2012 Belmont Stakes Handicapping: Fresh Horses
by Trevor Whenham - 5/31/2012
We are in the midst of a strange trend in the Belmont Stakes. From 1994 to 2006 all but one winner of the Belmont Stakes — Sarava in 2002 — had previously run in at least one leg of the Triple Crown. That’s a strong trend.
SInce then, though, things have been very different. In the last five years only Summer Bird — 17th in the Derby — won the Belmont after an earlier Triple Crown appearance. Rags to Riches, Da’ Tara, Drosselmeyer, and Ruler on Ice were all new to the chase.
It’s far too early to know whether that is a trend itself or just a strange set of circumstances, but it is certainly interesting. Even more interesting is that, outside of the highly-regarded filly Rags to Riches, the other winners have all ranged from mild longshots to seemingly impossible winners. These horses didn’t seem like likely winners — in large part because they didn’t have previous experience, yet somehow they managed to win.
At this point there are 12 horses being pointed at the Belmont. Seven of those horses will make their Triple Crown debut in the race if they do start. So, is there another Da’ Tara -- the huge longshot who ended the Triple Crown dreams of Big Brown in 2008 -- in this group? Let’s take a look:
The good news is that he is coming off a win - an impressive performance on the Derby undercard. The bad news, though, is that that was only in an Optional Claiming race.
In his three graded stakes races he has never finished better than fifth, though he was moving forward nicely at the tail end of his Arkansas Derby effort.
His breeding is solid, but he’d have to get a whole lot better than he has been to be a factor.
Julien Leparoux is on him, though. He rode him well last time out, and should be hungry for revenge after getting booted out of Union Rags’ saddle for this race. I don’t see this horse winning, but I like his chances better than many on this list as you’ll soon see. At 35/1 or so he’d be interesting.
It took him five tries to break his maiden, which he only did in March. A month later he ran in an undistinguished allowance race at Aqueduct. He acted up in the gate and limped home to fourth.
He has raced previously at Belmont. That would be an asset given the unique nature of the track -- if he hadn’t finished a distant 10th in the effort.
If I were to enter this race on foot I would give myself only slightly less chance of winning than I give this horse. I have absolutely no idea why he is entered. Amazingly, though, he’s not even the worst horse in the Belmont Stakes field.
Guyana Star Dweej
This horse is an absolute joke. He has no possible reason to be in this race.
He was pointed at the Preakness, but his connections came to their senses before entries were due -- or so it seemed. Instead, they were just pointing him to an even tougher challenge here.
He has only run further than a mile once. He needed eight tries to break his maiden. In his work on Wednesday morning he was pulled up before the wire because, according to his rider, he wasn’t interested in running.
There needs to be a rule that stops horses like this one from entering the race. He’s not only the worst horse in the field if he is entered -- which I really hope he isn’t -- but he would be one of the worst horses ever in the race.
Bob Baffert has obviously been cast in the role of pace-setter in this year’s Triple Crown. After his Bodemeister set the pace in the first two Triple Crown races there is a very good chance that Paynter will set the pace here -- though likely not as fast of a pace as his stablemate did.
He’s very light on experience, but he has looked better each time out, and he was very impressive wiring the field on the Preakness undercard.
The lead is a lonely place to be in the Belmont -- especially with a horse as good as I’ll Have Another breathing down your neck, but Payneter has the best shot of any of these seven horses of shocking the world.
I suspect he’ll be bet down well below where he should be, though -- he’d look great at 25/1, but will likely be at half of that or less.
The best part of this horse is that he is a son of Lawyer Ron, the 2006 Arkansas Derby winner who was always easy to cheer for. Sadly, that horse died of colic when he was six, so Ravelo’s Boy is from the first of just two crops of foals Lawyer Ron ever had.
I’ll be pulling for this horse for that reason, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on him. He’s run in second-tier stakes this spring, and he hasn’t been competitive in them. If he wins this race then it would really diminish the quality of this class of three year olds.
He’s the son of Street Sense, the grandson of Grindstone, and the great-grandson of Unbridled. That’s three Derby winners.
Clearly this horse has the classics in his blood.
In his last race he was third in the Peter Pan at Belmont behind a nice run by winner Mark Valeski. He was way behind the field in that one before unleashing a huge move around the turn and down the stretch. That’s a style of running that could suit this spot.
He has improved each time out, and he could easily be a factor in the exotics here. I don’t love this horse, but in the right spot at the right price I could learn to.
He’s undefeated. I have to give him that. And he has a win at Belmont.
He’s only run twice, though, he didn’t debut until March 31, he has never run over a mile, and he has never been in a stakes race. I’m not sure this is a good fit for him.
Of course, the last time I discounted a Kenneth McPeek-trained horse in the Belmont was Sarava in 2002, and he ended War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid by winning at 70/1.
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