A Wet & Wild Belmont

WET AND WILD

Imagine the hostility Saturday at Belmont Park when scores (thousands?) show up in the rain for the Belmont Stakes only to be informed that coolers, umbrellas, backpacks, thermoses, cameras, etc., are banned under the tightened security restrictions.

No doubt the serious horseplayers have read about these restrictions all week in the newspapers and on the internet, and presumably will accept them, but thousands of folks who attend the Belmont Stakes as New York's once-a-year ultimate party experience will find themselves surprised and more than a bit indignant.

Will they be told to leave their umbrellas at the gate, or in a garbage bin...during a hurricane no less!

This is the 60th anniversary of Native Dancer's Belmont, and management was thrilled to have 38,000 show up for the big-time event back in '53. Since then, the Belmont has grown to the point where 100,000 is the norm, at least when the Triple Crown is at stake.

If the weather predictions hold up, no TC at stake, and these security restrictions (oh, I forgot to mention the electronic wand search), they'll be lucky -- and happy -- to get 38,000 this time around.

But the race (and races) shall go on, the betting opportunities will be there (see my full-card selections online, and/or on the John Piesen Hot Line
(1-888-612-2283), so let's take a few minutes of your time on this rainy day to check out the six stake races which comprise Saturday's $1 million-guaranteed  pick six.

The Pick Six, as well as a $1 million-guaranteed pick four, both are capped by the Belmont Stakes, which will go as race 11 on the 13-race card, which will kick off promptly at 11:35 a.m. and run eight hours.

Admittedly, that's a long time to go without coolers, but NYRA will be happy to serve you all the eats and drinks you want at what it considers reasonable prices.

First a reminder: the Belmont Park main track, more so than others, favors speed when the going is wet. It's the ultimate bias. And, of course, your guess at this point is as good as mine regarding how many of the five grass races -- two of them stakes -- will come off.

Let's get rockin', starting with...

(RACE SIX, THE $150,000 EASY GOER STAKES)          

First, permit me a personal memory:

Back in 1989, as the New York Post racing writer, I joined the 100,000-plus in cheering Easy Goer's victory in which he spoiled Sunday Silence's Triple Crown bid.

Moments after the race, Charlie Whittingham, the trainer of Sunday Silence, arrived at the press box to graciously congratulate Easy Goer and his connections, and to offer no excuses.

An unprecedented gesture -- before or since.

But one thing.

As I was leaving the facility, I noticed Dr. Alex Harthill, the esteemed and outspoken vet who treated Sunday Silence, on line at the first-floor gift shop with his lady friend.

I innocently asked the good doctor his camp's reaction to the race, and he responded:

"Charlie is furious that NYRA officials barred Sunday Silence from the racetrack this morning, and that management tailored the racetrack to help Easy Goer.

"Charlie told me,"  Harthill concluded, "...that he is so mad that he will never run another horse in New York."

And, in fact, Whittingham never did.

And, here we are, just one year shy of a quarter-century later, and the legendary Whittingham is gone, there is a supporting stake on the Belmont Stakes program named the Easy Goer, and Easy Goer's connections are running the favorite in the Belmont Stakes

Seven of the nine 3-year-olds in the mile and a 16th Easy Goer were Triple Crown nominees, but for one reason or another, didn't make the cut.

Mary Lou Whitney and Nick Zito, prominent Triple Crown spoilers themselves, look to upset with Eton Blue, a half-brother to, you guessed it, Birdstone.

Power Broker has come many miles for this race for Bullet Bob, and is fresh from winning an allowance race in the slop at Churchill.

Pletcher runs an uncoupled entry of Doherty and Micromanage, both of whom have shown good wet-track form.

As does Irsaal, who breaks from the outside, normally a plus at Belmont  

(RACE SEVEN, THE $400,000 TRUE NORTH HANDICAP)

Fast Bullet's only loss in four starts came in the Breeders' Cup. The 5-year-old has the top fig in the field of seven, he's working bullets for Bullet Bob on the left coast, and he's first-time Rosario. But the wet strip will be a first-time experience.

