05/29/2016 10:34AM

Watchmaker: Dearth of early speed among Belmont Stakes cast

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Purely by default, it is not hard to envision Stradivari on the lead in the Belmont Stakes.

With a set of Saturday stakes results that fell shy of noteworthy, this seems like a good time to talk a little Belmont Stakes, and specifically what is to me the most interesting aspect to this Belmont – the abject lack of pace.

As of Sunday morning, Daily Racing Form has 10 listed as possible Belmont Stakes starters. They are, in alphabetical order: Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Destin, Exaggerator, Governor Malibu, Lani, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews, and Wild About Deb.

What is striking about this group is not one of them – not a single one – fits the traditional definition of a front-runner. None even fits a loose definition of a speed horse. When Nyquist was withdrawn from consideration for the Belmont due to illness, there went the race’s controlling speed.

Now, the Belmont isn’t until June 11, so there is still plenty of time for a horse with legitimate speed to join the cast. But in the five days since Nyquist’s defection was announced, no speed horse has surfaced as a possible starter in the Belmont, which is a bit of a surprise. So let’s confine the discussion to the 10 who are known to have intentions on the final leg of the Triple Crown.

How scarce is early speed in this group of 10? Only two of the 10 have managed to have the lead as early as the second call in any race in their career past performances, and they managed to do it just once each. And the identity of these two will probably make you laugh. They are Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews.

Exaggerator had the lead by a half-length a half-mile into the Delta Downs Jackpot last November, and stuck it out to prevail by a neck over the sort of wet track he clearly relishes.

Suddenbreakingnews was a head in front through very slow fractions a half-mile into a one-mile maiden special weight contest at Remington Park last September in his second career start, a race he went on to win decisively.

What’s so funny about Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews being the two who, even if just in a technical sense, have previously shown the most forward position of the 10 Belmont contenders? Well, as both have emerged, both have also adopted deep closing styles, and I mean deep closing.

These are not coincidental points. Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews might not be 15 to 20 lengths back in the Belmont as they have been in their recent races only because the current lack of pace will result in slow fractions, and slow fractions won’t allow these two to be that far back. But Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews won’t be pace involved, either. Even in extreme circumstances, it’s difficult envisioning the connections of these two abandoning running styles that obviously work so well for their horses.

Here’s another illustration of how little speed there is in this Belmont. Just two other Belmont aspirants have managed to have the lead as early as the third call in their career past performances. In actuality, there is nothing “early” about having the lead at this point. It’s really pretty late; in these cases, three-quarters of a mile into their races.

These two are Stradivari and Governor Malibu. Governor Malibu managed to see the lead at the third call only once, in a New York-bred maiden race at Aqueduct last November, which was his first start with Lasix, and a race he won by six lengths. But since then, in longer races, Governor Malibu has increasingly adopted a deeper closing approach. And it’s been successful, not unlike in the way it has worked for Exaggerator and Suddenbreakingnews, just to less of an extreme.

Stradivari is not a true front-runner, but he is a slightly different case. He had the lead three calls into both his second and third career starts, which also happened to be his first starts around two turns, and races he went on to win by lopsided margins. Stradivari was also four to five lengths off what was a destructively fast early pace in the Preakness, in which he finished fourth.

Purely by default, it is not hard to envision Stradivari on the lead in the Belmont because it’s impossible to picture Exaggerator or Suddenbreakingnews there, or, for that matter, dyed-in-the-wool closers Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Lani, and probably Wild About Deb, too. But what about Destin?

Destin is even farther from the profile of a speed horse than Stradivari is. However, and again purely by default, it is easy to see Destin being involved early because of the positional speed he showed when he won the Tampa Bay Derby in March.

Right here, it is important to note that the Tampa Bay Derby figured on paper to be a fast-paced race, but turned into a slow-paced affair when a legitimately fast stretch-out sprinter inexplicably did not go from his outside post position. That slow pace put Destin into the game early, and the same might happen in the Belmont.

