UPDATED Belmont Stakes Analysis and Selections – I’ll Have Another OUT and retired due to injury

June 07, 2012 | Gary Quill

UPDATED June 9th 10:05am:Suggested wagering strategy has been changed due to the scratch of I’ll Have Another. As I originally anticipated how the race will be run, I’ll Have Another’s absence does not change that as I believed he would stalk #2 – Unstoppable U and #12 – My Adonis. Therefore, as far as my analysis, simply remove I’ll Have Another from the equation. The odds shown are the current odds after advanced betting from Friday. The Belmont Stakes will still be an exciting race to watch, just lacking the chance of a Triple Crown winner… 34 years and counting.

UPDATED June 8th 11:49am: After multiple media sources hinted that I’ll Have Another might be scratched from the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, trainer Doug O’Neill confirmed it on the Dan Patrick Show just moments ago. I’ll Have Another suffered a tendon injury to his left hind leg and will be retired. A 1:00pm EDT NYRA Press Conference has been scehduled to make the formal announcement. David Grening of The Daily Racing Form tweeted “O’Neill told me IHA will need 3 months of “doing absolutely nothing”. Said he and (owner J. Paul) Reddam will “huddle up” later in year to talk about future.

If not for the NYRA’s 11th hour rule that all Belmont Stakes starters were required to be stabled in a designated “Stakes Barn” (aka Detention Barn) since noon on Wednesday, the final days leading up to the last leg of the Triple Crown have been quite uneventful. Leave it to a state run association (i.e. NYRA) to throw a wrench into the preparation of the most important event in the sport of thoroughbred horse racing thus far in 2012.

On paper, the Saturday’s 144th running of the Belmont Stakes shapes up to be not that tough a race for I’ll Have Another. The consensus seems to believe there are only two (2) foes (Dullahan and Union Rags) that have a shot at spoiling the end the 34 year Triple Crown Drought. Actually, there are twelve (12) 3 year olds scheduled to break from the starting gate at Belmont on Saturday, for the $1 million 1½ mile classic, Post Time is 6:40pm. NBC-TV will have “live” coverage from 5pm-7pm.

The weather forecast for the New York metropolitan area, location of Belmont Race Course, is for plenty of sunshine, clear skies and a fast track. Here’s how I see the 144th running of the Belmont Stakes playing out, listed in my predicted order of finish. Odds shown are the Morning Line odds. There will be advanced wagering offered on the Belmont Stakes on Friday as well as a Brooklyn Handicap (Friday feature race) / Belmont Stakes Double.

1st – # 9 Paynter (7-1): Bob Baffet is playing tag-team as he has seen enough ofBodemeister losing back-to-back heart breakers in KY Derby and Preakness to I’ll Have Another (IHA). So he brings another Zayat Stables front running style colt, Paynter, here for IHA to try to run down in deep stretch. IMHO, Paynter is the only “new shooter” who has a shot at springing the upset. This field lacks quality early speed, so getting the early lead may be easy and setting a slow pace is certainly a possibility. Add the fact his victory in an early race at Pimlico on Preakness Day earned a higher speed rating than IHA’s amazing Preakness performance (99 v. 96) makes him an attractive option. But can a colt with just four (4) career starts go gate to wire in a G1 1½ mile “Test of Champions”? I’m confident he can. Even though he’s already lost once to IHA by 4¾ lengths in G1 Santa Anita Derby (see video below, he’s #6). Notice how he takes a nose dive coming out of the gate, taking him out of his comfort zone but still fought on gamely throughout this 9 furlong event, just his 2nd career start after breaking his maiden going just 5 ½ furlongs. This one is for “Bode”!

SCRATCHED – # 11 I’ll Have Another: There’s a famous saying, “Don’t show up for the funeral if you didn’t attend the wedding”. In horse racing this means if you passed on a horse that won at very generous odds, then don’t jump on him when he’s the overwhelming betting favorite. As documented in my Derby and Preakness selection blogs, IHA was my second choice in both (behindWent The Day Well). Even after witnessing this magnificent equine specimen several mornings at PImlico during his 14 day stay, I somehow ignored what my eyes had been seeing, and believed he could get beat. Wrong again. Bodemeister didn’t lose. He simply got caught by a colt that proved he has an incredible will to win. With only 3 other Derby starters running in the Belmont, and the lack of a quality among horses entered in their first Triple Crown race, it’s basically IHA’s race to lose, nasal strip-less and all. If he does lose, it will be because he is on the lead entering the stretch, gets complacent and is caught off guard late, without time to get back down to business.

