ONE WEIRD BELMONT
This is one weird Belmont.
1) That this is the first Belmont in our lifetime not about a horse, but about a jockey. Madison Avenue's story line implores us to come see Calvin Borel go for a Triple Crown.
"Who woulda thunk it?," Jerry Hissam, Calvin's agent and best friend, was telling me Monday morning while preparing to watch his rider breeze Mine That Bird at Churchill Downs for Belmont 141.
It seems like yesterday (it really is two-plus years) that whenever I would mention Calvin Borel in an Oaklawn Park press release I would identify him as "Calvin Borel, a two-time Oaklawn Park riding champion."
Yes, that was Calvin's claim to fame at that time.
Fast forward to 2009...and just how big is Calvin now?
So big that, after breezing Mine That Bird five-eighths in 1:01 3/5 (out three-quarters in 1:15), he hopped a flight to New York to tape the Letterman show Monday afternoon. But don't look for CB on the Letterman show tonight. The interview won't be aired until Friday night...the delay a first for Letterman.
That's telling him, Calvin.
Meantime, don't look for Calvin on the racetrack anytime this week. He's taking the week off, mostly to do promotional work for the Belmont, including ringing the stock market bell on Thursday, and (at this point in time) will not ride at all on the Belmont undercard.
2) Hard to believe, but the Belmont field on Saturday will not -- repeat NOT -- include the winners of the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, Arkansas Derby, Florida Derby, Illinois Derby, Louisiana Derby, Fountain of Youth, Gotham, Lexington, Rebel, Lane's End and Sham.
The Trail to the Triple Crown sure produced its share of casualties.
3) That a glance back at my Derby Top Ten on March 2 in this venue reveals that, of the Top Ten, only Dunkirk (#7) will make it to the Belmont.
(You'll recall that it was only a year back that my final Derby Top Ten listed Big Brown, Eight Belles and Denis of Cork 1-2-3...and that's how they finished for a triple payoff of $3,500.)
Just reminds us how this business has its ups and downs.
I've still got several days to finalize my Belmont picks, which will be found on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) and here online.
But here's one off-the-wall prediction:
Charitable Man will open the favorite in the betting, and close within a point of Mine That Bird.
Note that Chip Woolley, the trainer of Mine That Bird, the other day called Charitable Man a "monster", and that Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Dunkirk, is going so far as to consider running a rabbit to keep Charitable Man honest.
Then there is the celebrity factory. Although it is well-documented that this will be the first-ever Belmont for Borel, Alan Garcia, who will ride Charitable Man, already has won the Belmont (see last year), and is on a three-stakes roll -- the Vagrancy, Met Mile and Woodbine's Nassau Stakes.
Yes, I know things change very rapidly in racing, but, human nature being what it is, a lot of folks are going to think twice about pouring it in on a horse who could have been had at 50-1 just a month back.
As for Rachel Alexandra, her defection from the Belmont came as no surprise. After all, we wrote here last Friday morning that it was 70-30 against her running.
But the surprise was the timing of owner Jess Jackson's press release.
Five o'clock on a Friday evening in late May is a very strange time to issue a press release of any kind. The Saturday newspaper traditionally is regarded as the poor stepchild in the business, and Daily Racing Form already had its Saturday editions locked and loaded.
And it has to be the worst possible time to get a heavy play on the internet.
Jackson, a particularly savvy media guy, has to know all this...and yet he chose to announce Rachel's defection at the time he did.
And what a bad break for the good folks at NYRA.
Charles Heywood, the NYRA honcho, predicted publicly that Rachel's defection will cost NYRA one-third of its projected attendance. Yes, I know seeing Calvin Borel go for his personal Triple Crown may be a big deal in some quarters, but NYRA will consider itself lucky if they get half the crowd (120,000) that turned out for Smarty Jones five years back.
How ironic that Smarty Jones, at a $100,000 stud fee, has yet to produce a good horse, but Birdstone, who commands about one-tenth of Smarty's stud fee, has two of his offspring in the Belmont -- Mine That Bird and Summer Bird.
There is a world of difference between the two Birdstones. One of them won the Kentucky Derby, and was second in the Preakness. You know the name.
On the other hand, Summer Bird's claims to fame are a third in the Arkansas Derby. and a sixth in the Kentucky Derby in which he did beat two-thirds of the field, including a lot of formerly big names.
And, again, demonstrating what a difference a year makes, Kent Desormeaux, who was 1-5 (on Big Brown) in the '08 Belmont, will be 40-1 on Summer Bird in the '09 Belmont.
Note that jockey Desormeaux had a very good last Saturday of May.
KD passed up a winning ride on Bold Start for main man Ken McPeek in the Aristides Stakes at Churchill to ride four races at Belmont Park -- the last four.
And this is how Kent's day went:
Race Seven: SECOND on Structural Change at 18-1.
Race Eight: FIRST on Scolara ($6.60) in the $65,000 McKaymackenna Stakes.
Race Nine: FIRST on Gozzip Girl ($5) in the $150,000 Sands Point Stakes.
Race Ten: SECONS on Boots Ahead at 24-1.
The Sands Point, nine furlongs for fillies and mares on the grass, was a two-horse betting race -- Magical Affair, the 6-5 favorite with Julian Leparoux, vs. Gozzip Girl, the 3-2 second choice with Desormeaux.
Both mares were exiting come-from-behind placings in grass stakes in Kentucky, and, indeed were difficult to separate.
But, while Leparoux was taking back Magical Affair through :25 2/5, :50 3/5, and 1:15 4/5 fractions, Desormeaux was gunning Gozzip Girl three-wide to the lead at the first turn, and school was out as daughters of Dynaformer checked in one-two-three.
After the race, Desormeaux said: "I had the best mare in the race so that's how I rode her."
She made an aesthetically pleasing five-wide move into contention on the second turn, but had no chance catching the winner, who had a free lunch on the lead, and got beat three lengths.
If the betting public had known the racing strategy beforehand, Gozzip Girl no doubt would have been 1-5.
The other "magical" horse Saturday did a lot better.
Magical Fantasy, taking advantage of a fast, contested pace, swept five-wide on the turn to get up in the last jump in the Grade One Gamely Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Although Magical Fantasy was beating the same mares she did a month back in winning the Santa Barbara at Santa Anita, she got away at a $14.20 mutuel.
Obviously, the bettors didn't believe the Santa Barbara result. But you can't blame them. Several of the mares beaten by Magical Fantasy that day had legitimate excuses.
Still, the 6-1 on Magical Fantasy in the Gamely was an overlay, and that's not a word I use lightly. One thing that annoys me no end is when a TV racing analyst says after the fact that the winner was an overlay.
Red-boarding is so easy.
Thank for tuning in. See you back here Wednesday when we'll take a look at the Belmont Pick Six and its 48K carryover.
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