Early Belmont Contenders
by Trevor Whenham - 05/20/2008
Though he won the Kentucky Derby easily, Big Brown didn't scare horses off in the Preakness. There were 13 entries for that race - one short of the maximum allowed. He was so dominant against that field that it seems hard to believe that he will be beat in the Belmont, but again a surprising number of horses are lining up to try. There are six horses besides Big brown currently aimed for the Belmont, and a few others that remain possible. With almost three weeks left to go this could change quite a bit as horses emerge from out of the blue to take a shot at the big prize. It makes sense that several horses would aim for this race - Casino Drive is totally unproven, Big Brown could always falter, and even second or third pays pretty nicely in a million dollar race. Here's a list of Belmont contenders currently on track to take on Big Brown in his quest for the Triple Crown:
Casino Drive - Big Brown's toughest competitor is the biggest enigma we have seen in years on the Triple Crown trail. We know very little about him, but what we have seen is impressive. He has run just twice in his career. His first start was in Japan in February, and he cruised to an 11 1/2-length victory. He came over to the U.S. after that race with the sole purpose of wining the Belmont. In his lone North American appearance he annihilated a decent field of three year olds in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, winning by five lengths with little effort. As an added twist, Kent Desormeaux rode the horse in that race, and he will be on Big Brown in the Belmont. That's some pretty significant first hand information. Taking his place will likely be Yutaka Take. He's known as the 'Magician on Turf' in Japan, but he has little experience over here.
Despite two impressive wins, Casino Drive wouldn't be getting nearly the attention he is now if it wasn't for his breeding. He is a half-brother to both Jazil and Rags to Riches, and those two horses have looked impressive as they won the last two editions of the Belmont.
Denis of Cork - The Illinois Derby winner was nowhere close to Big Brown or Eight Belles in the Derby, but he still had a very solid race. He ended up third, so he essentially won the 18-horse race that occurred behind the two leaders. He found room on the rail that day, which isn't surprising considering his jockey Calvin Borel is the master of running on the rail, and made the most of it. He's well bred for the Belmont distance, and he stands to be a factor here. He can't beat Big Brown if that horse is at his best, but this horse could pick up the pieces if the race falls apart.
Tale of Ekati - He's coming off a fourth-place finish in the Derby. He found himself with lots of room to move in the stretch in that race, but didn't have enough fuel left in the tank to do anything about it. His career has been a frustrating mix of realized potential and real disappointment. He chased down Juvenile champion War Pass to win the Wood Memorial, but was previously disappointing despite being well regarded in the Louisiana Derby and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was 37/1 in the Derby, and he should again provide a fat price for those who like him in this race. His trainer, Barclay Tagg, trained Funny Cide when he fell short of the Triple Crown in the Belmont, so he could be looking to make another trainer feel the pain he felt then.
Anak Nakal - This is the last of the Derby horses currently aimed for this race. The Nick Zito trainee showed all sorts of promise in November when he beat a very good group in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. His four subsequent starts, though, has been underwhelming - eighth, seventh and fifth in his three prep races before a seventh in the Derby. In that race he found himself too far off the lead and didn't have enough of a kick to cover the ground he needed to be relevant.
Macho Again - This son of former Juvenile champ Macho Uno is rapidly improving, and he was a solid second in the Preakness. He came into that race off a nice win in the Derby Prep the week before the Derby. He was impressive there, and he would have been impressive in the Preakness if it weren't for Big Brown. His connections know they can't beat Big Brown if he runs his race, but they feel good about their chances against everyone else, so it is certainly worth a shot.
Tomcito - This horse can make a claim that few Belmont entries in history have been able to - he has already run and won at 1 1/2 miles. That was in Peru where he also ran against older horses. He was dominant down there, with four wins and a second in five starts. He's been less impressive since making the leap north, though. He was third in the Florida Derby and a dismal seventh to Casino Drive in the Peter Pan when he didn't have the earnings required to make the Derby field. He'll have to rediscover his missing form to get it done here.
Icabad Crane - This horse closed well to finish third in the Preakness after bringing up the rear in the field a half-mile in. He's a Maryland-based horse who came into the Preakness off a win in the Federico Tesio, the key prep for the Preakness at Pimlico. The second place horse in that race, Mint Lane, was also second to Casino Drive in the Peter Pan, so this horse deserves some credit. His jockey, Jeremy Rose, knows what it takes to win the Belmont - he was aboard Afleet Alex in 2005. Icabad Crane is the least certain to make the Belmont of the horses in this race, but his inclusion would be interesting.