The Belmont Stakes: 4 Important Factors Facing I'll Have Another
Four of the most important factors in figuring out the Belmont stakes are pedigree, current form, running style and jockey choice. A horse with the right combination of these attributes can be lethal. Let’s take a closer look at some of the threats that could ruin I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown venture.
Every year fans debate the running styles of the Belmont Stakes contestants. Which manner—front runner, pace presser, mid-pack runner or come from behind stalker—is the most favorable for winning the grueling 1 ½ mile Test of Champions?
After reviewing the last 22 editions of the Belmont Stakes, the conclusion was that stalkers won eight of the races, with mid-pack runners taking six editions. Pace pressers presided over five races and only two pace setters were victorious on the front end. The 1997 running of the Belmont Stakes was not counted, due to the unusual running style of the winner, Touch Gold, who led in the early stages, took a breather in the stretch and then came on again to win.
14 of the last 21 Belmont Stakes winners got into gear at the mile pole while the rest made their runs at the 1 ¼ mile pole. Last year’s Belmont champ Ruler On Ice was an anomaly. He didn’t have the pedigree to win the race, but he did benefit from a sloppy track that was kind to horses on or near the pace. Ruler On Ice pressed the pace in second place before taking over in the stretch from an exhausted Shackleford. If you recall, Shackleford was softened up from running fourth in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness.
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Pedigree plays a large part in determining a Belmont Stakes winner. A horse must be capable of making a strong, sustaining move after traveling a mile. Although every colt entered in the Belmont Stakes has the potential to upset the applecart, some have a better chance than others.
Viewing the current entrants, I’ll Have Another faces five opponents with strong stamina oriented pedigrees and four contestants with borderline pedigrees to sustain their speed at 1 ½ miles. Out of the nine potential rivals, the top four colts with both the pedigree and current conditioning to be serious threats to I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown bid are Alpha (Bernardini-Munnaya, by Nijinsky), Dullahan (Even the Score-Mining My Own, by Smart Strike), Paynter (Awesome Again-Tizso, by Cee’s Tizzy), and Street Life (Street Sense-Stone Hope, by Grindstone).
Besides pedigree and current form, a Belmont Stakes contender’s jockey choice is crucial. Belmont Park is the only 1 ½ mile oval in the United States, and experience over the track can be a winning factor. Jockeys seldom have the opportunity to ride the 1 ½ mile distance of the Belmont Stakes.. Given the huge track configuration of Belmont Park, it can be easy to misjudge when to make a winning move and the best part of the track to do so.
Jockeys of other high profile Belmont Stakes runners have been a deciding factor in their mount’s winning chances. In the last 20 years, all except two winning jockeys, Jeremy Rose and the top Irish jockey Mick Kinane, had previously ridden at Belmont Park.
Good examples of inexperience that cost the race are the rides given to Smarty Jones in 2004, whose jockey sent him to the front at the mile pole and Mine That Bird who charged to the front after passing the mile pole but couldn't sustain his bid. Neither Stewart Elliot, the jockey of Smarty Jones, nor Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird's pilot, rode regularly at Belmont Park; however the last 11 Belmont Stakes champs all had ridden on the New York circuit or had previous Belmont Stakes experience. Ruler On Ice’s jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. also had familiarity riding at Belmont Park before his Belmont Stakes victory.
This year, I’ll Have Another appears to have almost everything going for him. He has a stamina oriented pedigree and a pace presser/mid-pack running style. Reports indicate that he’s kept his body weight up and his coat is shiny, which is a good indicator that he should handle the physical demands of the Belmont Stakes. The only drawback is that his jockey Mario Gutierrez has no acquaintance with Belmont Park’s 1 ½ mile track.
So far, Mario Gutierrez has performed admirably in the biggest races of his career. He has been taken under the wings of Champion Jockey Jerry Bailey and Richard “the Mig” Migliore, another top New York jockey. Hopefully, “Super Mario”, as he’s been dubbed by the press, will have a few mounts lined up before the Belmont Stakes to get a feel for the track. It would be a huge disappointment for racing if I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown attempt was denied due to jockey error during the race.
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