Belmont Crystal Ball

About now everyone that knows there’s going to be a big horse race next Saturday has formulated an opinion. Funny thing how sports can bring everyone together for those brief minutes. It doesn’t matter if you like the favorite rooting for the next Triple Crown winner, or want to play the role of the spoiler and score at a price. The web is chock-full of opinions from the experts, and in the back row of the race book there is a daily round table of who’s gonna’ take it down. I don’ know which is more interesting, but the race book group wins the loudest award. It’s been since 1978 since we have witnessed history. That my friends is a long time between drinks. I have witnessed  blowouts, big prices, and the narrowest of defeats. This year finds me in a peaceful easy mood hoping to watch racing history made. Maybe I’m getting a bit older and want to see this rare event, or maybe I’m finally on the right path and it is glaring obvious. Whatever the reason, here is an update about some runners I feel could make an impact on the 147th running of the Belmont Stakes.


American Pharoah = He will be the chalk, and the bettors will make sure of this. Even if the savvy money goes elsewhere, the $2 tickets wagered for keepsakes will mount up and you’ll see the effect on the tote board. According to an article in the Courier Journal, A well-known private clocker who before the Kentucky Derby assessed American Pharoah as perhaps the best horse he has seen in 35 years is sticking to his guns. Gary Young predicted a Triple Crown for the Bob Baffert trainee in a recent interview with Santa Anita Park’s communications staff, asking, “Is he going to do it? I happen to think he will. “I acknowledge that (winning) four races in eight weeks is not an easy thing, and a mile and a half has become an antiquated distance on the main track, but if he breaks and makes the lead and relaxes like I think he will, when they go after him and try to tackle him at the half-mile pole, they better be tied on.” One of my favorite angles was found in America’s Best Racing. American Pharoah has a funny tail. It isn’t a normal horse tail. It’s shorter. Much shorter. Peter Caruso says it has an impact. A physicist who works with aerospace engineers, Caruso says that, all else being equal, a shorter tail can give a racehorse an edge in speed. “The faster a horse runs, the aerodynamic drag increases. And the back of a horse, that’s where all the down force happens,” Caruso explained. “The slipstream that moves over the horse will eventually meet up again in the back, right at the tail.” If all goes well in New York, I think the rest of field will get a great view of his short tail.



Materiality = Todd Pletcher will locked and loaded coming into this race. One of the best trainers on the planet would love to see a Triple Crown winner, but not just this year. His charge finished 6th in Louisville, and skipped the Preakness to freshen up. According to the Ruidoso News; As soon as Materiality cooled off from a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the horse was sent straight to Belmont Park where his trainer Todd Pletcher regularly races horses. There was a thought for a brief period to race Materiality in the Preakness, but Moutray and his partner Eddie Herrell decided against it. But the Belmont appears ready for the taking for Materiality. His sire, Afleet Alex, won the race in 2005. The distance is a mile-and-a-half, which is the furthest any of the horses that will be entered will likely ever race. Since 1978, when Affirmed last won the triple crown, 11 horses have won the first two legs and then failed in the final race.



Frammento = ESPN .com had some great things to say about one of the “spoiler kings” in New York. That may be so, but he is still one of the classiest guys to lead a horse to the winner’s circle. Zito is likely to feel a familiar pull of emotions next week, when he’ll saddle Frammento in the Belmont Stakes and attempt to derail American Pharoah’s bid to become the 12th horse to take the Triple Crown. Zito knows an American Pharoah victory would be salutary for racing. But the continuation of the Triple Crown tradition, with its intense competition through three races in five weeks, with “new shooters” and new challenges at every venue — that’s even better for racing. “The sport’s bigger than any of us,” Zito said. “If American Pharoah wins, it’ll be a great job by the trainer [Bob Baffert] and a great horse and great for racing. And if we do it again and Frammento wins, that’d be great for us. But the game is bigger than anybody.”


