Saturday, 6 June 2009

Epsom And Elmont

The last days have seen such a flurry of Belmont Stakes predictions and analysis that it would almost be ridiculous to post another one. And that’s where I come in:

It’s been slightly more than a week ago that Rachel Alexandra’s connections informed the racing world about their filly skipping the Belmont in an announcement that obviously lacked a sentence. Something along the lines of: “And by ‘she is in great shape’ we mean from a medical standpoint, yet we as the people in everyday contact with the horse feel she isn’t as fresh as we had hoped for, and therefor won’t contest another tough race at this point in time”. With that qualifier fallen victim to the “delete”-button (Microsoft- or mind-wise), the remaining parts of the announcement read like Stonestreet aren’t starting a perfectly ready horse (after all, a bit of attrition is supposed to be a factor in the Belmont) and inexplicably delayed the announcement for two weeks.

The last two weeks also made it hard to defend against the widespread public perception that racing is a fundamentally elitist sport.
First, Paul Moran declared there were several better riders than Calvin Borel in the New York jockeys room but didn’t feel the need to name a single example (much less any actual argument) even after repeated urging. Moran sounded even more like he just wanted to vent some frustration when adding that Borel wouldn’t have ridden Mine That Bird any better in the Preakness, which of course can’t be disproved, but isn’t exactly convincing given that the gelding went from a perfect Derby trip to a decidedly sub-par one in the Preakness. Add the fact that Borel was in a tough spot of his own in said race, and he mastered it perfectly.
After that, a number of racing fans used Moran's sentiment (opinion minus argument = prejudice, as Aristoteles never quite said) as proof for their theory that MTB’s connections are a couple of rednecks who aren’t up to the challenge.

The main backwoods redneck, Chip Woolley, has had one really good horse in his life, and he trained him to win the Kentucky Derby, after which only a bad trip provided MTB from really challenging RA in the Preakness (insert your own Toddster reference of choice here). He may still be prone to make a beginners’ mistake or two on this level, but so far he has outsmarted all of us, so you better wipe that smug look right off your face!

With those thoughts off my mind, let’s have a look on the two main races today. The Epsom Derby shapes up as a virtual added-distance re-run for the 2000 Guineas. As always, handicapping the English Classics (except the St. Leger) comes down to an exercise in guessing at horsemen and pedigree angles rather than comparing actual forms, but Guineas winner Sea The Stars looks to be the one to beat. He’s a half-brother to Galileo and his pedigree doesn’t include too many stamina question marks. Still, with no less than six horses in a twelve-horse field, Aidan O’Brien has a lot of options, even though his first jockey (Murtagh) skipped what would be his logical first two choices (Fame And Glory and Black Bear Island) for Rip Van Winkle, whose last two disappointing performances aren’t helped by his doubtful pedigree. The first six choices are all Irish raiders, and there’s only Godolphin’s Kite Wood to hold up the Emirati flag, but he was beaten decisively by Black Bear Island in the Dante Stakes.

As for the Belmont, I find myself underwhelmed by this race now that RA is out of the mix. It’s not that no Triple Crown is on the line (I wasn’t particularly thrilled by last year’s edition either), it’s just that there isn’t too much sporting interest left. Mine That Bird could once again cement his status, but anyone who still doubts that he is the real deal probably can’t be helped anyway. If he gets beat by one of the fresher horses, he’ll have enough excuses.

#1 Chocolate Candy – unusual comment for an Argentine-sired horse, but I doubt his stamina; also, he was beaten quite decisively in the Derby, and I don’t see enough reason for a reversal of fortunes

#2 Dunkirk – probably the only interesting non-Borel storyline left: will he disprove his meager Derby performance? I doubt it, but I was never on the Dunkirk bandwagon; Pletcher indicated his colt might not like wet ground, but he may have been just scrambling for excuses; all in all I consider him an underlay at a 4/1 ML

#3 Mr Hot Stuff – sorry, but 1-from-8, trained and run almost exclusively on artificial surfaces just doesn’t translate into Belmont victory for me

#4 Summer Bird – has the pedigree, and by my long-standing policy to automatically bet any horse that ran okay going spectacularly wide in all of his last races, this 12/1 ML horse is a “buy”

#5 Luv Gov – unless I’m completely missing something here, his 20/1 ML would make him the underlay of the day; trainer has proven often enough that he WILL send out horses with a snowball’s chance.

#6 Charitable Man – won well in the Peter Pan, but wasn’t too impressive; may profit from added distance and likes this track; needs the race to set up for him to beat MTB, but may get it

#7 Mine That Bird – almost looks like a sucker bet, but I just don’t see a better horse in this field, only a couple that could be more fortunate; I’m not concerned about the distance, but the track and level of attrition are concerns, though wet-fast would help; with RA out, his opposition might concentrate on making this tough on Borel and his horse

#8 Flying Private – ran well in the Preakness, but won only one of twelve LT starts and doesn’t look to be the greatest fighter of all; at 12/1 ML he is worth consideration for the exotics, but I wouldn’t rate him a real threat; as a fan, I find Lukas horses an automatic “root-against” after he once again proposed his TC extension plan.

#9 Miner’s Escape – Federico Tesio to Belmont may be stepping up a bit too fast

#10 Brave Victory – a Zito-horse like #9, he has yet to hit the exacta in five graded stakes attempts; highly doubtful he’ll do so here


Plenty of things could go wrong for MTB, but as a racing fan I hope he wins it. If he doesn’t, I doubt that a new star will be born as the rest of the field (with exception for Summer Bird and Dunkirk) is rather playing the angles than actually Triple Crown material. I’ll just try to get some small bets on the 'Birds for a good price (both are attracting too much in the early market at betfair, actually below their ML right now) and leave it at that.

If you want to bet more, I recomend you single #7 for a Win, #4 and 6 for the Exacta spot and #2,4,6 and 8 to hit the board. You might switch #7 and #4 for a value bet.

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