2nd – # 5 Dullahan (9-5): He’s the buzz horse of the Belmont. And why not?! Just look at how much ground he made up in the final 1/8th in the KY Derby to finish 3rd (see video below). His owners convinced trainer Dale Romans to skip the Preakness in order to guarantee having a fresh horse for the Belmont Stakes. So of course he’ll be the 2nd betting choice, but can he spoil the Triple Crown party? Logic says “yes” based on his sparkling workouts leading up to the race which is a carbon copy of how he trained up to the Derby. Unfortunately, his Tomlinson pedigree number for handling the 1½ miles is 3rd lowest among the 12 starters (260), just ahead of Street Life (254) and Union Rags (246). Look for him to tease everyone with a huge move turning for home through mid-stretch, but failing to sustain that bid to the wire.

3rd – # 7 Five Sixteen (18-1): At first glance, the most attractive thing about this one is his jockey, Rosie Napravnik. Arguably the best female rider in the country, Rosie will be in the irons for the first time on this son of Invasor who was no stranger to long distances, winning the 2007 BC Classic over Bernardini. Even though this one took 5 tries to break his maiden and his only race against winners resulted in a 4th place finish by 11¾ lengths after misbehaving in the gate, it was versus older foes, first time w/ blinkers and he earned a triple digit Daily Racing Forn “old school” speed rating – track variant combo. In fact, his 3 best “old school” figures were earned in his only three longest races (all 9 furlongs). His Beyer figures say he’s too slow, but Beyer numbers are “so yesterday” (IMHO). With the upgrade in the saddle, don’t be shocked to see him hit the board.

4th – # 10 Optimizer (23-1): Just when you think it’s safe to toss a D. Wayne Lukas runner in a Triple Crown race, is exactly when he can be the most dangerous. On paper, based on his running lines in his last 3 races (Preakness, KY Derby and AR Derby) there is no way this colt should have even made it to the Entry Box. But the race isn’t run on paper. Savvy handicappers who see a horse who runs evenly in sprints have the ability to improve when stretched out to 1 mile to 1 1/8 miles. Well maybe that’s the angle here. That is, stretching Optimizer out from 8-9 furlongs to 12 furlongs? Yeah, it’s a real stretch in thinking it, but his dam’s sire (A.P. Indy) won this race in 1992. If you need more convincing, take a look at the replay of the Kentucky Derby (again), specifically look for this guy (jock has black silks) who gets steadied at the ¼ pole when he had started to gain ground, recovered and still ran on. In addition, he was “full of run” when finishing 2nd in G2 (Rebel Stakes on March 17th) race, something 8 others in here cannot claim. He’s got plenty of negatives including his lack of run in the Preakness, but ya never know.

5th – # 3 Union Rags (2-1): He was great at age 2, even when losing a photo finish to Hansen (remember him?) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. His 3 yr old debut was very impressive as he won the G2 Fountain Of Youth seemingly without even trying. Then the proverbial wheels fell off the cart with troubled trips in the G1 FL Derby (3rd as the 1-5 favorite) and G1 KY Derby (7th as 5-1 2nd choice). His jockey (Julien Leparoux) was made the scapegoat. Veteran jockey John Velazquez who is no stranger to Belmont Park takes over. Can Johnny V guide this son of Dixie Union a trouble-free 12 furlongs, allowing him to freely extension his long-striding legs to a victory? No. His sire has yet to produce a runner who has won beyond 9 furlongs (1 1/8 mile), let alone 12. His grandsire (Dixieland Band) finished 14th in the 1983 Belmont Stakes.

