Belmont Park commands respect

Posted: June 07, 2013

THE BELMONT Stakes is unlike any other race because of the unique distance and the track where it is run. Running a mile and half is unusual enough. That the race is run at Belmont Park, America's only mile-and-a-half racetrack makes it even more complicated.

Jockey Gary Stevens calls Belmont Park his favorite track, but he said you have to respect it.

"It's like the ocean," Stevens said. "You can have a lot of fun in it, but it can hurt you if you don't respect it."

Riders can get lost at Belmont Park. On a typical mile track, riders often make their moves when they head into the far turn. Do it at Belmont Park, like Calvin Borel did on Mine That Bird in 2009, and your horse may have nothing left for the homestretch.

There are some who did not understand what really happened, who believe Stewart Elliott moved too soon on Smarty Jones in 2004. Stevens is not among them.

"That was no one's fault other than Smarty Jones being attacked from all sides," Stevens said. "And a lot of people knocked Stewart Elliott's ride and I thought it was a great ride. It was just circumstances that day. But it's a tricky place and you've got to respect Belmont Park."

And you have to respect the Belmont Stakes, a race that is survival as much as anything else.

Will it be Kentucky Derby winner Orb? Preakness winner Oxbow? A Derby also-ran? A horse that has not yet run in the Triple Crown?

"The one thing that's always tricky about the Belmont is the deep closers are generally reliant on a solid pace up front, and sometimes if the Belmont unfolds a certain way and you don't get much pace, I think that can compromise the deep closers," said trainer Todd Pletcher who has five of the 14 horses in the race.

Orb had a hot pace to run at in the Derby and overwhelmed the field in the stretch. Oxbow cruised up top in the Preakness and dominated the field.

"I think what we saw in the Preakness was sometimes how the luck of the draw or luck of the conditions can affect your outcome in these big races," Pletcher said. "And I think in light of the way that the track appeared to be playing at Pimlico the inside part of the track wasn't where you wanted to be and certainly everyone knew that by the time they ran the Preakness and stayed well off the rail and kind of put Orb in a difficult position, being stuck down on the rail the whole way."

If you agree with Pletcher's assessment of what went down with Orb in the Preakness, the Derby winner is the most likely winner of the Belmont. After winning five straight races, his fourth in the Preakness appears to be the aberration.

"It does shake your confidence a little bit," Orb's trainer Shug McGaughey said of the Preakness. "I remember back in '89 when Easy Goer got beat in the Derby, I attributed it to the [sloppy] racetrack. But I didn't know because I didn't have any comparison. Are we as good as Sunday Silence or is he 2 or 3 lengths better than us? Then we ran in the Preakness and got beat a nose, and I knew we were comparable to him. I think if things go right [Saturday], I think you'll see a different horse than we saw [3] weeks ago."

If we get the Derby version of Orb, I like Orb. I think we are getting the Derby version of Orb.

I do not think Oxbow's Preakness win was a fluke, but that easy lead certainly contributed to the victory.

I think Peter Pan Stakes winner Freedom Child is live. If he gets the off track as predicted and/or a clear lead, he is very live.

I do not like the other Derby closers, Golden Soul (second) and Revolutionary (third). I think the hot pace made them look better than they really are.

If you are looking for a longshot to put in your superfecta, try Frac Daddy. This was my Derby longshot and he ran terribly on the sloppy surface.

"We still believe this is a really, really good horse, but for whatever reason it hasn't happened for him," Frac Daddy's trainer Ken McPeek said. "Sometimes you throw deep and it goes incomplete, but you can't score if you don't throw."

McPeek is always willing to try. When Sarava won the 2002 Belmont Stakes, he paid a record $142.50

"He drew outside in the Derby and couldn't get position and I don't think he handled the slop," McPeek said of Frac Daddy. "He's worked on a dry track a couple times recently and worked freaky good. I think he's got a big shot at it."

Frac Daddy was second in his debut at Belmont Park last October. That race was run in the mud.

I do not need Frac Daddy to win. I just need him to run well enough to get into the superfecta somewhere behind Orb. If there is some of that, this Triple Crown could have a perfect ending.


Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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