Thursday

Belmont Stakes Notes: Post Draw, Big Brown's Chances & Dan's Wagers


"There is a history in all men's lives."

-William Shakespeare (1564-1616) British poet and playwright.

This Saturday is your chance to observe a piece of history as Big Brown attempts to be only the 12th horse in history to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in the same year since Sir Barton first accomplished the feat in 1919.

So as a primer for Saturday's opportunity for history, today I'll run down the post positions and morning line odds for the 10 horses scheduled to compete in the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. Then I'll discuss Big Brown's chances and what I think he has to do to win. And finally, I'll share with you what, if any, kinds of wagers I'll be making this weekend.

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Ring the bell and let's get this thing underway...

Without further ado, here are the post positions and morning line odds for the 140th Belmont Stakes:

1. Big Brown, 2-5

2. Guadalcanal, 50-1

3. Macho Again, 20-1

4. Denis of Cork, 12-1

5. Casino Drive, 7-2

6. Da' Tara, 30-1

7. Tale of Ekati, 20-1

8. Anak Nakal, 30-1

9. Ready's Echo, 30-1

10. Icabad Crane, 20-1

Post time: 5:25 Central, on ABC Television.

So the horse everyone's watching, Big Brown, drew the inside post. I suppose you could call it the end of a progression. He started from the furthest outside post, #20, in the Kentucky Derby. Then he drew a middle-position, #7, in the Preakness Stakes. And now finally, he's on the rail for the Belmont.

Drawing the #1 position for a race can be a problem for some horses. As they exit the gate and run down the front-stretch, each horse is trying to get to the rail to conserve as much distance as they can. If the #1 horse doesn't get a good enough break, he can often get pinned to the inside and shuffled to the back by other horses cutting him off.

I don't think that's going to be a problem for Big Brown. He got a solid break in the Derby. But he spun his wheels breaking in the Preakness. So it's a 50/50 shot as to whether he'll get a clean break. But even if he doesn't, this horse has demonstrated an ability to stalk the pace and maneuver through a crowd.

Big Brown's trainer, Larry Dutrow, said as much himself:

"I just can't see the post getting him beat. If he breaks good out of the 1 hole, it will be to our advantage. And if he doesn't, he has plenty of time to get out of there. There's no way a post position is going to get Big Brown beat."

So what does Big Brown have to do to win? I see the race breaking down into 3 distinct phases.

First, you'd like to see him get a good break. As I just got done saying, I don't think it's critical. But ideally, the horse will break cleanly from the gate and get out near the front right along the rail. This will require and early burst of speed.

But then he'll have to change gears. At 1 1/4 miles, the Belmont Stakes is the longest race a thoroughbred horse will ever run in. That requires horses to not burn themselves out too early. So once Big Brown establishes his position towards the front, his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, will have to slow him down to conserve some energy. To that end, it will be extremely helpful if he's stalking a pace horse, rather than setting the pace himself.

Finally, as they come around the last turn and head down the backstretch, Big Brown will have to shift gears once again and turn the race into a all-out sprint. The backstretch at Belmont Park is slightly longer than at the other Triple Crown tracks - hence the 1 1/4 mile distance - so Desormeaux will likely wait a touch longer than he has previously to ask Big Brown to make his move.

That's a lot of positioning and gear-shifting to ask of a horse. But the reason I think Big Brown will be able to handle it is because of his unflappable demeanor. By all reports the horse doesn't get agitated in the barn or in the paddock, and doesn't fight the instructions of his trainers and jockeys. That kind of calm is often a product of a lazy horse. Not so with Big Brown. He doesn't get hyper or rattled, but when asked for effort, he responds quickly and with tremendous results.

Think back to his race in the Preakness. As the horses traveled down the front stretch, Big Brown was asked to slow down a bit, and he did. Then when they turned and headed for home, Desormeaux tapped the horse once as the signal to go, and he did. Once he was so far out in front that there was no question as to the outcome, Desormeaux asked him again to slow down a bit, and he did. There wasn't a lot of fuss or head-tossing. Big Brown just did what was asked of him.

And I think he's going to do it again in the Belmont.

He's got a few things working against him. His hoof. A horse named Casino Drive. And a little thing called history.

A little over a week ago, Big Brown was diagnosed with a quarter-crack on the inside of his front-left hoof. A quarter-crack is a crack in the hoof which travels vertically up to the point where the hoof meets the skin. Think of it as splitting the toenail on your left big toe. Painful, but not necessarily debilitating. Once the injury was found, it was immediately treated and in his workout on Tuesday, Big Brown showed no ill-effects. Tomorrow, he'll be treated with an acrylic patch to cover and bind the crack. So ultimately, I don't think the crack will prevent him from winning the race.

Casino Drive is your second favorite in the Belmont at 7-2. And it won't surprise me much if those odds go lower prior to race time. I doubt he'll move ahead of Big Brown as the favorite, but he'll take a lot of action for sure.

