Saturday, June 6, 2015

A Few Thoughts about the Belmont Stakes

90,000 fans are at Belmont Park this afternoon as American Pharaoh races for the Triple Crown.  He joins a long list of horses who entered Big Sandy having won the Kentucky Derby and The Preakness, but can he join the shorter list of the 11 who have won all three Triple Crown races.

Labeled the 3/5 favorite, American Pharaoh showed he can win on dry and wet tracks in his first two Triple Crown races, but the Belmont Stakes provides a greater challenge that has denied the last thirteen who have entered the Belmont having won the first two legs starting with Seattle Slew's unsuccessful bid.

That's in part, due to the configuration of the Belmont Stakes.  1 1/2 miles is a long race.  It's a distance not often seen on major stakes schedule.  Horses running in the Kentucky Derby are running 1 1/4 Miles for the first time in their career, and five weeks later, are asked to run another 1/4 mile on top of that.

In addition, the size of Belmont Park can be very tricky.  A 1-1/2 mile oval, an inexperienced jockey could fire the horse midway through the turn, to find that there's nothing left in them come the final furlong.

American Pharaoh showed a lot of ability in his win on the slop in Baltimore three weeks ago in the Preakness, giving fans more reason to be excited for this attempt at the Triple Crown.  But the pressure is there, as there are columnists and fans alike who believe that a horse winning the Triple Crown is the ointment that horse racing needs to rejuvenate interest in the sport. That's a lot of pressure to place onto a horse and its connections.

Here, I'll be watching the first quarter mile.  A fast first quarter mile will spell doom for the front-runners.  When Affirmed won the Belmont Stakes to sweep the Triple Crown in 1978, he posted an opening quarter mile in 25 seconds.  Recently, several Triple Crown hopefuls were found near or in the front, recording a 23 and change quarter.  Some bowed out in the far turn, and others had nothing left when pressured in the final stretch.

Then there's the late kick factor.  There were a few horses coming out of the Kentucky Derby who are running in the Belmont Park who were closing strides in the final 1/8th at Churchill Downs.  Will they be a factor on fresher legs?

Finally, there's the five week campaign factor.  How much did the first two legs take out of American Pharaoh?  Will he have anything left in the tank for the Belmont Stakes, running three races in a span of time that most horses nowadays run two.

If American Pharaoh wins today at Belmont Park, he truly will deserve his place among the other 11 horses that have won all three races.  But if he doesn't, then it will feel just like the last 12 Triple Crown attempts on Big Sandy, with that 13th being a withdrawal from the race due to injury days before the race.

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