It’s Belmont Day and there is a noticeable lack of zip in Internet traffic and sparkle heading into the 142nd renewal of the final jewel. This year, more than most, the build up to the race is suffering without another chance at a Triple Crown because of the defections of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness champ Lookin at Lucky. There appears to be no sex appeal this year and my guess is that television ratings and on track attendance will be down sharply. Temps in the high 80’s and the threat of thunderstorms all day will do nothing to help the situation either.
There is still a million dollars on the line and the twelve contenders have stories to tell. There are going to be longshots and favorites as well as a very long stretch drive and at the end of the day a horse will cement themselves in legend and will trot away with the title of Best American Marathon Horse (3-year old division). Granted a lot of the world doesn’t see a mile and a half as much of a marathon, but here in the speed crazy United States, anything longer than a mile and sixteenth is reason for wonderment and a mile and a half is almost otherworldly.
Here is the line-up:
1. Dave in Dixie (Sadler/Borel) – I’m not sure of the thought process in entering this one. Last out in the Illinois Derby in his first trip off the synthetic he finished 16 lengths behind American Lion and now has to go even further.
2. Spangled Star (Dutrow/Gomez) – While the slow and steady gain in the mile long Withers was nice – and he’s bred for distance - this guy belongs in a NW2 Allowance, not a Triple Crown race.
3. Uptowncharlybrown (McLaughlin/Maragh) – One of the “pre-season” Classic favorites, this guy hasn’t won since a small stakes race at Tampa in mid-January. The closing move he displayed in the Lexington was more a product of a bad start rather than wanting more distance.
4. Make Music for Me (Barba/Rosario) – Disadvantaged early in the Kentucky Derby he came back from the way outside to close for fourth. Prior to the Derby he was all synthetic and turf and with the sloppy Churchill Downs underneath him, it’s hard to know what he’s going to be like in NY. The bullet Belmont work from Monday makes him a live longshot.
5. Fly Down (Zito/Velazquez) – The “other” Zito horse, his walk in the park Dwyer win had tongues wagging. The distance shouldn’t be a problem and if you throw out the LA Derby, he should be a strong contender in here.
6. Ice Box (Zito/Lezcano) – No sooner was the Derby over than the talk began – “Zito has to skip the Preakness with him and point to the Belmont”. With all the trouble he encountered and strong run down the stretch, he is the deserved ML favorite in the race. To get a price you’re going to have to try and beat him, and that won’t be easy.
7. Drosselmeyer (Mott/Smith) – Though he had his issues in the Dwyer, no way he was going to beat Fly Down. I don’t see him doing it here either. Like Spangled Star, he’s a Distorted Humor and should take to the distance but he may not be talented enough to hang with these.
8. Game On Dude (Baffert/Garcia) – No Lookin at Lucky? No problem. Let’s look in the barn and see what we can drum up to stand in for him. An easy winner of the Lone Star Derby he lost to Ice Box by over 10 lengths in the Florida Derby.
9. Stately Victor (Maker/Garcia) – Only three-year old victory was a romp in the Blue Grass over the synthetic at 40-1. Will probably have the same boxcars payoff if he wins here.
10. Stay Put (Margolis/Theriot) – Hasn’t sniffed a win at the Graded Stakes level and only non-maiden wins have been against optional claimers.
11. First Dude (Romans/Dominguez) – The second of the Belmont “Dude” entries was a solid second in the Preakness, but could be a bit shortpriced as the mile and three sixteenths appeared to be a bit much for him after setting the early fractions.
12. Interactif (Pletcher/Castellano) - A terror at two, he has not fulfilled this promise at three. Should like the distance but may not care for the dirt after playing on synthetic and turf since his uninspired 8th in the Sanford.
The race looks tremendously chalky. Ice Box should have the room and the long stretch should provide him the runway to close like a freight train again. He has improved with each race with even his second in the Derby impressive. Stablemate Fly Down should be in a better tracking position and may be in a better position to track down the early speed. The Dudes and Interactif are what pass for speed in here but probably can’t carry it the entire way so, in all likelihood, the race sets up for a Zito exacta and I like Make Music for Me to fill out the trifecta.
1. Fly Down
2. Ice Box
3. Make Music for Me