Belmont a 'New Beginning' by Evan Hammonds

Originally published in the June 11, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Evan Hammonds  

By Evan HammondsEven without a horse going for the Triple Crown in New York, we’re getting jacked up for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Belmont Park’s big spring weekend also includes the 12-furlong Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) June 10—with last year’s Belmont winner Drosselmeyer in the line-up—and three other grade I races June 11. We’ll also have the pleasure of enjoying a real pastrami sandwich from the Mill Basin Deli on Avenue T in Brooklyn.

The centerpiece, of course, is the Belmont—the “Test of the Champion”—and a true test it figures to be. With the prospects of Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Shackleford, and Derby third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man entering the starting gate, it would mark the first time in nearly a decade that three sophomores competed in all three legs of America’s classic races. Yes, it was way back in 2002 when War Emblem, Medgalia d’Oro, and Proud Citizen filled out their Triple Crown dance cards.

In the last several years it seems too many horses have skipped out on the Preakness or disappeared before the Belmont. Team Valor International, Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team One Racing Stable—the owners, respectively, of Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, and Mucho Macho Man—should be commended for allowing their horses to keep running throughout the spring. They could have just as easily taken the “I’m taking my ball and going home” mentality that seems to have permeated most sports in America these days.

In a similar vein it looks as if perhaps seven or eight of the horses expected to run in the Belmont started in the Derby—an astounding display of resiliency in this day.

Prior to the Derby many Thoroughbred pundits dumped on the current crop of 3-year-olds (including yours truly, in this spot no less). Based on their form prior to the first Saturday in May, it was easy to do, and only the top tier of Derby and Preakness runners have been able to post Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or more. That’s not exactly the kind of historical speed markers we’ve come to expect of top-level Thoroughbreds at this time of year, but the heartiness of this group may prove us wrong as we progress through the summer and into the fall. With the lack of many standouts in the handicap division, let’s hope they do.

And perhaps more importantly, the Belmont Stakes figures to spark a heated rivalry. While there is not a shot at the Triple Crown, the race pits the Derby winner vs. the Preakness winner—a scenario that’s only occurred twice in the last 15 years: Monarchos vs. Point Given in 2001, and Giacomo vs. Afleet Alex in 2005.

And let’s not mark the Belmont Stakes as the end of the Triple Crown trail. It could be the beginning of a big run for any one of the several contenders, be it Brilliant Speed, Mucho Macho Man, Nehro, Santiva, or Stay Thirsty. Any of them could jump into the 3-year-old male championship picture late Saturday afternoon.

It would be great to see so many of this year’s Triple Crown competitors continue to duke it out later this summer at Monmouth and Saratoga—and come back to beautiful Belmont Park, the grand dame of American racing, and run in the Fall Championship meet.

Who knows, many from this group just might prove to be old school—take a deep breath—and race next year.

Where the Mares Are…

There was some interesting reading between the lines in last week’s “Stud News” column (page 1513). Under the heading “First Winners” were reports on eight freshman sires of 2011 that recently had their first winners. Six of those stallions stood their initial season in Kentucky, but only two of the six winners were bred in the Bluegrass. The others were bred in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Mexico. While it may not be a statistically significant study, it anecdotally suggests the flight of mares out of Kentucky elsewhere to foal. Please feel free to share this with any of the state’s elected leaders in Frankfort.

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