Ah, I love the Belmont Stakes! It is my favorite American race at one of my favorite distances, the classic mile & a half. There aren’t many of these around in this day and age of fast preps and even faster careers of both horse and man. I have never been much of a sprinting horseman. During my training/racing career, I only used the sprints as initial prep for the routes and kept my horses in the routes most of the season. Some of you out there that may ask what if I had a sprinting bred horse? I say to you, there is no such creature in the general affairs of racing. Sure, as in all things, you may have a certain individual seem to favor the shorter distances. This would be horses particularly fleet of foot that can get away well and finish well from start to finish, but in general, I have found these types rather rare. As one of my heroes, the old grand master trainer, Woody Stephens, observed, there isn’t a sprint horse alive that cannot be extended in distance with proper conditioning. So true! There is really little value in classifying one family or another as a stayer or sprinter. As a trainer dealing with cheap horses, I came to the conclusion very early in my career that it is much harder to win a 6f race than a 1-1/16 one. Speed in a racehorse is an often very well known commodity and very well paid for, I might add. One cannot go out and buy or claim fast horses cheaply. Accordingly, when one drops a horse into the sprints, you are often dealing with the best horses from the best stables well financed. On the other hand, route races do not fill that well particularly in the Mid-west and West. These regional trainers favor the sprints with race secretaries often being hard put to fill the longer races. This is the tip-off. Many modern trainers no longer know how to condition horses for the longer races. The routes make them uneasy which is my point. A trainer with modest horses can always do well against the big well heeled stables at the longer distances because natural speed stops being a factor and conditioning becomes all important! A modestly bred and less talented horse that is conditioned to the hilt can win over more expensively bred horses. I have done this time and again!
Back to the Belmont. You would think that a classic race of the stature of the Belmont would attract a large number of distance horses, but this seems seldom to be the case. Yes, you will occasionally get the Europeans sending over distance horses that on paper look like they could easily handle our mile and half, but you just don’t get American three year olds that have raced that distance in their short careers. Three year olds racing much more than a mile is more a rarity than the norm in this country, even if one is pointing that horse to the grand old Belmont. Modern trainers don’t even breeze these three year olds very long distances either. It is back to the modern mantra of hoping a “fresh horse” can stumble or wheeze across the wire ahead of the other equally tired horses. They figure these three year olds can take on the mile & half by simply last racing in a 1-1/8 or 1-1/4 race plus a little genetic ordained staying lineage. Bull shit! Any sensible trainer should know one should not jump one’s horse training schedule a quarter to three-eighth of a mile with no additional preparatory work! No wonder there are so prevalent of breakdowns in our sport.
Take a look at the 12 horses in this year’s Belmont. You have only three horses that have raced 5 starts in 2010 (less than a race a month), five entries in the field have 4 starts, and four with an outrageous meager 3 starts. What horse can be fit to race a classic 1-1/2 miles by racing only 5 times, let alone 3 in 2010? Precious few with no equally demanding breezes. I have to at least give it to John Sadler (Dave in Dixie) for working his horse a mile in 1:39.3 on the 27th. Certainly rare trainers ever seem to work that far before a big race in this day and age. However is a mile work long enough for a mile and a half race with his last race way back on April 3rd? No! Not only that, but this mile work was a long 12 days away from the Belmont. Nice try, John, but no dice. It seems 4 and 5 furlong breezes before the Belmont is the rigor of the day, mostly a week before the event. It don’t get any “better” than that in modern times. So again this year, you have a field of talented three year olds , not the top, but good enough to be nominated and dropped into a rich race by the big stables hoping to get a classic race feather in their caps. None are fit for the distance and you are essentially hoping your horse will hold on long enough to out struggle the others. It is really impossible to bet a race like this as form will never hold true for any of them. PPs mean little as was true in the previous two triple crown races.
Amanda Duckworth (ESPN) wrote in her Jun 3rd column:
Perhaps more than any other Triple Crown race, the Belmont more often than not comes down to one thing: pedigree.
She has got to be kidding! She obviously knows nothing about the backside and training horses. She tries to prove this absurd statement by showing that the longshot Birdstone won the Belmont in 2004 with his sons, Summer Bird and Mind that Bird also racing well in that long race. Since when do sons or daughters of winners really mean anything? Think of all the sons and daughters that lose or race miserably by great racehorses. Race track theologians are often shy on personal practical experiences and Ms. Duckworth seems no exception. Never underestimate a tough trainer that can prepare a tough racehorse for a route of ground. Sunny Jim Fitz and Woody were some old time trainers that knew that lesson well.
My selections? Certainly Zito’s horses look competitive, but I dislike Nick and his training methods, plus I don’t bet the chalk. I like Billy Mott’s Drosselmeyer. He’s raced all year over a mile which isn’t too bad, if only four times and he has placed well each. I just have a feeling he may do well.