6-5-09: Belmont Stakes Preview and DFTU

Hello again everybody...

We've fooled the employment gods again! It doesn't look to be the greatest weekend weather-wise here in the upper Midwest, but I'll take 48 hours of early-Spring Seattle over working any time!

Of course, technically, I'll be working tomorrow as we're broadcasting live from Canterbury Park for the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes from New York. But as I've said in the past, that's not so much work as compensation for the wagers I'll be making on the race!

And that leads me to today's column. I have no streak what-so-ever when it comes to the Belmont. In fact, I'm not sure I've ever picked a Belmont winner correctly. That comes in part due to rooting for a Triple Crown winner rather than trying to be unbiased while handicapping the race. But it's also due to the unique nature of the Belmont: it's length. So I'll try to take all that into account and bring you my pick for Belmont 141.

Oh, and because it's a Friday, don't think you're getting out of here without your weekly dose of the DFTU!

Let's get to it!

"Tact is the knack of making a point without making an enemy."
- Isaac Newton (1642 - 1727), English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian

Most people remember Newton for his scientific exploits. But it's easy to forget that during his time, science and philosophy were considered equally worthy pursuits. People complain a lot these days about the over-specialization of kids in sports. Playing hockey or basketball year-round instead of playing a variety of sports throughout the year. Sure specializing may help develop specific skills, but it's theorized that kids lose out on being a well-rounded athlete, and maybe even a well-rounded person. Perhaps the same theory applies to academics who focus on a certain scientific pursuit rather than mixing in some form of philosophy and theology. I'm reminded of a line from Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" where one of the characters states that the island's scientists were so focused on whether they could do something, that they didn't stop to ask themselves if they should be doing it.

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None of which has anything to do with the 141st running of the Belmont Stakes. But I found it interesting!

Equally interesting is whether jockey Calvin Borel can become the first jockey in history to win all three Triple Crown race while riding two different mounts.

That's the drama we've been reduced to since the owner and trainer of Rachel Alexandra decided not to run the Preakness Stakes champion in the Belmont. It's unfortunate that we don't get to see a de facto rubber match between Rachel and Mine That Bird, but running three races in that period of time is stressful on any horse. And the last thing anyone wants to see is a horse getting hurt because it ran in a race it wasn't equipped to handle.

The Belmont is perhaps the toughest test of any of the 3 Triple Crown races. All the more so because it's the last of the 3. At a mile and a half, it's the longest of all three races, which means the pace is going to be completely different.

Think of sprinters who run the 100m and 200m dashes. It's not like you're going from the 100m to a marathon, but there's still a pace difference. You can't run the 200m at the same pace as the 100m, or you'll burn out too quickly. That's the same issue these horse will be facing. None of them has raced a mile and a half before, and it's entirely likely that none of them will ever race that far again. That makes it difficult to predict who'll handle that pace well and who won't.

But I've still got to try and find a winner, so let's run down the field and find out who I'm picking to win Belmont 141:

1 - Chocolate Candy (10-1)

Chocolate Candy's last race was the Kentucky Derby where he finished 5th to MTB by 13 lengths. That sounds like a huge deficit, but considering the run that MTB made at the end, Candy wasn't that far off the rest of the pack. He's not a horse that I think will win, but he could be useful in exactas and trifectas.

2 - Dunkirk (4-1)

Another horse that skipped the Preakness after running in the Derby. Coming off a huge performance in the Florida Derby, Dunkirk's effort in the Derby was a classic bounce. The question is, will the time off between the Derby and Belmont be enough to have him back on form? I tend to doubt it. He had nearly a month between the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and he's had 5 weeks between the Derby and the Belmont. Does one more week of rest make enough of a difference? I don't think so. I doubt I'll use him.

3 - Mr. Hot Stuff (15-1)

Yet another Derby entrant coming back for another Triple Crown shot. Mr. Hot Stuff wasn't so hot in the Derby finishing 15th. Nothing else he's done since leads me to believe he'll be any hotter in the Belmont. I'm tossing him.

4 - Summer Bird (12-1)

I gave you Musket Man as a long shot to hit the board in the Derby, and Summer Bird's going to fill that role for me in the Belmont. He's also coming off a so-so Derby where he finished 6th, but I like the fact that in every race prior to that, he was closing on the leader down the stretch. That'll be key with the longer distance the horses will have to run in the Belmont. I'll definitely be using him in exactas and trifectas.

5 - Luv Gov (20-1)

Our first non-Derby runner in the Belmont. Luv Gov finished 8th in the Preakness with a pretty decent speed figure. There's not a lot in his past to suggest that he'll hit the board in the Belmont, but he might be worth a look if you want to get really creative.

6 - Charitable Man (3-1)

The first horse in the field that hasn't run in either previous Triple Crown race. And yet, he's considered to be Mine That Bird's stiffest competition. That's based mainly off his above average effort in the Peter Pan Stakes on the 9th of May. But if you look through his history, his wins have come against fairly sub-par fields. I can't rate a horse highly if he hasn't beaten anybody. He may very well hit the board, but I think there's better value elsewhere, so I won't be using him.