Frosted = This son of Tapit woke up in 2015, and started putting all together after the Fountain of Youth loss at Gulfstream. He was kicked around a bit in the Derby and comes in with fresh legs for one of the most knowledgeable horsemen in the game with Kiaran McLaughlin. Two weeks after Louisville he blazed a bullet work over the Belmont surface. His style and cruising speed may fit very well if there is a blistering pace, or dawdling fractions as in the Wood Memorial. He is dangerous and must be respected.


If you would like to know the feelings of some of the last riders to notch a Triple Crown victory, there was an interesting article in With American Pharoah attempting to become the 12th horse ever to win a Triple Crown next week, all three are hopeful. But as jockeys often are, they’re also skeptical in some ways.

Neither Turcotte, 73, nor Cruget, 76, was particularly impressed with American Pharoah’s Kentucky Derby effort, while all agree that he could benefit from an off track in the Belmont, like he got in the Preakness. “He didn’t really impress me in the Kentucky Derby,” Turcotte said. “I thought he was all out, or anyways, the jockey had to get after him pretty good, whether he was waiting on horses or whatever. But the Preakness I think the rain came just at the right time.”

Cruget said he thought American Pharoah looked like a Triple Crown contender after the Arkansas Derby “for sure,” but agreed his run in the Derby “was not impressive at all.” “He’s a good horse for sure,” Cruget said. “ He’s going to be challenged. It’s going to be, you know, it’s not going to be an easy race.”

Cauthen, now 55, said that after drawing an outside post in the Kentucky Derby, he thinks American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Victor Espinoza were “very careful with him.” “He went wide, but (Espinoza) really did have to pick up and get after him in the Derby,” Cauthen said. “The time was OK, nothing that fantastic. And, of course, he went to the Preakness and got the off track, which he obviously handled, and probably his two main competitors didn’t. The only thing that really kind of was concerning to me was the final three-sixteenths of a mile were quite slow, but watching the race you wouldn’t know it because he just ran away from the rest of the horses in the field. But the fact is, he beat a horse, you know, the horse that was second had just broken his maiden.” Still, Cauthen said he likes the looks of American Pharoah.

“He does appear to be just a really top-class horse,” he said. “He’s an excellent mover, beautiful confirmation, and he obviously has always been that. He was the 2-year-old champion. So I think he’s going to the Belmont with a team that’s been there before. It’s nothing new for them… If he can do the mile and a half, I guess, is really the question. He’s obviously the real deal. He’s the best 3-year-old at this point, but the big thing — the reason they call it the test of champions — it’s that mile and a half and there’s going to be some nice horses that will be testing him.”

Turcotte, in particular, knows the kind of expectation facing Espinoza. It had been a quarter-century since any horse had won the Triple Crown when he came along with Secretariat. People were starting to wonder if the feat ever would be done again. But Turcotte also pointed out that Secretariat was a different kind of horse, “the best horse who ever lived.” He worked a mile and a quarter — the Kentucky Derby distance — in 1:59 two weeks before the Belmont, and trainer Lucien Lauren worked him twice as hard before the Belmont as he did the other races.

The Belmont, because it’s run on a track that is so much larger than the others, is especially challenging for riders. Cauthen said that’s definitely a factor. “I think it certainly helps to spend some time riding around Belmont, because it is just a unique track being a mile and a half in circumference and it is so easy for guys that don’t ride there regularly to move a little bit prematurely,” he said. “When you’re at the half-mile pole at Belmont and you feel like you’re at the three-eighths pole on a normal track, it’s just easy to make a mistake if you don’t ride there regularly.  But Victor Espinoza’s obviously —- although he’s not a regular at Belmont — he’s ridden in the Belmont, so I think he’s got his perspective well there, and it’s just a question of, you know, pace in the race. As Ronnie was saying, every good jockey is usually a good judge of pace, and obviously Victor’s won enough races to do it. I don’t really think that there’s any disadvantage. I think they’re going into the race with every chance, but as you say, there are people lining up. Nobody’s going to give it to him, and they’re not supposed to.”