Wednesday, June 6, 2012

2012 Belmont Stakes Field Analysis


Eleven Thoroughbreds have swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes to become one of racing’s elite Triple Crown winners. Eleven Thoroughbreds have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness prior to falling short in the Belmont since the most recent Triple Crown champion. It is safe to say that enthusiasm and disappointment have been recurring themes throughout the past thirty-three Triple Crowns.

Our last memory of the Triple Crown being conquered is
Affirmed’s narrow victory over rival Alydar in the 1978 Belmont Stakes. Since then, there have been eighteen horses that have won just two legs of the Triple Crown – one of those horses still has one jewel left to go.

Ever since I’ll Have Another followed up his Kentucky Derby victory with a win in the Preakness, excitement has been building. On Saturday, it will be soaring through the roof. The colt is in pursuit of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. America will have their eyes on I’ll Have Another, but though fans are eager for his chance to win, they have their guards up, because for over three decades, we have been let down. Is 2012 the year?

Listed below are all of the horses entered to run in the 2012 Belmont Stakes, along with descriptions of their pedigrees, racing records, final preparations, and my opinions of them. The colts are listed in post position order.

#1. Street Life: The sire of this colt is Street Sense, a two-time grade one winner at ten furlongs. His grandsire, Street Cry, is also the sire of the great Zenyatta, who was also victorious at ten furlongs, and Shocking, who won the near-16-furlong Melbourne Cup (GI). Street Life’s broodmare sire, Grindstone, won the 1996 Kentucky Derby and is a son of Unbridled, who sired Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. Grindstone himself produced a Belmont victor in Birdstone, who also sired a Belmont champion in Summer Bird.

A colt I have followed since he broke his maiden, Street Life garnered his first career victory in his second race while making an impressive late rally to take a mile and seventy yards maiden special weight at Aqueduct. Following a closing win in the mile and one-sixteenth Broad Brush on the same track, Street Life finished sixth in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) after having too much ground to make up and not changing leads until late in the stretch. He then finished third in the nine-furlong Peter Pan Stakes (GII), making up much ground to close impressively before running out of room late. He looked like he was ready to keep going.

Street Life has been working at Belmont Park, posting mostly five-furlong breezes. His final work was a 1:01.15 five-furlong work in company. The colt has also had several strong gallops over the track.

Street Life will need to step it up on Saturday, but his pedigree and running style support him in his ability to get the twelve-furlong distance of the Belmont. He is a threat, but he will have to bring his A-game. For more on Street Life, please click
here.

#2. Unstoppable U:
This Ken McPeek trainee is sired by Exchange Rate, a horse who never won beyond a mile and one-sixteenth and was primarily successful as a sprinter. Exchange Rate is a lucrative sire of middle distance runners and sprinters. Though Unstoppable U’s dam never won beyond one mile, the colt’s damsire is Point Given, a son of Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch who won the Belmont by 12 ¼ lengths in the same final time that Affirmed captured the race, 2:26.80 – the sixth-fastest in history. Notably, the sire of Unstoppable U’s granddam is Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew.

Unstoppable U has only started twice, winning a six-furlong maiden at Aqueduct in late March prior to easily winning a one-mile allowance optional claiming at Belmont at the end of April. A twelve-furlong classic is an enormous step up for the colt.

His final work was an unremarkable 1:02.05 five-furlong work at Belmont on Sunday – a breeze that McPeek was not thrilled with. This is quite discouraging.

Though Unstoppable U should receive some stamina from his dam side, he is lacking plenty of it and two one-turn races, along with a string of four- and five-furlong works, certainly do not prepare him for twelve furlongs. A good race from Unstoppable U in the Belmont would be surprising.

#3. Union Rags: The sire of Union Rags, Dixie Union, was winless beyond nine furlongs and faded to finish fourth in his single ten-furlong attempt and is more useful as a sire of middle distance horses or sprinters. The colt’s dam is sired by Gone West, who produced multiple distance horses, including Belmont Stakes winner Commendable. Though his dam only won at six furlongs, Union Rags’ second dam was capable of winning graded stakes up to twelve furlongs. With horses such as Nijinsky, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat found in his pedigree, the distance may not be as much of a question as many believe it is.

