by Trevor Whenham - 06/07/2006
The field is set and the post positions are drawn for the 2006 Belmont Stakes. There may be no Barbaro, Bernardini or Brother Derek, but this is still a very good race. There are a couple of very solid horses, and so many intriguing questions about other horses that it's a race that will certainly be worth watching, and betting on.
The exotics in particular should yield some juicy prices, because you can make a case for any of the 12 horses in the field to stake a claim in at least the bottom of the triactor. It's a race that still has many of the top trainers saddling impressive horses for a shot at a grade 1 win and a boatload of cash. The only thing that's certain in the wide-open spectacle is that pretty much anything could happen. Here's a look at the field, listed by post position:
1. Platinum Couple (30-1) - Trainer and part owner Joseph Lostritto saw something in this horse's 6th place finish by 22 lengths in the Preakness that I sure didn't see, because he's back for another shot at Triple Crown glory here. The horse hasn't won since December, has been completely outclassed against good competition and he has given no indication that he can handle this distance. I don't want to be too rash in my statements, but a win by this horse may just make me quit watching horse racing.
2. Sunriver (4-1) - There's no one in the world that wants, or needs, a Triple Crown victory more than Todd Pletcher. He's won everything else the last three years, but he needs a Classic win to crown it all. He comes into this race heavily loaded with the two favorites. Sunriver just missed qualifying for the Derby, but came back in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on Preakness day to catch Lewis Michael and win with one of the more determined and impressive stretch drives I've seen in a long while. He was a hard-charging third in the Florida Derby, and Barbaro's subsequent heroics showed us just how impressive Sunriver was in losing to him. If he gets his race, he'll sit a few lengths off the pace until the stretch and then strike.
3. Hemingway's Key (15-1) - Nick Zito liked his horse's chances better than most people did going into the Preakness and it finished a solid third at almost 30-1. Now he says that his horse will like the extra distance. Neither of the horses that beat him last time out are in this field. Jockey Jeremy Rose won here last year on Afleet Alex. The horse's four races before the Preakness were terrible, but are you willing to completely disregard Zito?
4. Bob and John (5-1) - If this Bob Baffert trainee wins, and he very well could, then it won't be the most exciting race you have ever seen. He's not a flashy horse at all, as his Wood Memorial win showed us, but he is steady and has consistently stood up to strong fields, including several horses in this field. He finished a disastrous 17th in the Derby, but you can toss that result out. He had an awful trip and he doesn't like contact. He's had five weeks off, he has trained well and there isn't a horse in the field that outclasses him. He definitely has to figure in your handicapping.
5. High Finance (12-1) - This is the kind of horse that keeps you up at night trying to figure out what to do. He's never run in a stakes race, didn't run at 2, and only broke his maiden two races back. You'd normally toss him out, but on March 4 he finished second to a horse that went on to run a nice race - Bernardini. After that he annihilated two straight fields - by 9 1/4 and 5 lengths. This is a huge jump in class and distance for this horse, but he has the makings of something very good. He'll be on the lead early and will look to keep it all the way around. 12-1 could be a bargain or the worst bet ever, and there is no way to tell until the race is over. That's what makes the Classics interesting.
6. Oh So Awesome (20-1) - Can you say wild card? Team Valor bought this horse in France earlier this year specifically to run in this race. His form over there didn't look particularly good, though he has run further than any other horse in the field. He has run once over here, but it told us little. He has the pedigree and he's been training well, but what that means on race day is unclear. My first inclination is that he isn't good enough, but there is nothing on his record to prove or disprove that. He's a total enigma.
7. Deputy Glitters (15-1) - This horse will forever be known as Tom Albertrani's other Classic horse besides Bernardini. If the track isn't fairly dry you can rule this horse out completely, because he cannot handle an off track. He only got into Classic consideration once they stretched him out, since his sprinting was unimpressive. He was a solid 8th in the Derby, since he held his ground and gained a couple of positions in the stretch despite being bumped hard. Probably not a winning threat here, but he did beat the favorite, Bluegrass Cat, in the Tampa Bay Derby.
8. Jazil (10-1) - He's a closer who likes to come from way, way back. He was 20 lengths back in the Wood before finishing second by just over a length. In the Derby he didn't quite have the gas, ending up in a dead heat for fourth with Brother Derek. He needs to stay in the same area code as the field to make a move here. If the pace is strong he'll be happy, but a pedestrian pace will be disastrous for him. Could definitely grab a piece at a nice price.
9. Bluegrass Cat (3-1) - The horse was, to the surprise of everyone except maybe the owner and trainer, the second best horse in the Derby. He was at the top of his class until February, but two disappointing outings in a row dimmed his star. He delivered in the Derby, and is back at low odds to do it again here. He'll be looking to get inside early and settle in for the ride just off the pace. His jockey, John Velazquez, is just back from injury, but he's as good as there is right now. The odds may end up a bit low here, but the horse definitely has game, and he can do some damage.
10. Double Galore (30-1) - Take my comments for Platinum Couple and apply them to Double Galore. The horse broke his maiden in his fifth try last time out, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that he belongs in this race. I'm not that worried that I'll have to eat my words when I say that this horse is a complete waste of oxygen here. He'll go to the lead early and will be done and gone before they hit the top of the stretch.
11. Steppenwolfer (9-2) - I almost want this horse to win for the sake of his trainer, Danny Peitz. He's in a three-year stakes slump, and could use a break. The horse was a 30-1 shot in the Derby, but ran well despite losing a shoe, finishing third. He showed in the spring that he was the second best horse in Arkansas behind Lawyer Ron, for whatever that's worth. He's taking a major step down in odds in this race. In an ideal scenario he would settle close to the pace, but the 11 post means he may have to let the speed get out of the way before heading for the rail. It'll demand a change in style, but he's shown he can handle the class of the field.
12. Sacred Light (15-1) - Like Sunriver, this horse didn't have enough earnings to make the Derby field. He ran in an allowance in the Derby undercard instead, finishing second to well regarded Nolan's Cat. He had a gutsy run in the Santa Anita Derby - he should have gone down after stumbling and smashing his nose into the ground, but recovered and finished fourth. He's been close twice to Brother Derek and twice to Bob and John, but he's never been quite good enough.