Whether it’s a major stakes race or a cheap claiming race, the old adage, “pace makes the race,” can never be overlooked. In Saturday’s 142nd running of the Grade 1 $1 million Belmont Stakes, First Dude (pictured on the lead in Preakness), the second choice on the morning line at 7-to-2, appears to be the lone early speed in the race, making him my pick to lead all the way in the third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.
Post-time is at 6:32 EDT / 3:32 PDT and you can catch all the action live in HD on ABC.
In his previous start, First Dude ran the best race of his career, finishing second by less than a length to Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky. After getting to the lead early and setting quick splits, First Dude dug in through the lane, even sticking his head back in front of Lucky’s after being passed, only to have the champion finally wear him down just before the wire.
His prior two starts also came in Grade 1 races, the Florida Derby and Bluegrass Stakes, where he wasn’t able to get to the early lead and encountered traffic trouble. Long shot Spangled Star has done some running on the front end, however that came in races with extremely slow splits, and with jockey Garret Gomez preferring to come from off the pace, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to challenge First Dude early.
The only other potential threat to an easy early lead for First Dude is Interactif, breaking from outside post No. 12. His last six races have come either over a synthetic track or on turf, but again he’s run two full seconds slower to get to the front than what First Dude has shown he is capable of.
If First Dude can cut the half of the race in 47 to 48 seconds and the first three quarters in 1:12 to 1:13, he should be a few lengths in front turning for home and have plenty left in the tank to hold off the stretch-runners.
The biggest danger will come from Fly Down, who holds two narrow victories over First Dude earlier in their careers and romped by six lengths in his last start in the Grade 2 Dwyer over this track last month. He checks in at 9-to-2 on the morning line and his race two back in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby can be tossed because of the traffic trouble he encountered while turning for home.
Ice Box has been stuck in the clouds early in his last three races, taking advantage of a quick early pace in both the Kentucky and Florida Derby to storm home late. Although he’s been closer to the pace in previous starts, it appears that he’s settled into his deep closing style, which won’t bode well for him in the Belmont.
Stately Victor was a live long shot in the Derby off his impressive win in the Bluegrass Stakes, but lost all chance when he and Lookin at Lucky wiped each other out early. His career has been riddled with bad luck, breaking from the rail in four of his first five career starts and from the outside post No. 14 in the other start, so if he can get a clean trip he can make an impact late.
Confidence exudes from Game on Dude’s camp. His four-and-a-half length score in the Lone Star Derby, albeit against a weak field, along with the hottest human connections in the nation with trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Martin Garcia, make him a dangerous threat from just off the pace.
After a third place finish in the Louisiana Derby, where with a better trip it seemed like he could have won by a few lengths, Drosselmeyer was a distant second to the aforementioned Fly Down in the Dwyer. A win in the Louisiana Derby would have made him one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby, but he ended up missing out on the world’s biggest horse race due to insufficient graded stakes earnings. With the Louisiana Derby turning out to be a weak race, his credentials are in question. Some might be giving him one last chance, and he’ll be the last horse I throw into the bottom of my exotic wager.
Stay Put won on Derby day, but that was in an optional claiming race. He’s finished fifth in both stakes starts and I don’t see him finishing anything better than that here. Dave in Dixie’s lone win came sprinting in his debut last summer at Del Mar, and that doesn’t equate to success going a mile-and-a-half in the Belmont.
I’ll make a win bet on First Dude and key him on top in my trifecta, with Game on Dude, Fly Down and Stately Victor in the second slot, and those three along with Ice Box, Drosselmeyer and Make Music for Me in third.
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