On Track with Johnny D: 2016 Belmont Analysis

It’s a bit difficult to believe that Saturday’s Belmont Stakes will conclude the 2016 Triple Crown series. But, time flies and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes are in the books. I know that because I have torn mutuel tickets and a zero balance wagering account to prove it.

I don’t think I’ve been entirely wrong about this year’s soph class. Instead, I prefer to believe that I’ve been a bit unlucky—zigging when I should have zagged.

For example, I respected Nyquist in the Kentucky Derby, but attempted to beat him at a short price in a large field. I took a swing with 16-1 Creator, both to win and in exotic wagers. Unfortunately, Creator had a rough trip and was nowhere at the finish. Still, if the Derby distance had included one additional stride, 24-1 longshot Suddenbreakingnews would have finished third, instead of fifth, and I would have made a few bucks on saver plays.

In the Preakness I correctly tabbed 17-1 longshot Cherry Wine as a ‘live’ player. Unfortunately, I keyed Nyquist without using Exaggerator on top in exotics. Oops!

You could say I’m due, but the way this Belmont looks on paper, I can’t promise anything. I am willing, however, to share this horseplayer’s thoughts on how things just might turn out.

2016 Belmont Field

Post Horse Jockey/Trainer Odds

1. Governor Malibu J. Rosario/C. Clement 12-1
This New York-bred colt is taking a step up in company in the Belmont Stakes. He’s in good recent form with a nose win but a subsequent disqualification to second in the Federico Tessio at Laurel, and a close, runner-up try in the Grade 2 Peter Pan in his last two races. His running style should have him behind the early leaders, but in front of the many deep closers. Trainer Christophe Clement won the Belmont Stakes with Tonalist, while following a similar pattern as with Governor Malibu. Noteworthy is that this son of Malibu Moon never has taken a backward step, according to DRF Beyer and Thoro-Graph speed figures. Drawing the number one post position also is a plus as more winners of the Belmont Stakes have come from that post than any other. So, while there are many positives in this one’s corner, the question of quality remains. Is he good enough to hang with this elite group of 2016 3-year-ods? Maybe. Keep him around.

2. Destin J. Castellano/T. Pletcher 6-1
Destin, the Sam F. Davis and Tampa Bay Derby winner, went without a race for eight weeks heading into the Kentucky Derby and then didn’t embarrass himself with a sixth-place finish in that race. Now, returning for trainer Todd Pletcher with a more manageable five-week rest for the Belmont Stakes, some horseplayers expect to see a fitter Destin than the one that ran in Louisville. He’s already shown that he likes the track—breaking his maiden first out at Belmont last October—and as a son of Giant’s Causeway ought to handle the distance. Destin also has shown some early speed and that ought to be useful in here. He’s actually run the fastest Thoro-Graph speed figure of any horse in the race, and his 100 Beyer Speed Figure, also earned in the Tampa Bay Derby, ranks him as one of just three runners in the race to eclipse the triple figure Beyer standard (Exaggerator, three times and Stradivari, once are the others). There are reasons to like this one. Keep him around.

3. Cherry Wine C. Lanerie/D. Romans 8-1
Trainer Dale Romans’ Triple Crown race record is impressive, as he’s hit the board with runners about half the time. Cherry Wine, who closed well to nail Nyquist in the Preakness final strides, actually comes into this a pretty fresh horse because he didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness was a major step forward for this late-running son of Paddy O’Prado, but it should be noted that he has steadily improved for Romans since his first race in August at Saratoga. Cherry Wine may have appreciated the sloppy conditions at Pimlico and also had a perfect, rail-skimming trip under jockey Cory Lanerie that afternoon. Others in here seem to be more talented than this one, but his form is good. Don’t like him on the ‘win’ end of things, but he might be worth superfecta inclusion.

4. Suddenbreakingnews M. Smith/D. Von Hemel 10-1
Yours truly has been a fan of this horse since he roared past Whitmore in the stretch of the Southwest at Oaklawn in February. Replays of his previous races at that time showed a horse with an undisputable talent packaged inside a late-running style. At the time, the question was: Could Suddenbreakingnews could transfer Remington Park form to the big stage. His Southwest win suggested ‘yes,’ and a subsequent second in the Arkansas Derby confirmed that response. Closing with determination in the Kentucky Derby stretch, in one more stride the Mineshaft colt would have been third! Officially, he finished fifth, a nose and a head, from hitting the board. Since then he’s been in training with veteran conditioner Donnie Von Hemel at Churchill—a bit of a negative in that he’s only had a short time at Belmont. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will replace journeyman Luis Quinonez in the saddle Saturday. Deep closers like Suddenbreakingnews don’t always do well in the Belmont Stakes and this year’s edition of the race figures to have little early pace—a strike against this one’s chances—but he’s been first or second in seven out of nine races and there’s little reason (except possibly pace and style) to keep this one off the lower rungs of exotic tickets.

