The hearts and minds of all the fans, owners and trainers in attendance at Belmont Park yesterday were finely in tune seconds before the gates opened in the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes.
There is a certain togetherness that comes with the start of every major race that breeds enthusiasm, hope and expectation.
And when the gates open there is always that rush of adrenaline that goes with it.
However, this time around, the rush of adrenaline for trainer Graham Motion and Team Valor CEO Barry Irwin was quickly replaced with a sunken heart and knowing cast of defeat before their horse, Animal Kingdom, was ever even given a chance.
At the start of this Belmont Stakes, the supreme long shot Isn't He Perfect drifted into Mucho Macho Man abruptly forcing Mucho Macho Man to bang into Animal Kingdom, who then clipped heels with Monzon and nearly unseated jockey John Velazquez. By the time Johnny V had steadied Animal Kingdom and gotten his left foot back into the iron, Animal Kingdom was 15 lengths behind and his chances of winning the race were all but over.
In my preview of this year's Belmont Stakes, I indicated that Isn't He Perfect doesn't even belong in the race, and the only thing he could end up doing is cause problems for closers that have a chance at winning. Little did I know that he would completely eliminate a horse from contention within the first 100 feet of the race.
After the race, Barry Irwin made the following comments on his Facebook account, which can be found in this USA Today article:
"Mud didn't cost AK the Belmont," Irwin wrote on Facebook. "At the break, Isn't He Perfect came over at the break, intimidated Mucho Macho Man, who slammed into Animal Kingdom so hard that our colt nearly went down. Our jockey lost his left iron, which was not corrected until the turn. We never had a chance. Isn't He Perfect had no business being in this race and he screwed it up for a lot of horses today. Classics are no place for amateurs."
I don't blame Barry Irwin for the outrage. For a long time I have been of the opinion that certain horses just shouldn't even be entered into events like this. Isn't He Perfect was clearly out-classed in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. There was no reason whatsoever that he should be running other than an owner or trainer to claim they had a horse running in these events.
In the future, this will hopefully force the officials of these races to enforce stronger rules on which horses are actually allowed into the race for the sake of competitiveness and for the overall safety of the horses and jockeys. We were all very lucky yesterday that John Velazquez didn't flip over the top of Animal Kingdom, which would have put him and Animal Kingdom in very serious jeopardy of incurring some very serious injuries. It hasn't been all that long ago since we have seen the tragic ends to the careers of Eight Belles, Barbaro and Charismatic in much less dangerous situations.
Brilliant Speed Should Have Won
In other news out of the Belmont Stakes, there may not have been a worse ride of any of the contenders than the one put together by California-based Joel Rosario on third place finisher Brilliant Speed.
Sour grapes? Sure. However, this is the second time in the two Triple Crown races that Brilliant Speed has ran in which he had the worst performance from the guy on his back. The 1.5-mile track at Belmont is tough enough. You don't need to lead your horse four to even six wide around the entire track to make it even tougher, much less longer. Throw in the number of opportunities that he could have saved ground and veered Brilliant Speed closer to the rail, and his third place finish becomes all the more painful to watch.
Then, to top it off, he sends Brilliant Speed way too wide into the stretch all at the same time sending him way too early. With the slop at Belmont being more than kind to speed up front all day and proving that the rail was by far the best place to be, Brilliant Speed ran in the middle of the track the entire race finishing a disappointing third, yet only two-and-one-fourth lengths behind eventual winner Ruler On Ice.
While nothing should be taken away from the performances of both Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty, the best horse(s) yesterday—Animal Kingdom or Brilliant Speed—didn't win, and both horses encountered their own troubles, while those two enjoyed perfect trips up front from on an incredibly sloppy, speed-biased and rail-favoring track.
It is highly unlikely that Joel Rosario will ever get the mount for Brilliant Speed in the future.