Haskin's Belmont Report: All About Tactics

Now that the post positions for the Belmont Stakes have been drawn, we at least can make an educated guess on how the race might be run. But we still have track condition to consider, and at this point it looks as if we are going to have a wet track on Saturday. But to what degree, and if it is sloppy, what type of slop are we going to get? Those are the questions that could determine who runs well and who doesn’t.

Horses who handle a true sloppy track, with standing water on top and a firm base, might love it , but may not like a drying out track that is tiring and sticky. And then there is the most likely kind of surface, and that is a sealed track, which can be very hard.

But for now, let’s concentrate on post position. As with most two-turn races, the rail means speed and the outside has the potential for disaster, especially at Belmont with that big first turn that can easily cook any horse who gets caught wide. You do not want to lose ground around this turn, because of its sweeping nature, because you’re stuck on it for much longer than other turns.

You also don’t want to go wide into the second turn. Many times, you’ll see a horse go wide into the turn, make a big move outside horses, only to fall apart after turning for home. Many jockeys who are unfamiliar with Belmont often make the mistake of thinking this is Churchill or Pimlico and circle horses on the notorious turn of no return. The key is saving ground as long as possible on the turn and then look for a seam around the five-sixteenths pole and ease your way out. Then it’s OK to go wide at the head of the stretch.

Some horses can overcome a wide trip, mainly those with a great deal of stamina and lung capacity, as well as a big long stride. But it’s much better to avoid it if possible.

As for this year’s field, we do have the potential for an early speed battle, which means a contentious pace and testing fractions. Although Freedom Child looks to be the controlling speed from post 2, Kenny McPeek has been training Frac Daddy (post 1) for speed, giving him three sharp half-mile works, including two bullet moves. His gallop Wednesday morning was so strong, the NYRA clockers actually clocked him going five furlongs in 1:04 3/5. McPeek said he is seriously considering giving him a three-furlong blowout on Thursday, which means you can pretty much expect this colt to come out running from the rail post position. The son of Scat Daddy was on the muscle walking the shed and grazing after shipping in from Kentucky Tuesday, and there is no doubt he is razor sharp right now. And McPeek has always loves disrupting the natural order of things. You can never count him out.

Preakness winner Oxbow, drew beautifully in post 7, and he should be tracking these two, which brings us to the enigmatic Palace Malice, who will break from post 13. Mike Smith will have three choices. One is to break sharply, outrun those inside him, and try to save as much ground as possible going into the turn. The only problem with that is, despite the removal of blinkers, there is always the danger of Smith losing control of him as he did in the Kentucky Derby and having him go too fast early. If he breaks cleanly and takes a slight hold him, trying to ease to the inside, there is the danger of being floated wide going into the turn by Oxbow or Giant Finish or any of the tactical speed horses.

The final option is taking a strong hold of him, let the inside speed outrun him, and then tuck in and try to have him come from well off the pace. Pletcher has always felt this colt has excellent natural speed, but wasn’t using it in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. However, going a mile and a half, he could be ready to use those tactics this time, especially with the blinkers off. He ran a huge race coming from ninth in the Risen Star to be beaten a half-length, despite having never been two turns and having only one seven-furlong race in 6 1/2 months. In the Louisiana Derby, he dropped back to eighth, and it is our opinion that he would have won the race or been right there had he not had the trip from hell, trapped on the rail with nowhere to go the entire length of the stretch. Going 1 1/2 miles now, with his pedigree, the feeling here is that he can drop out of it, sit back in the pack and then make a steady move heading into the far turn in much the same manner as Afleet Alex in the 2005 Belmont and even the stone closer Jazil in 2006.

Pletcher’s other horses are a guess, as we have no idea what tactics Unlimited Budget will use from post 13 or Revolutionary from post 9, or even Midnight Taboo from post 8. All have good tactical speed if asked for it, even though Revolutionary has come from the clouds in his last two starts. But that is not really his style of running, and he has more speed than one might think.

We also have no idea what tactics Will Take Charge and Vyjack will use coming out of posts 11 and 12, respectively. Will Take Charge, who no one has mentioned all week (yes, Wayne Lukas has two horses in the race) is a 17 hands giant with a huge stride and he should love Belmont’s big turns. If you throw out the Preakness and judge him based on his Derby run and the way he way moving stride for stride with Orb until he got stopped cold at the head of the stretch, you have to consider him an interesting longshot possibility. He had an excellent gallop Wednesday morning and was really into the bit. Remember, Lukas is the only trainer in history to have won two legs of the Triple Crown in a single year with two different horses, and he has an opportunity to make it three this year.