5. Stradivari J. Velazquez/T. Pletcher 5-1
Talk about riding the fast track to success…Stradivari will be making just his fifth career start in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher has done well in this race, so he knows what kind of horse it takes to get the job done in here. This son of Medaglia d’Oro ran like a ‘short’ horse first out in a seven-furlong, 2-year-old maiden race at Aqueduct in November. He then was shipped to Gulfstream where he decimated foes in an ‘off the turf’ maiden test. Out of racing until April 2016, Stradivari returned during Keeneland to obliterate first-level allowance foes. That impressive win led to a start in the Preakness and a subsequent respectable fourth-place finish behind Exaggerator, Cherry Wine and Derby winner Nyquist. One of few Belmont entrants with any early foot, expect Stradivari to be close to the early Belmont pace. Is he talented and experienced enough to handle a big field at a mile and one-half over ‘Big Sandy?’ It’s hard to feel strongly either way, but there are enough positives to keep him around.

6. Gettysburg P. Lopez/S. Asmussen 30-1
This colt was a late addition to the previously pace-less Belmont lineup. He figures as the speed of the race and could help set things up for a closer to win. Gettysburg’s owners WinStar Farm LLC, who also pay the bills for Creator, hope he is the prime beneficiary of a fast pace. Additionally, WinStar probably wouldn’t mind terribly if Gettysburg’s front-running tactics sets things up for Exaggerator, since they eventually will stand him at stud and a Belmont victory wouldn’t damage his reputation. Despite denials by his connections, Gettysburg now can be spelled R-A-B-B-I-T. In order to start Gettysburg in the Belmont and keep trainer Todd Pletcher (who has two other pace factors already in the race) out of hot water with the owners of those other horses, WinStar moved Gettyburg to trainer Steve Asmussen’s care. What all of this could mean is that WinStar really think that Creator is ‘live’ in the Belmont Stakes and want to give him every chance to win by adding pace to the race. As for Gettysburg, he probably isn’t good enough to be around at the finish of this race.

7. Seeking the Soul Geroux/D. Stewart 30-1
He broke his maiden last out going a mile at Churchill Downs. This is a huge jump up in class. We’ll pass on him in here.

8. Forever d’Oro J. Ortix/D. Stewart 30-1
Like stablemate Seeking the Soul, Forever d’Oro broke his maiden last out. Unlike ‘Soul, d’Oro did it at Belmont Park at a mile and one-sixteenth. Nevertheless, there are far too many other interesting options than this one. We’ll pass on him.

9. Trojan Nation A. Gryder/P. Gallagher 30-1
There’s little in this maiden’s past performances to suggest that he might have a chance in here.

10. Lani Y. Take/M. Matsunaga 20-1
Lani’s a world traveler who’s come full circle and then some. He was foaled in Kentucky, raced in Japan, saluted in Dubai, gawked at in a return to Kentucky and finally muddy mid-pack in Baltimore. This colt appears to be made of iron, and trains like there’s no bottom to him. He’s also bred to run all day—and his morning exercise regimes have approached that limit. Unlike some of his foes, in the mile and one-half Belmont he won’t experience fatigue! The question is: How fast is Lani? Speed figure analysis suggests that he’s improved over the last few races and that he’s nearly fast enough to have a say in the Bemont outcome…at least in the exotic area. He should be a big enough price to toss in on the underside of superfecta tickets, but we’d be hard pressed to expect much more than that. His running style will find him far back early along with several others in here. Expect him to pick up some pieces late because his strong suit is longevity. We just don’t think he’ll be able to catch everyone.

11. Exaggerator Kent Desormeaux/Keith Desormeaux 9/5
Favored in the 2016 Belmont Stakes, Exaggerator won the Preakness over a sloppy track under a heady, rail-skimming ride by Hall-of-Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux. The duo, a closing second in the Kentucky Derby to favored Nyquist, gained revenge on that one by taking advantage of squishy Baltimore footing and a contentious early pace. Exaggerator also won the Santa Anita Derby under similar conditions—an ‘off’ track and a favorable hot pace. The forecast for Elmont, NY Saturday is for clear skies and considerably slower early fractions. While trainer Keith Desormeaux and brother Kent deserve mounds of respect for the job they’ve done with Exaggerator—he’s improved nearly every race since his first start–this writer wonders if a mile and one-half is the colt’s optimum distance. And, can the Desormeaux brothers coax one more big race out of Exaggerator on the Triple Crown trail?

