2014 Belmont Stakes Handicapping: Fresh Horses
by Trevor Whenham - 5/27/2014
There is a lot of variety to the makeup of the Belmont Stakes field this year - as is typical most years. Two horses - California Chrome and Ride On Curlin - have run in both legs of the Triple Crown already. Kid Cruz and Social Inclusion weren't in the Derby, but they did contest the Preakness and are looking to come back again on reasonably short rest. Then there are seven horses who are coming off a long rest - three who haven't raced since running in the Derby and four who are poised to make their Triple Crown debut. Will those seven fresh horses be poised to upset the Triple Crown bid of California Chrome? Here's a look at each:
Skipped the Preakness
Commanding Curve (+800): He was a surprising second in the Derby - the second year in a row that trainer Dallas Stewart has delivered the runner-up in that race at massive odds. I would rather have seen him come right back in the Preakness than take the break because that race seemed to suit him better than this one does. He looked like he had plenty left in the tank at the end of the Derby, though, so he could be poised for a big performance here. That being said, my gut tells me the odds are too low.
Wicked Strong (+800): After a somewhat surprising win in the Wood Memorial, this horse and bettors had a bit of an affair, and he went off as the second choice in the Kentucky Derby. He wound up fourth in that race - a more-than-respectable result given that he stumbled out of the gate and ran into some real traffic. Now he's back for another try. With solid breeding for the challenge, and an obvious supply of heart, he could be a real contender in this one. There is value in this price - though I don't expect him to stay here.
Samraat (+2000): He went into the Wood Memorial unbeaten in five career races and was heavily-hyped. He couldn't beat Wicked Strong, though, and again he finished behind him with a fifth-place finish in the Derby. Those two setbacks have made him a forgotten horse here. He has talent, though, and he broke his maiden at Belmont, so he has some familiarity with the track. He would need a whole lot of things to go his way to get the win here, but you can't rule him out - especially in the exotics.
Tonalist (+700): In his last outing - the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont - he won by daylight in very impressive fashion. It was a race that captured the imagination of bettors, and he has quickly become a wise guy horse here. There are issues, though - he has raced only four times and just once in a stakes race. That stakes win was on a sloppy surface, so there are questions to if he can capture the same magic if the track comes up fast and dry on Belmont day. He also doesn't have ideal, proven breeding for this test. While all of that and more makes me nervous, his last race was truly impressive, and he just looks like a racehorse. He's the toughest horse in the field to figure out at this point.
Commissioner (+3000): This Todd Pletcher-trainee was second to Tonalist in the Peter Pan, though he was in a different zip code when the winner crossed the finish line. He has raced in four stakes races, but he hasn't won any and has finished well behind several Triple Crown participants along the way. It would be easy to toss this horse out without question except for two things - jockey Javier Castellano is the best there is right now, and he owns New York, and the breeding for this horse is tailor made for this race. Still not enough to make me love the horse, but he'll have to be part of exotics.
Matuszak (+3000): Bill Mott is a hall of famer and the trainer of countless great horses - including the legendary Cigar. With those accomplishments he gets the benefit of the doubt every time. That being said, I just don't see what about this challenge makes sense to him for this horse. He has won only once. He was second to Kid Cruz - another horse I am happy to toss out - in the Federico Tesio last time out. He just hasn't looked good enough to mess with these horses at this point. One thing in his favor is that his sire, Bernardini, was the Preakness winner and a true freak of a horse. That's not enough to convince me, though.
Matterhorn: While I am confused about Matuszak, I am just stunned that Todd Pletcher would think that Matterhorn belongs here. He has just one win in four starts - his first race. He has been badly outclassed by better horses - most recently when he was fourth in the Peter Pan. New owners just bought him, and their enthusiasm - and the hope for a quick return on their investment - has to be driving what seems like a lousy decision.
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