switch from Julien Leparoux - who just never seemed to fit him - to John Velazquez. There's a reasonable argument that he simply hasn't progressed or improved off his 2-year-old form, but there have been enough excuses in his last two starts to suggest that the improvement just hasn't had a fair chance to show itself yet. It's not as if he was a precocious speedball of a juvenile who never stretched out. His Champagne Stakes over the Belmont track last October was professional and masterful, and Champagne winners have a way of reasserting themselves in the classics after some uninspiring races in between - think Sea Hero in the 1993 Derby and Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont.

So let's call it Union Rags, Paynter, I'll Have Another, and Dullahan in that order, with no disrespect for the favorite intended - only the opinion that after 34 years and 11 failed bids for the Crown, you don't want 4-5 on what seems like a far more difficult proposition.

[BELMONT STAKES: Past performances, video updates, contender profiles, odds]

Max Power More than 1 year ago
SC, have you noticed who Five Sixteen ran against in his debut race? B Shanny. Wasn't that some ridiculous maiden runner that left all of us gasping at? Key race!!!
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
Steven Crist : you stole my every reasons WHY im staying with UNION RAGS as well . I remember when you and I were talking at Churchill Downs reguarding the poor post position draw for this colt - and we both said WINNERS find a way to win , more so when your the best colt / horse in a race . Well , im not making Any excuses for UNION RAGS . I believed ( THEN ) and from what I have seen at the Fair Hill Farm in reguards of this colt : this colt look "So Much Fitter " ( NOW ) ! So , you and I along with many see the same ( FAITH of HOPE ) in this colt . " Steven Crist " Like I sai afew days ago - I dot really see the BROOKLYN HANDICAP and BELMONT STAKES much of a race to be honest ! I replied to you saying how much I like ( REDEEMED by 7 ) and how much I like ( UNION RAGS by 7 ) .................... I know I liked both of these horse " way far better " than you . I know you see both races as being CLOSE - but not I ! Neither horse will have a problem . Thanks for your Article S C ! We Are One The Same Page Any-ways ...................... as we were in the Derby ha ha haaaaaaaaaa .
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
OK Steve, What's Hersch got? Is Cookie coming out???
Arnie More than 1 year ago
This race looks chalky all around. IHA, Dullahan (training great), and UR look like the clAss of the field. Small exacta and trifecta payouts this year, no boxcars as in recent years. Go IHA!
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
I agree. The best horse for the best price. IHA is not the best horse at the best price. U.Rags, Street Life, Attigun, IHA. My Adonis late draw hurts Paynter the most.
BrassMonkyBalls More than 1 year ago
Alot of folks don't like the short IHA odds and I got a few responses last night to my feeling IHA at even money is fair money. I don't disagree on the short odds but I can never get my head around betting an inferior horse because his odds are better than the odds on favorite....and if everything that can go wrong does with IHA and everything that can go right will for my 'money' horse, then i'll get paid. Not sound logic IMO. If you're handicapping IHA to win and don't like the short odds I agree...play an exotic....but to play someone to beat him because they offer better odds...well thats truly gambling and not handicapping. More like playing a game of chance and finding a way to lose money IMO. UR is one of the most over-rated horses to come along in a long long time. He has never topped a 95 beyer folks. His excuse in the FLorida Derby is laughable...he had plenty of time once he got clear to run down those horses and couldn't....same as he couldn;t run down Hanson last year. He hangs folks...period. Dullahan is the darling of course with his mirage of a close in the Derby. Fact is 2nd time dirt is a good point of regression. And the pace will probably be slow enough to take him out of his game and force him to be closer and eliminate his closing kick. Who else in the field is going to beat IHA? I don't think anyone though I predict Optimizer to hit the board. Given all that it makes no sense to try to beat IHA short odds or not. Getting back $3.80 or $4.00 for 2 bucks is better than throwing 2 bucks out the window....or multiples thereof.....
Neil More than 1 year ago
Why is everyone giving Paynter so much credit for his win at Pimlico? It was a paid workout. The field was weak at best. My cousins little pony could've won that race. I understand he's a talented horse but this is a little steep for a horse that couldn't win the Derby Trial...... Three horse race.
Kent More than 1 year ago
Because he ran decent in the SA Derby while still being kinda green and his performance jumped big-time when he got back to two turns at Pim. Plus the rest of this field is pretty weak other than IHA.
The Drizzle More than 1 year ago
Because Paynter put up a 106 Beyer on a hand ride. Fairly impressive...
Douglas Rutherford More than 1 year ago
B-O-B B-A-F-F-E-R-T That is why ! With-out the name , everything remains the same .
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
After the initial rational analysis mr crist reverts back drf analyst.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
One of the better article I have read about this race. I do, however, disagree with Union Rags. I see it as IHA and Paynter in some order with Bloero's boy as a horse that should relish the distance as an upsetter and has obviously matured when looking at his works. Dullahan and union Rags fill out a tri or super without winning.
Pasquale More than 1 year ago
This article would have never been written if IHA was an eastern horse, but since he's a California horse, well you know. After IHA wins the Belmont these east coast columnists will crawl back under their rocks and begin touting the two year old division, east coast of course.
Mr 6 More than 1 year ago
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
IHA is a Kentucky Bred. He ran in CA but is not CA bred big difference. Not sure if thats what you meant.