And he'll do so for two reasons. First is his performance in the Peter Pan Stakes on the 10th of May. A race that was also run at Belmont Park. Casino Drive ran a 102 Beyer speed figure, which is on par with Big Brown who ran a 109 in the Derby and a 100 in the Preakness. He also won that race by 5 3/4 lengths, which is a significant margin. 1/2 a length more, in fact, than Big Brown's victory at the Preakness. So clearly Casino Drive has the talent to compete at the Triple Crown level.

Second is his breeding. Casino Drive's mother is a horse named Better Than Honour. Better Than Honour is also the dam to Rags to Riches, who won the Belmont Stakes last year. And she's the dam to Jazil, the colt that won the Belmont in 2006. So obviously Casino Drive is bred to run comfortably at long distances like the 1 1/4 miles he'll face in the Belmont.

He'll be the second best horse in the race, no doubt. But unless some form of bad luck befalls Big Brown, I don't think Casino Drive will win the race.

The final challenge for Big Brown is simply history. Since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978, 10 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, yet have failed to complete the trifecta by winning the Belmont Stakes. In fact, in the 8-year stretch from 1997 to 2004 it was done 6 times.

In totality, it's been done 19 times. So 8 more horses have won the first two legs and failed in the third, than have actually won the Triple Crown itself.

Bottom line? History is stacked up against Big Brown.

So taking into account those three challenges, I still think he's going to win the race. This is probably the most talented horse I've seen in the short amount of time I've followed the sport of horse racing. And I only use the qualifier "probably" because we'll never really know how talented Barbaro could have been.

But relative to his fellow 3-year-olds, Big Brown far and away the most talented. And presuming he gets a fair trip, he'll win the Belmont.

On Tuesday I told some of you that I didn't think I was going to make a bet on the race this time around. I was thinking that I'd rather be a fan and just root for Big Brown to win and not worry about who finished second and third.

Well I've changed my mind. To that end, here's the trifecta wager I'll be making on Saturday:

(1) Big Brown

with

(4) Denis of Cork, (5) Casino Drive, and (7) Tale of Ekati

with

(3) Macho Again, (4) Denis of Cork, (5) Casino Drive, (7) Tale of Ekati and (9) Ready's Echo

I've already given you the case for Casino Drive, so I won't belabor those points.

Denis of Cork and Tale of Ekati finished 3rd and 4th respectively in the Kentucky Derby and have the speed necessary to hit the board.

Macho Again finished second in the Preakness and has shown plenty of speed, but I don't think he's got enough to Place in this race. Especially considering he's coming off of only a 3-week break. But I'll include him with my Show horses.

Ready's Echo is my long-shot horse. This horse is a closer. Meaning he'll hang around the middle to back of the pack for most of the race, and try to pass as many tired horses as he can down the stretch. I don't think he's a lock to Show by any stretch, but seeing as his odds are the longest of any of the horses I included, I'd sure like it if he did!

So that's it for today. If you're in the Twin Cities area, feel free to join me at Canterbury Park this Saturday. Live racing starts at 1:30pm and WCCO will be paying me to babysit Dark Star's broadcast from 4-6pm. Again, the Belmont is scheduled to go off at about 5:25pm.

I'll be back tomorrow with more baseball and this week's mailbag question!

2 comments:

  1. Good stufff as always, Dan! I like your comment about Obama being the nominee for less than 24 yet your very own Mike Max couldn't stop talking politics Thursday evening. I've been following this race intensely for over six months and I've heard what I thought was every analogy to sports that could possibly be referrenced. However, I never thought I would hear a sports guy talking politics. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I did like the interview with Mr. Griffith. I thought Maxie segued well between politics and sports. It was a hell of a lot better than references from talking heads about moving goal posts and quitting before the end of the fouth quarter of a football game. I know you don't want to hear about other talk shows. After all, you have your own on the world wide web!

    Here goes:

    Firstly, I think the winner of the Belmont will be the horse that runs the fastest down the stretch that wasn't too far behind to begin with.

    Secondly, your reference to throwing homerun balls back onto the field may have had good intentions but you kept mentioning Yankees hitting the homeruns. I know they were just in town at the Dome but really, what significance do homerun balls have when they're coming from juiced players. A-Rod may very well become the inevitable homerun leader some day. He may not even be playing for the Yankees and that time. Giambi is an admitted steroids users. The team is older than the average age of ball players. Joe Torre is no longer the manager and people revel in the fact that the once proud Bronx Bombers are licking the dingleberries off the asses of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays!

    It is the right of a fan of any team to keep a homerun ball. If I caught the homerun leading ball from A-Rod, of course I would keep it. Some old granny catches a ball? That's great and I'd bet she gives it to her grandson. I can only hope that kid goes to the next Twins/Yankees game and throws it back onto the field.

    Well enough stirring the pot for one night. I must get ready to do the same on the Malmberg program in 30 minutes.

    GOBAMA!

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  2. Opinions expressed by Mike Max, Clark Griffith, Al Malmberg, or anyone else on WCCO Radio are their own and not neccessarily those of "The Sports Take".

    "The Sports Take" assumes no responsibility for the incessant and/or ill-informed ramblings of any talk show host with whom the author shares a common employer.

    We at "The Sports Take" appreciate your interest and look forward to your continued readership.

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