I must say, I have to hand it to this year's owners and trainers in the Triple Crown horse races in 2011. Many have been more than willing to run their horses in a couple of races, and we find ourselves with three horses making a run in all three Triple Crown races in Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford.
The willingness of the owners and trainers to run these quality horses more than once in the Triple Crown races has given us two very good races thus far and a very solid field entered into this year's Belmont Stakes.
Most thankful, I am, for the supposed "rubber match" that is to take place between Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford.
Let the media create the hype about a supposed match race between AK and Shack. That likely won't happen as we have an excellent field surrounding them, and upwards to five or six legitimate horses that can take them down on Saturday.
A look at the field:
Master of Hounds (10/1)
Good to see the foreign connections making another run with this brilliantly bred horse in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Of all the horses in the Kentucky Derby, he may have been running as well as anyone late other than the winner in Animal Kingdom.
Who will win the Belomont Stakes?
He also didn't have the greatest trip and was caught up in some traffic that Animal Kingdom masterfully maneuvered around in the brilliant trip put together by jockey John Velazquez aboard Animal Kingdom.
Look for Master of Hounds to again fall back deep into the pack and make a final run in the deep and long stretch at Belmont Park. Distance should not be a problem for this colt, and at 10/1 he is a very attractive price with the heady Garret Gomez in the irons.
Definite contender that will be hard to leave off of any exotic ticket you may look to wager. Very possible winner at respectable odds.
Stay Thirsty (20/1)
A talented colt that still hasn't quite put it all together yet. He has solid breeding that says he should be able to handle the distance, but his actual races show a much different story.
He didn't have a great trip in the Kentucky Derby, but it was decent enough that he should have finished stronger. If you want to keep making excuses, you could note that the rail in Churchill was dead that day. Either way, he faltered mightily when the real racing began five weeks ago.
I wouldn't be completely shocked if he came up big on Saturday, but I'm definitely looking elsewhere for the winner. Keep him in mind on bottom end of exotics as he could pass many rivals as they fold up shop down the final stretch.
Best Long Shot in the Belmont Stakes?
Ruler On Ice (20/1)
A very interesting first-timer to the Triple Crown racing scene. He has really only ran one bad race, his first out as a maiden, and could improve greatly in his seventh start of his career. Lightly raced, he has strong breeding that shows he could make the distance and be a very surprising upset.
However, it must be noted that he has had little excuse as why he hasn't won his last two races against lesser competition the last two times he has been out.
He could go off at 25/1 or better, and would be a very intriguing play to add into your exotic wagers. Just can't see him beating all the quality horses in this field in which he would need all of them to come up short of previous efforts. Not likely.
Another deep closer that ran amongst the nose/nose/nose finish between Master of Hounds, himself and Brilliant Speed in the Kentucky Derby for the fifth, sixth and seventh-place finishers in that race.
With that said, he had a pretty good trip all things considered and just didn't have enough in the middle of the race to get himself into position to make a reasonable run at winning. He is on the improve, but I do have to question whether 1 1/2-mile distance is within his reach to actually pull out the win.
Is this years crop of 3 year old horses better than last year?
Another horse that wouldn't be a shock if he won, I'll be putting him in a number of exotic wagers to fill out a healthy Trifecta or Superfecta.
Brilliant Speed (15/1)
My Kentucky Derby selection got an awful trip at Churchill. During the end of the backstretch and during the entire second turn he had to mess around with Watch Me Go and Midnight Interlude as they were dropping like rocks off of the pace right into him. At one time, he was running stride for stride with Animal Kingdom in perfect position for a deep closing win.
The difference? Velazquez was able to maneuver AK around and through traffic while Brilliant Speed kept running into trouble. So much trouble that he was EIGHT wide coming into the stretch. Yes, you read that correctly, EIGHT wide. He was so wide that jockey Joel Rosario could have reached out a hand and picked up a hot dog and a Budweiser as Brilliant Speed came into the stretch.
All that said, Brilliant Speed still only finished 5 1/2 lengths behind, and a mere 2 3/4 lengths from getting second. Take away any of the trouble he has in the Derby, and he is a likely second-place finisher. Take away the eight wide at the stretch and a ride almost as clean as Animal Kingdom and we may well have been crowning a different champion in the Run for the Roses.
With a pace that will likely be closer or better than the Kentucky Derby, Brilliant Speed should be much closer to the leader due to less traffic and he should get a better trip this time around simply by default.
I've had a history of my Kentucky Derby selections that failed in that race to come back in the Belmont and win: Summer Bird, Jazil, Afleet Alex are all painful Derby losers and then Belmont winners. Hopefully I'll add Brilliant Speed to that list as I pull the trigger again on what I feel will be the horse with the most game left in the final stages of this race.
Overpriced, overvalued and will likely be over-bet. He did finish second in the Kentucky Derby, but he was much closer to the pace than Master of Hounds and Brilliant Speed and has absolutely no excuse for not holding off Animal Kingdom down the stretch.
Nakatani and Asmussen are as good of connections as anybody in the race, but I just don't feel he has the chutzpah in the stretch to get the job done here.
A definite exotics play, but I'm betting he won't hit the board and maybe won't even fill out a Superfecta ticket either.
A very interesting entry that is simply begging for more distance. A newcomer to the Triple Crown races, he could be the shot that could add some spice to an Exacta, Trifecta or Superfecta ticket. He has yet to face the quality of competition he'll face on Saturday, and his disappointing sixth in the Peter Pan Stakes doesn't breed much confidence in his chances here. Especially when he finished well behind Prime Cut in that race.
He likely doesn't have much of a chance to win, but don't let him keep you away from cashing that huge Trifecta or Superfecta ticket.
