6-8-09: Belmont Stakes 141 Thoughts

Hello again everybody...

Welcome back to the work week. The weekend, as always, was far too short. Fortunately, it felt short on a weekend where the weather blew hard core.

I'm sure the city of Seattle is a wonderful place and all, but if I wanted 55 and rain in June, I'd have moved there. Then again, I shouldn't complain I guess. I choose to live in a state where I risk below-zero temperatures for a third of the year. So what do I know?

Today I'm reviewing what happened in the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes. Once again I came within a neck of winning money, but whiffed. Worse, I steered my Mom into the wrong $14 bet. What can I say? Maybe I'm not the wonderful son I thought I was! I'll break down the race, and what I learned this Triple Crown season.

Ring the bell and we're off!

"A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to."
- Granville Hicks (1901 - 1982), American Marxist novelist, literary critic, educator, and editor.

Set the "Marxism giving birth to Communism which censored as much as any political philosophy in history (see: China)" bit aside, and the sentiment is a solid one. Fortunately for you, my dear readers, I don't think I know more than anybody. Ergo, I can't really censor anything!

The 141st running of the Belmont Stakes is in the books, and I still haven't picked a Belmont winner correctly.

Sorry about that. And a special apology to my dear mother, who asked me to wager her $14 winnings from the casino on a winner. I dutifully put it on Mine That Bird. What can I tell you? She owes me $14.

I mentioned in the column on Friday that the length of the Belmont leads to odd results sometimes. And Saturday was no exception.

Let's start with the surprising fact that co-second-favorite Dunkirk shot out of the gate and went right to the lead. The conventional wisdom was that Dunkirk would stalk the pace sitting right behind a speedball like Miner's Escape and then attack down the stretch. But it didn't go that way.

And I think that's because Dunkirk's trainer, Todd Pletcher, was watching the early races at Belmont and saw what most everybody else was seeing. Namely that the track was running very fast and that if a horse could get loose on the lead, they often held on to win the race.

(Horse Racing Term Alert! "loose": getting loose on the lead means that a horse gets out in front of the pack and puts enough distance between it and the rest of the horses that the competition basically gives up and the lead-horse cruises to an easy victory.)

Speed was winning big time at Belmont on Saturday, so it's my belief that Pletcher told his jockey to send Dunkirk to the front right out of the gate and see if they couldn't run away and hide from the pack. And it very nearly worked.

Miner's Escape challenged Dunkirk for that early lead, but didn't hang on for very long. But as he did in both the Derby and the Preakness, Mine That Bird had something to say about the outcome of the race. Calvin Borel, back on MTB after riding Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, gave MTB the go signal as they entered the last turn, and coming down the back-stretch it looked like MTB was primed to win the race.

But that's when the length of the Belmont Stakes jumped up and caught him.

If the Belmont had been run at a mile and a quarter, or a mile and three-sixteenths like the other two races, I think MTB very well could have won. But the back-stretch at Belmont is longer than those other two tracks, and I think MTB ran out of gas a bit.

Instead, MTB's half-brother, Summer Bird blew by both MTB and Dunkirk and won the race. Summer Bird was jockeyed by Kent Desormeaux, who was on Big Brown last year when he failed to win the Triple Crown. This year, Desormeaux had a horse who was better rested and got a better trip. He waited just a touch longer than Borel did to ask his horse, and the results were obvious. Summer Bird had more left in the tank and kicked in big-time after the final turn and blew by the game MTB and Dunkirk.

When I started handicapping the Belmont, I feared that kind of result, but I just couldn't figure out who was going to be the horse to come get MTB. To my credit, I gave you Summer Bird to use in your exotics. And it almost worked out spectacularly for me. I bet two exactas on Saturday. On the first one I had MTB finishing first and then needed one of 4 horses, including Summer Bird, to finish second. On the second one, I needed one of those same 4 horses to finish first, with MTB finishing second. That may seem contradictory, but strange things happen in horse racing, so it's often smart to back yourself up with your pick finishing second, just in case. And had MTB held off Dunkirk, that strategy would've worked out swimmingly. Unfortunately for yours truly, I didn't give Dunkirk any credit, and it cost me. Coming down the stretch, I thought for sure he'd burn out and MTB would cruise to a second place finish. But I have to give Dunkirk credit, he came back and beat MTB for second by a neck.

So what did I learn this Triple Crown season?

First of all, this crop of three-year-olds might be the weakest I've seen since I started betting these races. That may seem like a convenient excuse, since I whiffed on all three races. But I know I'm far from alone in that regard.

