Belmont Stakes Profile: Dunkirk
by Trevor Whenham - 05/26/2009
Last race: Both the horse and his connections would probably rather forget the last time he ran. It was in the Kentucky Derby, and nothing went right. He stumbled soon after leaving the gate, and was never comfortable again. He moved wide to find space coming into the second turn, but he failed to make a move when asked, and floundered home to a disappointing 11th-place finish. It was the first time that the horse had been faced with real adversity, and he didn't seem mature enough to handle it.
Career highlights: Dunkirk made a big impact on the racing world this spring, but he didn't do it by running a lot. He made his racing debut in January, breaking his maiden in impressive fashion at Gulfstream. He was just as dominant a month later when he won allowance at the same track. He tried for a third win at Gulfstream when he made his stakes debut in the Florida Derby. He settled off the pace that day and made a solid move down the stretch, but he wasn't good enough to beat Quality Road in a stretch duel. Given what Dunkirk accomplished this spring, it's hard not to conclude that hype inflated his reputation more than it deserved to be. There's always a danger of that happening when a horse is sold for a big price - Dunkirk was a $3.7 million yearling purchase.
Jockey: John Velazquez. There was some drama involved here. Edgar Prado rode the horse in the Derby, and Garrett Gomez rode him in the two previous races. Both riders were available for the Belmont when the jockey decision for this race was being made. It's no surprise that Prado didn't get the mount - he obviously didn't mesh with the horse. The bigger surprise is that Gomez didn't get it. He's the best jockey in the country right now, but he had chosen Pioneerof The Nile over Dunkirk in the Derby, so perhaps this is some payback. Velazquez has one Triple Crown win - the 2007 Belmont aboard filly Rags To Riches.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Pletcher is among the very elite of trainers in the country, but he is incredibly bad at the Triple Crown races. He has failed to win a Derby in 24 tries, and he has run several top contenders in that time. He's never won a Preakness, either, and he was last this year with Take The Points. The only break in his futility came with Rags To Riches in the Belmont in 2007. There is no reason he should be as bad in the classics as he is. At least he is consistent, I guess.
Breeding: Dunkirk is a son of Two-Year-Old Champion Unbridled's Song. His grandsire, Unbridled, won the Derby in 1990 and was second and fourth in the other two legs of the race. Unbridled has the distinction of being the last horse to have sired a winner of each of the classics. Unbridled is also the grandsire of Mine That Bird, so if that horse and Dunkirk were people they would be cousins. Dunkirk's grandsire is A.P. Indy, the great winner of the 1992 Belmont. In other words, Dunkirk has regal breeding that sets him up well for this race.
Racing style: When he has been successful he has settled into the middle of the pack before launching a bid for the lead around the final turn. That has been successful for him as long as he can avoid trouble. With the likely absence of a blistering pace in the Belmont this scenario could again be effective.
Belmont prognosis: I find it hard to be optimistic. He's a beautiful, well-bred horse that is a pleasure to watch. He's just so lacking in maturity and development. He didn't like the crowd or the distance of the Derby, so I am not at all convinced that he is going to thrive at the longer distance in the Belmont. He's bred for it, but this is a serious test, and I don't think he is ready for it. He'll be bet down lower than he should be by the fans that believe in him, and that will kill any potential value. He'll be a factor in the bottom of exotics, but I am comfortable with leaving him out on top.