Haskin's Belmont Report: How the Race Shapes Up

The last pieces of the puzzle in the Triple Crown races are the post positions, and horsemen cannot wait until they can get that out of the way.

The main drama in Wednesday’s draw for the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) came when two post positions remained in the 12-horse field – Post 1 and Post 9.  One of the two horses who still had not drawn was Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom.

With a brilliant work over the track behind him and a superb gate-schooling session Wednesday morning, during which he was the consummate pro, all that was left to possibly de-rail the Derby winner was an unfavorable post position, and the rail was the not the ideal place from which to break, especially with the nightmarish memories of Big Brown’s fiasco from Post 1 in 2008 still fresh in people’s minds.

Well, it couldn’t have worked out better. Animal Kingdom drew Post 9 and the Irish invader, Master of Hounds, drew the rail. But with Master of Hounds it was a totally different story.

Trained and campaigned mainly in Europe, Master of Hounds is used to racing with cover. Not only has he shown excellent tactical speed, especially in his gutsy nose defeat in the UAE Derby (UAE-II), he proved in the Kentucky Derby he can handle the dirt and the kickback, and has the ability to weave inside and outside of horses in order to extricate himself from traffic problems. He also is more of a grinder, and he’ll have plenty of time to find his openings under Garrett Gomez, who knows him a lot better now and told trainer Aidan O’Brien after the Derby he would love to ride him back in the Belmont Stakes.

The other topic of conversation was Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford drawing the far outside in the 12-horse field.

But here again, of all the horses in the race, Shackleford should be the least affected by breaking from the far outside. As the only true speed horse in the race, al he has to do is break fairly alertly and then ease on over to the inside. How far will depend on hos the track is playing. Sometimes, the rail has a tendency to be dead and jockeys will fan their horses wide on purpose.

What Shackleford brings into the Belmont that he didn’t in the Derby and Preakness is a reputation. Having established his tenacity on the lead and the ability to control the pace, and with his game score in the Preakness, no one would be foolish enough to take him on early unless they are intent on going on a suicide mission.

Shackleford takes horses out of their game plan and makes them play his game, whether he’s going slow or fast. As a jockey, you don’t want to lull him to sleep by slowing the pace down to a crawl, but he appears to have the ability to slow it down for the first mile and then kick for home early and try to catch the others by surprise and make them use every bit of their stamina.

Expect to see Santiva, Prime Cut, Mucho Macho Man and possibly Master of Hounds and Nehro sitting behind Shackleford, watching his every move. Ruler on Ice shouldn’t be too far back either. The big decision for the riders will be when to pull the trigger. This track is made for Mucho Macho Man’s gargantuan strides and you sure don’t want to see him too far off and being given a lot to do in the last three-eighths of a mile. This is still pretty much a baby (he won’t actually turn 3 until four days after the Belmont) and you have to use the one physical strength he has – his stride.  

As for Animal Kingdom, let’s remember he showed excellent speed breaking his maiden going 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland and wasn’t that far back in a grass optional claimer going a mile. But he’s going to do what got him here, although there is no way he’s going to be as far back as he was in the Preakness. He showed in the Spiral Stakes and in a lesser way the Kentucky Derby he has the ability to make a strong early move down the backstretch and sustain it. And sustaining that kind of move proved successful for Afleet Alex, who just kept coming and coming around the far turn before blowing away his opposition. It also proved successful for another late closer, Jazil.

Stay Thirsty is another who can grind his way into contention. The big question with him is whether he’s good enough. His half-brother, Andromeda’s Hero, finished second to Afleet Alex in the Belmont by just coming and coming while others were backing up.

The other horse who is going to come from relatively far out of it is Brilliant Speed, and we wrote on Monday about his amazing Belmont Stakes pedigree.  The key to him is whether he handles the dirt. He seemed to have no problems in the Derby, in which he was beaten only 5 ½ lengths after having to go nine-wide.

The longest prices in the field, Isn’t He Perfect and Monzon, don’t really have any specific running style.

So, that’s pretty much the Belmont Stakes in a nutshell from a post position and strategy aspect. There should be plenty of time to make your own luck as long as the rider and horse are patient and don’t do anything silly.

