No matter how long I have watched racing, and how much of a fan I am, I can still be surprised by the decisions owners and trainers make when motivated by greed and the promise of glory. And so, as the news came out this past weekend that True Timber is being pointed for the Belmont I was again truly shocked. It really makes no sense at all. I obviously don't see the horse every day so perhaps I am missing something. From where I sit, though, he hasn't shown anything to make us think that he is ready for the massive challenge of this distance against what is shaping up to be a large field. Maybe I'll be proven wrong, though. After all, given that horses like Sarava and Da' Tara have already won the Belmont, True Timber wouldn't be close to the biggest surprise winner ever. It's worth noting that this horse has the same ownership, Calumet Farms, as potential Belmont entrant Patch , though they are with different trainers.
Last race: It's not often you see a horse tackle something like the Belmont Stakes when his last race wasn't even a graded stakes race. And it's even rarer when he doesn't even win the race. True Timber last ran in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard. He set the pace through pretty pedestrian early fractions in the mile and a sixteenth race. He was passed twice entering the stretch. To his credit, though, he didn't give up the fight when most horses would have in a similar situation, and he missed getting back up for second by only the narrowest of margins. He was far behind winner No Mo Dough, though, who is a horse that sure looks like one to keep an eye on. It wasn't a terrible effort by any means, but being not quite good enough in a race for non-winners of a stakes race makes an odd prelude for a Triple Crown attempt.
Prior experience: The horse made his debut in November at Aqueduct, where he ran every race of his career until the Sir Barton. He was fifth then, but he came back to break his maiden less than a month later. At three he jumped onto the prep path that Aqueduct offers. First up was the Jerome on the second day of his three year old year. He was third, but he was miles behind winner El Areeb. Next up was the Withers, where he was second, again falling well behind El Areeb. He did beat potential Belmont rival J Boys Echo, who was third, though. Then it was the Gotham where he was fifth, beaten by J Boys Echo, Preakness winner Cloud Computing, and beaten heavy favorite El Areeb, who fell off the Derby trail after the effort. True Timber pushed the moderate pace early but weakened badly down the stretch. Finally, he hit the Wood Memorial, which was won by another potential Belmont foe, Irish War Cry . He again pressed the early pace, again didn't have anything left, and faded to a distant fourth. Cloud Computing was third in that race, which was his final prep for the Preakness. So, if you are keeping track at home, he has raced seven times, including four starts in graded stakes, and his only win came in a maiden race.
Trainer: As unimpressed as I am with this horse, he deserves at least a little credit because he is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. In the best year of his career, McLaughlin won the Belmont with Jazil in 2006, the same year he won the Breeders' Cup Classic and Horse of the Year honors with Invasor. His business had fallen off slightly a few years back, but McLaughlin has been back on top of his game the last two years. He knows how to get the best out of a good horse. And that's the problem here - I'm not at all convinced he has one.
Jockey: Paco Lopez is back on board. He rode the horse in the Wood Memorial. Joel Rosario took over in the Sir Barton, but he is on Multiplier in this race. Lopez was the nation's top apprentice jockey in 2008, and he has established a solid journeyman career since. He rides semi-regularly at Belmont but hasn't had great success this spring. He's solid but not a difference maker.
Breeding: True Timber is a son of Mineshaft, who also sired J Boys Echo. Mineshaft was Horse of the Year in 2003 and won multiple times at a mile and a quarter that year. Mineshaft is a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, who also sired Belmont winner Rags To Riches, and is a son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, so there is plenty of Belmont success in this pedigree. True Timber's damsire Tiznow is also a Horse of the Year winner, taking that honor in 2000 when he won his first of two consecutive Breeders' Cup Classics. He sired massive long shot Belmont winner Da' Tara, so maybe he can do it again here with another big long shot. This horse's breeding is the best part of him, though his tendency to fade in the stretch makes it hard to believe that that stamina influence will fully be evident here.
Odds: The oddsmakers at MyBookie are every bit as skeptical about the horse as I am. At +3500 he is by far the longest price on the board of prospective starters. And he is very much deserving of that dubious honor. There is no value here, and there won't be at post time, either - even though the odds are likely to climb significantly from this point.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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