Prime Cut (15/1)
A ridiculous price for a horse that hasn't come close to running against any horses of this quality before in his previous seven races. He should be at least 25/1 or even 30/1. Sure, he ran a hard-fought third in the Peter Pan on this track four weeks ago, but keep in mind he was folding in a 1 1/8-mile race against much lesser competition.
His best chance is likely to get on or close to lead and try to take the lead at some point in time in the first mile or so. If not, he is a definite candidate to finish dead last.
Animal Kingdom (2/1)
The deserving favorite just missed on having this race mean a run for the Triple Crown. He has tactical speed, a definite turn of foot late and one should fully expect him to be closer to Shack this time around in the Belmont. He has come out of the Preakness looking lively and ready to run, and Motion and Velazquez give you confidence that they know how to team up and get the best effort out of this colt each and every time he enters the starting gate.
I'm not a big fan of horses in races like this that are going off at short odds and an entire field looking at him as to how they can beat him. I'll be looking elsewhere for the winner, but you'd be ridiculously foolish to leave him off of any exotic ticket.
Mucho Macho Man (10/1)
OK. I can admit it. I fell into the trap of all the excuses and the visually appealing finish in the Kentucky Derby to make me believe he had a real shot in the Preakness. Now, we have more excuses for a horse that just seems rife with excuses every time he races in a big race.
This time he lost a shoe (again) in the Preakness. He is training well again, and looks ready as ever to pop that big one we have all been waiting for him to do. Sorry, but I'm not buying it this time, and he has proven time and time again that third may well be as good as he can do against a field as solid and competitive as this one.
Will you wager on the Belmont Stakes?
I wouldn't be shocked if he won, as I firmly believe that he will eventually mature into a great thoroughbred. I just think the three races in five weeks may have the hardest toll on him of the three that have entered all three races of the Triple Crown.
Isn't He Perfect (30/1)
He is far from perfect and I will not change my mind on why he was even entered in the Preakness. After finishing a surprising ninth (not good when you are a surprise to beat less than half the field), his connections feel the need to bring him back in this race. A race going an extra 2 1/2 furlongs when he finished poorly in the Preakness and only passed tiring horses or those that had simply given up.
He'll probably plug along this time around and finish ninth again as he passes tiring horses and those that have simply given up...again. Absolutely no reason why this horse is even entered in the field. Only thing he can do is provide traffic for the closers.
You have to love the heart of this horse. He reminds me of First Dude from last year so much that it is frightfully scary. I have to admit that I didn't feel he could hang on if they ran solid early fractions in the Preakness.
And while they blazed away in the first four furlongs, Castanon was able to brilliantly bring that pace to a near crawl for the next four furlongs giving his horse the much-needed late kick to hold off Animal Kingdom.
He could get a very slow pace like he enjoyed up front in the Derby. He isn't a surprising front-runner like Da' Tara that can steal it up front, thus it is hard to believe that all the closers and stalkers in this field will let him have such an early lead over the first mile this time around.
I learned my lesson last year in completely kicking First Dude, and I'll leave him in on my exotics; I just don't see him getting away up front and pulling out the win. He should be a great miler to a 1 1/16 for the rest of the year, and I have a huge amount of respect for the will and heart of this horse that has shown himself to be very tough to pass down the stretch.
I just think the 1 1/2 mile, and having led the last two Triple Crown races late in the going will start to wear him down. Keep in mind, First Dude didn't run in the Kentucky Derby last year, and was much fresher than Shackleford as he enters the Belmont this year.
How I See It Breaking Down
Once again, in any race over a mile, pace of the race is key. We won't get the early blistering fractions like we saw in the Preakness, but I also don't see us getting the crawling pace we saw in the Kentucky Derby either.
The only chance Prime Cut has in this race is if he pushes the pace and somehow has the lead after a mile and somehow holds off his challengers down the stretch (won't happen). I also look for Mucho Macho Man's connections to push him closer to the lead as well as he has shown that his customary stalking abilities aren't good enough to put him into position to beat the rest of the others that are entered here.
This race won't really start till we get to the mile pole, a position in which I fully see Shackleford having the lead yet again. However, this time around the closers will have a lot more room, and less horses to maneuver around to make their late kicks and late speed of foot much more a factor for Shackleford to hold off this time around.
Given a much cleaner trip, I fully look for Brilliant Speed to have the best speed of foot late and end up ahead of fellow closers in Master of Hounds, Animal Kingdom, and Santiva to pull out the win.
WIN: Brilliant Speed. Hoping to get him at 15/1, but at even 10/1 he is still very attractive.
EXACTA: Brilliant Speed and Master of Hounds on top and throw in Santiva, Animal Kingdom and Ruler On Ice, and Monzon to fill out the bottom along with BS and MoH.
TRIFECTA: Same as the Exacta, and fill out the bottom with those along with Shackleford and Stay Thirsty.
LONGSHOT: Brilliant Speed, and if you really want to wager on a bomber then Monzon looks to be somewhat attractive in at least hitting the board at 30/1 odds or better. Stay Thirsty could surprise as well at likely 20/1 or better.
NOTE: Also, don't be afraid to pull the trigger on Brilliant Speed and Master of Hounds on top, and in the top two positions of any Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta tickets and then throw the ALL button to finish out your Trifectas and Superfectas.
Unfortunately, last year while I hammered the Exacta with Flydown and Drosselmeyer, I missed out on Trifectas and Superfectas by not using those two squarely on top and filling out the bottom with every other horse. If you want to eliminate some horses then Prime Cut and Isn't He Perfect could save you some cash by not including in the third and fourth positions.
A $1 Superfecta ticket with Brilliant Speed and Master of Hounds in the 1 and 2 holes only, along with all other 10 horses in the 3 and 4 holes is a $180 ticket. Excluding Prime Cut and Isn't He Perfect, the ticket would cost $112.