Why Dunkirk Can Win The Belmont Stakes

Duane WinnCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

ELMONT, NY - JUNE 07:  (L-R) Da'Tara ridden by Alan Garcia, Macho Again ridden by Garrett Gomez and Big Brown ridden by Kent Desormeaux take off during the start of the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 7, 2008 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Trainer Todd Pletcher didn't go from rags to riches when his filly by the same name won the 2007 Belmont Stakes.

Before, the brilliant daughter of A.P. Indy outdueled Preakness winner Curlin to win the 139th running of the Belmont Stakes by a chestnut head, Pletcher was firmly established as one of the top trainers in the United States.

Pletcher's powerhouse stable  set single-season records for stakes wins (100) and graded stakes wins (57) in 2006 and earnings ($26,820,243).

Rags to Riches' victory, however, did change Pletcher's Triple Crown fortunes.

It snapped an 0 for forever streak for Pletcher in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont.

Pletcher's Triple Crown aspirations reached rock bottom one month before Rags to Riches hit pay dirt.  His five entries in the Kentucky Derby-Circular Quay, Cowtown Cat, Scat Daddy, Any Given Saturday, and Sam P-all finished out of the money. To add insult to injury, Scat Daddy and Cowtown Cat, finished 18th and 20th, respectively.

Ready's Echo carried the Pletcher banner into Belmont battle in 2008. He finished in a dead heat for third at odds of nearly 29-1, a sign that the racing world wasn't entirely convinced that Pletcher had developed a Midas touch in the Triple Crown.

Pletcherwill be out to prove the skeptics wrong with Dunkirk, his probable entry in Saturday's Belmont.

Dunkirk won at first asking by nearly six lengths at Gulfstream on January 24th. Three weeks later, he won almost as impressively at his first attempt in stretch-driving fashion at one and an eighth miles.

Dunkirk continued his solid development with a strong second to Quality Road in the Grade 1 Florida Derby next time out. Quality Record covered the one and an eighth miles in near record of 1:47.72, just one and three-fourths lengths ahead of Dunkirk on a racetrack that reputedly didn't favor closers that day.

Dunkirk earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 108 for his effort that day. It's the best mark achieved by an horse in the Belmont field by far at one and an eighth miles.

Dunkirk was sent off at odds of 5-1 in the Kentucky Derby but failed miserably when he stumbled at the start, seemed to lose heart, and subsequently finished 11th, dredging up echoes of previous Triple Crown disappointments for Pletcher.

Dunkirk has the proper pedigree, as befits a yearling with a $3.7-million price tag, to make amends Saturday for his poor showing in the Kentucky Derby.

He is the son of Unbridled's Song, a winner of the Breeder's Cup Juvenile and the Florida Derby, both Grade 1 stakes. Unbridled's Song, in turn, has sired 11 Grade 1 stakes winners.

Dunkirk will be ridden by John Velasquez, who so astutely guided Rags to Riches to victory two years ago in the Belmont.

How all this figures in this year's Belmont is anybody's guess.

If Dunkirk wins the Belmont, it wouldn't be the first time that a Triple Crown entrant staged a dramatic turnaround in its next outing.

Point Given, for example, ran an inexplicably poor race in the 2001 Kentucky Derby but went on to win both the Preakness and the Belmont in a breeze.

Birdstone finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness, and then upset Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont.