When the gates start loading for the 54th running of The Rebel stakes (gr.2) there will be an 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms. Although we all know the weather can quickly change; the current forecast for Hot Springs Arkansas is slated for a very wet and humid weekend! Alas, weather can surely influence the outcome of a race and a sloppy- muddy track could definitely result in surprising results. With a much smaller field than originally anticipated, 8 sophomores will be taking a plunge in stretching out to 2-turns (some for the first time). With the end in mind; trainers/owners hope their young colts will thrive the added distance when stretching out to 2-turns. A victory will guarantee the winner a spot in the Kentucky Derby since only the top twenty 3-year olds will make it to the gate on the first Saturday in May.
This past weekend was the start to the Championship Series and a pivotal point on the road to the Kentucky Derby. Contenders are starting to emerge and slowly revealing themselves, as each prep win is now worth a whopping 50 points. Most 3-year olds at this time are stretching out from 1 to 2 turns for the first time, as well as facing much larger fields.
Post position and traffic problems can affect an inexperienced horse, but each race is a stepping-stone to learning, growing and gaining the experience that is needed to make it to the first Saturday in May .
The Risen Star Stakes and the Fountain of Youth started off the series with both winners exemplifying a “fighting spirit” to the very end! Re-watching both races will leave you on the edge of your seat with spine-chilling finishes that will leave you wanting more. It’s just the start to new beginnings as we experience these young colts develop into pure competitors, and amazing athletes.
Things are starting to brew as we all jump aboard the Derby Trail!
The end of January marks the start of the South Florida Prep Series leading up to the Florida Derby and it all starts today with the Holy Bull Stakes. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed, and we are all starting to form our own opinions on who’s got what it takes to earn a prestigious spot in this year’s Kentucky Derby.
A wide open filed of eleven colts will be lined up to go 1- 1/16 miles. For most, this will be the first time stretching out 2-turns, but for a few– they have ran and actually won at today’s distance.
It was an exciting weekend of horse racing filled with upset and cheers. From Santa Anita to Belmont Park the thrill and excitement filled the air with surprises stretching from the West to the East Coast!
Fall has finally arrived, and we are only 32 days away from this year’s Breeder’s Cup races that will be held at Santa Anita Race Track.
The best is yet to come, as we start the count down!
Over the weekend, there were a few upsets, but the two that stood out in my book was the Beldame Invitational- G1 and the Jockey Gold Cup Invitational- G1.
(Upset): A new queen was crowned in the 75th running of the Beldame Invitational – G1
Winner – Princess Sylmar
Princess Sylmar ran down one of the best older female horses around. Royal Delta stumbled out of the gate, but quickly gathered her composure.
3 year old filly Princess of Sylmar tracked Royal Delta as she targeted her around the stretch. As Tom Durkin said, “It took a champion to defeat a champion”:
Talented filly beating one of the best older female; Royal Delta:
Courtesy of: TubeYou by Partymanners2
(Upset): 95th running of the Jockey Gold Cup Invitational- G1
Winner: Ron the Greek
I’m still baffled by this race as I’m not sure what happened, but again we all know horse racing is full of surprises! — I’m sure I was not the only one scratching my head trying to figure out just what happened with this race. This was a solid field with the Kentucky Derby winner- Orb, Belmont Stakes winner- Palace Malice, Travers winner- Alpha, Whitney Invitational winner- Cross Traffic and Multi Graded stakes winner Flat Out. My picks were the best of the best: Flat Out, Palace Malice and Cross Traffic. To understand what happened I have to break down how the race unfolded.
Cross Traffic was the expected speed in the race. Strangely, he walked out of the gate, running sluggishly and was unexpectedly dead last. Alpha ran straight to the front similar to his Travers race, and set the pace with Palace Malice right behind him. I was very surprised to see 6-year old Ron the Greek more forwardly placed than usual as Jose Lezcano sat him at the rail in third behind Alpha and Palace Malice. When he finally made his move, he quickly took off from the rail and pulled away from this all-star cast for a huge upset victory with odds of 21-1. He skimmed the rail and cleared the field like a bullet train!
Unfortunately, the lost meant there was no 3-Peat for 7-year old Flat Out, trained by Bill Mott. He loves Belmont Park (also known as the Big Sandy), winning 5 out of 6 times at this track. Flat Out was seeking his third consecutive win for the $1million Jockey Gold Cup; a feat that only the mighty gelding Kelso accomplished back in 1962. What is even more impressive is Kelso has been the only horse to win this race 5 consecutive times (1960-1964). Since 1919, a total of 10 horses have won this 1 ¼ race ‘twice’.
