EPILOGUE: I think this pretty much says it all:
|4||Summer Bird||K. Desormeaux||$25.80||$9.30||$4.70|
|7||Mine That Bird||C. Borel||$2.60|
|$2.00 Exacta (4-2)||$121.00|
|$2.00 Trifecta (4-2-7)||$295.00|
|$2.00 Superfecta (4-2-7-6)||$852.00|
Girl Power: Calvin and Rachel get it done with style in the 2009 Preakness. The nose behind Rachel’s butt belongs to Mine That Bird, whose flying finish for second proved his stunning Derby win was no fluke.
There are certain feats in sports that are so improbable, and require such precision and stamina, that they are generally perceived to be miraculous — violations of the laws of physics when they happen: perfect games in baseball, perfect seasons in football, Grand Slams in tennis or even more improbably, golf, and the centerpiece of horse racing, the Triple Crown — Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.
It’s been 31 years now since the last Triple Crown winner. And if memory serves, it was Bobby Jones that pulled off the last Grand Slam in golf. But we still thirst for the borderline impossible, and so we find near misses we can assign similar status. Exhibit A: the Tiger Slam, when Tiger Woods won four consecutive Grand Slam events in pro golf, albeit not in the same year. Some think it’s legitimate; others think it both sounds and is, in fact, stupid. I’m on the fence on that one.
But Saturday Calvin Borel, rail-skimming Cajun, two-time Derby winner, beloved of millions, will attempt something genuinely unprecedented in thoroughbred racing: to win the Triple Crown, albeit not on the same horse for all three races. He won the Derby on Mine That Bird (2) at 50-1, and then came back on 9-5 favorite Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Now he’s back on Mine That Bird for the Belmont, where he’ll finally be the favorite (he’s 2 to 1 on the morning line, will likely go off lower).
Mine That Bird’s sire is Birdstone, the game little horse that ran down the pride of Philadelphia, Smarty Jones, in the 2004 Belmont, dashing Broad Street hopes of a blue-collar Triple Crown winner by a length. I was there, I thrilled, I cried, and then I had to wait and hour-and-a-half in line for the train back to New York City with a bunch of pissed-off, drunk Philadelphians. (As much as I love that town, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.)
The race is actually polluted with the ghost of Birdstone (the horse isn’t dead, he’s living the life of Reilly, breeding for a living — where are those jobs when you’re searching Monster.com?) There are two Birdstone boys in the race — Mine That Bird and Summer Bird (4), my live longshot. In addition, Birdstone’s erstwhile trainer Nick Zito has two horses in the race, Miner’s Escape (9) and Brave Victory (10), whose race numbers and finishing places should be highly correlated. Finally, Birdstone’s owner Marylou Whitney, part of horse racing’s royalty, is fielding Luv Gov (5), the horse Whitney was considering using to bump Rachel Alexandra out of the Preakness. (It’s all a lot like Shakespeare, but with fewer murders, and you can bet on it.)
I don’t want Calvin Borel to win, because that won’t win me a lot of money. If he does, though, I’ll try to be happy for him. Based on past experience, I won’t be. My selfishness at the race track is Olympic. And so it goes….
Apprentice jockey sensation Maylan Studart, a Brazilian phenom, is scheduled to ride 4-year-old New York bred gelding Joe Corrigan in the 5th race on Belmont day. It is a competitive allowance race — open non-winners of one going a mile and a sixteenth on the Widener turf course. Sadly, Joe Corrigan, the 14 horse, is only scheduled to run on the Main Track — that is to say, he is only eligible if the race is taken off the turf. However, given heavy rains expected on Friday, it is quite likely that the early turf races will indeed be run on the Main Track! So you may get to see Maylan in the irons in the 5th on Saturday.
Time to get down to business. Where’s the money? Show me the money!
Let’s start by sorting the field:
- Toss outs: I think there are four horses likely to finish in the last four places: Mr. Hot Stuff (3), Luv Gov (5), Miner’s Escape (9), and Brave Victory (10). On paper, they just don’t belong. Then again, neither did Mine That Bird in the Derby. Or Da’Tara in last year’s Belmont. But you gotta start somewhere.
- Might Hit the Board, Can’t Win: three horses in this category, including Chocolate Candy (1), Charitable Man (6), and Flying Private (8). Chocolate Candy ran an OK Derby, Flying Private ran a decent Preakness, and I’ll say more about Charitable Man in a sec.
- Real Shot to Win: the three horses who can win, and two of whom should comprise the exacta, are Dunkirk (2), Summer Bird (4), and Mine That Bird (7).
(For those of you who just can’t stand another stanza of this: exacta box, 2 4 7. You’re dismissed.)
Now for some particle physics. It’s not about who’s most likely to win, as we’ve discussed in my past blatherings ad nauseam. It’s about whose chance to win compares most favorably with the betting odds.
Here’s the way I see it:
Dunkirk SB MTB Charitable Man
Win chance 2-1 8-1 3-2 12-1
Morning line 4-1 12-1 2-1 3-1
Likely final 9-2 12-1 6-5 7-2
If you compare chances with rewards, the better bets are Dunkirk and Summer Bird. Charitable Man is a bad bet, and MTB is a modest underlay.
