Every year following the first Saturday in May, a standard question about the latest Derby winner is: Can he handle the distance in the Belmont?
It's always assumed -- or at least it has been for maybe a couple of decades now -- that the Derby winner will be comfortable with the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) course. After all, it's simply a change from 10 to 9.5 furlongs (a difference of 330 feet, or the length of a football field with one endzone). For most horses bred from today's speed-favoring bloodlines, the shorter distance is actually a preference.
But the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) -- ahh! the test of champions! -- is a daunting 12 furlongs. Longer than most American racehorses will ever run. Actually, the longest that even most Belmont contestants will ever run. Well beyond the range of your average sprint horse. (And let's face it: these days, the average North American foal is bred to run from six furlongs to one mile, so the average horse is a sprinter.)
Mine That Bird changes the story line for 2009, however. Here's a horse bred to run a route. (Beg to differ? See my comments on Mine That Bird's misleading Dosage numbers.)
I have no doubt that Mine That Bird is qualified to contest this year's Belmont field, and he could even be considered a reasonable favorite for the race based on his sire's Belmont win and his own closing kick this past Saturday.
But he won't win the Preakness (gr. I).
Call me a spoil-sport, but I just don't think it's going to happen. He'll face a more mature field with fewer "factors" that allow the proverbial anything to happen in the Derby. There'll be any number of sprinter/milers that can stretch their talents from 8 or 8.5 to 9.5 furlongs. There'll be fresh horses. There'll be Pimlico specialists. There probably won't be a sloppy track and a (semi-) open rail and a slew of last-minute defections by all the erstwhile favorites.
What does the future hold for Mine That Bird? I sure hope the answer is many good things. I hope he goes out there and knocks 'em dead come Breeders' Cup Marathon time. And thrills the crowds at the Spa and at Del Mar and back "home" in the Southwest where hometown crowds will adore him. I wish him a dozen graded victories each year for the next 10 years. But I don't think the Preakness will be one of them.