Nobody saw MTB coming in the Derby. I said it at the time, and I remain firmly convinced. There's no way you could look at that horse's past performances and think that he had any kind of shot in the Derby. It was so convincing in fact, that I wrote an entire column outlining the special circumstances which I thought led to his win, and how they'd never come together like that again.

I was wrong. MTB proved me wrong in the Preakness by giving a dominant Rachel Alexandra a scare down the stretch. So much of a scare, that it played a role in Rachel not running in the Belmont. Her connections won't tell you that. But there's ample evidence that MTB's performance in the Preakness played a role in the decision not to run RA in the Belmont. And MTB confirmed my incorrectness with another solid finish in the Belmont.

But I think the fact that MTB was the only horse to hit the board in all three races - and more-over, he was the only one who was even close to accomplishing that - says a lot about the lack of talent in this years 3-year-old class.

Hopefully next year's field will be a little better. And the hope always lives that we'll break the now 31-year streak since we've had a Triple Crown winner.

So let's review: I broke my Kentucky Derby winner streak this year. That sucked. I completely whiffed on that race. Then I continued a 2-year streak of picking the Preakness winner. But because of the low odds, I didn't bet that horse to win, so I whiffed on that race too. That really sucked. Finally, I continued my woeful performance in the Belmont, missing on the winner, and losing out on one of my bets by a neck. That put a cap on the sucky year that was my Triple Crown season.

But don't fret for me! The gambling gods taketh, but they also giveth. Some friends of mine from Wisconsin were on their way through town yesterday and wanted to stop down at the track and wager on some races. Initially, I wasn't psyched about going down there two days in a row, but I hadn't seen them in a long time, so I figured what the hell, and I went. And thank heavens I did.

The first race I wagered on was the 5th event of the afternoon. It was a $15,000 Claiming race for 3-year-olds and up. Friendly Force was the Morning Line favorite at 2-1, and by post-time, he was joined by Not So Fast Festus at those odds as co-favorites. But there was a long shot by the name of Tugfire starting out of the 3-hole who I liked a little bit. He didn't have the same kind of speed numbers, but he was a closer (similarly styled to Mine That Bird) and in the early races, it looked like the track was favoring horses with a late kick coming from the back of the pack.

So even though he was 10-1 on the Morning Line, and his odds kept getting longer and longer as wagers were made, I thought he had a chance to hit the board. So I put the two favorites on top of Tugfire in a $5 exacta. More specifically, I needed either Friendly Force or Not So Fast Festus to win, and Tugfire to come second.

Tugfire hung in there in the early going, but when it came to the turn, he swung a lot wider than I would've liked, and I actually turned to my friends and said, "my 3 horse just died". Meanwhile, Not So Fast Festus broke away from the pack a bit and established a solid lead. He was trailed a couple lengths back by another long-shot, Corksapoppin, who one of my friends had bet to Show (finish 3rd), which would pay if the horse finished second as well. So I figured, at least she'd cash a little bit.

But then a funny thing happened. A horse came streaking from the back. It was too late to catch Not So Fast Festus, but the horse had a shot at catching Corksapoppin. I had just noticed it, but hadn't figured out which horse it was, when my buddy said, "isn't that your 3?" And upon closer inspection, it was Tugfire streaking towards the wire. Not So Fast Festus won handily,but it was a photo finish for second between Tugfire and Corksapoppin. Now, as it turned out, Tugfire went off at 27-1, so I knew that if he was determined to have finished second, it'd be a nice price. So I turned to the gal who had Corksapoppin and said, "no offense, but I really hope you lose this one." Being the savvy gal that she is, she agreed.

And the results of the photo showed...

Tugfire was your 2nd place finisher! The 6-3 exacta paid $36.50 to a $1 bet. And if you've stuck with the story at this point, you'll recall that I had made a $5 bet. Quick math time $36.50 x 5 = $182.50.

And just like that I'd wiped out all my losses from the Triple Crown races plus a solid chunk of profit.

So I'd like to take this moment to thank Scott Kosmo and Erica Thiess for getting me out to the Track on a day where I was walking around lucky and didn't even know it!

That's all for today folks. Hope you enjoyed my trials and travails as we wound our way through the Triple Crown season.

I'll be back on Wednesday with a column I've been tinkering with for a while. Hopefully it turns out as well in actuality, as it's seemed to be in my mind!

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. See, and here's Dan with the Reverse Whammy:

    I actually turned to my friends and said, "my 3 horse just died".

    I was wondering what you were doing back at the tracks on Sunday, but who am I to judge? I pay someone for the privilege to play a video game.

    At least yours occasionally produces real money.

  2. I get so confused whammy-ing and reverse whammy-ing...

    I hardly know when I'm doing it anymore!