Belmont Handicapping: Post Positions Set
by Trevor Whenham - 06/03/2009
The marathon that is the Triple Crown is about to come to an end with the marathon third race - the Belmont Stakes. This 1 ½-mile race is the longest distance that most of these horses will ever be asked to run, and it is probably more than most of them are truly capable of. As is the case most years, the field sizes have dwindled through the Triple Crown trail - 19 horses in the Derby gave way to 13 in the Preakness, and now just 10 in the Belmont. It's not a huge Belmont field this year, and without Rachel Alexandra it lacks broad public appeal, but it's still a deep and intriguing Belmont Stakes field. Here's how they will line up, who is riding them, and the morning line odds that have been assigned:
1. Chocolate Candy, Garrett Gomez - 10/1
2. Dunkirk, John Velazquez - 4/1
3. Mr. Hot Stuff, Edgar Prado - 15/1
4. Summer Bird, Kent Desormeaux - 12/1
5. Luv Gov, Miguel Mena - 20/1
6. Charitable Man, Alan Garcia - 3/1
7. Mine That Bird, Calvin Borel - 2/1
8. Flying Private, Julien Leparoux - 12/1
9. Miner's Escape, Jose Lezcano - 15/1
10. Brave Victory, Rajiv Maragh - 15/1
The first thing that jumps out when you look at the odds is the truly bizarre trip that Mine That Bird has gone on in the last five weeks. Before the Derby he was at 50/1, and I have yet to find anyone who gave him a chance to be even remotely competitive in the race. As we well know by now he was dominant in that outing. One jockey change later, he went off at 13/2 in the Preakness. He was as impressive as a horse can be without winning, finishing a strong-closing second. Now he's 2/1, quite likely to fall from that price by post time, and a very legitimate favorite in this race. We've had longshot Derby winners come from out of nowhere before, but this is something different - the longshot has proven himself to be at the top of his class.
Mine That Bird will be favored, but there are two other horses close by - Charitable Man and Dunkirk. Dunkirk is the inexperienced runner who created a lot of excitement in the spring with an explosive win in an allowance race and a strong Florida Derby effort before finishing a disappointing 11th in the Derby. Despite that setback the horse is visually stunning, has obvious potential, and is bred extremely well - in other words, he's just the kind of horse that captivates race fans. Unfortunately, he's also the kind of horse that can burn huge amounts of their money. Charitable Man is new to the Triple Crown trail, but if it weren't for bad luck last year he might be in a very different position. As a two year old he showed that he was among the very best of his class before suffering a leg injury that caused him to miss seven months of action. A terrible showing in the Blue Grass Stakes in his return to action kept him out of the Derby, but a dominant win in the Peter Pan at Belmont the week after the Derby pointed him at this race. He's 2-for-2 on the Belmont surface, his sire is a Belmont winner, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has won this race before. This is an inexperienced horse that warrants the attention he is getting.
When I saw Chocolate Candy at 10/1 I had to smile. I'm not convinced that this California invader is good enough to win this race, but I certainly think he has the game to hit the board. He showed well against the best of California in the spring, he was a solid fifth in the Derby, and he has been working on the Belmont surface since that race. If he stays anywhere near his morning line price then he'll be a very attractive horse to include in exotics.
This is a race that has been very kind to longshots in recent years, so it only makes sense to look at the longer-priced horses here. As is usually the case, each of the longshots has something to make them compelling, but they also have good reasons to justify their price. Summer Bird is, like Mine That Bird, a son of Birdstone - a previous Belmont longshot winner. He runs the same basic style as Mine That Bird, and probably hasn't got as much credit as he deserves for the move he made to go from 16th to 6th in the Derby. He'd be more impressive if he had beaten anyone of note at some point in his career. Flying Private was dead last in the Derby, but bounced back nicely to finish fourth in the Preakness. I don't see him improving enough again to win, but I sure wouldn't leave him out of a superfecta. Miner's Escape and Brave Victory are untested runners who look out of place here, but they are trained by Nick Zito - the guy who has twice shown his ability to win this race with unlikely longshots. Mr. Hot Stuff hasn't shown a lot yet, but he is a full brother to Colonel John, and that horse improved significantly on dirt over the summer after a disappointing Derby. Luv Gov has shown very little so far, but trainer D. Wayne Lukas really believes in him, and that guy was the king of the Triple Crown in the 1990s.