To Move or Not to Move

Monday we discussed the pitfalls of riding at Belmont Park and yesterday we attempted to determine just how serious a horse American Pharoah is as a Triple Crown threat. Another important factor that goes into riding in the Belmont Stakes is when to move on your horse. Over the years, people have been critical of Kent Desormeaux for moving too soon on Real Quiet. That is open for debate because Real Quiet had a fairly strong stretch kick. Desormeaux still took the initiative and tried to distance himself from the others. It almost worked, but the horse was not as focused in the stretch as he should have been. If Desormeaux had sat still on Real Quiet and let Victory Gallop get close at the quarter pole, it’s very possible that Victory Gallop would gone right by him and won by a bigger margin.

As a rule of thumb, moving early if you feel you’re on the best horse is the most logical strategic maneuver. Many jockeys on the lead sit motionless on their horse, waiting to set them down turning for home. In many cases, those horses wind up getting beat. When you have a horse like American Pharoah, who very well could be on the lead at the three-eighths pole, don’t try to out-close the closers. You’re taking your horse out of his main strength, which is running the opposition off their feet and putting as much distance between you and them as possible, because then you’re forcing them to move early, too, and taking them out of their comfort zone.

Now, if your horse can’t stay the mile and a half none of that matters, but in that case, you can always wind up pulling a Bold Forbes and try to steal it. Bold Forbes wanted absolutely no part of a mile and half, but Angel Cordero opened a huge lead and dared anyone to catch him, and was able to just hold on to defeat two closing stayers, MacKenzie Bridge and Great Contractor.

If you watch replays of past Belmont Stakes, you will see that just about every winner is already being asked by the three-eighths pole and is under a full drive by the quarter pole. Horses like Bet Twice, Risen Star, and Point Given made bold early moves, opening up many lengths on the field, and all three wound up winning by double-digit lengths. Watch Go and Go in 1990 get the ideal Belmont trip, while Unbridled made one of those big sweeping outside moves to loom menacingly nearing the top of the stretch. But Go and Go eased out and inhaled the leaders, winning off by himself, while Unbridled began backing up before they even hit the quarter pole.

Even Seattle Slew was being asked a long way out, and Easy Goer was in a full drive before the quarter pole. Watch Da’ Tara go for it all heading into the far turn and opening up on his field, with no one getting close to him. It’s the same almost every year.

Now, nothing is infallible, and American Pharoah could very well be able to win the Belmont in whatever manner he desires. But would you rather see him heading to the quarter pole with a four or five or even eight-length lead or being under wraps while Frosted or some of the other stretch runners close in and pull up to this flank? All races are run differently and you can’t predict what horses are going to do, but with American Pharoah, it just seems obvious. Unless you’re a true stayer and can come home fast, don’t try to out-close the closers.

Frosted has his game face on now and should on Saturday as well.

The handsome head of Frosted, whose coat looks in excellent health.

You'd be hard pressed to find a kinder horse than Mubtaahij, here with assistant Trevor Brown.

But on the track he resented going out for only a jog in the slop and wanted to do a lot more.

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