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The Belmont Stakes preview

The American racing industry and sports media have got their wish again - a Belmont Stakes with a live shot at the Triple Crown. It's incredible just how little media US racing gets the rest of the year and how big the hype is by Belmont Stakes day.

After a successful Derby preview, we've brought back @brettfromPV for his insight into the grand finale.


Belmont Stakes
1.5miles G1 Dirt
1850 local 2350 BST 0850 AEST

As American Pharoah attempts to become the 12th horse to win the American Triple Crown and the first since 1978 to do so, the feat has become as much about failure as success. Since Affirmed galloped to victory at Belmont in 1978 13 have tried and 13 have failed. Given that five horses in that time frame have won two legs of the Triple Crown but not been alive going into the Belmont perhaps it’s more accurate to say that there have been 18 near misses. It also confirms the fact that the Triple Crown is so difficult to complete. The question is why? This is the question most punters will have on their mind heading into Belmont Park on 6 June.

From a punting point of view, is it a chance to lay the odds on favourite? Should I back another horse and hopefully have a decent collect? Or should I take the short odds as American Pharoah can surely beat the curse that has plagued the 13 that came before him. After all, surely we’re due? Surely his two dominant performances thus far in Kentucky and at Pimlico have him as the superior horse and he just wins?

To help find an answer to help I’ve delved through the archives and called upon recent memory to have a look at why the 13 live attempts have failed and if a clue lies therein as to what could stop American Pharoah.

1979 Spectacular Bid - Third
Rated by many as the best three year old not to win the Triple Crown, Spectacular Bid retired with a career record of 26 wins from 30 starts, 14 group ones, eight track records and on retirement was the highest earner racing had seen. So why did he come up short on Belmont Stakes day when 1-10? Two contributing factors have been blamed over the years - one being jockey Ron Franklin letting the horse run along at an unsustainable pace for a 2400 metre race and two, the horse had stepped on a safety pin on race morning. The contribution of the safety pin incident is difficult to measure but it seems that a 80% right Spectacular Bid would have still won the race. Personally I think we can put this one down to pilot error.

1981 Pleasant Colony - Third
Sent out odds-on at Belmont, Pleasant Colony was simply not good enough on the day.

1987 Alysheba - Fourth
While it was noted after the race by trainer Jack Van Berg that jockey Chris McCarron had failed to ride to instructions, even riding to instructions wouldn’t have made up the ground on runaway 14 length winner Bet Twice. It has been noted over the years the most likely effect on Alysheba’s performance was not being able to run on Lasix at Belmont. Alysheba had won just one of his first nine career starts on non-Lasix tracks, and finished first in three of four starts on Lasix before he ran at Belmont.

1989 Sunday Silence - Second
After an enthralling two horse war with Easy Goer in the Preakness (take a look) the ‘89 Belmont was highly anticipated by the racing public. Easy Goer, the Belmont specialist, turned in one of the great Belmont Stakes performances as he raced away from Sunday Silence by eight lengths. No excuses this time - the better horse on the day had stopped this Triple Crown attempt.

1997 Silver Charm - Second
Narrow victories in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness had American Pharoah’s trainer Bob Baffert in with a Triple Crown attempt in 1997. The first of what would be so far three unsuccessful attempts for Baffert, Silver Charm went down by less then a length to Preakness fourth placed runner Touch Gold. Arguably unlucky in the Preakness, Touch Gold managed to see out the 2400 marginally better then Silver Charm.

1998 Real Quiet - Second
Back to back attempts for Bob Baffert. Real Quiet seemingly had the Triple Crown in his keeping as he held a four length lead halfway down the Belmont straight. A late surge from Victory Gallop, who had run second in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and a fading Real Quiet, had the two horses hit the line together. The Triple Crown had been missed by the barest of margins and jockey Kent Desormeaux’s daring, or some might say impatient, midrace move had brought Real Quiet unstuck.

