The 144th running of the Belmont Stakes was supposed to have millions watching I'll Have Another try to become the first since 1978 to win Horse Racing's Triple Crown. The Thoroughbred came into Saturday's race as the favorite with overwhelming 4-5 morning line odds.
Unfortunately, an issue with his left hind leg caused I'll Have Another to be scratched, leaving the field wide open. Now that the favorite is out, there are six horses in contention with updated odds of better than 20-1. They are Street Life, Union Rags, Dullahan, Paynter, Optimizer, and My Adonis.
However, four will fade and find themselves out of contention in the final stretch.
Of all the horses in the field, Street Life has the most favorable post position at No. 1. In the last 106 Belmont Stakes races, 23 of the winners have come from this starting position. In his last race, Street Life finished third in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 12.
His Beyer numbers, which measure performance for horses while limiting track variables, have been decent over his past three races. Street Life has achieved scores of 93, 86, and 86. These are respectable numbers, but not overwhelming ones. By comparison, I'll Have Another scored 109 and 101 at the Preakness and Kentucky Derby, respectively.
It doesn't look like Street Life is capable of winning a race like the Belmont Stakes. Though he's a solid racehorse, his track record isn't eye-popping. He will likely end up somewhere near the front, but will fall out of contention before the final straightaway.
After a disappointing showing at the Kentucky Derby, Union Rags is looking to redeem himself on Saturday. In three races so far in 2012, he's finished first (Fountain of Youth), third (Florida Derby), and seventh (Kentucky Derby).
His Beyer numbers in those races are 95, 93, and 90, respectively. With each race increasing in length, it seems as though Union Rags may have trouble when it comes to longer races. Unfortunately, the Belmont Stakes is a 1 1/2 mile race, the longest of the year and 1/4 of a mile longer than the Kentucky Derby.
In an effort to turn their luck around, trainer Michael Matz decided to change jockeys before this Saturday's race. Julien Leparoux will give way to new Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Even with Velazquez at the helm, Union Rags will have trouble with the length of the race and fall off the map mid-race. Look for him to finish in the middle of the pack.
Optimizer ran in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but did not finish well in either. In fact, over his last six races, Optimizer has finished better than sixth just once. His Beyer numbers are 85, 83, and 74 over his last three races, anything but impressive.
It seems as though Optimizer is just out of his league when it comes to his competition in the Belmont Stakes. He may make a run at the end, but will fall short to superior racehorses as he did in the other two legs of the Triple Crown.
Coming from the outside post position, My Adonis will look to hang in the middle of the pack and make his move near the end of the race. He is without a win in four races this year, but does have a second and two third place finishes. His Beyer numbers in those races are 85, 83, 90, and 95, beginning with the most recent.
This is just another case of a solid horse being overcome by superior competition. He hasn't even touched the winner's circle this year, and there's no reason to expect him to do so at Belmont.
With these contenders falling short, we are left with two true competitors for the last leg of the Triple Crown. Dullahan and Paynter have the best chance at tomorrow's Belmont Stakes. It will be a head-to-head race down the homestretch in what should be an exciting end to a bittersweet week.