by Chris, the Impaler - 06/09/2005
There is a wry joke going around the horse-set this week indicating that there was a chance that Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito could enter 11 horses in Saturday's Belmont Stakes and still not hit the board!
While less funny than it is telling, we are reminded how far the trainer has fallen in the public's eye in the few short months since his horses won both the Wood Memorial (Bellamy Road) and the Florida Derby (High Fly). But all it takes is a 0-8 on the Triple Crown trail and Zito becomes horse racing's whipping boy.
Saturday's 137th running of the $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes is scheduled as the 11th race on the 13 race card with post time set for 6:38 pm. Eleven horses have been entered with trainer Nick Zito entering three horses of which only one has Triple Crown experience, an eighth place at the Kentucky Derby.
As the Belmont Stakes' 2004 wining trainer Nick Zito knows that if he is to get out of his Triple Crown 0-fer rut, his best chances are Andromeda's Hero (No. 7 post, 15/1, Berjano), the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Pinpoint (No. 2 post, 12/1, Velazquez) against a weak Belmont field.
Andromeda's Hero (one of three horses in this race that has Triple Crown experience) has stamina and strong female bloodlines, and in his last three races, Lane's End Stakes (gr. II), Arkansas Derby (gr. II), and Kentucky Derby (gr. I), he galloped out past the winner after the finish. Reading between the lines, you might say that if these three races had the same distance as Belmont, Andromeda's Hero would have won, but you'd be wrong. The races were finished so galloping out does not count.
He has won only two lifetime races, but none since the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. But Zito is not looking at that. For Belmont Stakes betting, pedigree is as important as experience when picking at a potential winner. And this colt's background yells "Distance".
Andromeda's Hero has eight Belmont winners in his pedigree, including 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Conquistador Cielo, Thunder Gulch and Easy Goer. But Andromeda's Hero is not the only horse with pedigree to spare. And the stamina wing of his dosage index is 0-0 that is why he is one of the logical choices for Zito to enter him at Belmont.
But if you are looking for horses that scream pedigree, 1992 Belmont Stakes winner, A.P. Indy, is sire to three horses that are entered in the Belmont Stakes; Lukas trained A.P. Arrow (No. 3 post, 20/1, Bailey); Zito trained Indy Storm (No. 10 post, 20/1, Prado); and Biancone trained Checkov (No. 11 post, 12/1, Stevens).
Of the three, Zito trained Indy Storm with last year's Belmont winning jockey Prado aboard might be the progeny to win. But that is a huge might! Indy Storm is another horse with impeccable breeding for this distance but really has not done anything before this race.
Although only an allowance winner last time out at Pimlico, Indy Storm has shown steady Beyer ratings of 89-80-73. Still, to realistically win the Belmont, the Beyer par is 106 for this race. In comparison, Afleet Alex's Beyer was 118 at the Preakness. However, this year few horses are tearing up the tracks with huge speed numbers.
Meanwhile, it has been a long time since we've focused on four-time Belmont Stakes winner D. Wayne Lukas' ability as a trainer. AP Arrow won his maiden at 1 1/4 miles at Churchill Downs when he beat Nolan's Cat (No. 1 post, 50/1, Arroyo Jr.) the week after the Kentucky Derby. This was the main reason why Lukas decided to send A.P. Arrow to the Belmont Stakes. But like Nolan's Cat, neither of these horses have the experience to win Belmont. A.P Arrow does have 10 Belmont winners in his background.
There is also Puhich trained Southern Africa (No. 3 post, 12/1, Court), the Lone Star Derby winner, who seems to have become the popular among the Belmont Stakes betting public (for really no apparent reason). Southern Africa has never raced in NY, however, he placed second to Thor's Echo in the $500,000 WinStar Derby six weeks ago at 7/1. He achieved his fourth win in nine starts at the 1 1/16 Lone Star Derby (Gr. III). The $165,000 purse elevated Southern Africa's career earnings to $400,070. And while his victory at the Lone Star Derby was impressive enough, we think that his unproductive performance at the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita is perhaps more indicative of the son of Cape Town's performance in a high stress race.
Some handicappers think that the Belmont Stakes is the easiest of the three Triple Crown races to pick the winner, but I disagree for one reason; at Belmont you are asking much of the field to do something they have not done before; a.) Win a grade 1 stakes race; b.) Race 1-½ miles. But there are certain percentages that you should know.
