There are eight Kentucky Derby refugees poised to enter the gate at Saturday's Belmont Stakes. That in itself is a story, as I can't recall the last time so many that ran on the first day of May came to New York for the finale. Sure, there are always a few that come to the Belmont, and most of those have historically skipped the Preakness, but eight? I don't remember the good old days of the sport, but you've got to believe this is the way it was.
The story, though, is that with nothing to gain relative to potential stud fees, there are three colts running in the Belmont that ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Animal Kingdom's great run in Louisville assured his trip to Baltimore. Mucho Macho Man was well rested going into Louisville and in the Derby ran well enough to prompt his connections to ship to Ol' Roundtop. Shackleford ran like the dickens in Derby and nearly held on for a piece. The Shack seemed a good fit for the Pimlico track and they were logical to return. So all three had reasons to ship to Baltimore, but New York?
Why would the connections of a colt like Shackleford, a colt that won't gain a penny more for his, ahem, contributions in making little horseys someday, come back to run in Elmont on Saturday? Why would Animal Kingdom, another colt with nothing to gain relative to becoming an equine mating machine, run with no Triple Crown on the line?
Before you start scratching your head on these two, think about Mucho Macho Man. This dude didn't win either race! He was well rested going into the Triple Crown campaign and justified his odds by showing 16 others his tail in the Derby, then returned two weeks later besting more than half of the field, and this after tossing yet another horseshoe during the Preakness. An aside, Mucho has thrown two shoes in his last three races and his farrier can be found selling Dilly Bars at a Dairy Queen in Ashtabula.
Unlike the Shack and Animal Kingdom, a win in New York would certainly add value to the Macho Man's stud fee, so that part makes sense. And though I'm sure it has happened, I can't recall a colt losing in both the Derby and the Preakness and still coming to New York for an encore. Hell, at this point most just saunter off and dominate a meaningless Midwest early-summer stakes race like the Ohio, Indiana or Iowa Derby.
So why are they coming back? It's a simple gesture of noble ownership that, get this, are doing what's best for the sport. For years we have grown to expect the sport of kings to be managed by greed, and then comes this bunch. The three owner/syndicate groups should be applauded. Their colts should be cheered. This is a great way to set the tempo for the remainder of the 2011 racing calendar, as these colts will see each other again at the Haskell or Travers and punctuate the year at the Breeder's Cup.
Let's look at the colts these three will face on Saturday.
Monzon is Sagamore Farms, Md., bred, and based on form alone has no business running in a Graded event. Apparently, owner Kevin Plank of Under Armour fame, believes his colt has the pedigree to get the grueling mile and a half. Monzon's papa was Thunder Gulch, a colt that won the Belmont in 1995. The Gulch sired Point Given, the 2001 Belmont winner, so indeed Plank has the distance pedigree on his side. Take a long look at his form, though, if this dude can't beat colts at distances of a mile and a tad, then how can he possibly win this?
A maybe on Saturday is Harlan's Hello, from the small barn of Doodnauth Shivmangal. This one would look good if you were handicapping an Allowance race on the undercard, but he'll face real deal colts here on Saturday. The Dood-man is a little iffy on running this colt, for good reason, as the son of Harlan's Holiday is way over his head.
Shivmangal, a native Guyanan who has recently re-entered the racing game after a 15-year hiatus, also brings Isn't He Perfect to the dance. The colt ran in the Preakness -- if that's what you'd call it, inasmuch as he was 12 lengths back at every point of call. The colt is bred for this distance, but his form makes you wonder what Shiv is thinking. No shot for this one either.
Stay Thirsty returns to the fray after a five-week vacation following the Kentucky Derby. He's the only Pletcher in the race, and it is hard to imagine that of the three billion runners under Todd's watch, this is the only capable youngun he had in his holster aside from Uncle Mo. Regardless, this colt will do well to beat even half this field, unfortunately for him and dapper Todd, there is no money in finishing seventh.
Master of Hounds is a Euro invader that didn't embarrass himself at the Derby, finishing in fifth place. He's a tad suspect at the distance, even though his brother Lemon Drop Kid lit the tote here in 1999. The best he can hope for is a share underneath, and I'll only cover him if he's at 12-1 or higher.
Another Derby refugee is Santiva, a colt that finished just behind Master of Hounds in Louisville. Like the Hound, he has distance issues. Unlike the Hound, he'll get juicy odds -- 20-1 assures a play for the Eddie Kenneally trainee.
Prime Cut is a stalker type that runs for the Neil Howard barn and is another with limited form but a pedigree for distance. He has intangible assets, though, like Howard, who is one of the best conditioners in the game today, and he has Edgar Prado in the irons. Edgar has fallen from the list of elite jockeys for some reason, but EP knows how to run this race like no other. If he runs, I'm backing, as the colt should go off at well over 15-1 odds.
Ruler on Ice comes in on very good form, has a minor shot at getting the 12 panels, and his odds will be more than enticing at 30-1. Trainer Kelly Breen might be up to something here, and if you trust the colt's fine run at the Sunland Derby in March -- where he finished third -- toss a few quid on this dude.
Astrology beat the Ice Man by a head at the Sunland, and all Astrology did after that was run a game second at the Preakness. I think he's worth a little play, at least underneath in the gimmicks.
Brilliant Speed is a son of Dynaformer that can run forever. The only question is whether he can handle the surface, and based on his admirable Derby seventh-place finish, the answer is yes. The little brother of the late Barbaro will indeed hang around for a share of the purse, so cover him in all slots underneath.
If you're backing Derby winner Animal Kingdom or Preakness winner Shackleford, I won't try to sway you away. They are capable colts that could have something to say on Saturday, but these guys will be very short on the tote, too short for their chances, and as much as I admire the connections for running, I can't buy in.
Of the two, I'd cover Animal Kingdom on the bottom of an exacta and in the middle of the trifecta, as he can surely get the 12 panels. On the other hoof, with no speed in this edition of the Belmont, Shackleford would need to run the race of his short life to win or even show up in the money. Play them to run like circus poodles if you like them, but don't expect huge returns coming back if they come in one, two.
Mucho Macho Man is the other colt that will have run in all three Triple Crown races, and if there is any racing fate, the June foal will have a good showing here. The big problem here is that 12 furlongs is a tall order for the pedigree lines of this Florida bred. Don't feel too bad for him -- he'll be back this summer and fall and will get that Grade I win before too long, just not Saturday. I'll play him for second and third, but not for the whole shebang. I'll be rooting for him, though.
Which brings us to the one to beat on Saturday -- Nehro. I know this colt will be short on the board, in the 3-1 range, and it pains me to no end to back the chalk, but he just seems logical. He is a stalker, and that is the profile to win this race. Often you'll hear from the naive that closers win long races, but that just isn't the case. He'll hang three to four ponies off the lead and break like mad as he comes around that sweeping final turn. I'll call a three-length romp right now. Regardless of the price, build a ticket around this dude.
I'll play Nehro over Brilliant Speed, Mucho Macho Man and Animal Kingdom in the place slots, and cover Macho, Master of Hounds, Santiva, Prime Cut and Ruler on Ice in third. At high odds, I'll play a few longshot salvos with Brilliant Speed, Prime Cut and Ruler on Ice on top, and in the place and show slots with some of the logicals.
The chalk may very well run like a carousel here, and if they do, it will be a paltry payday, but maybe one of the longies will show up and give us a decent payout to take to Saratoga next month.
In any case, enjoy the beauty of this very underrated gem of a track, and the most difficult race any of these colts will ever run.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||June 7, 2011|