Belmont Picks

This year’s Triple Crown has been one of the most interesting in recent memory, and the final leg is no exception. Always one of my favorite races due to the hilarity of the distance (very few other dirt races in America are ever run over 1 1/2 miles), this year’s Belmont Stakes poses several unanswered questions and also features the sport’s most unlikely potential future star in Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Mine That Bird. Briefly, here are some thoughts on how the race will unfold.

For starters, it is important to remember that just like the Derby, these horses will be running at a distance that they have never seen before (and will likely never see again). Therefore, past performance information is difficult to compare and must be interpreted, but simply can’t predict how these horses will handle the extra two furlongs beyond the Derby distance. An easy starting point is to look at pedigree. Interestingly, there is some serious Belmont history in the bloodlines of four of these horses:

Special attention should be paid to the sons of 2004 Belmont winner and Triple Crown spolier Birdstone, namely MINE THAT BIRD and SUMMER BIRD. Newcomer CHARITABLE MAN is lightly raced coming off an injury at the end of his two year old season, but his sire Lemon Drop Kid won this race in 1999 before going on to race very successfuly that fall. DUNKIRK’s sire Unbridled’s Song was injured as the favorite in the 1996 Kentucky Derby, and did not race in the Belmont. However, looking at his successive damsire line, we see three Belmont winners in A.P. Indy, Seattle Slew and Secretariat, which can’t be overlooked. I’ll use these four in my exotics.

DUNKIRK was my Derby win pick, and he finished in the middle of the pack in 11th place, but not without excuses. He fell out of the gate at the start and never looked comfortable, pinched closer to the pace than he would have liked and between horses, and clearly not taking a liking to the sloppy track. He still has the highest Beyer in field at 108 from his Florida Derby performance. I also think that even though the Derby didn’t go well for him, it added valuable seasoning for this otherwise lightly raced colt. He has the benefit of five weeks of rest since that race, and his tactical speed combined with his turn of foot and distance pedigree seems to fit perfectly here. He should have more room in this race and his long-striding running style is well-suited to the sweeping turns of Belmont Park.

MINE THAT BIRD proved in the Preakness that his Derby win was not a fluke, much to my surprise. He actually bettered his Derby Beyer in that race even in defeat as he posted a 106 after his 105 on the first Saturday in May. This makes him the only horse in the field with two Beyers over 100 and only one of two with a Beyer over 100. Charismatic jockey Calvin Borel has guaranteed victory in this race, but this isn’t his home track, and I still have questions about this colt’s running style in a race that is typically won from the first or second flight of horses. More importantly, I have questions about the toll that his massive overachievements in the first two legs of the Triple Crown have taken on this diminuative gelding; no horse has won the Derby, run second in the Preakness and then won the Belmont since 1963. Is this the guy to break that trend, which is longer than the Triple Crown drought??? That stat alone, along with his likely even money odds in this marathon (he was 50-1 just five weeks ago), makes me want to try to beat him, although it is important to note that of all of the horses to ever go into the Belmont after winning the Derby and finishing second in the Preakness, their Belmont record is 9-4-3-1-1. I can’t dismiss this guy based on that history, which gives him nearly an 80% chance of finishing in the top two.

SUMMER BIRD was probably the next most impressive closer in the finish of the Kentucky Derby to the winner, as he closed strongly to finish sixth and only gave up three lengths to his half-brother down the stretch, which is by far the best any horse did in that race based on that measure. Based on that closing kick and his pedigree, he’s my next favorite of the deep closers, and he seems to be vastly improving after getting five weeks of rest off of that Derby performance. Dismiss the sons of Birdstone at your own peril.

CHARITABLE MAN is the morning line second choice, and he’s worth trying to beat at those odds. He’s never gone more than 9f so a 12f race is an extremely tall order, but neither had Da Tara last year and he won easily on the lead. This year’s race is undeniably deeper with quality horses, but this colt does possess the type of running style that tends to factor in this race in a big way. Expect him to sit just off the pace and make a big run coming around the turn. I still question his ability to get the distance, not because of his pedigree which is obviously strong from that perspective, but simply because of his inexperience coming off of an injury that has sidelined him up until this leg of the Triple Crown. I wasn’t as enamored with his victory in the Peter Pan as others were, as his 98 Beyer simply doesn’t hold up here, but due to the pedigree and running style he scares me enough to keep him underneath in exotics.

CHOCOLATE CANDY and MR. HOT STUFF are both deep closers, and unless you have a kick similar to the one shown by Mine That Bird in his last two races, these types of horses are usually up against in the Belmont, as they tend to lose too much ground early behind a soft pace that never disintegrates. Of the two, I probabaly like Chocolate Candy more, as his game fifth place finish in the Derby merits a look, but he hung a bit in that race and wasn’t really closing ground as he made his move early in that race. Mr. Hot Stuff simply hasn’t shown me anything to get excited about, but based on pedigree he wouldn’t surprise to hit the board if he takes a step forward.

FLYING PRIVATE was impressive in his fourth place finish in the Preakness, but you have to think he will be really feeling some fatigue as he stretches out to 12f here after that and his last place finish in the Derby. MINERS ESCAPE will set the pace here along with BRAVE VICTORY, but there are enough speedy horses in this race that I doubt they will be able to get loose on the lead at soft fractions, and will likely fade out of the picture and be looking for the proverbial oxygen tank. LUV GOV is in over his head here at this distance by any reasonable measure.

PICKS SUMMARY:

  1. Dunkirk
  2. Mine That Bird
  3. Summer Bird
  4. Charitable Man
  5. Chocolate Candy
  6. Mr. Hot Stuff
  7. Flying Private
  8. Miner’s Escape
  9. Brave Victory
  10. Luv Gov

HOW TO BET $50 on the BELMONT STAKES

$5 Exacta Box: Dunkirk, Mine That Bird/ Dunkirk, Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, Charitable Man ($30)

$20 Place: Dunkirk

UNDERCARD PICKS:

WOODY STEPHENS

  1. This One’s For Phil
  2. Everyday Heroes
  3. Triumphant Flight

ACORN

  1. Justwhistledixie
  2. Casanova Move
  3. Gabby’s Golden Gal

WOODFORD RESERVE

  1. Court Vision
  2. Cosmonaut
  3. Cowboy Cal
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