Because of the nature of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and its unknown factors, mainly the distance, any win selection must be made pretty much on pure speculation...or guess.
Judging from what we’ve seen over the past week, there is no reason not to like Animal Kingdom. There are fewer unknowns surrounding him than any of the others, he’s already shown he can dominate this group, and he has held up remarkably well physically. In fact, he seems to have done everything perfectly, from his work over the track, his schooling session at the gate, to his physical well being. The Triple Crown apparently has not taken anything out of him.
And most important, we still don’t know how good this horse is. If there is any horse in the field who looks capable of winning the Belmont by open lengths it is Animal Kingdom.
But, we are talking about the solid favorite, so from a betting aspect, there are many ways to go.
Animal Kingdom, of course, must be included in all exotic bets. It’s just a question who to put with him.
Another horse who has done extremely well at Belmont is Nehro, whose coat looks great and he is carrying good flesh. He may be the most versatile horse in the race and can adapt to any pace. And he has the ability to put in his run from anywhere on the track and can do it early or late.
The other horse who intrigues us is Master of Hounds, who actually ran a fantastic race in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), weaving his way through traffic in his dirt debut to be beaten only 5 ½ lengths. We didn’t like the way he shipped in on Thursday, causing quite a ruckus and failing to adapt to his new surroundings. But after a spin over the track in 90-degree weather and not getting warm in the slightest, he began to settle in and was fine on Friday morning. He also had a good little quarter-mile blowout Friday and seemed to be handling the track well. He is another that will have no problem with the distance.
With a chance of thunderstorms in the New York area Friday and Saturday, we don’t know what kind of track we’ll be dealing with. Slop definitely should move Shackleford up and help him get the mile and a half. This horse is so gutsy and tenacious it’s hard to leave him out of your bets. Watch out for him to slow the pace down for the first mile and then pull the trigger on the turn to try to get separation from the pack and dare anyone to come catch him.
If there is one horse who is built and geared for Belmont it is Mucho Macho Man, with his humongous stride and ability to just keep coming at you. He also has done quite well at Belmont the past few weeks.
Two longshots who must be respected are Brilliant Speed, because of his Belmont Stakes-oriented pedigree (see Monday’s column), and Santiva, who ran a sneaky-good race in the Derby. Despite having only one mediocre performance on Polytrack in 11 weeks going into the Derby, this tenacious little colt turned back the late-closing Brilliant Speed the entire length of the stretch and kept running on well at the finish to be beaten 5 ½ lengths, while in a three-horse photo with Master of Hounds and Brilliant Speed.
Another who should relish the distance is Stay Thirsty, who has had to alter his campaign last year and this year to suit his more illustrious stablemate Uncle Mo. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him plod along late for a piece of it.
As you can see, this is not an easy race to pick out three or four horses. Animal Kingdom still looks the most logical winner, but as we mentioned there isn’t much value there.
The three horses who have competed in all three legs – Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Mucho Macho Man -- all seem to be thriving, but we’re looking for some potential overlays and big numbers in the exotics.
With that said, Animal Kingdom, Nehro, and Master of Hounds look like a solid exacta and trifecta box and all will get the distance. And we’re also going to stick Brilliant Speed and Santiva in there for a five-horse box in an attempt to hit some really big numbers. Santiva is as laid-back of a horse as you’ll find, but is a tiger on the racetrack. And we have to admit we just like this horse and have enjoyed being around him this week. Brilliant Speed will relish the distance, had a very strong gallop Friday morning, and should be closing late.
What about Shackleford and Mucho Macho Man? Yes, it’s hard to leave them out, and either or both can easily be substituted for Brilliant Speed and Santiva if you’re not inclined to throw so many longshots in there and leave out two legitimate contenders. But we’re going for the big bucks.
Our price horse win bet is Master of Hounds, because of the improvement potential coming off the Derby. How he’ll handle running in the Derby, returning to Ireland, and coming back here for the Belmont all in five weeks is anyone’s guess, but he sure looks great physically and if anyone is used to traveling it’s him. We’ll watch the odds board and see how much he gets bet.