by Greg Melikov - 06/06/2006
Some so-called experts say handicapping the Belmont Stakes is the easiest of the Triple Crown races, pointing to the high percentage of winning favorites.
Since 1940, a dozen of 30 odds-on choices won, but the last odds-on favorite to score was '78 Triple Crown winner Affirmed. Meanwhile, during the past 27 years, regular post-time favorites lived up to their odds.
That doesn't mean there has been a scarcity of price horses. In the last 44 years, seven of the highest 10 win payoffs rewarded horseplayers. The largest was in '02 when Sarava, with Edgar Prado aboard, returned $142.50.
Prado also rode Birdstone to an upset $74 victory in '04, ending Smarty Jones' bid for the Triple Crown. He would have been aboard Barbaro if the Kentucky Derby champion hadn't suffered a career-ending leg injury in the Preakness.
Prado is riding in the Belmont after accepting the mount on Deputy Glitters from trainer Tom Albertrani, who saddled Preakness winner Bernardini being pointed toward the top 3-year-old stakes later this summer.
Deputy Glitters has performed dismally since a convincing victory at Tampa Bay Downs. He finished sixth in the Wood Memorial and eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
"He ran well in the Derby," said Andy Rehm, assistant trainer under Todd Pletcher. "He was wide the whole way around. If we got the same kind of trip Bluegrass Cat got, I think we could have been second. Bluegrass Cat is kind of the same horse as Deputy Glitters -- he beat us a length and we beat him a length."
Rehm was referring to their battles at Tampa Bay Down when Bluegrass Cat took the Sam F. Davis Stakes before finishing a game second in the Kentucky Derby, and Deputy Glitters later gained revenge winning the Tampa Bay Derby.
"He's going to be laying close and he can run all day," Rehmne said, "so he fits the profile of the Belmont."
Both horses are among several contenders in a wide open race that, according to their pedigree, stand the best chance of going the grueling 1 ½ miles. In their final workouts Monday on a good Belmont surface, "they both worked really well," Pletcher said.
The others major contenders in the 12-horse field on Saturday are Steppenwolfer, third in the Kentucky Derby; Jazil, who dead-heated for fourth with Brother Derek; and Sunriver, who captured the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.
However, closers that rally from far back usually don't win the Belmont Stakes. Those that stalk off the pace with enough stamina to explode in the stretch do better.
Jazil, his trainer Kiaran McClaughlin said, won't be as far back as he was in the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby. "We will be much closer . . . because the half-mile fraction will be 49 (seconds) and not 46. That puts us 15 lengths closer.
"He'll probably be settled toward the rear if not in the rear. The rear won't be 20 lengths back. We might be eight to 12 lengths back. To win, we have to be a little closer."
Sunriver does just that, taking two of his last three races at 1 1/8 miles. He was third behind Barbaro and Sharp Humor in the Florida Derby after being steadied into the first turn during a wide trip.
"He kept coming and finished up big (in the Peter Pan)," Pletcher said. "It looked like he still had something left at the end. Rafael (Bejarano) kind of worked his way to the outside early to get a clear run. I was a little worried down the backside; they were going as slow as they were. He's a pretty kind horse."
The field will include Bob Baffert-trained Bob and John, 17th at Louisville; Nick Zito's Hemingway's Key, third in the Preakness; Platimum Gold, sixth at Pimlico; and James Jerkens' Oh So Awesome, third in the Match the Hat Stakes.
No matter the favorite, the post-time choice will be lukewarm at best. I like Sunriver, mainly because he is impeccably bred for distance and has improved greatly over his seven races. I believe he will be first winner of the Peter Pan since A. P. Indy in '92 to win the Belmont.
The lightly raced son of Saint Ballado, also well rested, likes Belmont - he finished second in his debut in sprint for 2-year-olds. Bejarano's return is a big plus.
Jazil should finish second if he can stay in contact with the pack as promised. Either Bluegrass Cat, Deputy Glitters or Steppenwolfer can finish third depending on which horse has the most left after a grueling 3-year-old campaign this year.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's Belmont picks service.