35 Comments

Leave a Comment:

JamesRockford

I don't think Master of Hounds would be shipped back over the pond unless they thought he had a BIG shot to win this race. 10/1 sounds pretty juicy to me.

08 Jun 2011 7:25 PM
El Kabong

A crowded nutshell! Steve, I will say it again, this field is full of potential and surprise. Just when I thought I'd easily eliminate a few first, I only came up with 2. The two you mention as having no style. The curious  horse in my hunt to eliminate was Ruler On Ice. I can't throw him out. He would have gone past Astrology in the Sunland Derby with 100 more yards. The Tesio was his first back in 3 months and he closed well again but the race was too short for this colt. He is a plodding stayer with determination and my strategy is to use him underneath. I don't think he can win by any means but he may well hit the board and send exotics into lush green fields of gold. Let me know how he looks if you get peak at him.

08 Jun 2011 7:54 PM
Linda in Texas

This is great Steve, just sent a post with some questions centering around exactly what you wrote about in this one. But i had written for your other article.

I didn't send it because sometimes i feel really stupid with my questions.

What will showers do to the track if they materialize?

Deep and Cuppy, Sloshy ?

08 Jun 2011 8:51 PM
Alex'sBigFan

I really enjoyed this article immensely Steve, thanks for it.  It's a pretty great assessment of the strategy.  Interesting that Animal Kingdom posts from gate 9, Afleet Alex's Belmont post as well.

I think Steve said the key to the whole race, it's "just when the riders decide to pull the trigger."  With AK's running style, he could have a very similar Belmont scenario as Afleet Alex did.  I remember Tom Durkin's call, "But heeeere comes the Preakness winner...........he just passed Giacomo like Giacomo was standing still!"  I can't wait to see Stay Thirsty too, gone most of the tc way without his stablemate, Mo, who will be in my heart all day on Saturday too.  This is a fine Belmont field indeed.

El Kabong,

Funny you should mention Ruler On Ice, I just today found out that my friend of Liberation Farm bred him!  I'll be throwing a few bucks on him as well while I'm there.  Too bad Soldat couldn't be in this, huh?  Have you heard any news on him whatsoever?

08 Jun 2011 9:45 PM
The Deacon

Tough handicapping race, but in these circumstances I usually go with I perceive to be classic 1 1/2 horse and that is Animal Kingdom. Brilliant Speed is certainly due for a big effort and Nehro based on the extra rest he got by skipping the Preakness should also be considered. Unless Master of Hounds is a super horse traveling back and forth across the pond is daunting at best. I am not convinced that this is a great crop of 3 year olds so anything is possible. Unless there is a standout, don't fresh horses usually win the Belmont.......

08 Jun 2011 10:12 PM
El Kabong

Alex's BigFan

No word on Soldat, but I did see a workout. Seems he may be gearing up for the August series at Saratoga if I had to guess.

08 Jun 2011 11:40 PM
deloulcrespo

I think it's time for Nehro, he needed a rest, and he got it. Now it's time for party.

09 Jun 2011 5:36 AM
JerseyBoy

Steve:

The key to this race will be the early position of Prime Cut. He is in Post Position 8. He regularly goes 4 in about 47. He might be forced to do this again to get to the rail. If he does, the race will be over for Shackleford who is drawn wide.

I believe that post position is the most underrated factor in distance racing in America. To win a long race, a horse needs to settle early, wherever he is in the early running.

None of this matters if the track is sloppy.

09 Jun 2011 6:32 AM
Sir Barton

ABF--a little fyi:

Soldat

Date: June 6, 2011

Track: Belmont Park

Distance: Four Furlongs

Time: 49:45

Track Condition: Fast

Surface: Dirt

Rank: 18/33

09 Jun 2011 7:27 AM
Alydar

Yes! Master of Hounds is the one to beat...

