No Sure Bet At Belmont

NO SURE BET AT THE BELMONT

It comes down to the Belmont Stakes, the last stop on the Triple Crown, the make-or-break mile and a half around the big sand trap, New York's best horse race, tomorrow afternoon, at the biggest and most daunting racetrack in America.

Twelve horses shooting for a million dollars and a chance to even the score with the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners who have gone missing in action.

The pageantry, the history and the grandeur of the Belmont never fade for those of us who love it, no matter who is in the field. The hard part tomorrow might be finding the winner.

The track oddsmaker, Eric Donovan, has produced a betting line that defies the general perception that the race is a wide-open free-for-all. His line makes it a three-horse race -- Ice Box 3-1, First Dude 7-2 and Fly Down 9-2 -- with the other nine at double digits.

He is saying, in effect, that the Belmont is a three-horse race with the rest shooting blanks. He may be right, but will the betting public agree?

The Belmont always is a tricky betting adventure. In the past decade, hot favorites like Afleet Alex and Point Given have delivered, while rank outsiders like Commendable, Sarava, Birdstone and Da'Tara have left horseplayers shaking their heads.

The explanation is simple: No one can be sure how a horse will get a mile and a half for the first time. They're all guessin' and hopin' and prayin'.

Beyer speed figs are no help. In the past 10 years, Touch Gold won off a 116 fig and Afleet Alex with 112. But Commendable won off a dismal 69 Beyer, Summer Bird with an 86 and Birdstone with 85. Belmont winners come from everywhere.

If I can get 12-1 on him, I'll take a chance with Interactif, mainly because his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has thrown him in in the last moment. Pletcher has been the nation's leading money-winning trainer for years. He didn't get there making poor judgment calls. He has persuaded the horse's French owners to take a shot, putting his judgment on the line. He might be on to something.

No trainer in the country can get a horse ready for the Belmont better than Nick Zito. His record: 22 starters, two winners at 38-1 and 36-1, six seconds and three thirds.

Zito will saddle two of the favorites, Ice Box and Fly Down. Ice Box won the Florida Derby and, in many minds, should have won the Kentucky Derby. If he had won the Derby, he'd be odds-on tomorrow. He has the best record of any horse in the Belmont.

Fly Down was a non-entity till he blitzed the Dwyer over this track a month ago, but he has had only five career starts, so they're asking a lot of him.

Make Music for Me ran a terrific fourth in the Derby, making up 24 lengths to be beaten less than five. The problem is that California-based horses have a dismal record in the Belmont. They can't acclimate to Belmont's surface.

If stable confidence won the Belmont, they might as well give the trophy and cash now to Uptowncharlybrown. With his 59 partner owners, the sad sudden death of his trainer Alan Seewald last month and the expert guidance of his new trainer Kieran McLaughlin, 'Charlybrown' is everyone's tip in the race. He, too, has had only five starts, the last seven weeks ago.

His only wins have been a couple of minor races at Tampa Bay Downs, but he closed impressively to get third in the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland on April 17.

Drosselmeyer is a one speed grinder with an encouraging profile in graded stakes races. He looks a "must" in the trifectas and superfectas.

Game on Dude has been working up a storm at Santa Anita after winning the Lone Star Derby for the Silver Charmer, Bob Baffert. Not the worst of them.

New York, New York. If they can make it here in the Belmont, they can make it anywhere.

by Ray Kerrison
from nypost.com

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