As for the deep closers, Orb and Golden Soul no doubt will take back as they usually do, but both will try to keep improving their position throughout and not wait as long as they did in the Derby. Overanalyze also will take back from post 3 and try to save ground as long as possible. If you look at his winning race--bad race pattern, he’s ready for another victory.

Finally, that leaves us with the biggest mystery horse, Incognito, who continues to fascinate us. He should relish the mile and a half, but must stay in the clear as much as possible. He apparently did not care for the sloppy kickback in the Peter Pan and took himself out of the race, but as we mentioned in an earlier column this week, he ran a sneaky good race down the stretch and galloping out, as if he was just getting rolling.

So, now that we’ve totally confused you, good luck trying to figure this race out. Ideally, we’d love to see Palace Malice take back well off the pace and use his speed and stamina the last four to five furlongs. If he can get lucky and ease his way to the inside after the start, that would be ideal as well, but you can’t depend on that happening, and if he fails to get in, he could be in big trouble. Of course, a sloppy track would likely keep the entire field off the rail, so ground loss wouldn’t be as critical as it would on a fast track.

I’m going to stop now before I drive everyone, mostly myself, crazy.


Leave a Comment:


Cute, Steve! Too cute! Too many "ifs" to figure this puzzle out. Will just have to watch the race and enjoy it, as it promises to be exciting, no matter who wins.  I do hope a long shot doesn't win it....just doesn't give much satisfaction when that happens, unless of course it's your long shot!

05 Jun 2013 4:32 PM
steve from st louis

I want the fresh horse Revolutionary going a mile and one-half and I like the rider change back to Castellano from Borel, who never left the rail (surprise!) in the Derby. I'm still eligible for non-winners of a ham sandwhich this year so I'm due.

05 Jun 2013 5:26 PM

Steve the inside post positions have done well in several of the more recent Belmont Stakes races, which were not run on dry fast tracks.

The first part of your article seems like the most likely the 2 Freedom Child breaks and trys to make the lead.

I dont see any 1s or 2s by Frac Daddys name for the first call on the PPs so although he might break fast and try to run with Freedom Child in the first 200 yards or so I dont think he will keep up with him at the first call of the chart,a quarter mile.

As for some other colt making a bold bid for the lead from a farther outside starting post, I dont see it.I think the pace wont be that fast and this could turn out to be a jockeys race because as you can see there are 14 ready to compete which tells me that the owners and trainers do not think either Orb or Oxbow are locks to even finish in the top three.

05 Jun 2013 5:28 PM

BTW I think in this race Pletcher as opposed to Lucas who I correctly stated had an impact on the Preakness Stakes(although I didnt see gate to wire) could have an impact on the pace of the race.

He has one owner that is running three different runners all uncoupled in the betting and one of his entries is on the inside in post 3.

05 Jun 2013 5:37 PM
El Kabong

Insanity! It's a betters dream/nightmare race and you have summed up the confusion quite nicely this time Steve.  Anyone who is trying to make sense of this situation is feeling better about themselves already. The PP's seem as useless as a recipe for Kung Pao Chicken!

I can't tell you how many people have asked me the question (who do you like in the Belmont?) and I have to reply, "I don't have a clue. Get a Ouija board out and you tell me."  

Good luck everyone, I'm going to let my beagle Suzy pick the winner this time.

05 Jun 2013 7:18 PM
Derby Dew


You are correct.... I think this Belmont will drive handicappers crazy.  

For me, what gives me fits is how to handicap a "sealed track".  Does a sealed track play like a fast track since the surface will be patted down hard?  If the track superintendent does seal the track, will it be done on Friday?

My confidence is shaky in trying to sort this race out.... and your article didn't help, ha! ha!

I may pass on wagering and just watch and enjoy.

Hope they all come home safe.

05 Jun 2013 8:02 PM

Hi Steve,

Thank you for my "Laugh of the Day".  The last line of your article really had me laughing out loud. - LOL.  Don't worry, I found your article very thoughtful, you didn't confuse me at all. - LOL.  You made some excellent points in your article.  My habit in Triple Crown races is to pick my Kentucky Derby horses and then continue to support them in every Triple Crown race in which they run.  It's my pattern every year and this year is no different.  It's a method that works for me.  That means again supporting Revolutionary, Oxbow, Orb and Palace Malice, singled and in exotics. In the Belmont Stakes I also always throw in at least one new shooter because new shooters tend to do well in the Belmont.  I'm throwing in Unlimited Budget because I'm hoping she will compete at a high level and channel her inner Rags To Riches and Genuine Risk in this race.  I'm also throwing in Will Take Charge.  I loved his kick in the Kentucky Derby and I think this time around he will have much better racing luck than he did in Kentucky.  Golden Soul is the wild card horse for me and I will definitely include him in my exotics.  The Belmont track conditions sound as if they might be sloppy Saturday afternoon, and Golden Soul seemed to absolutely thrive on Churchill's sloppy track. Leaving him out of the mix in the Belmont makes me feel very uneasy.  Golden Soul has quite a kick.  