Regarding Charitable Man, who will take a lot of money Saturday — he’s a good horse. I bet him in the Peter Pan, a one-turn 1-1/8 mile Grade 2 race at Belmont. He ran a great race, and is now 2 for 2 at Belmont. But he’s never run around two turns. And he’s likely to be close to the pace (or leading), and despite the Da’Tara escapade last year, it is very hard to win the Belmont on the front end. He could win, I guess, but let him beat me at those odds.
Dunkirk, on the other hand, was one of the Derby favorites, got bounced around and couldn’t handle the goopy track — he faded to 11th. But the two races before were two-turn monsters, the latter a gallant runner-up performance in the Florida Derby, bested by Quality Road on a super speed-favoring track. If Dunkirk is 4 to 1 or higher, he’s a huge overlay. $50 to win on Dunkirk at 4 to 1 would be a perfectly sensible way to deploy your wad.
For some people like me, who generally only get out of the house to work or in flight from a rolling pin, a day at the track is a fat slice of Heaven, and there’s no time for chalky caution. You gotta love the live longshot. Summer Bird, the “other Bird”, has a real chance here. He ran an impressive Arkansas Derby, third behind Papa Clem and Old Fashioned — and he was gaining at the wire. He ran reasonably in the goop at Churchill Downs, and like Dunkirk, has enjoyed 5 weeks rest. If we get some pace up front, Mine That Bird is tired from battle, and Dunkirk doesn’t like the track, well… something sassy could happen.
Calvin and MTB will be deserving favorites. If MTB is 8 to 5 or higher, pounding win tickets at the window might be the right play. I just find it so hard to bet favorites at the Belmont. I’ve done it — and Afleet Alex was the only one who treated me right. (Freaking Curlin at 4 to 5 probably cost my youngest child a college education… and don’t get me started on Funny Cide.)
Here are your tools — use them wisely:
- Past Performances
- Steven Crist’s blog — fun to read, he and I have been agreeing and losing bags of money so far
- All the prep races — I’m tired of inserting all the links. Do some freaking work yourself, you parasite
- Dave Litfin’s analysis of the whole Belmont card (the Belmont itself is the 11th). He usually stinks it up like I do. I use his analysis when I want to go broke with a lot less effort.
Your field for the 141st Belmont Stakes:
|Prg. #||PP||Horse||Jockey||Trainer||Wt.||Claim $||Equip.||Med.||ML|
|1||1||Chocolate Candy||Gomez G K||Hollendorfer Jerry||126||L||10-1|
|2||2||Dunkirk||Velazquez J R||Pletcher Todd A||126||L||4-1|
|3||3||Mr. Hot Stuff||Prado E S||Harty Eoin||126||L||15-1|
|4||4||Summer Bird||Desormeaux K J||Ice Tim A||126||Blk-On||L||12-1|
|5||5||Luv Gov||Mena M||Lukas D Wayne||126||L||20-1|
|6||6||Charitable Man||Garcia Alan||McLaughlin Kiaran P||126||L||3-1|
|7||7||Mine That Bird||Borel C H||Woolley, Jr. B L||126||L||2-1|
|8||8||Flying Private||Leparoux J R||Lukas D Wayne||126||L||12-1|
|9||9||Miner’s Escape||Lezcano J||Zito Nicholas P||126||L||15-1|
|10||10||Brave Victory||Maragh R||Zito Nicholas P||126||L||15-1|
And here are the now famous guaranteed losing wagers. Assuredly, $50 is enough pain for a Tiger Slam Belmont:
- $10 to win on either 2 or 4, depending on which personality defect you have
- $5 exacta box, 2 4 7 (and let’s get that 4 up in there!) — $30
- $1 trifecta 2 over 4 7 over 1 4 6 7 8 — $8
- 10-cent superfecta 2 over 4 7 over 4 7 8 over 1 4 5 6 7 8 10 — $2 (if you want to get crazy, just go ALL on the bottom, and jack it up to $2.80)
A few things to keep in mind:
- Like I said, it’s going to rain buckets in New York on Friday, but it’ll be sunny on Saturday. The turf will be either yielding or soft, most likely, and the main track will be fast, but maybe drying out. If the rain lasts longer than expected, and the track is muddy and goopy like it was at the Derby, this is probably good for Mine That Bird, bad for Dunkirk, and maybe ok for Summer Bird. Adjust accordingly.
- You should always see what the track is doing to speed. If speed horses are holding up, it favors Charitable Man in the Belmont. If closers are getting it done, my picks are in better shape.
- Watch the scratches. In particular, if Miner’s Escape scratches, Charitable Man could get loose on the lead. That would suck.
- Watch the odds. If MTB is 2 to 1 and Dunkirk is 3 to 1, the way forward is not as clear. It’s all about the price.
Good luck my dearest lemmings. I will be at the track, for the 12th straight year, and this year I’m bringing my 6-year-old, James. He follows in the noble footsteps of his older brother, Tim Jr., who has suffered through all 12 debacles right by my side. He heads off to Villanova this fall with enough baggage, real and metaphorical, to send a camel to its knees. Please keep him in your prayers.
With the kind of love only a compulsive gambler can fling your way,
Your partner in nonsense,