Exaggerator’s flat finish over a fast track in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita still is bothersome, even though the colt displayed no obvious distance issues in the mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby or mile and three-sixteenths Preakness Stakes. However, closer examination of the final stages of those races suggests a possible chink in the armor of the Belmont favorite. About mid-stretch at Churchill it appeared that Exaggerator might have enough energy to get to Nyquist. He did not. In the Preakness stretch, when an apparently vanquished Nyquist angled out off the rail, it appeared for one fleeting moment that he just might re-rally and catch Exaggerator. Are these figments of this writer’s imagination, or was Exaggerator feeling the heat of extended distances? And what about Exaggerator ‘bearing out’ into the stretch of his most recent Belmont workout? Was that merely jockey Kent Desormeaux allowing the colt to drift, or does is signify that something’s not right?

Everything on paper suggests that Exaggerator is the one to beat in this race. He will be a short price. If there’s any question about a horse’s effectiveness going a distance, the mile and one-half Belmont Stakes at ‘Big Sandy’ will definitively end the discussion—in the affirmative or negative. I’m going to act on the assumption that Exaggerator can win the Belmont Stakes, but at a short price I’m going to leave the door open for an upset.

12. Brody’s Cause L. Saez/D. Romans 20-1
In addition to Cherry Wine, Trainer Dale Romans will saddle Brody’s Cause in the Belmont Stakes. Both horses are late-running types in a race seemingly void of early speed. Therefore, the Romans’ duo will need to swim upstream to get the job done. Brody’s Cause is the more accomplished of the duo, with twice as much money in the bank as Cherry Wine–$1.1 million to $500k. He’s run faster, more often than his barn mate, too. However, Cherry Wine’s Preakness is faster than anything Brody’s been able to produce. A similar fate as an exotic round out seems destined for both Romans horses in the Belmont.

13. Creator I. Ortiz/S. Asmussen 10-1
This grey/roan son of Tapit has been the equivalent of my 2016 Triple Crown Moby Dick! I leveled a huge harpoon (in the form of a major 16.40-to-1 win wager) at the great white whale in the Kentucky Derby, but the projectile missed. I also used him extensively in exotic wagers, too, and they came up all wet. True, Creator experienced significant traffic trouble in the Kentucky Derby when jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. moved him from effortlessly following Exaggerator along the rail outward into a mid-track Central Park-style mugging. So, what’s a horseplayer to do about that troubled trip? Cry, that’s what! Before the incident, Creator was moving as well or better than Exaggerator, who wound up second, and it’s reasonable to assume that trouble-free the former would have finished at least as well as the latter. Also, earlier this year, in Arkansas, Creator twice defeated Suddenbreakingnews, who was one stride away from finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. Isn’t it therefore reasonable to assume that minus trouble Creator would have finished in the Kentucky Derby trifecta? Or, am I all wet? In other words, is this merely a case of a jilted horseplayer stubbornly chasing bad money with good? Playing the horse back because it owes him money from the last time? That usually means that after the next race it owes him even more.

As kids these days say, ‘Whatever!’ At nearly the last moment, the owners of Creator added Gettysburg to the Belmont lineup. They say the new addition is not a ‘rabbit’ entered to establish an honest pace. If you buy that one I’ve got some Florida swampland you might be interested in. Oh, by the way, Irad Ortiz, Jr., one of the top jocks in New York, will replace Santana in the irons.

Can you say, ‘Thar she blows?’

Bottom Line:

The One to Beat
11-Exaggerator

The Great White Whale (see above)
13-Creator

Gotta Use Pletcher & Clement
2-Destin, 5-Stradivari, 1-Governor Malibu

For Price Shoppers Only
10-Lani, 4-Suddenbreakingnews, 3-Cherry Wine

Suggested Play: Three different 10-Cent Superfectas Keying 13- Creator in the First, Second and Third positions. Each wager costs $16.80 and placing all three wagers will cost a total of $50.40.

10-Cent Superfecta ($16.80)
First – 13
Second – 1, 2, 5, 11
Third – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11
Fourth – 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 5, 10, 11, 12

10-Cent Superfecta ($16.80)
First – 1, 2, 5, 11
Second – 13
Third – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11
Fourth – 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 5, 10, 11, 12

10-Cent Superfecta ($16.80)
First – 1, 2, 5, 11
Second – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11
Third – 13
Fourth – 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 5, 10, 11, 12

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: 2016 Belmont Analysis

On Track with Johnny D |