Let's face it - this year's Belmont Stakes really is up for grabs.  And this race is famous for giving us unusual winners.  Nothing would surprise me in this year's race! - LOL.  This has already been a Triple Crown filled with lots of history and lots of surprises.  Why should the Belmont Stakes be any different? - LOL.

Thanks for another excellent article, Steve.  Good luck to you with your Belmont picks.  Good luck to all of the participants on this website with their picks as well.  Go get 'em, guys!  

05 Jun 2013 8:25 PM

This is as good of a race scenario as any Steve.  I can see the two speed horses up front with Oxbow stalking right behind.  If Palace Malice has a mind of his own make that 3 speed horses up front with an Oxbow in tow.  I still see Orb has to cut diagonally across to near the outside right away.  I think the 5 Post is too close inside and he needs to get out of it early.  Tim Ritchey had this thing scripted beforehand perfectly, so much so that I was calm, actually quite calm there in '05.  My husband turned to me and asked me ok where is Alex?  I said don't worry, he'll be coming right along about now when Tom Durkin says "and Afleet Alex, Jeremy Rose has yet to make a move on him, but Heeeeeeeere comes the Preakness winner......."  Ritchey had this timed to push button success in his mind and it worked.  I read his strategy over and over and knew exactly what Alex and Jeremy would do.  Alex had Post 9 and if I am not mistaken Jeremy cut him diagonally the other way to the inside more into contention.  I have to watch the replay so I could be mistaken but he cuts him somewhere I know.  I can see an Orb/Oxbow exacta with Rev or Golden Soul for Show.  I don't know what to make of the filly and how she'll figure in the race.  I don't really see another Curlin/Rags thing happening.  I would cut Orb from 5 to maybe 11 and keep him in contention near the outside, not too wide, not too far either but in contention in the back.  

Now as far as the track conditions it is calling for a soaking rain on Friday in NJ, assuming NY as well.  Sat. when last I looked seemed to be clearing in the afternoon and in the 70's, I am hoping the leftover rain from Friday subsides early Sat. am.  But will that leave the track drying or slop who knows.  These poor colts have had the worst of track conditions throughout this entire tc run. I won't be as calm this year hoping Orb doesn't get caught inside again and hoping for him to redeem himself.

Good luck to all and all horses come home safe.

05 Jun 2013 9:29 PM
Little Bill

Palace Malice, my pick, should be the 1rst horse in the second flight. Same trip he should have had in the Derby. I'll be surprised if they drop out of it with this guy.

05 Jun 2013 10:50 PM
Fran Loszynski

My Belmont picks Freedom Child Oxbow Orb but the greatest Belmont A fleet Alex

05 Jun 2013 10:59 PM

In a good field of horses going 12 furlongs, class and stamina invariably prevails. This Belmont is not as knotty as most people think. Freedom Child, Orb, Overanalyze and Golden Soul are the principals. Todd Pletcher's colt Midnight Taboo is the only unknown quantity capable of upsetting the applecart IMO.  

05 Jun 2013 11:25 PM

I'm sticking with pedigree in the Belmont, like I have always done. So let me sort this out for everyone, Revolutionary, Incognito, Will Take Charge, and Orb.  I'll find a place for Unlimited Budget.

06 Jun 2013 12:12 AM

This race has so many "ifs "it could make you crazy. Somehow, that seems to be the nature of the Belmont,leading to many surprising results.

To save my sanity, I 'm just going to go wirh the guy I started with, Orb, and root for him to have a great race, because I still think he 's the best horse

06 Jun 2013 9:17 AM
Love 'em all

Well, to help lessen even more confusion, Palace Malice breaks from #12 ... not 13 and Will Take Charge and Vyjack break from #10 and #11 ... not 11 and 12.  As you know, some of us are easier to confuse than others.  [big smile]  

Right now, my attention is on Andrea, the tropical storm, dumping more rain in this area!  Hope she steers clear of the Belmont racetrack.  Good luck to all.

06 Jun 2013 9:47 AM

The Orb BandWagon sure emptied fast! He was a Mortal Lock in the Preakness after winning the Derby...now its a wide open Belmont...every TripleCrown race is wide open isn't it?!...MineThatBird-Charismatic-Bernardini-Sarava...