09 Jun 2011 8:21 AM
Fran Loszynski

I think Shackleford deserves to win. This horse has run his heart out. When you watch him run it's almost like he is saying "I'm going to do it!" "I'm going to get this one!" Heart, courage, and J. Cast.his jockey has the same heart- hope he takes home the Belmont --but- will add in there Nehro. He's itching for a big win and if the Shack tires-there he'll be. Animal Kingdom is Mr. Personality he shines and Mucho Macho Man has the fight, Kathy R. has worked so hard with him. Master of Hounds wouldn't be here is right if he wasn't awesome. You wish they could all win, but the best horse will win.

Schackleford

Nehro

Animal Kingdom

The longshot winner my longtime favorite jockey Edgar Prado

Prime Cut

Good Luck everyone, safe trip and "Welcome Back Frank, New York New York!"  and----Linda from Texas, your questions have taught me alot, keep asking them. You know alot.

09 Jun 2011 8:35 AM
NASCAR PRO

I would be surprised if at least one horse didnt challenge shack for the lead going into the first turn,the field is inside of him.I would say all the horses coming back from a TC race have high cruising speed,and Shackleford dosent have brilliant speed that holds for 9 or 10 furlongs.I think one of the new shooters will probably HAVE to be assertive early in the race to have a chance to win,remember zitos horse wired the Belmont in 08,and didnt win again I think.The big track helps to lull the riders to relax too long.I think there will be a slow pace and a horse that saves ground and gets the jump on the field after the final turn wins,and the rest will be running for second.

09 Jun 2011 9:07 AM
MikeM

Animal Kingdom looks a little light to me. Maybe it was the angle but I could see quite a few ribs. On the other hand Shackelford looked great and seemed to be carrying good flesh. Shack can rate on the lead and I think with no other speed in the race he will be able to slow it down enough to go the distance.

09 Jun 2011 10:32 AM
bill daly

Interesting that some people feel that Shackleford's chances could be compromised by the pace, distance, pedigree, etc.  I think this horse showed in the Preakness that he can rate on the lead [as Romans mentioned in recent comments] and speed horses who can relax on the lead or right off it are the most dangerous commodities in racing. As far as distance and pedigrees go there are a lot of horses who outrun their pedigree every day.  I would much rather wager on a horse like Shackleford who has demonstrated his heart and tenacity rather than a horse bred to run all day who never lives up to his pedigree.

and/or the d

09 Jun 2011 10:38 AM
Abigail Anderson

A bit off topic (but only a bit): Steve -- I just loved "And They're Off" this week! The Belmont tour was SPECTACULAR and I loved the spot you picked to end the tour.  Bittersweet but so fitting. And the analysis of the contenders with the inclusion of Steve Byk was a great listen. Thanks so much!

09 Jun 2011 10:44 AM
Linda in Texas

Just checking the weather update for Saturday in Elmont, NY still showing showers for Saturday, high of 72 degrees, Low 65, chance of rain 60%, winds out of ENE at 14 mph, humidity 67%.

Thunderstorms also expected on Friday. This will affect the track. Won't be dust in the faces of the competitors on Saturday,it will be the heavier stuff! That will concern me for some regardless of Post Position. At least the heat won't be a problem.

Fran-thanks,i feel if i have to ask questions, i couldn't be too smart!! But that is the only way to go for me.

And i hope Mucho Macho Man does not lose a shoe this trip and makes it to the wire with all 4 still on his hooves and not on the track.

Safe journey's horse and humans alike.

09 Jun 2011 10:50 AM
Fran Loszynski

Alex's Big Fan Thank you it was nice remembering Tom Durkin's call for Afleet Alex. That night we waved goodnight to Alex and stood in front of the Secretariat Statue looking out at the vast park our second trip around Long Island "lost". Geeesh! That's what I love about your column Steve we get to share some great memories. One note, boy two heavy-hitting jockeys Edgar Prado and Johnnie V are in side by side post positions. Love to watch these guys race-the pros I call them.

09 Jun 2011 10:54 AM
Dawn in MN

Mr. Haskin,

I love to read your race analysis.  The problem with me reading knowledgeable commentary is that it clouds my thinking, I end up changing my bets and losing money.  That's o.k. I always win the excitement of watching the sport of kings.

