06/07/2007 11:00PM

Randy Moss' Belmont Stakes Preview

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An important note to remember when looking at the Preakness pace figures:

The published points of call at 1 3/16 miles in Daily Racing Form past performance lines begin with the quarter-mile call. But at the 1 1-4 miles of the Kentucky Derby, the first published point of call is after the opening half-mile.

Thus be careful not to conclude that Hard Spun ran an 85 opening quarter pace figure in the Derby and slowed to a 71 in the Preakness. That would be comparing apples to oranges, or in this instance, the half to the quarter.

Using the pace figures combined with handicapping common sense, this is how I view the likely Belmont Stakes scenario:

With the jockey change to Garrett Gomez for Hard Spun, and with Hard Spun drawing a post position to the outside of Slew’s Tizzy, the most likely scenario is for Slew’s Tizzy to set the pace with Hard Spun just behind him and to the outside. Slew’s Tizzy’s most recent quarter-mile figures on conventional dirt are 75-75-74, and Hard Spun’s are 71-75-75, with the middle figure coming in the Kentucky Derby.

The “X” factor in the pace is C P West. Trainer Nick Zito believes that his colt will be “in the mix,” and his quarter-mile numbers in races of a mile or longer are 65 (Preakness)-74-75. Drawn inside of Slew’s Tizzy and Hard Spun, Prado could choose to put C P West on the lead if the pace is too slow, but most likely he settles inside and slightly behind Hard Spun.

In the race for early position between Curlin and Rags to Riches, their pace figures are telling. Curlin’s two-turn quarter-mile numbers are 56-49 (Kentucky Derby, when he was shuffled back a bit)-63-65. The filly, on the other hand, ran an opening-quarter 80 in the Kentucky Oaks when she had to be hustled somewhat from her No. 11 post position. Rags to Riches should find a nice opening in the gap between the three leaders and the no-speed duo (Imawildandcrazyguy and Tiago) and drop over at least a length ahead of Curlin. That could give Johnny Velazquez, the rider of Rags to Riches, a tactical advantage over Curlin.

After a half-mile, Slew’s Tizzy’s dirt numbers are 82-84-82, compared to Hard Spun’s 82-85. Rags to Riches shows 77-77 and Curlin 70-68-70-72. Regardless of what some think, Curlin simply does not have much natural early speed.

I’m expecting Hard Spun to put Slew’s Tizzy away approaching the top of the stretch to get a jump on Curlin and Rags to Riches, and from there the race to the wire is on. If Curlin runs as well as he did in the Preakness, he runs Hard Spun down. If he doesn’t, Hard Spun has an excellent chance to turn the tables, with the filly having the next-best shot.