6th – # 4 Atigun (34-1): He’s a 3 time winner, but only among high level optional claimers, most recently in the mud at Churchill Downs on Derby Day. But in his two graded stakes tries, he failed to make an impact in the G1 Arkansas Derby, running 5th 11+ lengths behind Bodemeister after finishing 11th to Secret Circle in the G2 Rebel Stakes, both at Oaklawn Park (OP). In spite of what his trainer (Ken McPeek) has said this week about him (“… hitting on all cylinders”), it’s a longshot to think McPeek can pull off another Belmont shocker as he did in 2002 when he saddled 70-1 winner Sarava.

7th – # 1 Street Life (8-1): No stranger to the NY circuit, as his maiden win made it onto YouTube (see video below) thanks to an eye-popping burst of speed displayed in the final 1/8th of a mile. That race and his only other victory came on the Aqueduct Inner Dirt track. Considering he ran 6th when 8-1 in the G1 Wood Memorial, 7 behind Gemologist and Alpha, both who laid huge eggs in the Kentucky Derby, it’s tough to make a case that we’ll see this son of Street Sense steamroll his rivals in the stretch, as the early fractions may be very slow.

8th – # 12 My Adonis (23-1): Owned by George & Lori Hall who got a taste of Belmont Stakes victory last year when Ruler On Ice splashed his way to the Winners’ Circle. An 11th hour decision to enter based on how well the colt has been training, his entry would make more sense if rain was in the forecast because like his stablemate, his best efforts have come on an “off” (i.e. sloppy or muddy) track. In his past two races he’s changed his running style to be on or close to the lead, so his presence may help the late runners. Having perennial top NY rider (Ramon Dominguez) in the irons will attract some attention from the bettors, but in his last start he failed as the 3-10 favorite, finishing 3rd in a 3-way win photo to Pretension who followed that victory up by getting buried in the Preakness (11th by 34½).

9th – # 2 Unstoppable U (14-1): No doubt this one can win going 1½ miles as his dam’s sire (Point Given) won the Belmont in 2001 and his grandsire (Danzig) sired Danzig Connection, who won this race in 1986. The question is with just two lifetime races on his resume’ (both victories), does he have the maturity to get the job done versus the best of his peers. Word has it he’s still a bit green in the morning, so his lack of experience, not ability will be his undoing. At the very least he should help dictate the early pace as in both of his races he’s yet to have seen the rear end of a rival.

10th – # 6 Ravelo’s Boy (36-1): The most experienced racehorse in the field having 13 starts, but hasn’t seen the track in the afternoon since March 10th when he ran 5th in the G2 Tampa Derby. According to his trainer, “He had some problems (after the Tampa Derby)… needed some time off”. Starting April 21st and every 7-8 days since, he’s clocked some bullet works at Calder (So. FL) including a sizzling 1:11.80 for 6 furlongs as his final prep for his return. Asking him to run 1½ miles coming off a 90 day layoff, when 1 1/16 miles is the furthest he had previously run against lesser competition, unsuccessfully at that, is asking way too much.

11th – # 12 Guyanna Star Dweej (23-1): The word “Dweej” is Hindu meaning “twice born” or “reincarnated”. Guyana Star Dweej is named for his trainer’s South American phenom of the 1980’s, Guyana Star who won 52 races in his homeland of Guyana. So far this one has not lived up to his ability in a previous life, taking 8 starts to get his first (and only) victory. He has been the runner-up in 5 of his 9 career outings, but appears to tire after going 1 mile. His start in the Preakness was derailed by a quarter crack and then on May 30th his 5 furlong workout was aborted when exercise rider Eddie Castro pulled him up after 4 furlongs saying afterwards, “He just didn’t want to work”. And he’s going to run 1½ miles on Saturday and be competitive?!

Based on my analysis of the Belmont Stakes, I’ll play…

$10 WIN, PLACE, SHOW on #9 (Paynter) – Cost $30

$1 EXACTA BOX on #5 (Dullahan) #7 (Five Sixteen) #9 (Paynter) #10 (Optimizer) – Cost $12

$1 TRIFECTA PART-WHEEL 7,9,10 w/ 5 (Dullahan) in 2nd spot w/ 3,7,9,10 –
Cost $9

The third leg of the Triple Crown is commonly known as “The Test of Champions” due to the 1½ mile distance. Hopefully we’ll witness some history, so enjoy the excitement thoroughbred horse racing has to offer.