Union Rags has shown that he needs a clean trip, but when he gets one, he is absolutely brilliant and difficult to defeat. He has not won since his spectacular Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) victory in February, but he made good rallies in both the Florida Derby (GI) and the Kentucky Derby.

Union Rags has prepped for the Belmont at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland and seems to be maturing. His most recent work was a bullet 59-flat five-furlong move over the dirt training track at Fair Hill, in which new rider John Velazquez was aboard. I would have preferred for him to have training time at Belmont, but he clearly has an affinity for the track, as he impressively won the Champagne Stakes (GI) there as a two-year-old.

Though there is some doubt in his pedigree as far as distance is concerned, Union Rags’ action and brilliance just may provide him with the ability to get the distance. Many have viewed him as overrated, but I believe he has become underrated. But Union Rags has several questions to answer in the Belmont. For more on Union Rags, please click
here.

#4. Atigun:
This colt’s sire, Istan, never won beyond a mile and a sixteenth, though he is by Gone West, who sired multiple grade one winners at the twelve-furlong distance of the Belmont, including Belmont victor Commendable. In addition, Atigun’s most successful half-sibling, Rimini Rebel, never won at a distance farther than a mile and one-sixteenth. However, his damsire is Dynaformer, who is a great stamina influence in a Thoroughbred’s pedigree. But the appearance of speedy horses such as Devil’s Bag and Dr. Fager on the dam side of Atigun’s pedigree do not bode well for his chance at a mile and one-half.

Atigun is winless in stakes company, only having a maiden special weight and two allowance optional claiming victories to his credit. He’s never finished in the money in a stakes race, his best performances being fifth-place finishes in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (GII) and the Arkansas Derby (GI). He has also never won beyond a mile and one-sixteenth.

Atigun has had plenty of time to get acclimated to Belmont Park, as he has had four works at the track, including a bullet work for four furlongs. However, his last two breezes have been at just a half-mile – not exactly a stamina-building distance.

I do not expect for Atigun to be competitive in Saturday’s Belmont.

#5. Dullahan: As a half-brother to Mine That Bird, many believe Dullahan is bred through-and-through for the Belmont. However, Mine That Bird finished a distant third in his Belmont pursuit, partially as a result of Calvin Borel’s early move. In addition, Mine That Bird was more thoroughly bred for the twelve-furlong distance, as he was sired by Belmont victor Birdstone. Dullahan, on the other hand, is by Even the Score, who never earned a win in a race longer than nine furlongs and only managed a third in his sole ten-furlong attempt. Even the Score has sired a grade one winner at ten furlongs in Take the Points, who was beaten 1 ½ lengths at eleven furlongs. However, Dullahan’s broodmare sire, Smart Strike, was the sire of English Channel – who won five races at eleven furlongs or longer – and Curlin – who came within a head of winning the 2007 Belmont Stakes.

Dullahan still remains winless on dirt. Though he has run some very good races on conventional dirt, he never seems to travel over it as well as he runs over synthetic. Though many have raved about his rally to attain third in the Derby, I feel as if he simply just did not have a good enough kick to get there and did not gallop out as well as I’ll Have Another. In addition, he was drifting out in late stretch, which is a bit discouraging. However, as a grinder, the stretch in distance could certainly be to his advantage.

Many have praised Dullahan’s bullet half-mile work that came on Sunday. The Dale Romans trainee travelled four furlongs in a dazzling 45.97, posting the fastest of sixty-six works at that distance. Though the work was similar to the one he posted before his win in the Blue Grass Stakes (GI), there is also a difference in distances. Prior to the Blue Grass, Dullahan travelled five furlongs in 57.40 in preparation for the nine-furlong race. On Sunday, he worked one furlong shorter for a race that is three furlongs longer. However, the colt did breeze a mile eight days prior and has been galloping at stamina-building distances.