But don’t expect a pace battle in the Belmont between Stradivari and Destin. That’s not going to happen. They might race for different interests, but both are trained by Todd Pletcher.




slewofdamascus 12 months ago
I'm very surprised Unified did not run here. I thought his race was better than it looked late and I think he could have been a real threat here. 
slewofdamascus 12 months ago
Having watched and analyzed all of SBN's races I can tell you he's not "from the clouds" horse he's being made out to be. He actually possesses more positional speed than several in here. Go watch his Ark Dby 2 back - he popped the gate and if you didn't know better you thought he was going to streak to the front, but the rider quickly took hold and he set fractions of 24 and change and 48 and change. He was well ahead of Creator (who is a true "from the clouds" type) and even Whitmore in that race, he was in the perfect stalking position and the pace was fast. What happened? The same thing that happened in every race over that oval, he became stymied around the far turn - he was not getting over the track. That allowed Creator and Whimore to roll right by him like he was standing still, but watch the finish - SBN is finishing fastest of all once in the straight away and on secure footing. At CD, he has the fastest of 20 turn times. Unfortunately, he ran the slowest first quarter in his life, by miles, 26 and 2, because of trouble - he then preceeded to run the fastest closing mile, 1:35 and 4, including a final 1/4 mile in 23 and 3, to lose by 4 and 3/4, and miss 3rd by a hd and a ns. What if he had run a 25 and 2 trouble-free opening quarter? You do the math. Then ask yourself if, in the Preakness, Cherry Wine benefitted that much from a speed duel, how would have SBN benefitted, and take into account that SBN has all the off-track breeding once could ask for? SBN has been snake-bit to the point that his real ability has been masked. Yet, he's training superbly, just like before the KD, the distance should be to his liking, and the track is tailor-made for his big strides. He will be within 4 or 5 lengths of the lead and doing it easily. It's redemption time. 
Jeffrey Munson 12 months ago
Connections of Nyquist really crying now... they would have been galloping easily on the lead...and Exaggerator might have still been favored! 
David Smith 12 months ago
exaggerator  might go gate to wire....set slow fractions and steal the race..he has run early before
Glenn Ellis 12 months ago
Lani wire to wire. 
Robert Jodoin 12 months ago
Lani is a slow starter out of the gate. I don't think he will go wire to wire, but he could finish strong enough to win the Belmont.
Maria Chang 12 months ago
Please...he plods early and plods late
Robert Jodoin 12 months ago
Lani is slow coming out of the gate. So, I don't think he will go wire to wire; but he could finish strong enough to win the Belmont.
Maria Chang 12 months ago
Where  LOL
Bruce Smith 12 months ago
This nice article takes me all the way back to 1969. Arts and Letters won that year's Belmont, in which the coldest of stone-cold closers—Dyke, with Eddie Belmonte up—inexplicably went right to the top and found himself with a 3-length lead after a half-mile. Arts and Letters took over from there. I'd bet Dike to win; he finished third.
Maria Chang 12 months ago
Back when it was horse racing not horse resting
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
As you wrote it's a little early and the field is subject to change.  That said, you are "on target" in your analysis.  Looking forward to your updated analysis next week.
Stephen Mercier More than 1 year ago
If the connections had not pre-decided that Exaggerator should lag an extra 5 or ten lengths farther back in the Derby, there could very possibly still be a triple crown on the line....
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
actually exaggerator, with the makeup at this time,could be  the main speed of the belmont. why not,before his style was changed from stalker to dead closer,why not with the best horse and no early challenge go to the lead,unless a late sprinter type should be entered. especially after kenny d made the mistake of trying to get cute with big brown and his early actions cost big brown his chance at the belmont
RaceTote More than 1 year ago
I'm expecting this year's Belmont Stakes to be one of the slowest first quarters ever. An animal, the likes of Todd Pletcher's colts, Destin or Strativari, might take an early lead, but down the stretch it will become a battle between the numerous impressive closers entered in the competition, and that's just about all of them. Exaggerator is a fine animal, but it's truly anybody's race. I'm ready to throw my hands up for an obvious winner, and start hoping for a big exotic payout. There is so much talent in this field. There won't be a single horse on that track,June 11th, that hasn't had an impressive win during his career. I'm thinking, his year some little old lady who picks em based on the direction of the wind, or the jockey colors, might just walk away with all the marbles. 
 "The fault is not in the stars, Brutus, but in ourselves."
John Murray More than 1 year ago
I will go further and say the final quarter will be among the slowest, in addition to your prediction of the slowest first quarter and maybe several in-between.

 While apologists state that NA breeding specializes in speed and dirt, we need to admit that NA breeding no longer can be competitive at distances over 10 furlongs, on any of three surface types.

European racing is still excelling at longer distances than 12 and  over 16 furlongs. Little is known in NA about the incredible advances of German breeding based on prohibition of lasix users in breeding, for example.

NA breeding cannot field a competitive classic distance race, as demonstrated by the cancellation of even a marathon at a limited distance in the Breeder's Cup. The embarrassment is further magnified as Euro trainers often can succeed with our bloodlines.

I hope sincerely that the Belmont will not be another embarrassing stagger fest of the least fatigued.