Interesting addition: Also trained by Bill Mott, Ron the Greek is Flat Out’s uncoupled stablemate. Bill Mott also won the Jockey Gold Cup Invitational back in 1995 with Cigar.
Bill Mott (Courtesy of Bloodhorse.com):
“You gotta love Ron. Everybody loves Ron the Greek! This is the Ron the Greek today,” Mott said. “This is the same type of race he ran in the Sunshine Millions, the same type of race he ran in California when he won the Santa Anita Handicap. Every once in a while, he’ll throw one of these. I can’t determine when, but he did it today.”
Watch Ron the Greek’s impressive win:
(Courtesy of: YouTube by Partymanners2)
With the Belmont Stakes now behind us, the dust has finally settled and we can now reflect on the final leg of the Triple Crown trail. What a journey it has been for this year’s crop of talented 3-year olds! On picking winners, we can either give ourselves a tap on the back for some great handicapping efforts, or knock ourselves across our heads for overlooking imperative information and picking incorrect winners.
Now who would have thought the results of the Belmont Stakes (1st- Palace Malice #12, 2nd- Oxbow #7, 3rd- Orb #5) could be compared to a Mathematical equation, but the number 12 is indeed the sum of 7+5. How simple does that sound? If picking a winner was that easy; we’d all be rolling to the bank! I never really like numbers, in fact I hated Math in high school, but when I started to understand how the relationship of numbers within a horse race could actually help me with my handicapping, I actually appreciated all the numerical information I could I could get my hands on! I realized how important it was to keep things simple, and just understand each race and how the numbers within the race could help me to narrow-down my choices. Nothing comes easy when you are trying to pick a winner and things can get even more complicated once different variables are added to the mix. Yes in horse racing anything can happen, but having the right information gives you a calculated edge on who to keep within a race, as well as who to toss-out. This may probably be the longest distance any of these 3-year olds will ever run. A grueling mile and a half, no wonder it’s known as “The Test of the Campion”. Palace Malice who had set the second fastest initial quarter and half mile fractions in the Kentucky Derby’s history was by-far the best horse on Belmont Stakes day. He drew clear in the last quarter mile to win by three and a quarter lengths from Oxbow, with Orb in third. With such wide sweeping turns at Belmont Park, how difficult was this race to figure out? Well, you could have eliminated half the field by understanding just how invaluable these factors were:
1. Tomlinson Figures – The late Art Kaufman aka Lee Tomlinson developed the Tomlinson pedigree ratings as a handicapping tool. It became a part of the DRF in 2001, and can be easily found in your DRF forms. It’s located in the far top right of each horse’s career information box under WET, TURF, DISTANCE. It is a 3 digit rating purported to gauge a sire’s ability to pass turf, wet-track, sprinting, and staying ability to its offsprings. A look at the rating might give you a clue to which horse has the pedigree to get the distance
- A DISTANCE rating range from 0-480 with a rating of 320 to be considered average. Each horse has a rating and is revised quarterly. Ratings are keyed to the distance of the specific race. The higher the rating the better chances a horse should run particularly well over that distance
- For an off-track, a MUD rating of 320+ merits further consideration as a horse who could run particularly well over a wet track
Within the Belmont field the following horses had the highest Tomlinson Distance Rating:
**Midnight Taboo – 309
Palace Malice – 310
Overanalyze – 311
Incognito – 316
Oxbow – 330
2. A favorable Dosage Index figure of 3.00 or less. The Dosage Index is a number that comes from the ratio of speed to stamina in a horse’s pedigree. The higher the number the more speed in the pedigree — while a lower number indicates that a horse should have more stamina. Anything above a number of 4.00 is supposed to indicate that a horse will have trouble at longer distances. It’s a useful tool to quantify a horse’s ability, or inability, to negotiate the various distances at which horse races are run. It is calculated based on an analysis of the horse’s pedigree.
- In the last 10 years horses that won the Belmont had a Dosage Index of 3.00 or less (In 2003, Empire Maker had a DI of 3.16)
- In the last 25 years there have been three horses with Dosage Index above 4.00. Sarava in 2002, Commendable in 2000, and Touch of Gold in 1997
- A Center of Distribution of .67 and higher. The CD value indicates the “Balancing Point” of the horse’s pedigree profile, with positive values toward speed. A CD of 0.0 means that he horse has an even number of speed points as he does stamina. A CD of -0.5 means he has slightly more stamina points, and a CD of 1.5 for example, shows a large favor in the speed side of the profile.