Dullahan poses a huge spoiler threat in the Belmont. Though not as bred for stamina as his famous half-brother, he does appear to be able to go the distance. However, the dirt question still looms menacingly and the Belmont surface is not particularly kind to horses that prefer synthetics or turf, though he appears to be handling the track quite well. He is certainly one of the top Belmont contenders nonetheless. For more on Dullahan, please click
here.

#6. Ravelo’s Boy: This colt appears to be bred more towards one-turn races or middle distances, as his sire is the late Lawyer Ron, a brilliant horse who never won beyond nine furlongs and was winless in four tries at ten furlongs. Lawyer Ron’s best offspring is Drill, a colt who has never been victorious beyond seven furlongs. The dam of Ravelo’s Boy never won at a distance longer than seven furlongs and is sired by French Deputy, a horse who never won farther than one mile and finished ninth in his sole ten-furlong attempt.

In thirteen starts, Ravelo’s Boy has only found the winner’s circle twice, has never been victorious in a stakes race, and has not raced outside of Florida. He started ten times as a two-year-old, acquiring his pair of wins then, and has contested solely in stakes races this year without success. He has not run since the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) in March, in which he finished fifth.

Over the past sixty days, Ravelo’s Boy has put together a wide variety of workouts, spanning from three furlongs to seven, at Calder. His most recent work was a good six-furlong work in 1:11.80 on Sunday, but I find it discouraging that he has not had time to grow accustomed to Belmont.

Due to a non-stamina-based pedigree, mediocre racing performances, and little time to adapt to Belmont, I do not foresee a good race from Ravelo’s Boy in the Belmont.

#7. Five Sixteen:
This colt should receive stamina from his sire, Invasor, as he captured the third leg of Uruguay’s Triple Crown, the Gran Premio Nacional (Uruguayan Derby) (GI), at a distance of 2500 meters, which is nearly 12.5 furlongs. However, his broodmare sire, Salt Lake, was brilliant as a sprinter and as a broodmare sire has been primarily lucrative in producing horses of the same nature. In fact, the cross on which Five Sixteen is bred only has an average winning distance of about six and one-half furlongs.

Five Sixteen did not break his maiden since his fifth start and next out, in his most recent race, he finished fourth of six in a nine-furlong allowance, beaten 11 ¾ lengths. Since that disappointing allowance finish, Five Sixteen has put together a string of five-furlong works at Belmont Park.

I believe all Five Sixteen has going for him is his rider, Rosie Napravnik. I don’t view him as a threat.

#8. Guyana Star Dweej: By Eddington and out of a Pine Bluff mare, Guyana Star Dweej has one of the more stamina-marked pedigrees in the field. Eddington was victorious as far as a mile and three-sixteenths and finished fourth in the 2004 Belmont. Guyana Star Dweej’s broodmare sire, Pine Bluff, won the 1992 Preakness prior to finishing third, beaten just approximately a length by
A.P. Indy, in the Belmont. Guyana Star Dweej’s dam is a half-sister to the winner of the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic (10F, GI), Concern. Guyana Star Dweej is truly bred more along the lines of a ten-furlong runner, but since American horses are not really bred for twelve-furlongs anymore, this colt has one of the best pedigrees for the Belmont distance of the entrants.

But Guyana Star Dweej falls short when it comes to racing performances. It took him nine tries to break his maiden and most recently, he was demolished by Unstoppable U in an allowance optional claiming in his first effort against winners.

The colt has been turning in simple half-mile works at Belmont, none of which have been very impressive. In fact, he has been travelling to the wire more slowly than he begins the works, as he does not seem to be able to settle.

I do not expect for Guyana Star Dweej to perform very well in the Belmont.

#9. Paynter: This stunning colt can certainly at least cover ten furlongs. His sire is Awesome Again, winner of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI). Awesome Again has sired multiple grade one winners at ten furlongs, including Awesome Gem, Game on Dude, Ghostzapper, and Ginger Punch. Notably, Paynter is out of a full sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow and is bred on a very similar cross to Ghostzapper.

