Post time for the Belmont Stakes is less than two days away. I can hardly wait. Will we finally see another Triple Crown winner, or are we set to be disappointed for the 12th time in a row? As we ponder that question, here are seven 2012 Belmont Stakes predictions about the race I feel pretty good about:
Unstoppable U will lead early
There are three speed horses in the race. Unstoppable U and Paynter would likely rather be right on the lead, while My Adonis is willing to chase and push the pace. The latter two horses are in outside gates, though, so I expect their jockeys to be a bit more patient to see how the race sets up and what their best strategy is.
Unstoppable U is in the No. 2 hole, so he doesn’t have the luxury of patience — if he is too tentative he can get boxed in by the outside horses looking to get to the rail. He’ll lead, and the other two will settle in with him.
I don’t expect the pace to be particularly fast, though, as all three horses know they don’t have the stamina to hold up under an intense speed duel.
I’ll Have Another will lead earlier than is ideal
I’ll Have Another will be tracking the pace close to the leaders — ideally in fourth place. Jockey Mario Gutierrez will have two big concerns. First, he wants to avoid getting boxed in on the rail. Second, he wants to make sure that the leaders don’t get to set too casual of a pace. If they aren’t challenged early then they will have lots of gas in the tank to use their speed down the stretch, and I’ll Have Another could be in danger. If Gutierrez feels under attack by other jockeys in the field, or concerned about the pace then he could move to the lead early — perhaps as soon as halfway through the race.
It’s not the ideal scenario, but he’s proven to be the best horse in the race so it could be a gamble worth taking.
Union Rags will avoid trouble
In his last two races Union Rags has been troubled early, and has suffered as a result. A big part of the blame in both cases goes to jockey Julien Leparoux. He was oddly tentative in both races — as if he didn’t trust the horse he had under him.
John Velazquez takes over the ride now, though, and he’s likely to be more aggressive. The horse starts in gate three, so he will need to be aggressive from the start to avoid trouble.
Trainer Michael Matz knows he has enough horse to win, and that his horse is very well-suited to the sweeping turns of this track, so he will let Velazquez do whatever he wants to give the horse a chance. That should allow the horse to be a factor in the end.
Dullahan will be ready for battle
Dullahan was closing strong in the Derby, though a lot of that was because everyone else that he passed was fading badly. It was hard for me to completely believe in him going forward after that race. Since then, though, no horse has trained better or looked better than he has.
I think that the Derby will have been a big building block for this horse, and I expect him to be improved and dangerous here. He should have no trouble finding room to move when he decides to leave the back of the pack.
The only question that lingers is if he is good enough to catch I’ll Have Another or Union Rags because he will be far behind both early on.
Street Life will disappoint
There is growing buzz around Street Life. It’s not that surprising — Jose Lezcano is a solid jockey, Chad Brown is a young trainer on the rise who is sure to win more than one Triple Crown race before he is done, and the horse ran on this same Belmont surface last time out.
The big problem I see, though, is that the horse just isn’t good enough.
He was outclassed by Mark Valeski in his last outing, and there are at least three horses here that are significantly better than Mark Valeski. Street Life could be a factor in the exotics, but I just don’t see him winning.
Paynter isn’t Bodemeister
Bodemeister was a wildly-popular and even more talented horse that the public loved. It can be easy and tempting to draw parallels between him and Paynter — same trainer and jockey, same front-running style, a big win in his last race, and so on.
As impressive as his last win was, though, this is no Bodemeister.
He’s not as fast, and he hasn’t beaten horses of anywhere near the same caliber. He will make this interesting — especially if he can enjoy a casual pace in the first fractions — but I don’t see any value in his 8/1 price, and I don’t ultimately believe he is good enough.
And the winner is...
I’m torn here. I am desperate for a Triple Crown winner, so my heart is unquestionably with I’ll Have Another. I do think he is the best horse in the race, he should handle the distance, and the race should set up well for him.
I’m a little concerned by his physical state, though. He hasn’t had a formal work since the Preakness, and he has looked a bit sluggish at times on the track — especially late last week. Add in the immense pressure on a trainer and jockey who are new to this race and this situation and things could be tough.
I don’t believe in Union Rags, though, and while I have been very impressed by Dullahan I don’t believe he’s good enough to beat I’ll Have Another if both are near their best. I have a lot of reasons to be nervous, but ultimately the favorite is the best horse in the field by a fair margin, and there are worse things to do when handicapping the toughest race that horses will ever run than picking the best horse.
There is obviously no value in the price, but I’ll tab I’ll Have Another as the winner — and as an instant legend.
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