As we touched on in the last blog, without the Derby and Preakness winners involved, the 2010 Belmont Stakes lacks the star power that would attract the casual sports fan. In that respect, the third leg of the Triple Crown won't draw many newspaper or SportsCenter headlines and will likely see TV ratings take a significant dip.
The good news for us is that we're not casual sports fans. We are rabid horse racing fans. And because of that, we can clearly see that this Belmont does in fact offer plenty of excitement and intrigue, a good betting opportunity, and perhaps most significantly, a chance to see the coming out party for a new superstar.
We saw it in last year's Belmont. Without Rachel Alexandra involved, it had little appeal to casual fans. But it turned out to be a sensational race, with an exciting stretch duel between Summer Bird, Dunkirk, and Mine That Bird. When it was over, we had a new star--a late-blooming colt who would go on to win the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup en route to becoming a 3-year-old champion.
Summer Bird's 2009 Belmont coronation reminds me a bit of what may be in store for us this year. Taking nothing away from Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky, the Belmont winner could produce the 3-year-old with the brightest future when all is said and done.
In my opinion, there are three Belmont starters with this kind of star potential: Ice Box, First Dude, and Fly Down. Yes, I still like Drosselmeyer, and Stately Victor seems to be built for 1 1/2 miles, but I believe the other three have the most potential to not only win the Belmont but be major factors in the summer and fall classics.
Ice Box and First Dude were runner-up in the Derby and Preakness, respectively, and I don't think it is a reach to say they were the best horse in each race. Ice Box had all kinds of trouble in the Derby and still closed like a freight train to fall just short. It was not unlike his run in the Florida Derby when he came from way back early and then outdueled Pleasant Prince in the stretch. His sharp maiden and allowance wins prior to that were signs that the son of Pulpit was a true two-turn horse with classic potential.
First Dude's performance in the Preakness was nothing short of phenomenal. To set the ridiculous pace that he did, get passed at the top of the stretch, and still be able to come back at the leader in the final yards is rarely seen in classic distance races. The colt does have just the one win from seven starts and it remains to be seen whether he can move forward from the Preakness effort, but I believe we are just now beginning to see the best from him.
Fly Down hit the radar when he narrowly defeated First Dude when breaking his maiden and later when rallying to nip him at the wire in a two-turn allowance race at Gulfstream. He fell off the Derby trail with a disappointing Louisiana Derby effort, but came back with a vengeance with a dominating Dwyer score when defeating odds-on favorite Drosselmeyer by six lengths. It was a short, unspectacular field, but an eye-opening win nonetheless. He closed well while running into a moderate/slow pace, passed horses with ease while wide on the turn, and drew away convincingly.
All three of these colts have turned in their best efforts within the past month. They are all improving at the right now and could be sitting on huge Belmont efforts. Which one, if any, will it be? I'll have my opinion next week.
The real point is, this year's Belmont may not have the built-in intrigue of a potential Triple Crown winner, a filly going against boys, or a headline-grabbing story to attract the general public. But who needs that? We're real racing fans. It is still the third leg of the Triple Crown and there is plenty to get excited about. A probable field of 10 may give us a chance at a big payday, or a new star may be on the rise. Let's watch and find out.