Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The 143rd Belmont Stakes: Who to Choose

Posted by Brian Appleton on June 11, 2011

The 143rd Belmont Stakes may not have the pull of a Triple Crown attempt in 2011 but this year’s rendition stands on its own in sheer terms of volume and quality of competition. For the first time in history the top seven from the Kentucky Derby (gr.1) are all returning to contest the third, longest, and oldest jewel of the Triple Crown series making for a deep and competitive field. Aside from appearing on paper to be one of the most competitive fields in recent Belmont Stakes (gr.1) history the field also offers some excellent betting value to handicappers and fans alike. Kentucky Winner Animal Kingdom was installed as the 2-1 favorite with Derby runner up Nehro next at odds of 4-1. After those top two the odds jump all the way up to 10-1 on Derby third place finisher Mucho Macho Man and Derby fifth place finisher Master of Hounds. Next comes Preakness winner Shackleford at listed odds of 12-1 but you can bet he’ll be a much shorter price on Saturday.

A field of twelve has been entered for the Belmont providing an almost-full field. Breaking from the rail out here is the field; Master of Hounds, Stay Thirsty, Ruler On Ice, Santiva, Brilliant Speed, Nehro, Monzon, Prime Cut, Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, Isn’t He Perfect and Shackleford.

Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby at odds of 20-1 to become the first horse to ever win the Derby having never started on dirt prior to the race. He won by Derby by 2 ¾ lengths over Nehro who finished a neck ahead of Mucho Macho Man in third with Shackleford another three parts of a length back in fourth. Two weeks later Animal Kingdom fell just half a length short of a stubborn Shackleford at Baltimore in the Preaknes Stakes. The Belmont will be his third start on dirt and only the eighth start of his career. He has looked fabulous ever since the Preakness and has trainer Graham Motion brimming with confidence.

Shackleford has not been on the national radar that long and has already done things in his career most horses can’t even dream of doing. Starting with his gutsy Florida Derby performance on April 3rd where he just missed holding off Dialed In by a head for the win, the son of Forestry then traveled to Louisville and ran fourth in the Derby after setting the pace throughout and then took the Preakness Stakes two weeks later, going almost gate-to-wire on May 21st. To sum up this colt has run three hard, impressive races and is back for his fourth consecutive start in a Grade 1 race, all in the span of two months. It would be great to see Shackleford win the Belmont but I honestly don’t think he’s going to be able to hold off so many talented colts on the front end unless he slows the tempo down to a ridiculous level.

Mucho Macho Man has had some of the worst luck of the year if you discount Uncle Mo and his problems. After winning the Risen Star Stakes (gr.2) in mid February the talented colt lost a shoe and still ran third in the Louisiana Derby (gr.2) behind Pants On Fire and Nehro and then came back to run a game third in the Kentucky Derby (gr.1). He lost yet another shoe in the Preakness Stakes (gr.1) when finishing sixth much to the chagrin of trainer Kathy Ritvo who has made a rider change from Rajiv Maragh to Ramon Dominguez for the Belmont Stakes (gr.1). Already pushing 17 hands and still not technically a three-year-old until several days after the Belmont, Mucho Macho Man has gigantic strides that will greatly appreciate the sweeping turns and long stretch at Belmont Park.

Nehro has had a bad case of the ‘Bridesmaid’ run in his three most recent starts, the Kentucky Derby, Arkansas Derby and Louisiana Derby. The Belmont Stakes will by just his seventh lifetime start and with the five weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Belmont I think there is a ton of upside for the son of Mineshaft and he could very well end his runner up status. He began his career in early December and only broke his maiden on February 21st, so the best is yet to come.

Master of Hounds is gaining a lot of support in the Belmont due to his determined fifth place finish in the Derby where he had to thread his way through serious traffic issues to make up a ton of ground in the stretch. He drew post position #1 which for any other horse might be an obstacle but for him should work perfectly with his running style of staying behind horses near the rail.

Brilliant Speed has a perfect Belmont Stakes pedigree, being the son Dynaformer out of Speed Succeeds, but I’m not convinced he’s as good as some of the others in this field. He last finished seventh in the Derby and before that was an upset winner of the Blue Grass Stakes (gr.1) on April 16th.

Santiva finished sixth in the Derby and ninth in the Blue Grass Stakes after a horrible trip and will be making his fourth start of the year in the Belmont. As a son of the very talented Giant’s Causeway you absolutely have to take him seriously. He ran a decent race in the derby but will have to really ramp things up in the Belmont if he hopes to catch a piece of the action but don’t be surprised to see him right there at the finish.

Stay Thirsty returns from a twelfth place finish in the Derby. It wasn’t that long ago he was trading blow with Uncle Mo in his morning works and winning the Gotham Stakes (gr.3) in early March. After finishing seventh in the Florida Derby and twelfth in the Kentucky Derby with seemingly little in the way of legitimate excuses there are some serious questions this colt has to answer. One thing is for sure; he certainly has a classic pedigree and as the Grandson of A. P. Indy there should be no distance limitations here. If he can continue to grind his way down the long Belmont stretch he could wind up hitting the board.

The rest of the field is made up of Prime Cut, Ruler On Ice, Monzon and Isn’t He Perfect. Of the four Prime Cut and Ruler On Ice stand out but not enough for me to use them in my picks. Hopefully that doesn’t come back to haunt me.

Mucho Macho Man will once again be my choice. I just can’t stop loving this hard-knocking colt and the fact that he is still immature, growing and running well despite his bad luck is highly impressive to me. If he keeps his running shoes on, literally and figuratively, then I think he’s the horse to beat in the Belmont. I hate to say it but I’m going with Nehro to once again some in second although I think everyone knows he’s more than capable of pulling of a victory on Saturday. He’ll have a much longer stretch to chase down any frontrunners at Belmont which will play to his advantage. Shackleford and Animal Kingdom are certainly stealing most of the spotlight with their rubber-match in the Belmont but I think Animal Kingdom gets the upper hand at this distance. For sheer heart and determination though I’m going to be rooting for Shackleford to take third here.

So there it is, I was finally able to put down a win choice for the Belmont after tons of deliberation. Part of me would love to see Shackelford win with Animal Kingdom second but it would be really nice to see Mucho Macho Man or Nehro earn their first Grade 1. If Animal Kingdom can pull off the Derby/Belmont double he will be only the 12th horse in history to accomplish that feat while a win by Shackleford would make him just the 17th horse to achieve the Preakness/Belmont double and the first since Afleet Alex in 2005. Good luck to all and may the best horse win.

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