An Early Look at the 2007 Belmont
by Trevor Whenham - 05/28/2007
We're only a week past the Preakness, which means that the Belmont is still two weeks away. That's an eternity in thoroughbred time. Though it's impossible to get an accurate sense of what the field will ultimately look like, we certainly can make educated guesses that stand a good chance of being true. If nothing else, we can figure out the major players. If a bunch of horses join the field late then there's a good chance that they won't be superstars, anyway.
Anyone who has paid any attention to the Triple Crown so far this year knows that there are really only two horses that anyone cares about - Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, and Preakness winner Curlin. These two have made it very clear that they are the class of this field, and that they have potentially freakish talent. Their stretch duel in the Preakness was truly epic, and a rivalry was born that fans will hope to see again and again. That's exactly the kind of thing that the struggling sport of racing needs. So, will it happen at the Belmont? Maybe, but probably not. Assuming he stays healthy, Curlin will be there. His connections have said that part of the reason that he had such a relaxed early season was that he was being rested for the strenuous Triple Crown. His breeding and his racing to date have given us no real reason to doubt he can get the mile and a half distance, and he will likely be the Belmont favorite regardless of who he faces.
Street Sense's picture is far less clear. Though his loss at the Preakness by not much more than a nose does nothing to discredit this horse, it did sour his trainer on the Triple Crown experience. Right after the race he said there was no way his horse would move on to the third leg. Since then he has softened, but only slightly. Media pressure, and probably behind the scenes industry pressure, is intently focused on a rematch, so trainer Carl Nafzger and the ownership may decide to send him. Though I hope they do, my bet is that they won't. If they do then he also appears to have the ability and the breeding to do just fine, and the gigantic Belmont stretch will be ideal for his explosive late move.
The forgotten third member of this year's fearsome threesome is Hard Spun. He's been very good in both races - a second and a third - but just not as good as the top two. He's not a quitter, though, so he is going to give it another try in the Belmont. He came out of the two races sound and happy, and he will be interesting in the Belmont. He can likely get the distance, especially if he doesn't get drawn into the rapid pace of the Preakness. In both of the previous races he hasn't faded down the stretch, he's just been passed by a freight train or two. It wouldn't be impossible for him to hold on this time. If nothing else, the prize money from three top three Triple Crown finishes is pretty sweet, and it doesn't hurt the breeding pedigree one bit, either.
There seems to be a chance that the fourth horse to contest both races, Circular Quay, could move on as well. He is training with that intent, though no decision will be made by trainer Todd Pletcher for a week or more. Though the horse hasn't embarrassed himself in either race, his late move clearly hasn't been of the caliber of either of the top two, and you really have to wonder why Pletcher is bothering.
Three horses who ran in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness are aiming to return in the Belmont - Great Hunter, Tiago and Imawildandcrazyguy. Of those, Great Hunter had the best reputation coming into the Derby, but he was largely a non-factor on that day. Tiago won the Santa Anita Derby and was solid in Louisville, but I just can't shake the feeling in my head that this isn't a top-caliber horse. Imawildandcrazy guy is perhaps the most intriguing of the three. He had little backing coming into the Derby, but he was a very respectable fourth there, and could very well be better than he has been given credit for. Regardless, it is hard to get too excited about any of this trio given who else is returning.
The most exciting potential entrant other than the top three is definitely Rags to Riches. This Todd Pletcher-trained filly is a monster. To say she crushed the field in the Kentucky Oaks is a major understatement - the rest of the horses didn't belong on the same track as her. She is a half sister to Jazil, the winner of last year's Belmont in impressive fashion, so she has the breeding to go with her talent. The step up to meet the boys is a big move for a filly, but this is no ordinary filly. I would love to see how she measures up against Curlin and Street Sense, but I won't get too excited until Pletcher confirms that she will be there. Though he has indicated that she may, I have a strong feeling that the strength of the field and his total inability to get a horse ready for a Triple Crown race may convince him to find a softer spot. Running in the Belmont would make a Filly Triple Crown run less likely, and she has the potential to win it.
Other potential entrants include Slew's Tizzy, who won the Lone Star Derby after foregoing his spot in the Derby, Sightseeing, the winner of the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on Preakness day, and Barbaro Stakes winner Chelokee. Slew's Tizzy is almost certain to run, but the other two are on the fence and seemingly unlikely. All three are talented and interesting, but can't be mistaken for top-flight horses. What any of them will do, though, is add intriguing depth to a race that is already shaping up to be as good a Belmont as we have seen in a long time. It's just too bad that few people care about this race when there is no Triple Crown on the line.