I have followed Paynter since his debut, which was an easy win in a five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita in February. Following a troubled fourth behind I’ll Have Another in the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby (GI), Paynter ran a very good second to Hierro in the one-mile Derby Trial Stakes (GIII) over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. On Preakness day, the brilliant colt trounced an allowance field going a mile and one-sixteenth at Pimlico.

Seeking revenge for stablemate
Bodemeister, Paynter has had two impressive works – both of which were bullets – at Belmont. The first was an efficient, brisk five furlongs in 59.26 seconds over the training track, which was the fastest of forty-one works covering the same conditions. His final work was a seven-furlong work in a notable time of 1:25 flat – a stamina-building work that I find very advantageous.

Though Paynter has been asked of a lot in his brief career, I have always felt he is a brilliant colt. But contesting in the Belmont Stakes is a huge step up for him, not only in class but of course in terms of distance and the effect it could have on him as well.

#10. Optimizer:
This colt certainly is bred for the Belmont. His sire, English Channel, was victorious five times at races that spanned a distance of eleven furlongs or longer. The dam of Optimizer, Indy Pick, is sired by none other than the great A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 Belmont and sired the 2007 winner of final leg of the Triple Crown, Rags to Riches. Indy Pick has also produced Humdinger, a black-type-placed winning steeplechaser whose longest winning distance was an incredible three and one-eighth miles. Optimizer is bred to run all day.

Optimizer, however, has not won since his debut and has not won on dirt – a situation that is certainly to his disadvantage at Belmont, a very demanding dirt track. Optimizer has never fared very well against the best of the best, finishing eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), eleventh in the Kentucky Derby, and sixth in the Preakness. His rally in the Preakness was decent, but nothing spectacular.

Optimizer has been posting four- and five-furlong works at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Belmont. His trainer, a four-time Belmont winner, certainly knows how to prepare a horse for the final leg of the Triple Crown, though these works are not very stamina-building.

If anything leads Optimizer to a race in the Belmont that eclipses the ones he has run recently, it will be his pedigree. Should only one horse handle the Belmont distance, it would be Optimizer. However, I do not believe he is as talented as several others in the field.

#11. I’ll Have Another:
All eyes will be on him come Saturday, so while butterflies will run rampant in the stomachs of racing fans throughout the nation, it may be reassuring to many fans that I’ll Have Another is about as bred for the Belmont as an American horse can be in this day and age. His sire, Flower Alley, won the ten-furlong Travers Stakes (GI) and finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at the same distance. The sire of Flower Alley, Distorted Humor, is as close to as stamina-influencing as sires come in the United States nowadays. Distorted Humor has sired the Belmont- and Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning Drosselmeyer and the Kentucky Derby- and Preakness-winning Funny Cide. I’ll Have Another’s broodmare sire, Arch, is the sire of Breeders’ Cup Classic-winning Blame and captured the Super Derby (GI) when it was contested at ten furlongs. I’ll Have Another is also a member of the same stamina-filled female family as the most recent Triple Crown winner Affirmed – female family twenty-three.

Undefeated this year, I’ll Have Another has displayed brilliance, confidence, and determination in his Derby and Preakness wins. Trainer Doug O’Neill made the controversial decision to just gallop his famous horse up to the Belmont, but considering this horse gallops so vigorously, he may as well be working every day. Yes, he very well could be quite fresh and yes, Alysheba lost after not putting a final work in before the Belmont, but I’ll Have Another gets absolutely plenty out of his routine gallops. In fact, some of his split times are even quicker than fractions posted in works and the gallops he has been executing could be very stamina-building.

History is against I’ll Have Another to win the Belmont, but I feel he has a very good chance to win the race should he settle and receive a great ride from Mario Gutierrez yet again. He is a very versatile, tactical horse with a post that suits him very well, and he has proven to be the top of this class so far. A win by him would be tremendous for racing and certainly not a surprise to me, though he has a tall task ahead of him. For more on I’ll Have Another, please click
here.

