Vinery LTD presents the Paulick Belmont Index: Who Wants to Spoil the Party?
At this point, we have a pretty good idea of which brave souls will line up against I’ll Have Another in the Belmont Stakes, attempting to prolong the Triple Crown dry spell.
If all the possible starters go, it appears the Belmont will have a field of 11 – about average for recent years and a bit above average for recent runnings of the Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line.
Let’s sort through the potential starters and see what we find.
I’ll Have Another: There isn’t much new to say about the favorite, except that he looks as good on paper against this group as he has during his undefeated run this year. On pedigree, in addition to having the same sire line-broodmare sire line cross as 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex (Mr. Prospector-Roberto), I’ll Have Another has a chance to give the Distorted Humor line a second Belmont win in three years through Flower Alley, a son of Distorted Humor like 2010 Belmont victor Drosselmeyer. I’ll Have Another’s 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Preakness leads this group, with Paynter the only other runner to hit triple digits.
Alpha/Dullahan/Union Rags: We already know quite a bit about these guys, having seen them in the Derby, and recent Belmont history has been kind to Derby runners who skipped the Preakness. Summer Bird, Jazil, Birdstone, and Empire Maker all won the Belmont having passed on the second leg of the Triple Crown. Rags to Riches essentially did the same by winning the Kentucky Oaks and skipping the Preakness. All three of these obvious threats to I’ll Have Another have enough Classic influences in their pedigrees to suggest they won’t mind 1 1/2 miles. Trouble-finder Union Rags gets previous Belmont winner John Velazquez as his new guide and gets another chance to fulfill his promise.
Paynter: Is it possible Zayat Stables and Bob Baffert cloned Bodemeister? Paynter did a pretty good front-running impression of the Derby and Preakness runner-up, scoring under a hand ride at Pimlico on Preakness day by 5 3/4 lengths, albeit against a small field in allowance company. Paynter’s 106 Beyer in that race is second only to I’ll Have Another in this field, and since those numbers both came over the same surface on the same day, it’s fair to wonder how the figures will hold up. But Paynter also hit triple digits in his previous race, a second-place finish in the sloppy Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs. Trainer Bob Baffert says a start in the Belmont is contingent upon Paynter’s appearance in the next few days, but if he goes, Paynter could be a dangerous lone frontrunner, no?
Unstoppable U: Well, not so fast. This recent addition to the Belmont lineup might spice up the pace scenario. The son of Exchange Rate, trained by Ken McPeek, has led at nearly every call of his two races, both open-length victories. But two career starts and a Beyer top of 82? The average number of starts for the Belmont winner in the last 12 runnings is seven, with the lowest being Summer Bird, who won in 2009 off only four races. The Beyer par for the Belmont is about 106, so again, a tough sell. But just last year, Ruler On Ice jumped from an 86 top to a 100 in his Belmont victory. Still, for Unstoppable U, stopping in the Belmont is far more likely.
Guyana Star Dweej: It sounds like he was named by Frank Zappa, but this son of Eddington gets his moniker from a horse that won 52 races for trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal in South America – Guyana Star. Dweej is a Hindu word meaning “twice born.” Guyana Star Dweej hasn’t twice won, however, in nine starts. While it’s true the last four Belmont winners have all been double-digit odds, and the Belmont was their first graded stakes victory in all of those cases, those runners were at least competing in stakes races heading into the Belmont. Guyana Star Dweej just broke his maiden in start number eight and was subsequently trounced by Unstoppable U in an optional claimer – at Belmont, no less.
Five Sixteen: This runner’s form lines look remarkably similar to Guyana Star Dweej. One for six lifetime, broke his maiden two starts back, mostly running at Aqueduct, got whipped in an allowance last out. His sire, Invasor, posted a mild upset over 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Five Sixteen might and should be Five times Sixteen on the odds board June 9.
Atigun: Trainer Ken McPeek could give himself two chances at a long-odds upset. McPeek is no stranger to Belmont shockers, having won the 2002 edition with Sarava at 70-1. And Atigun actually fits the profile of recent longshot winners. He’s been competing in graded stakes company but not winning and recently paired up Beyers pushing 90, including an optional claiming victory at Churchill. The son of Istan comes to Belmont for the first time sporting a similar pedigree mix to I’ll Have Another (Mr. Prospector-Roberto). This might be the surprise.
Street Life: Ah, yes, the Peter Pan play. It sounds good in theory to have a recent race at Big Sandy before the Belmont, but it usually doesn’t work. Lemon Drop Kid, in 1999, was the last runner to come out of the Peter Pan and take the third leg of the Triple Crown. Still, Street Life has been climbing the speed figure scale for trainer Chad Brown and has that Mr. Prospector influence in his sire line that has produced 13 of the last 17 Belmont winners. Plus, the Street Sense colt’s mare is by Grindstone, who produced 2004 Belmont champion Birdstone, who in turn produced 2009 winner Summer Bird. So, there are things to like about this one.
Optimizer: While skipping the Preakness or winning the Preakness has proven a path to the winner’s circle in New York, losing the Preakness has not. Victory Gallop was the last to do it in 1998, but he finished second at Pimlico, while Optimizer was sixth, beaten 15 1/2 lengths by I’ll Have Another. The son of English Channel’s pedigree suits the Belmont distance, but a career on the turf is an even better fit.