At this point in the season, I think most would have to agree that the current 3-year-old class has been far from overwhelming. The parity that exists amongst them, coupled with the average speed figures and final times, has made this an ordinary group so far. A superstar may still come out of the class of 2011, but that has not happened in the first five-plus months of the season. I'm sorry is that offends some people, but I call it like I see it.
That said and without a Triple Crown on the line, the Belmont Stakes is a fairly interesting race. With the top seven finishers back from the Derby for the first time ever, Derby winner Animal Kingdom squaring off against Preakness winner Shackleford, and a full 12-horse field, the Belmont is a decent betting race.
I won't give a lengthy analysis; instead I'll focus on the late Pick 4 worth a guaranteed $1 million. Animal Kingdom is a standout to me based on his consistency and how well he seems to have come out of the first two Triple Crown races. Shackleford, who I do not believe is best suited for 12 furlongs, had a much better trip in the Preakness and still would have been passed by Animal Kingdom in another 100 yards. Animal Kingdom ran a very good race considering how much dirt he had kicked in his face and how much ground he had to overcome. He seems like he will relish the extra ground and is the most likely winner.
I think enough of Nehro's chances that I will include him on top of all of my tickets. You really can't fault anything he did in his last three races, and he gives the impression that he is a horse that keeps getting better and wants longer. Nakatani mistimed his move in the Derby or he very well may have won that race. Based on those factors, he should have a very good chance.
If forced to give my top four, Mucho Macho Man and Master of Hounds would round out my choices. If he can keep his shoes on (has there ever been a horse to lose shoes in a pair of $1 million races?) he should benefit from the rider switch to Ramon Dominguez, who has won practically every race in New York except the Belmont. He has seemed to really take to the surface at Belmont and usually gives an honest effort.
Master of Hounds ran pretty well in his first start on dirt. Aidan O'Brien probably took the last five weeks to tighten the screws and there is a good chance Master of Hounds will move forward again. He is certainly bred to go this far and should probably be included in all tickets.
After those four, I'm not overly intrigued, certainly not by any newcomers. I suppose Stay Thirsty and Santiva will be used on a few tickets, but Animal Kingdom, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, and Master of Hounds trifectas and superfactas are the big plays for me.
Now for the late Pick 4.
I'm using Travelin Man as my single. I'm tossing the Derby Trial, where he was on the pace but faltered at the top of the stretch. Pletcher said he struggled to get over the track that day and he's putting a line through it. The cutback to seven furlongs, a distance he won at in the April 3 Swale, should only help him. He's had three very sharp works since the Derby trail---all at Belmont. Breaking from post 1, you can bet he will be on or right near the lead. I'm betting that he is fast enough to hold off J J's Lucky Train, Little Drama, and Justin Phillip.
Just a Game
I like Gypsy's Warning most here but will go four deep and also use Aviate, Fantasia, and Justaroundmidnight. The Jenny Wiley is a throw out for Gypsy's Warning ; she just didn't handle the yielding turf. If you toss that one, she has been sharp for more than a year since shipping to the U.S. She shows a nice work pattern since the Jenny Wiley and should be much sharper here for Graham Motion at a distance that she is probably best suited for. Aviate and Fantasia are both very logical as favorites for many reasons. Justaroundmidnight is my hunch play coming off the bench for Biancone and Gomez. She has been working up a storm at Monmouth. C.S. Silk is a reluctant exclusion.
I'm hitting the "all" button here. Gio Ponti is vulnerable to me. Not only because it's first race back from Dubai, but because I'm of the belief that he has lost a half step. Belmont is his preferred surface and having won this race in 2009 and finishing second last year, he has to be respected. But at 8-5 or lower and against at a few horses that are capable of beating him, there is room for an upset here. Prince Will I Am nearly always fires and with the right pace scenario will have a very good chance. Viscount Nelson has fared pretty well against top-level horses in Europe. Al Khali can run a big races every once in a while. I'm hoping for a price here.
I like Animal Kingdom and Nehro most, but respect Mucho Macho Man and Master of Hounds enough to use all of them.
50-cent Pick 4 ($72)--1/1,2,6,9/All/1,6,9,10
Good luck to everyone. Let me know who you like.