Belmont Stakes Might Wind Up the Best of the Three

Let us first acknowledge the fact that from strictly a historical standpoint, this year's Belmont Stakes (G1) is closer to a one-turn Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) with a three-hour NBC telecast than it is to the Belmont Stakes.

Don't get me wrong, the Belmont is going to be a great race and I'm looking forward to it, but from a historical standpoint, it's the Belmont Stakes in name only and doesn't represent what the Belmont Stakes is supposed to be, which is the Test of the Champion, the final obstacle for immortality for horses winning the Derby and Preakness.

To win three races in five weeks, culminating at a mile and a half is hard. But as Tom Hanks said of baseball in "A League of their Own," "It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great."

Of the three Triple Crown races, the Belmont will be the only one that had to make three major changes: the date, like the other two, but also in the order it's normally run and the distance it's normally run. When you have to make that many changes, it ceases to be what it's supposed to be.

Again, it's going to be a great race with a great field and will be befitting a 3-hour telecast. It's just the only one of the Triple Crown races that has undergone a complete facelift. The winner will be a classic winner with an asterisk, but still technically a classic winner.

But here is why it could wind up overshadowing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the long run as far as importance and attracting a classic field.

It is the only one of the Triple Crown races that, at this point, guarantees to attract the current best 3-year-olds, as it is run two and a half months before the Derby, and as we know, a lot can happen to horses in two and a half months.

There is such a huge disconnect between the Belmont and the Derby and Preakness it is really a disjointed Triple Crown. We know what we have now, but do we know come September and especially October that we'll have the best 3-year-olds in the country or just the survivors of the Derby trail who have lasted that long. There are a lot of big races still to be run and a lot of hopes that will be dashed. A Derby horse in May does not equate to a Derby horse in September.

The Belmont will attract the best 3-year-old in the country in many people's opinion, Tiz the Law, who is primed and ready for a big  It could also attract arguably the second and third best 3-year-olds in Nadal and Charlatan if Bob Baffert decides to run them both. Why deprive one of them the opportunity to be a classic winner when he is at the top of his game and ready for another monster effort, as we saw in the split Arkansas Derby (G1). Is it fair to either of the colts' owners to run his or her horse in let's say the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) when the Belmont Stakes is only two weeks earlier? We'll get to Authentic in a bit.

There no doubt is going to be a mad rush to the entry box, as trainers and owners of the most accomplished 3-year-olds will want to take advantage of finally getting a chance to win a classic and be showcased on NBC. Who knows where their horse will be in September?

As for Authentic and Honor A.P, targeted to run in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), the timing is challenging as it applies to the Belmont. By Santa Anita running it June 6, it means that unless Bob Baffert or John Shirreffs is brazen enough to run back in two weeks, which I doubt they will, the Santa Anita Derby winner cannot win the Triple Crown, if you want to call it the Triple Crown. At the very least it will deprive them of winning a classic when they are in peak form.

It would have been nice if the Santa Anita Derby could have been rescheduled to three weeks before the Belmont. It would have been no different than any other year, running in the Arkansas Derby and coming back in three weeks to run in the Kentucky Derby. Except this time it would be coming back in three weeks from the Santa Anita Derby to the Belmont. And here you only have to come back and run at a mile and an eighth instead of a mile and a quarter. One wonders if Santa Anita could have conferred with NYRA, and improved that timing.

So in my mind the schedule may cost the Santa Anita Derby winner an opportunity to sweep the Triple Crown, even with a big fat asterisk next to it. If Authentic should win the race, would Baffert have skipped the Belmont Stakes with him anyway, even with the extra week? Possibly. But at least he and the colt's owners would have had the option of coming back in three weeks and trying for a classic victory while their colt was in top form. And based on what John Shirreffs said, it looks as if Honor A.P. would have come back.

Many might feel that Baffert would have kept his three undefeated colts separated, but, again, all three will be ready to peak June 20, and two of the three are somewhat questionable at a mile and quarter based on their pedigree. Here is a rare opportunity for two horses with a mile to mile and an eighth pedigree to win a classic race at a mile and an eighth. That likely will never happen again. And racing is about competition. Let's find out which of the Baffert trio is the best and can he beat Tiz the Law. But that won't happen now because of the scheduling of the Santa Anita Derby unless Baffert and the others decide to run back in two weeks, which nowadays makes people cringe in horror even though the Kentucky Derby runners usually dominate the Preakness and often run better races two weeks later.

RIP Forty Niner

In his 19 career starts, Forty Niner was involved in nine photos - four noses, one head, and four necks - winning five of them. The four photo defeats were to the older Alysheba in the Woodward Stakes (G1) in a track-record 1:59 2/5 for the 1 1/4 miles; to Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby (G1), in which he moved too late and his big rally came up a neck short; to dual classic winner and 3-year-old champ Risen Star in the Lexington Stakes (G2); and Brian's Time in the Florida Derby (G1). So, three of his four defeats in photos were to champions. 

He carried that grit and toughness from the racetrack to his life after the racetrack, living to the amazing age of 35. He was one of the special ones.

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