06 Jun 2013 10:30 AM
Soldier Course

Three weeks ago I never thought I'd be saying this, but this year's Triple Crown season might end up being mediocre in memory. Perhaps a win by Orb could make a difference, redeeming himself and reigniting his fans. Anyone see the B-H video of Shug talking about Orb and the Belmont? Not the same level of confidence we saw before the Preakness.

06 Jun 2013 12:32 PM
Pedigree Ann

Frac Daddy - beaten 18 and 24 lengths by Orb, beaten 16 lengths by IMLD. Only good race this year was in the weak Arkansas Derby. Toss.

Overanalyze - beaten 13 lengths by Orb, 4 by Vyjack, only winning race was the Arkansas Derby (see above). P.S. Dixie Union is not a stamina sire: Union Rags got what stamina he had from the damside, particularly from Nijinsky. Toss.

Giant Finish - best two races were on Turfway Poly; mayhap like the horse who beat him in the Battaglia, General Election, he will be better on turf. Toss.

Incognito - well-bred but 15-length loser in only stakes start. Maybe later, but behind the curve now. Toss.

Midnight Taboo - only win in 3 starts a one-turn mile maiden. Thrown to the wolves by Repole. Toss.

Will Take Charge - beaten 12 lengths by this lot in Kentucky, beaten 16 lengths by this lot in Maryland. Loved Oaklawn (except when sloppy), moderate elsewhere. Already shown he doesn't stay. Toss.

Vyjack - doesn't stay 9f or 10f, so he's going to stay 12f? Toss.

Unlimited Budget - couldn't beat top-class fillies at 9f, so she's going to beat top colts at 12f? Recall, Rags to Riches had impressively won her Oaks, unlike this one. Toss.

This make it easier to figure out the Belmont?

06 Jun 2013 1:09 PM
Soldier Course

Just watched a video about Seattle Slew's Triple Crown run, on YouTube. It rained four inches the morning of the Belmont. Trainer Billy Turner gave Slew a blowout the day before the race. In the paddock the day of the race Slew looked like a bronze god. Will we ever see the likes of this again?

06 Jun 2013 1:19 PM

The horse that wins, will be the one who is hit the most by the whip. Like Stevens hitting Oxbow 16 times coming down the streach.

Should be "NO WHIP", horse wins by ability and desire.

06 Jun 2013 2:16 PM


You must be too young to remember Secretariat 's

Belmont. A one time only in sports history. He not only set the track record (which still stands) but won by 31 lengths. Afleet Alex was good,  but???!

06 Jun 2013 3:50 PM
Old Timer

If I can parphrase your article, Steve, this is one very OPEN race.

With that in mind:

As someone else has said, this could be a Triple Crown of 3 different O's.

KD - Orb

PR - Oxbow


BEL - Overanalyze.

He has won over this track (Belmont Futurity) and he had one bad race (KD). If he goes off at 12-1 or better, I'd say that is worth a wager.

06 Jun 2013 4:06 PM
Double Al

Great write up of the almighty confusion trying to figure this one. Why is one owner, with three horses all trained by the same trainer, not made to combine his entry?

06 Jun 2013 5:23 PM

Enjoyed your comments and article.  I, for one, am really looking forward to this particular Belmont for all the "unknown factors".  I wish a safe track and trip for all.  Have a great time one and all.

06 Jun 2013 5:52 PM

Disappointed Kiaran named Ortiz[am a Luzzi fan]...think Oxbow is up against it with plenty of runners to keep him company early. Looking for the 1/2 finish in the Derby to be running best late, with Overanalyze in the mix. Please Mr.[Ms.] Weatherperson give us a break and get this TS oughta here....good luck to all!

06 Jun 2013 6:25 PM

Plod and Vet who should I toss

06 Jun 2013 7:55 PM

Soldier Course

needs to go to horse racing pedigree school .he does have some idea of what hes dealing with but not the full picture.

06 Jun 2013 7:56 PM

I was a bit surprised to see Steve make Palace Malice his ATO pick. Pletcher seems baffled by this colt and has experimented with various running styles and distances to no avail. Maybe PM eventually finds his niche in sprints like Jackson Bend did but at this point there are too many unanswered questions surrounding Palace Malice for me to invest in him. Orb is clearly the best colt in the field and he has a legitimate excuse for his weak Preakness performance. I think the pace scenario for the Belmont should be much more to Orbs liking and he should cruise to a win here.

07 Jun 2013 5:42 AM

Love your comments!  Going to be an interesting race.  I was thinking the paddle boat might be the winner because it is going to be wet and muddy.  Maybe one of those boats they use in Florida to go through the swamps!  LOL  Hope everyone crosses the finish line safely.

07 Jun 2013 11:34 AM

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