- In the last 10 years, there has been only one horse that had a CD lower than +0.67. Drosselmeyer in 2010 with a CD of +0.55
Again, only half the field in this year’s Belmont had a Dosage Index of 3.00 or lower, and a Center of Distribution close to +0.67 or higher:
*Unlimited Budget – DI 3.00/CD +0.92
Incognito – DI 3.00/CD +0.64
**Midnight Taboo – DI 3.00/ CD +0.75
Overanalyze – DI 3.00/CD +0.92
Oxbow – DI 2.50/CD +0.86
Palace Malice – DI 2.64/ CD +0.65
Golden Soul – DI 1.92/CD +0.61
Vyjack – DI180/CD.71
Giant Finish -DI159/CD.41
When combining all 3 figures for Tomlinson Ratings, Dosage Index and Center of Distribution there were only 2 horses that had very close numbers, and that would be Palace Malice and Oxbow. Orb’s Tomlinson Distance is 296, DI 3.21, and CD +0.86.
3. In this final and most demanding leg of the Triple Crown Favorites Rarely Win. In fact, the last favorite to win the Belmont was in 2005 with Afleet Alex. Beware of the betting public, they can steer you in the wrong direction!
- ***Understanding that most Belmont Stakes winners are Presser or Off the Pace types that sit 1-4 lengths off the lead in the early stages of the race
- ***The only “deep” closer that managed to win in the last 13 years was Jazil and he sat about 8 lengths off the lead early on
- ***Going back 10 years, there has been only 1 “wire-to-wire” type horse to win the Belmont. Da’Tara in 2008 at odds of 38/1
So it’s been proven once again that statistics, and numbers do matter when handicapping a race like the Belmont Stakes. Being able to understand important factors within this race can help you choose the right contenders. There are also other factors to consider like the weather, but the use of the Tomlinson Figures will assist in helping you pick out the horses whose pedigree will favor a wet track. You can incorporate your other handicapping strategies along with these important factors to solidify your final picks.
Before we close the doors on this year’s journey for the Triple Crown, I must address the only three horses that ran in all three legs of the races – Oxbow, Orb and Will Take Charge. There were memorable moments of glory; as well as the sadness of defeat, but despite the various outcomes to all three races Orb, Oxbow and Will Take Charge deserve much respect for their commendable efforts. Orb went off to win the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track with the second fastest quarter and half-mile fractions set in Derby history. Two weeks later we patiently waited with anticipation for a Triple Crown candidate, but our hopes were shattered when out of nowhere Oxbow was guilty of stealing the 2nd jewel of the crown. He won going wire to wire, in what was the slowest fractions set in Preakness Stake’s history. Orb was sadly defeated, but managed to come in 3rd in both the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont. Three weeks later, a fresh horse emerged as suicidal fractions were set in the Belmont Stakes. Palace Malice won by 3 1/4 lengths over Oxbow, with Orb beaten five lengths, Incognito six lengths and Revolutionary 6 1/2 lengths. What can I say about Will Take Charge? He had a disastrous trip in the Kentucky Derby when he ran into tiring Verrazano, and he never really had a chance to regain momentum and managed to come in 8th out of 19 horses. Although it seems “bad derby luck” could have been his excuse in the Derby, Will Take Charge was never a major factor in the remaining legs of the Triple Crown.
So as the quest for the Triple Crown ends, a few of these talented three year olds will eventually find their places in racing history. Some will move on and become remarkable turf horses, others will become unbelievable sprinters and maybe one of these horses may even go off to win the Breeders Cup Classic. What the future holds for each of these amazing three year olds will be a new journey with unlimited possibilities. Soon a new Spring will arrive, and a new cast of super-stars will create new excitement and the quest for the Triple Crown will start all over again.
It takes a lot out of a horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown so it’s no big surprise that it’s been 35 years since our last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed nipped Alydar by a head to claim his stake in horse racing history.
The 2014 Belmont Stakes will be run on Saturday, June 7, 2014.
**In the last 75 years, no horse who ran 3 races or less has won the Belmont Stakes
***Courtesy of Super Screener, Belmont Stakes