06/06/2012 1:48PM

Jerardi: Uneasy is the jockey trying for the Crown

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Michele MacDonald
More than the other two Triple Crown races, the Belmont Stakes is known for longshots coming through. From Sarava (70-1) in 2002 to Lemon Drop Kid (30-1) in 1999 (shown here), there have been no shortage of surprises in the final leg of the Triple Crown over the years.

After Lemon Drop Kid, Commendable, Sarava, Birdstone, Da’ Tara, and Ruler On Ice, we are all justifiably spooked by the Belmont Stakes, as if it this is a horror movie instead of a horse race.

Don’t move too soon. Don’t open a big lead. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.

I am going to make a novel suggestion. Find what you think is the best horse and bet on him.

Did Point Given move too soon when he blew the race open around the turn and won by a dozen? Apparently not.

Did Craig Perret make a mistake when he ran away from the field on the far turn with Bet Twice? Not by the looks of his 14-length win.

Yes, Ronnie Franklin moved too soon on Spectacular Bid. Yes, Calvin Borel moved too soon on Mind That Bird.

If Real Quiet had won by a nose, Kent Desormeaux would have been a hero. The horse loses by a nose, now he’s a bum.

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

Please, don’t get me started on Smarty Jones. Revisionist historians may be able to concoct anything, but anybody who was really paying attention knows what went down that day.

All of which brings us to Saturday, I’ll Have Another, and his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, who is going to be told so often not to move too soon, he may never move at all. That is what got Desormeaux in trouble with Big Brown. He had a huge tactical advantage and gave it up because he was worried about moving too soon. If he puts the horse on the lead, as he should have, he would have been cruising instead of struggling on a track that was holding speed.

Just let I’ll Have Another run where he is comfortable. If it’s up top (and it could be), so be it.

The issue is not when he moves, but which other horses are moving. The Beyers certainly point strongly to I’ll Have Another with his 101 in the Derby and 109 in the Preakness. He reminds me a bit of Afleet Alex in that he seems to be getting stronger with each race. And Alex just buried the field in the Belmont. If I’ll Have Another runs back to that 109 or, somehow goes even better, it is going to be very hard for him to get beat.

Only Paynter (with a 100 in the Derby Trial and a 106 in that allowance on Preakness Day) is in the Beyer ballpark. Given the year Bob Baffert is having, Paynter may actually be able to win this race, as long as he doesn’t move too soon, of course.

I came into 2012 loving Union Rags. I do not ever remember a 2-year-old doing what he did in the Champagne. As long as that memory is there, I will believe there is something special about this colt. Enough has been written and said about the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby that I don’t need to add to it. The reality is that the Beyers are not there and nobody has a clue whether the big colt or any of these colts will thrive at a mile and a half.

Still, until Union Rags gets a clear run and does not get it done, I believe he has the ability to get it done. Horses can’t look like that, work like that, and, on a few occasions, run like that and not be really good. But he simply has to do it.

I have never been a big fan of the late-running Derby third horse. It is often an optical illusion, as the frontrunners are slowing down dramatically as Bodemeister certainly was.

But I have become a big Dale Romans fan the last few years. He understands the big-race concept and his horses rarely disappoint. I am not quite sure how good Dullahan is, but I feel quite confident we are going to see his very best in the Belmont Stakes.

If you are looking for this year’s Sarava, good luck. I am going to look at the horses with proven Grade 1 talent. That would be I’ll Have Another, Union Rags, and Dullahan.

Other than Optimizer (who appears to be prepping for the Arc de Triomphe in here now that his Derby, Preakness, and Belmont preps are out of the way) and his fluky 91 when second in the Rebel, Street Life’s 93 when third in the Peter Pan, and late entrant My Adonis’s 95 in the Holy Bull and 90 in the Gotham, there are no 90 Beyers anywhere else in this field, that outside the Big Four, could pass for an allowance race without onerous conditions.

So, will I’ll Have Another win? Well, he has raced four times in 2012, all in serious races against serious horses. And he won them all. That is a promising resume. He is clearly the most accomplished horse. And he will finally be favored for the first time in his career.

So, why, if I know all that I know, am I spooked even though my head tells me I shouldn’t be? I don’t know. In the end, that is the one sure thing.