For instance, 44 percent of favorites win at Belmont, but in the past 12 Belmont Stakes, only two favorites have won -- Thunder Gulch in 1995 and Point Given in 2001. Recent Belmont history shows the trend that four of the past six years have produced long-shot winners. Birdstone beat Smarty Jones' last year and returned $74 at odds of 36-1; in 2002, Sarava paid a record $142.50 at 70-1; in 2000, Commendable paid out $39.60 at 19-1; and in 1999, Lemon Drop Kid paid $61.50 at 30-1.
Since 1980 there have been two horses that were frontrunners that won the Belmont Stakes: Commendable in 2000 and Conquistador Cielo in 1982. Post-to-wire winners are rare in the Belmont stakes due to the length of this race; speed kills for horses that like to break out in front and stay there. This does not mean that this race is geared toward deep closers like Giacomo or Andromeda's Hero. In fact stalkers (like Afleet Alex) win most often. Since Ritchey trained Afleet Alex (No. 9 post, 6/5, Rose) fits the mold of a stalker who is the morning line favorite it is tempting to bet on the Preakness winner.
Following the winning formula for the Preakness, Ritchey vanned up from Baltimore on June 4 and has been at Belmont ever since. And he certainly seems to enjoy his stay at the strangles free Belmont barn. On Wednesday, Ritchey worked on stamina with Afleet Alex. In two exercise rides, the horse trained 4 1/2 miles on the hottest morning of the year proving that he has the stamina for Belmont's 1-½ miles.
History might favor Giacomo (No. 5 post, 4/1, Smith) who won the Kentucky Derby and came in third at the Preakness. The last horse that won both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes was ten years ago when Thunder Gulch (who also placed third in the Preakness) won. Since 1923 on 11 horses that won the Kentucky Derby have gone on to win the Belmont Stakes after losing the Preakness.
Peter Pan runner-up Reverberate (No. 8 post, 6/1, Santos) and the gray colt Watchmon (No. 6 post, 50/1, Castellano) round out the field. Watchmon is interesting at 50-1, he broke his maiden in a 1 7/16-mile maiden-special-weight race at Gulfstream Park on April 8, 2005; it was his fourth start. In his career he is 1-2-1 from six starts with earnings of $47,560.
And while size, it is said, does not matter, nowhere in horse racing is this more true than at Belmont. Last year, as the excitement built for the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed, much was made this spring of Smarty Jones's average size, but the smallest horse in the race beat him. Birdstone weighed about 900 pounds soaking wet.
Birdstone's career high Beyer Speed Figure was 101 for the Belmont win. Smarty Jones had run faster than that in his four previous races, ranging from a 107 in the Kentucky Derby and Arkansas Derby to a 118 in the Preakness. But when it came to Belmont, either due to jockey error or just plain exhaustion, Smarty Jones was unable to complete the holy triumvirate that is thoroughbred racing.
Recent Belmont history is not on the Preakness winner's side. In the last 25 years there were four Preakness winners that won the Belmont: Point Given in 2001, Tabasco Cat in 1994, Hansel in 1991 and Risen Star in 1988. A mere 16 percent of Belmont winners also won the Preakness; meaning 84 percent of the Belmont winners did not win the Preakness. Can a Preakness winner also win Belmont? Sure, why not, but statistics show it is difficult to do.
It is interesting to note (or not) that Kentucky is the top location for breeding Belmont winners with 88. Virginia has produced 11, New Jersey seven, England six, Florida five, New York three, Tennessee three and several states with two or one. The two Belmont Stakes betting favorites are Afleet Alex, bred in Florida and Giacomo, bred in Kentucky. But use this stat at your peril since ten horses in this year's Belmont were bred in Kentucky and one horse was bred in Florida.
For me, I don't see Afleet Alex in the top-three finishers this year since he has had two tough races leading up to Belmont and performed best in the shorter of the two races. The well-traveled Giacomo has logged around 7,000 miles between the Preakness and Belmont, but is still the best horse to win Belmont at decent odds (4/1) so we are playing 5-6-7.
For more Belmont Stakes betting information, check out Doc's 2005 Belmont Stakes page.