I am pretty sure Master of Hounds is here for a reason, that Nehro is sitting on a big race, and I still like Mucho Macho Man.  Unfortunately, I am of the opinion that frequent flier miles are a disadvantage, and Mucho Macho Man reminds me a little of Looking At Lucky-unlucky.  I will bet Shackleford because I want him to win, and Animal Kingdom because he is so pretty.  Hey, at least I can admit it. It isn't science, and I tell my friends that handicapping is like crossword puzzles, sometimes a word that fits isn't the correct answer.

I am on the Pacific coast for my son's college graduation.  I will be visiting Emerald Downs Saturday.  I'm taking my mom and son to the races.  Neither has ever seen a live race.  It is my fervent hope that all the horses we watch finish safely, and for the sake of the sport I hope every single Belmont contender finishes in good order.

09 Jun 2011 11:06 AM
Horsebagger

Soldat is going to Virginia next weekend.

09 Jun 2011 11:44 AM
Old Timer

While it wouldn't shock me to see Shackelford win, I cannot bet him for this reason. In the Derby he had complete control of the pace and still could not last  1 1/4 miles. In the Preakness he pretty much controlled the pace and, in a shorter race, barely won. Now he has to go 5/16 mile further than that. Stranger things have happenned and maybe they'll let him dawdle along six furlongs in 1:15, but somehow I have my doubts. AK is a good value at 2-1 IMO.

09 Jun 2011 12:12 PM
toppick

Excellent tip about the strides for Mucho Macho Man. However, would like to know the horse with the shortest legs or shortest strides in case of sloppy/muddy track. Does any one know who that might be?

09 Jun 2011 1:45 PM
Fuzzy Corgi

I think the heat will have a larger impact on the horses than their post position.

Wishing safe trips to all.

09 Jun 2011 2:27 PM
yeager055

Good Luck to all on your picks and may all horses and jockeys be safe.I have to say that a sloppy track will make a diff. Nehro does not like the wet at all..I really don't think post p really matters in here. Shack had pp 14 MMM 13 Nehro 19 in KD ok back em up one cause of Mo's scratch. I have been keeping a very close eye on MMM and Nehro, we hve not seen their best race yet and at this distance with good trips and patients from the Jocks we may see a 1-2 finish.Don't forget Nehro 2con n MMM 3rd in derby if AK didn't come out of nowhere Nehro wld hve won and both these colts needed more ground to cover.I just hope they glue M man's shoe's on lol...yea Shack has run his heart out n i wouldn't mind if he wins at all. Don't count out Brilliant Speed cause his day is also coming and he is a half Brother to Barbaro who in my opinion wld hve been a tripple crown winner if not for his misfortune....OH and don't forget M has a new jock...anyway it's anyones race it will be the jocks that loose this one...Just hope for safe trip for all cause my boy ARCH should be in here...

09 Jun 2011 3:58 PM
yeager055

yes Toppick it would prob be Nehro. his lil legs look like they hardley spread apart lol

But HE DOES NOT LIKE THE SLOP !

09 Jun 2011 4:00 PM
Sam Santschi

I guess rain would be fitting for this strange year.  Is it me but I just don't get MOH.  One 7 furlong win...all the travel...The last race O'Brien won in the states other than the silly BC Marathon was what, the Shadwell Turf Mile in 2006?  He sure will take alot of money with the one hole winning at a 26% clip.  I just don't see him winning this.  I'm trying to make a case for others but AK looks very tough here.  JV will ride him better this time.  

09 Jun 2011 4:28 PM
Cris

Animal Kingdom and Shackleford are the real deal so I will expect to see them fighting for the lead at the end. There will be an honest pace. My worry is Mucho Macho Man, they have given this young horse so much to do, and the pressure is on to come up with a triple crown win, but his feet don't lie. If he has to run in this thing I just want him to come home ok. I hope he then will get a well earned break. Good luck to all.

