2012 Belmont Stakes: Handicapping the Trainers
by Trevor Whenham - 6/6/2012
When a horse faces a massive challenge for the first time — like the marathon distance of the Belmont Stakes — the preparations the trainer has done before the race is often the difference between success and failure. The 2012 Belmont Stakes has no shortage of interesting storylines among the trainers. Here’s a look:
Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another
O’Neill would be facing impossible pressure no matter what. Not only does he have a potential Triple Crown winner with a good chance at winning, but he is running in this unique race for the first time.
On top of all that, though, O’Neill has had to deal with controversy as well.
He faces a suspension back in his home base of California because of a suspicious post-race test. He says he is innocent, and he has spent a lot of money over the last couple of years fighting the charges. However, it appears that his fate has been determined, and it has become a significant national story.
We know his horse is talented and fit, so O’Neill’s ability to focus in the face of all this pressure could determine how his journey turns out.
Bob Baffert, Paynter
Baffert has played a supporting role so far in the Triple Crown as he has finished second with Bodemeister twice. Now he’s back to set the pace again.
More than anyone else Baffert knows exactly what O’Neill is going through and the pressure he is facing. He has brought a Triple Crown hopeful to the Belmont three times, and he has come up short all three times
Real Quiet was the most crushing — he was beaten by just a nose. He has won this race with Point Given and is winning at a ridiculous rate this year.
Dale Romans, Dullahan
Romans doesn’t have quite the profile of other mega-trainers like Baffert or Todd Pletcher, but he is the real deal.
He won the Preakness last year with Shackleford, and he has a Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup to his credit as well.
Based in Kentucky where he grew up watching his dad train horses as well, Romans is a master at getting horses to peak at the right time. He was third here in 2012 with First Dude, and no horse has looked better or trained better at Belmont the last two weeks than Dullahan.
With another Triple Crown win Romans may finally get widely-recognized as the elite trainer he clearly is.
Michael Matz, Union Rags
Matz will always be known as the guy who trained Barbaro. Since that horse won the Derby, though, Matz hasn’t had much Triple Crown luck.
Union Rags was a serious disappointment not only at Churchill five weeks ago, but in his last prep race as well.
Matz has made a jockey change and he seems happy with where his horse is at, so maybe this is where his luck turns around again.
Ken McPeek, Atigun and Unstoppable U
McPeek has two horses that don’t look like serious contenders on paper. In 2002, though, he had a horse that looked much worse — Sarava went off at 70/1. When the dust had settled, though, that horse had become the longest shot ever to win the race, and he ended another Triple Crown bid — from War Emblem — in the process.
It seems unlikely that he can do the same again, but then it seemed impossible that he would do it the first time.
Kelly Breen, My Adonis
Breen has a longshot that he only decided to enter at the last minute. Normally that wouldn’t garner much attention.
Breen pulled off a win last year with another longshot, though, when Ruler on Ice paid more than $50 to win. He has a relatively unique work environment — since 2006 he has been the private trainer for the Hall’s.
D. Wayne Lukas, Optimizer
Lukas is a legend — one of the all-time greats of the sport. He has won 13 Triple Crown races, and many of the top trainers in the country were once his assistants.
His best days are behind him, though, and Optimizer would have to have a magical day to contend here.
Lukas has had a rough week leading up to the race — he was kicked in the head by a horse and required stitches and medical attention.
Chad Brown, Street Life
Brown has only been out on his own since 2007 after working for Bobb Frankel for five years, but he has quickly shown that he is an elite trainer.
He won his first Grade I last year, and has moved forward from there. This may or may not be his spot, but Brown has been very strong in New York, and will have more than one Triple Crown win to his credit before he is done.
Manuel Azpurua, Doodnauth Shivmangal, and Dominick Schettino
These three have 50-1 horses that don’t seem to belong in the race. The same could be said about the trainers — or at least they haven’t proven themselves at the high levels of this race.
Shivmangal had Isn’t He Perfect in the Preakness and Belmont last year, but he didn’t belong much more than Guyana Star Dweej does this year. He has won only four races this year in 54 tries, and none at anywhere near this level.
Azpurua was wildly successful as a trainer in Venezuela — 3,500 wins — before coming to the U.S. to train in Florida many years ago. He can win races, but hasn’t proven he can at this level.
Schettino has a touch of Triple Crown experience — his Galloping Grocer was a non-factor in the 2005 Preakness — and he knows New York racing, but he also needs to prove he can play with the big boys.
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