#12. My Adonis: By Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI)- and Dubai World Cup (GI)-winning Pleasantly Perfect and out of a mare by Elusive Quality, who is the sire of the Derby- and Preakness Stakes (GI)-winning Smarty Jones, My Adonis appears to have the pedigree to go at least ten furlongs. However, Elusive Quality is primarily successful with milers and sprinters and as a broodmare sire, his mares’ offspring have won at an average winning distance of just over six furlongs.

My Adonis is winless this year and in graded stakes races. Following good in-the-money performances in the Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) and the Gotham Stakes (GIII), My Adonis was the last horse to cross the wire in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GI). He has since finished third of five in the mile and one-sixteenth Canonero II Stakes at Pimlico.

The colt has had only one work since his performance in the Canonero II Stakes, going five furlongs in 59.80 at Monmouth.

Considering the choice to run My Adonis in the Belmont was a last minute decision, he has an unspectacular racing record, and a questionable pedigree, I do not foresee My Adonis being very competitive in the Belmont.

My top pick for the Belmont is, yes, I’ll Have Another. I believe the horses that pose the biggest threats to be the next “Triple Crown Spoiler” are Union Rags, Dullahan, Street Life, and perhaps Paynter. But what horse racing needs is a win by I’ll Have Another – the first Triple Crown triumph since 1978. What the plethora of people that will be tuning into the Belmont that never watch horse racing want to see is a win by I'll Have Another. And frankly, I’ll Have Another has a good shot at it.




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7 comments:

  1. Again, an excellent analysis!
    Although I disagree about racing's need for a Triple Crown, I'm nodding about nearly everything else you've deduced from this field.
    I'm of the (rare) sort skeptical of Dullahan's proposed stamina, and you've just confirmed that belief. Of course, he's a talented horse. However, equipped with new knowledge.. I'm going to continue to point out that terrifying dosage index of his.
    Union Rags has been my horse from the start, and he still is. Of course, he'll probably do something horrible to tarnish my ego. But he's one heck of a horse (..and I like his blaze..).
    Thanks for the article.

    - Emily Nocturne, The Test of Champions

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Emily! As you know, I believe we do need a Triple Crown, but there are so many other things we need as well and a Triple Crown is not going to solve all of the sport's problems. And, I absolutely adore Union Rags - I'm a huge fan of his! I have followed him since his win in the Special and think he is very talented colt, but as mentioned, he has some questions to answer. Keep up the good work on your blog!

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  2. I know next to nothing about horse racing but have been spending the past several weeks learning as much as I can thanks to I'll Have Another. This horse and his relationship with his jockey has captured my heart. I came across your blog on the Zenyatta forum and am fascinated by how much information there is here from someone who is so young. Thank you for this wonderful blog. Godspeed, I'll Have Another!

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  3. I'll Have Another was my first Derby winner since Sea Hero and it breaks my heart that he was hurt. Hats off to the trainers for not running him. My Mother in Law used to say always bet horses with roads, streets and judges in their names, so Street Life gets my bet in honor of her.

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  4. Yes EVERY touting handicapper picks all the top favorites once again in a race. We know. Why no one plays the game anymore. No one can pic a real price winner. When the longshots win, no handicapper ever has it. No such thing as a handicapper. Just favorite pickers. No one picked Sarava,Giacomo,Da'tara,Commendable,Mine That Bird,BirdStone,Ruler on Ice,etc in any of these TC races. They all "couldn't win". Just the favorites.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. I am a teenager who writes this blog out of the love for the sport. This blog, along with my Derby and Preakness field analyses, is to give readers an idea of what each of the horses are like. Yes, I point out how I expect them to do and who my top selections are, but you will read that I put more emphasis on their descriptions. I would not label myself as a handicapping enthusiast, but rather as a horse racing - and horses in general - enthusiast. Enjoy the Belmont!

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  5. nice posting.. thanks for sharing..

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