7 - Mine That Bird (2-1)

Winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Place finisher in the Preakness Stakes, MTB is your Morning Line favorite in the Belmont. Given the superior performance of MTB in the last two Triple Crown races, how could you make any other horse the favorite? Obviously he's got to be on your ticket somewhere.

8 - Flying Private (12-1)

The only horse other than Mine That Bird that will run all three Triple Crown races. And I have no idea why. He had a horrible performance in the Derby, but finished 4th in the Preakness. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has forgotten more about horse racing than I'll ever know, but Flying Private's entry in this race just doesn't make much sense. He'll be tossed.

9 - Miner's Escape (15-1)

Winner of the Tessio Stakes (probably the second biggest race at Pimlico to the Preakness), this horse is still seriously outclassed by the rest of this field. I can't use him.

10 - Brave Victory (15-1)

No Triple Crown experience here either. BV finished second to Charitable Man in the Peter Pan with a decent, but not outstanding speed figure. He hasn't won since January at Gulfstream Park. And he didn't hit the board in any of his races until the Peter Pan (which to me, only further undermines any confidence one might have in Charitable Man). I won't be using him.

So you may have guessed it by now, but I'm finally on the Mine That Bird bandwagon. I dissed the horse in the Derby and doubly-dissed him in the Preakness. No more! I can't find any horse in this race that's shown better form coming into the Belmont and therefore MTB's my pick to win the race.

But since he's 2-1 on the Morning Line and will only get bet down from there, we'll have to look elsewhere for value. So I'll likely be putting an exacta ticket together with MTB winning and looking for Chocolate Candy, Summer Bird or Luv Gov to finish second.

Tune in tomorrow around 5:27 central time and see if I've started a Belmont streak!

That's all for the Belmont, but we're not done here on a Friday. The end of the week means your weekly dosage of DFTU goodness, so here it is:

Dan's Favorite Teams Update

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are 27-28 and in second place in the AL Central, 2.5 games behind the Detroit Tigers.

The good news? The Twins are 21-12 at home which is the best such record in the majors. The bad news? They're 6-16 on the road, which is the worst such mark in the majors. Go figure.

It's not like they lack for veteran leadership. It's not like their manager isn't experienced. The only area where they obviously lack a proven track record is in their starting staff. I've discussed their youth and inexperience previously, but it's the only plausible explanation that I can find for that startling home/road disparity.

But even that explanation is suspect. Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey are actually less experienced than Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, but they're the two most successful starters the Twins have so far. Baker's had a couple solid starts in a row, so hopefully he's getting things turned around. Liriano is approximately one more solid Anthony Swarzak start away from a trip to the bullpen when Glen Perkins comes back from the disabled list. Swarzak got shelled in his last outing (welcome to the big leagues rookie!), but that was bound to happen. We'll see how he adjusts in his next outing. Now that the advance scouts have a solid feel for him, he'll have to change things up to keep hitters off balance. If he accomplishes that, then the Twins have something. If not, well, we'll see.

The poor performance on the road is front and center as the Twins head out west for the start of a 10-game road trip that goes through Seattle, Oakland and finishes with the Cubs. If their record so far is a pattern, they'll go 3-7. But Seattle and Oakland are teams you ought to beat if you're going to be a true contender. 6-4 isn't an unfair expectation given the level of competition they're facing.

The test starts tonight in Seattle. Ichiro's working on a 27-game hitting streak. We'll see if that inspires Liriano to a better start! Late-night baseball Twins fans, don't miss it!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 23-31, in 4th place in the NL West, and 13 games behind the L.A. Dodgers.

So what can you say about the 3-game series the Snakes just finished with the Dodgers? They win game one 3-2. Then they took a 5-1 lead in game two before the wheels came off. A 5-run bottom of the 8th for L.A. not only cost Dan Haren a win after another outstanding start from him, but it cost Arizona a series win. John Garland did his best in game three, but the Snakes' offense went dormant again and got shut out for a 1-0 loss.

Encouraging, stomach-punching, anti-climactic. If we were closer to the All Star break, I'd drop the "it's gonna be a loooong summer" line. But it's the first week of June and I just can't quite bring myself to do that yet.

The good news is that the Dodgers have started to slow down a bit, and even though they lead the division by 8 games over the Giants, I don't think the race is over yet. Perhaps that's cock-eye'd optimism on my part, but I'm just not going to crown them yet (copyright Denny Green).

All these injuries Arizona is dealing with have to turn around sooner or later right? Never give up D'back fans. Never... give... up!

Arizona's taking part in a 4-gamer at San Diego over the weekend before coming back to the friendly confines of Chase Field on Tuesday for series against San Francisco and Houston.

Okay, that's really all for this week. I promise.

But I'll be back on Monday with a review of Belmont 141 and comments on whatever else tweaked me over the weekend.

Until then, thanks for reading!


  1. Shouldn't that "Never give up" be copyright Winston Churchill?

  2. Actually, when I wrote that, I was recalling Jim Valvano's speech, but since it wasn't a direct quote, I didn't feel like copyrighting him.

    If Winston said that famously and I missed it, then my bad!

  3. Nevermind, Churchill said, "Never give in." He's commonly misquoted as having said "Never give up."