1999 Charismatic - Third
After starting 30-1 in Kentucky and 7-1 in the Preakness, Charismatic seemed an unlikely horse to complete the now 20 year uncaptured Triple Crown. Unfortunately, after looking a winning hope on turning into the Belmont home straight, Charismatic faltered in the final 200 metres with what would turn out to be a broken leg. The horse’s injury proved non-fatal only after jockey Chris Antley dismounted shortly after the winning post and held Charismatic’s leg in his arms to take the weight off it. Sadly, Triple Crown failure was put into perspective when Antley passed away a little over a year later.

2002 War Emblem - Eighth
Bob Baffert’s third and American Pharoah’s jockey Victor Espinoza’s first shot at Triple Crown glory. A severe stumble out of the barriers had War Emblem on the backfoot from the start of the Belmont, effectively ruining his chance as he was used up early to take up his customary forward position. War Emblem faded to finish eighth.

2003 Funny Cide - Third
After victory in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Funny Cide ran into his fresher archrival Empire Maker at Belmont. Having beaten him in the Wood Memorial and been an arguably unlucky second in the Kentucky Derby, Empire Maker showed the benefits of missing the Preakness, and his superior talent, by racing away to victory at Belmont.

2004 Smarty Jones - Second
After an 11 length romp in the Preakness, Smarty Jones looked the biggest certainty to win the Triple Crown out of all those that had failed since Spectacular Bid. With a four length lead into the straight, Smarty looked home but a early fast pace, some pestering from rivals and as with Real Quiet, perhaps an over anxious jockey, saw 35-1 outsider Birdstone run past Smarty Jones who had risen to be one of America’s most popular horses ever and the Triple Crown’s most lamented loser.

2008 Big Brown - Failed to finish
Much like Smarty Jones, Big Brown appeared almost unbeatable after a five length victory in the Preakness, having already won the Derby from barrier 20 by the same margin. A cracked hoof caused some concern in the lead up but everyone was assured the horse was fine come race day. Looking poised to pounce down the back straight, jockey Desormeaux eased Big Brown out of the race approaching the home turn, saying he though the horse was amiss. It was revealed after the race the horse had loosened a shoe during the run. No definitive reason was attributed to the horse not responding to the rider’s urgings. Maybe the loose shoe and hoof injury combined was to blame.

2012 I'll Have Another
Failed to make raceday after a leg injury.

2014 California Chrome - Fourth
Given a perfect run in transit by American Pharoah’s rider Victor Espinoza, California Chrome failed to run out a strong 2400 metres. That partnered with fresher horses (second and third had missed the Preakness and winner Tonalist had not competed in the first two Triple Crown legs) meant the Triple Crown still remained unconquered. The horse returned to scale with a gash to one of his hoofs, which may also have contributed to his defeat.

So what does it all mean? Likely reasons to see American Pharoah being beaten would appear to be jockey error, unlikely given rider Victor Espinoza is not in unknown territory having twice before ridden for the Triple Crown, an injury, a distance failure or perhaps in my view, the biggest hurdle, fresh opposition. In fact the last nine Belmont winners have not run in the Preakness Stakes.

It appears American Pharoah’s toughest opposition will come from Frosted and Materiality who finished fourth and sixth respectively in the Kentucky Derby, and skipped the Preakness. Frosted came from well back in the field and closed strongly and looks like the 2400 will suit him perfectly. Materiality, who I had question marks on going in to Kentucky, produced an excellent performance after a slow start, he wasn’t able to use his tactical speed to be as handy to the pace as he would have liked. He had traffic issues but rallied strongly in the run home. Both would seem a good choice for punters who are looking at taking on the favourite.

Other Derby runners who missed the Preakness are Mubtaahij, Keen Ice and Frammento, none of whom produced enough in the Derby to think they can win here.

The Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve also runs in the Belmont but again, it’s difficult to see him turning the tables, though he was good late in the Preakness and will start big odds.

Of the competition who haven’t contested either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, Madefromlucky comes through the Peter Pan Stakes. The Peter Pan produced last year’s Belmont winner Tonalist but this years rendition looks slightly down on last year’s. Madefromlucky, who beat Conquest Curliante, looks a nice horse going forward but has already chased home American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby and the Rebel Stakes, making it difficult to see him turning the tables here

Personally, I think American Pharoah will get the trip, the luck and the racing gods on his side, defy history and win the Triple Crown. Frosted and Materiality to fill the placings.


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