The 144th Belmont Stakes: Pretenders, Maybes and Contenders
I’ll Have Another undoubtedly will be heavily favored in the 144th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, like seven of the past 11 horses since 1979 that had a shot at immortality.
But those odds-on favorites failed to visit the winner’s circle at the end of 1 ½ miles. They finished second three times, third twice, fourth and ninth.
The closest to pulling it off was Real Quiet in 1998 that fell a nose short.
Seven of the past 11 horses since 1979 that had a shot at immortality also were odds-on favorites, but finished second three times, third twice, fourth and ninth.
The closest to pulling it off was Real Quiet in ’98. He opened a big lead in the stretch, but lost a photo finish to the late-closing Victory Gallop, who prevailed by a nose. Other closers that have won during the past 20 years include Jazil, ’06; Birdstone,’04; Editor’s Note, ’96; and Colonial Affair. ’93.
First, the Pretenders: Maiden-only winners head this list. Five Sixteen is one for six. Guyana Star Dweej is one for nine. Optimizer is one for 11. Both lack class and speed.
A bit on the slow side: Atigun, who is two for five this year, but both victories were in optional claiming races; Ravelo’s Boy scored in an optional claimer after breaking his maiden; and Unstoppable U, undefeated in two career starts at the bottom level.
The lone Maybe is Street Life, who improved immensely to finish third in the Peter Pan. The well-bred son of ’07 Kentucky Derby champ Street Sense won twice this year, but the furthest was 1 1/16 miles. He’d need a perfect trip.
The Contenders are:
Union Rags, who skipped the Preakness after a horrible trip right from the start of the Kentucky Derby when he broke tardily from the gate and was shuffled back almost 20 lengths behind pacesetter Bodemeister. He ran a credible seventh. The son of Dixie Union has tactical speed and scored in the ’11 Champagne at Belmont Park, winning by 5 ¼ lengths. He boasts four triple digit speed figures in his past four trips.
Dullahan, winner of the Blue Grass, came from far back at Churchill Downs to finish third. The son of Even the Score scored twice on synthetic surfaces, but is winless in two dirt trips. But he is dangerous and should hit the board,
Paynter is my longshot for several reasons. The lightly raced son of Awesome Again is bred for distance and has two victories in four outings. He registered triple digit speed numbers in his past two routes. And he stays a bit closer to the front than most of the field.
I’ll Have Another, undefeated this year in four outings, has a good chance of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in ’78. The son of Flower Alley, Union Rags and Dullahan are the only 3-year-olds in the expected field of 11 that have won a graded stakes race. He saves his best for last, isn’t too far back when turning for home and is the gamest of the runners. Oh, he’s also the winner.