Early Look at the How the Belmont Field is Shaping Up
by Trevor Whenham - 05/20/2009
The Belmont is still more than two weeks away, but we're already getting a good sense of the field. It's not uncommon for the Belmont to feature the smallest field of the Triple Crown races, and this year should be no exception. Still, we can expect to see about 10 horses enter the gate by post time. The field might be relatively small, but it still should have a little bit of everything - the Kentucky Derby winner, another iron horse or two, a few Derby contenders back for another shot, some fresh horses, and maybe even a super filly. Here's a look at what we know so far:
Mine That Bird - Barring a catastrophe, the plucky gelding will be back again. He came out of the Preakness healthy and happy, and he is looking good in his first returns to the track. He's small and he's easy on himself, so he shouldn't suffer too badly from the hectic Triple Crown schedule. What we don't know, though, is who will be riding the horse. Mike Smith rode him in the Preakness, but he is committed to a race in California on Belmont day. Calvin Borel could return to the saddle if Rachel Alexandra doesn't run in the Belmont, or the horse could have the bizarre and unbelievable distinction of having a different jockey in each race.
Rachel Alexandra - No decision has been made about the Belmont for this filly, and there won't be for a week or so. There have been few indications one way or the other whether she will tackle the third classic, but my hunch is that she won't. She has little to prove, and the finish of the Preakness could lead you to believe that she wouldn't win a rematch at the marathon Belmont distance. She's now run five times in 13 weeks, so a short break might be more appropriate. If she runs she will certainly change the betting fabric of the race.
Flying Private - The D. Wayne Lukas-trainee is the only other horse besides Mine That Bird who is likely to run in all three classic races. After finishing dead last in the Derby he bounced back with a solid fourth-place showing in the Preakness. It's hard to imagine him as a serious contender in the Belmont, but Lukas clearly believes in him. His stablemate, Luv Gov, may also return in the Belmont after finishing eighth in the Preakness.
Musket Man - After hitting the board in both classic races, Musket Man looks to be leaving the Triple Crown trail. His trainer had said all along that he would run in the Preakness or the Belmont but not both, and he doesn't give any indication of wavering from that. No other horse from the Preakness field is being seriously aimed at the Belmont either.
Chocolate Candy - The California-based colt is aimed to return to the Triple Crown after a fifth in the Derby. He ran a solid race in the Derby and would be a legitimate contender in the Belmont. It will be his second dirt race, so he should be more comfortable on the surface.
Dunkirk - The highly-touted colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, had a disastrous Derby. He never got comfortable, and wound up 11th. He's clearly a better horse than that and he will be in New York to prove it. The Belmont is the only Triple Crown race that Pletcher has won.
Mr. Hot Stuff - He's another California-based colt back for another shot after the Derby. He was an irrelevant 15th in the Derby at 30/1, but the Belmont could be a better fit for him.
Summer Bird - There were two Birds in the Derby that went off at 50/1 and were given no shot of winning the race. This is one. The other one is a legend.
Charitable Man - This is the top contender from among the fresh horses joining the Triple Crown trail. He was a very promising two year old, but an injury sidelined him for seven months. He returned to finish a disappointing seventh in the Blue Grass Stakes, but he rebounded by returning to dirt in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. He beat an impressive field there, and he clearly liked the surface. He's a very good contender to finish on the board.
Miner's Escape - This is an inexperienced horse that won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Preakness last time out in his first stakes action. He'll be a serious longshot and it would be easy to rule him out if it weren't for his trainer. Nick Zito has twice won the Belmont with a big longshot - last year with Da' Tara and in 2004 with Birdstone - the sire of Mine That Bird.
Gitano Hernando - This invader from England will be making his American debut in the Belmont. He has two wins in five starts, but he has never run on dirt before. There is some precedent for this horse's path - in 1992 My Memoirs ran in the same final prep race before finishing second to A.P. Indy in the Belmont.