Uncoupled mate Justin Phillip is 2-for-2 with Santana, but switches to Johnny V. JP tends to break a step slow, and the one-hole is a killer going three-quarters.

Johnny V. (and Junior) chooses JP over Sage Valley, the likely favorite, now with Maragh riding for Rudy.

Incidentally, a week from Saturday, Maragh will ride returnee Willet for trainer Iselin, the trainer of Crafty Starlet, in the 150K Bed O' Roses. You've been warned.

Caixa Electronica won this race last year for the Toddster in nine and two. He's never been off the board in seven off-track starts.

Laurie's Rocket, from Oxbow's connections, would be the first ever to post a Hot Springs Stakes-True North double.

(RACE EIGHT, THE $500,000 JUST A GAME STAKES)

Q: What connection does Just a Game have to the Belmont Stakes?

A: She was trained by David Whiteley, who beat Spectacular Bid with Coastal in the '79 Belmont. Just ask Russ Harris.

This is a mile on the grass for fillies and mares, and all seven entrants prefer the green as would be expected.

If the race comes off, we could wind up with a match race between Mizdirection and Better Lucky, both of whom have won on wet tracks.

Otherwise, soft grass would help Stephanie's Kitten, a three-timer on good or yielding turf for the Ramseys and the Catman.

Centre Court is an amazing  turfer (6-4-0 from 11 starts), but all on firm ground.

(RACE NINE, THE $400,000 WOODY STEPHENS STAKES)

One record no one will ever break: Woody's six straight Belmonts in the '80s. One would think NYRA would run a grade one in his memory, rather than this grade two for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Let Em Shine is the class of the West Coast 3-year-old sprinters, he's drawn outside in the field of 11, and Maldonado makes the 6,000-mile round trip for the ride.

Yet this ML favorite has never set foot on a wet track.

The Toddster runs the uncoupled entry of Forty Tales and Capo Bastone, who were one-two in the Derby Trial.

Declan's Warrior, Clearly Now were noses apart in the Bay Shore.

Zee Bros has the top fig for Bob and Rosie, but again no wet-track experience.

Other than the Belmont, this is the most challenging stake on the card for
us handicappers.

(RACE TEN, THE $500,000 MANHATTAN HANDICAP)

A winner of six of his last seven for Team Phipps, Point of Entry is clearly the best turf horse in North America. But the Shugster scratched him from the Dixie last month because of soft ground. What happens here?

Twlight Eclipse was no match for Optimizer last summer in the Kent at Delaware Park, but he's come a long way since for Freedom Child's connections, albeit on firm ground.

Optimizer was beaten less than a length by uncoupled barnmate Skyring in the Dixie. Lukas and Rosario team up here; will be in opposite corners an hour later.

Real Solution figures to improve off his U.S. debut for Chad Brown.

(RACE 11, THE $1 MILLION BELMONT STAKES)

Interesting stat: over the last 20 years, as many (three) Belmont Stakes favorites failed to finish the race as have won it. Also, only two horses over the last 30 years (Swale and Thunder Gulch) posted Derby/Belmont doubles.

The bottom line is that anything can happen in the Belmont, and usually does.

Just ask trainer McPeek, who won the Belmont with Siravo at the longest price in Belmont history. Ken told the world at the draw that he's "sending" Frac Daddy, a confirmed closer, from the one-hole.

This gives Freedom Child the rail, but will the rail be the place to be on the wet strip? Check earlier races.

Todd has five of the 14 in the race so you would figure that TP won't be letting ex-boss Lukas an easy lead like he had at Baltimore.

Has Orb peaked?

Will Golden Soul work out a trip from the 14?

And, finally, how many of these 14 will we see in the Breeders' Cup in November. I make the over/under two.

So many questions. So little time.

Have a great Belmont Day, thanks for checking in, don't forget the Piesen picks online, go Buccos, and see you back here next Friday for a look back at the Belmont, and a look ahead to the Bed O'Roses.

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