09 Jun 2011 5:15 PM
Vince

blogger from europe here. just want to give a big thumbs up to all the connections of horses going for the belmont this time around. so often in the past the belmont has been a bit of a joke with so few runners. not this time around. it is a real race and they have all turned up. it is the decider. so well done all, the belmont is a race that deserves to stand on its own merits and not just as part of a triple crown bid. rant over.

as for the race, I can't see MOH doing it either. but ballydoyle started in the US, saw him run on in the KD, and thought oh the belmont.. perfect. but he could well stay. I hate front runners over 12 furlongs so no shackleford for me. boring but think animal kingdwom will win it.

finally, there seem to be lot fewer bloggers on here than there used to be. I took my time but signing up just takes 2 minutes, so if you are reading and think it's too much of a pain to sign up, it isn't. it's easy.  

09 Jun 2011 5:26 PM
Alex'sBigFan

El Kabong, Sir Barton, & Horsebagger,

Thanks for the info on Soldat.  Seems he is stabled at Belmont, whish I could catch a glimpse of him while there Saturday.  I hope they consider the Haskell too since his owners are from N.J.

Karen in Texas,

I feel like you, want to see Animal Kingdom win but do not want to see Shack lose.  Did you see Shack and AK in gate school on the BH video?  How cute, they both are so beautiful.  And Lenny said Shack was bucking so he's raring to go!  Master of Hounds was over in quarantine at Aqueduct yesterday, probably at Belmont by now.  Boy if he can pull a Belmont win off he's much the best.  He will lead the post parade through the tunnel and be out first as he is in Post 1, such great athletes but when they come out in the parade it is too cute for words.

The temperature in my car in New Jersey this afternoon, Thursday, is reading 102 degrees!  It's awful but a breeze is blowing so thunderstorms look like they're on their way in. It will be cooler for the horses on Saturday.

09 Jun 2011 6:06 PM
Giddyup

MOH couldn't win in Dubai so what makes us think he can beat tougher competition here. If the stamina of Nehro wasn't suspect then why was he not in the Preakness? I would be pretty shocked not to see Animal Kingdom and Shack dueling it out once again.

09 Jun 2011 8:37 PM
calico cat

Alex'sBigFan,

Have fun at Belmont!!! Hope the rain doesn't ruin your beautiful hat.

09 Jun 2011 8:55 PM
GoldenBroom

Here in Ohio we usually have New York's weather the day before...it's beautiful in the low 70s today! But a whopper of a line of thunder-showers headed here later this afternoon. Would rather see them run in mud than in the 90's.

10 Jun 2011 9:31 AM
Fran Loszynski

A note to Edgar Prado:

Remembering how Edgar apologized to Smarty Jones' owners for winning with Birdstone: Edgar if you beat Animal Kingdom and Shackleford, hold on the apologies, you are a fabulous jockey and Prime Cut is just that-"Prime"  Edgar Prado is such a gentle jockey but fierce. I hope the spirit of Laffitt Pincay rides with you!

10 Jun 2011 9:57 AM
Karen in Texas

Alex'sBigFan---Yes, I saw the gate-schooling video. They should be ready to run! May they all stay safe...

10 Jun 2011 10:43 AM
yeager055

Hi Vince from Europe.always wanted to go there..What is up with the word SUSPECT ? LOL Geese this isn't criminal minds.....And giddyup..stamina had nothin to do with Nehro not going to the Preakness..Make no mistake Steve A knows what he is doing.Nehro needed more ground so the smart thing to do was lay him out of the shorter race and rest him up for the longer one....think of me when he crosses the finish line...Cris i'm with u on MMM i'm worried bout him to and God Bless him to come home safe......GOOD LUCK ALL...And Vince is right only takes a minute to sign up.....

10 Jun 2011 4:43 PM
Aleine

So now,....the B. Stakes is over..

BUT- is anyone else surprised there was no objection when Animal Kingdom had his spill just outside the starting gate? Jesus-AK's jockey- was interviewed and asked if he thought there was a bumping incident that occured. It was said that AK may have "clipped heels" as a result of horses or a horse, getting bumped into another horse-thus AK's  clipped heels. I'm shocked that there was no objection thrown. Anyone else wondering why AK went down just outside the gate???  Sloppy track not withstanding.  Hmmm....

12 Jun 2011 11:49 AM

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