2013 Belmont Stakes Predictions
by Trevor Whenham - 6/6/2013
This is a very interesting edition of the Belmont Stakes. The field is large, and there are a ridiculous number of Derby entrants back for this race. There isn’t a clear standout horse, but cases can be made for several. It is a true and perplexing handicapping puzzle. I haven’t settled on my winner yet, but there are four 2013 Belmont Stakes predictions that I am willing to make and stand behind:
The weather will be a big factor
The forecast for the weekend isn’t very good at this point. Weather forecasters are never right, but at this point they are suggesting solid amounts of rain both on Friday and Saturday. If that does indeed materialize, then the track will be in less than perfect condition at race time. An off track was a big factor in the Kentucky Derby, and it likely would be here again.
There are at least three horses that would particularly enjoy a sealed or sloppy track if it deteriorated that much. Orb obviously didn’t mind the surface because he was dominant through the muck en route to his big Derby win. Golden Soul was a shocking longshot second-place finisher. When you looked back at how he had escaped detection, what stood out most was his excellent off-track breeding. He was built to run through the mud. Last time out on this same Belmont track, Freedom Child won the Peter Pan Stakes by more than 13 lengths. That tour de force was over an off track, so he obviously enjoys sloppy going.
Watching the weather reports closely leading up to race time will be crucial.
The early pace will be strong
On paper, only Freedom Child and Oxbow are likely to seek out the lead, and neither is a true speedball that will try to run away at an aggressive speed. The way the race is setting up, though, it seems likely that there will be more early pressure than it might seem like.
A couple of horses in particular stand up as question marks. Frac Daddy is typically more of a closer, but he drew the inside rail, and trainer Ken McPeek has suggested that he is going to roll the dice and order the horse to the lead out of the gate. That could speed up the pace. The other big question mark is Midnight Taboo. He is the fifth Todd Pletcher horse and the third owned by Mike Repole. And though he is bred for stamina, he is lightly-raced, completely unproven, and seemingly outclassed. One possible explanation for his entry, aside from the raging ego of his owner, is that he can make sure that the early pace is honest. Repole also owns Unlimited Budget and Overanalyze, and both would be compromised by a stagnant early pace like we saw in the Preakness.
I don’t expect suicidal early fractions like we saw in the Derby unless a horse gets away from his jockey again like Palace Malice did there, but we will see much swifter and more honest speed than we did in the Preakness. Unless it is really crazy, the pace should set up the race for truly the best horse to win — from the front, stalking, or closing.
The closers will be close
In the Derby we saw the horses that were way off the early pace end up across the finish line first. I don’t see that as likely to happen again because of the pace.
The closers were highly compromised in the Preakness by the pace. In the Belmont it can be tough for deep closers to make an adequate move, and with so much uncertainty about the pace, the connections of those closers can’t afford to fall too far back early on. There are also a disproportionate number of closers in the field, so jockeys will be itching to gain the position they need early on to have a clear path later, and that means that they could potentially look to be at the front of the pack of closers instead of trapped at the back.
Todd Pletcher will not have a great day
When you have five of 14 horses in a race, you are giving yourself a remarkable number of chances. Pletcher had five of the 19 horses in the Derby, though, and finished no better than third. In this case quantity definitely exceeds quality.
Midnight Taboo, as we have discussed, is curiously out of place. Winning the Belmont as a filly is incredibly difficult, and much better fillies than Unlimited Budget have failed. Overanalyze is a fine horse but not a great one, and he would need luck to win — especially if the track is less than fast. Palace Malice is bred to run forever and is probably the Pletcher horse I like best, but after his runaway in the Derby and the continued experimentation with blinkers, he is hard to trust. Revolutionary is getting a lot of buzz and could be the second choice by post time. His problem is that I don’t see a scenario in which he is the best horse. If the early pace is strong and he tries to close, then I’m not convinced he is as good as Orb or perhaps even Golden Soul. If he moves forward and tries to stalk the pace, which he has done in his best efforts, then he is very reliant on how the early pace develops.
All in all, I would be far more surprised if Pletcher wins than if he failed despite the number of horses entered.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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