That wailing sound you hear is the executives at NBC lamenting the fact that they still have to air the Belmont Stakes tomorrow, despite the fact that no one will be watching. In case you have not yet heard, overwhelming favorite I’ll Have Another was scratched and retired this morning with tendonitis of the superficial tendon in his left front leg, ending his bid for the Triple Crown. He becomes the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to miss the Belmont due to injury, after Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936). In a year where horse racing can only seem to get bad publicity, the news that we will now go 34 seasons without a Triple Crown winner will cause whatever interest the general public had in this race to evaporate instantly. Matt Hegarty of the Daily Racing Form has written a good analysis of the financial disaster this will be.
Personally, I find myself pulled in different directions over this news. To be honest, I had very little interest in seeing someone with a record like trainer Doug O’Neill’s win the Triple Crown. For many people, I’ll Have Another would have always had an asterisk next to his name on the list of Triple Crown winners. As a cynic, I will always wonder if the infamous Belmont detention barn stopped O’Neill from being able to pump I’ll Have Another full of drugs and race him anyway. If that’s the case, perhaps this model should be adopted nationwide.
However, a part of me wondered if having a controversial Triple Crown winner would give the sport’s problems enough of a national stage to put some real reforms in motion. It will take a national effort to clean up horse racing, since state racing boards have proven over and over that they cannot be trusted to make decisions that are in the best interest of the sport, such as banning race day medication. Recent decisions to keep Lasix legal have flown in the face of the wishes of both the Jockey Club and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Ultimately, racing needs a national body controlling and regulating it. Handing out suspensions and license revocations at the state level is pointless if a trainer can just go to a state where he isn’t suspended and continue working.
Anyway, there is still a race to be run, so let’s talk about it:
Belmont Stakes (Grade 1, Belmont Park, 3 year olds, 1 1/2 miles , Saturday 6:40 PM EST)
Eleven horses will head to the starting gate for the Belmont Stakes, including Union Rags and Dullahan, who are back after skipping the Preakness. At a mile-and-a-half, this will be the longest race most of these horses will run in their entire career. The field:
1. Street Life (12-1): This son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense is the kind of horse who does better with a slower, ground-saving trip. The overall pace will likely be favorable to that running style, so the key for jockey Jose Lezcano will be to not get caught in traffic. With a good trip, Street Life will have a good chance to overtake the leaders in the stretch.
2. Unstoppable U (30-1): This lightly-raced and undefeated colt has the most speed out of the gate, and will almost certainly set the early pace. The brutal distance is generally unkind to the horse who sets the early Belmont pace, but stranger things have happened, especially with the distinct lack of speed in the rest of the field.
3. Union Rags (6-1): Union Rags is back after his incredibly disappointing outing in the Kentucky Derby, where he spent most of the race in 18th place. He has a familiarity with the Belmont track, having won the Grade 1 Champagne here back in October. Clearly the class of this race, along with Dullahan. It will be interesting to see how this speedy horse reacts to what will likely be a glacial pace.
4. Atigun (30-1): If it rains tomorrow, this is the pick. Otherwise, I think his lack of speed will doom him, even with how slow I expect this race to be.
5. Dullahan (5-1): This colt, the new morning line favorite, returns after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby and skipping the Preakness. He’ll have to adjust to a new jockey, Javier Castellano, since his regular rider, Kent Desormeaux, is having some issues (Desormeaux has picked up a ride anyway, on the longshot Guyana Star Dweej). Dullahan has finished in the money in seven of his nine lifetime starts, and I don’t see any reason that trend won’t continue on Saturday.
6. Ravelo’s Boy (50-1): The first of three consecutive horses in the starting gate with no chance whatsoever.
7. Five Sixteen (50-1): Rosie Napravnik will become the second female jockey to ride in the Belmont Stakes. The first was Julie Krone, who also won the race in 1993 aboard Colonial Affair. I think Napravnik is one of the most promising young jockeys out there, and she has a chance to win multiple Triple Crown races in her career, but not on this horse.
8. Guyana Star Dweej (50-1): This colt has no shot either, but I’m rooting for him to be in the mix in the stretch just so Larry Collmus has to shout his name multiple times.
9. Paynter (8-1): This new shooter from trainer Bob Baffert has put a 100 and a 106 Beyer in his last two outings, and looked generally impressive while doing so. He has passed the eyeball test, but can he pass a real one? The Belmont has been kind lately to horses that didn’t race in the Derby and Preakness.
10. Optimizer (20-1): He will be the only horse to run in all three of this year’s Triple Crown races, but for what purpose I am still unsure. As I pointed out in my Preakness preview, he has one career win, and has frequently looked overmatched in Grade 1 races. Even in this somewhat unimpressive field, you can’t do something over and over and expect the result to change.
11. I’ll Have Another (SCR): Welp.
12. My Adonis (20-1): This team won the Belmont last year with Ruler On Ice, and are hoping to repeat. The colt has been less impressive as a three-year-old then he was last year, but he has been training well and has better speed than much of the field. It wouldn’t be a terrible idea to use him in your exotics.
Predictions from (most of) the Sports Dump team:
Win: Union Rags
Win: Street Life
Place: Union Rags
Show: Union Rags
Win: Street Life
Place: Union Rags
The weakness of this field was why I’ll Have Another had a fantastic shot, and it’s the reason why I’ll eat my hat if Union Rags and Dullahan don’t both finish in the money.
Win: Union Rags
Saturday marks the end of Triple Crown season — another year gone by with racing’s ultimate prize left unclaimed. I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage. See you around.