Belmont: Lauren Nethery’s preview & predictions

What’s the big deal about the Belmont, to be held this Saturday in New York, and who’s going to win it this year? Resident racing expert Lauren Nethery weighs in.

From Lauren:

Triple Crown chaos is coming to an end Saturday with the granddaddy of all classic races, the Belmont Stakes.

For horses and riders alike, the first trip around the Belmont oval is akin to a first centerline in the Rolex Ring at the Kentucky Horse Park or a first gallop around the Badminton XC course. Everything is simply massive.  One of only a handful of tracks in the world that measure a mile and a half in circumference, you could literally drive 10 school buses abreast all the way around it. Some horses are taken aback by the scale of such a magnificent landmark of racing history and some riders have difficulty relating their ample experience on one-mile tracks to a track 50-percent bigger.

The Belmont Stakes, run over a distance of 1 ½ miles, is also most likely the longest race any of these horse will ever run.  In this day and age, horses simply are not bred or trained to run that far.  Why, you ask? The bottom line is risk vs. reward.  While the race horse owning game is largely played by those with so much wealth that they are spending what amounts to Monopoly money, they still appreciate turning a profit when possible.

In Grade 1 races, a profit becomes a real possibility and trainers and owners alike will go to great lengths to maximize their steed’s potential. But to breed and, most importantly, train a horse to run a mile and a half at racing speeds takes far longer than training that same horse to fun at a sprint distance of a less than a mile. Just like getting event horses fit, you can take almost any horse Beginner Novice virtually right of a field without much conditioning, preparation, or expense. Getting a horse to a 4*, on the other hand, literally takes years and so many thousands of dollars that I refuse to think about it. Much the same is true with racehorses and when a small amount of conditioning, training, expense, and risk can be doled out and still produce the same monetary rewards (after all, there are plenty of sprint G1s to be won out there with multi-million dollar purses), many owners and trainers will air to the side of the get-rich-quick hustle.

One other consideration to keep in mind when pontificating over what it takes for a horse to race a mile and a half is soundness. It takes, at the very least, TWICE as many races and FOUR TIMES as many breezes to get a horse fit for a mile and a half versus six furlongs. All of that wear and tear cripples more horses than it produces. With all of these factors in mind, I introduce to you the Belmont Stakes contenders for 2013.

$1,000,000 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), 3YOs, 1 1/2 miles (dirt)

Post     Horse Jockey             Trainer            Odds

1          Frac Daddy     Alan Garcia    Ken McPeek 30-1

Traffic and trauma in the Derby took this horse far back under the twin spires. Not expecting a huge effort here but Kenny wouldn’t run him back if he weren’t tearing down the barn so he’ll be one to watch in the paddock. If he looks the part, expect a sneaky move into the top four or five.

2          Freedom Child           Luis Saez        Tom Albertrani          8-1

This horse is fresh after almost a month off from a huge win in the Peter Pan but his front-running style will work against him in such a long race. Not expecting a top four here.

3          Overanalyze John Velazquez         Todd Pletcher            12-1

Skipped the derby and has a track record of defeating Oxbow by 5 ¼ lengths in the Arkansas. Expect a big run from this fresh horse and a likely top four finish.

4          Giant Finish    Edgar Prado   Anthony Dutrow        30-1

While this horse appears to prefer synthetic surfaces, I worked for (and greatly respect) Tony at Delaware about 10 years ago and Edgar has won the Belmont twice. Not expecting a top four finish nonetheless.

5          Orb     Joel Rosario   Shug McGaughey      3-1

At his home track, which negates the need for and stress of shipping, he stands to be comfortable and competitive going into this last race of his Triple Crown push. Still, three races in five weeks is incredibly hard to overcome. I expect a top four finish but not a win.

6          Incognito        Irad Ortiz, Jr.            Kiaran McLaughlin    20-1

How can you not bet your longshot money on a horse named Incognito? Horses like Upsetand Regret have lived up to their names and it would not shock me in the least to see this colt sneak up the rail to a bounding top four finish.

7          Oxbow            Gary Stevens             D. Wayne Lukas        5-1

Put in the biggest effort of his life in the Preakness. Elite horses of every discipline experience peaks and valleys and unless this horse is really a world class competitor, which I don’t think he is, I think another valley is on his horizon. Coupled with his front-running style, I don’t expect a top four finish from him.

8          Midnight Taboo         Garrett Gomez          Todd Pletcher            30-1

Repole will run anything anywhere to be in the limelight. Doesn’t appear to deserve a spot in the Belmont gate and seems to be more suited for a race like the Easy Goer on the undercard. Hell, if I had a horse that could stumble through a mile and a half and has millions I’d run him too but as a better, he’s not getting any of my dead-presidents-not-Monopoly money.

9          Revolutionary            Javier Castellano       Todd Pletcher            9-2

A very game 3rd in the Derby and four weeks of rest bode well for this horse and with five horses in this race, you could put $10 to win on each of Pletcher’s starters and almost be guaranteed to come out ahead. Expecting a top four from this horse almost certainly and expecting his odds to creep up to a better pay out with Oxbow and Orb undoubtedly taking most of the uneducated money.

10        Will Take Charge      Jon Court       D. Wayne Lukas        20-1

While this horse really hasn’t jumped up and won anything big or seemed particularly impressive, his female family lends him to a capacity for distance and his sire has thrown progeny with a propensity for versatility. Might sneak up for fourth or fifth.

11        Vyjack            Julien Leparoux         Rudy Rodriguez         20-1

This horse’s works have looked a bit labored and he hasn’t galloped out strongly at all in my opinion. Don’t think he’ll have the distance and his shed row manners have been atrocious. I’ll be passing on putting any money down here.

12        Palace Malice            Mike Smith     Todd Pletcher            15-1

Blinkers off may encourage this horse to go to the front even more and I am still really impressed by his early 3 y/o performances. At these odds, I’d wager a few dollars he’ll put in a big effort and close in on the top four.

13        Unlimited Budget       Rosie Napravnik        Todd Pletcher            8-1

Girl horse and girl rider? Sign me up. Sorry guys, feminist vote goes here. Pletcher also trained Rags to Riches up to a Belmont win, so if anyone can get a filly ready he’s the man. Hoping for a top four, not $100-to-win sold though.

14        Golden Soul    Robby Albarado         Dallas Stewart           10-1

I kicked myself about 20 times when this horse jumped up and ran second in the Derby. I live in a house owned by the farm that stands this horse’s sire and should have, at the very least, included him in my super (which then would have hit and paid around $25,000). *face palm* Not making the same mistake twice and will be betting this horse. Top four unless he just left all he has to give at Churchill.

NBC has promised 6 ½ hours of Belmont Coverage so be sure to tune in.  Post time is 6:36.  Go Baby Go!

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