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Andy Serling has been playing the horses for almost his entire life, and is currently the co-host of NYRA Live. To follow Andy on Twitter, click here.

The Test of Champions

Tuesday, May 18, 2010
     Not to continue to belabor the obvious, but when Eskendereya was withdrawn from the KY Derby, and subsequently retired, it left a major hole in this 3YO division. At that point it became clear that there was no standout racehorse, and even should a horse emerge from the first two legs of the Triple Crown with a chance to complete the sweep in the Belmont Stakes, that horse was unlikely to compare favorably to the likes of the last three winners, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. And thus we saw Super Saver, a talented but hardly exceptional racehorse, get a dream set of circumstances that led to a relatively decisive victory in the KY Derby. Faced with a less ideal setup, he faded badly two weeks later in Baltimore, while Lookin at Lucky got ( here's this year's statement of the obvious ) a better trip at Pimlico, and earned a deserved victory in the Preakness. However, neither of these horses will be running June 5th in the Belmont Stakes, which might lead some to suggest that this year's Belmont Stakes becomes relatively inconsequential. I could not disagree more, and see this year's Belmont as not only featuring perhaps the three best 3YOs still racing in America, but also acting as a doorway to the rest of this year's major races.

     Many people, myself included, felt that Ice Box ran the best race in the KY Derby. Considering the extreme traffic woes he faced both into the stretch, and continuing to the eighth pole, it was surprising that he was even able to get second. And, given that both the winner and third place finisher Paddy O'Prado got extremely good trips, his performance becomes even more impressive. Being that he appears an improving horse, considering the improvement he showed in his prior effort while winning the Florida Derby, who's to say he hadn't already stamped himself the best horse of this ex-Eskendereya group? To be fair, the downside would be that he got the same wicked pace to close into in the KY Derby that he got in the Florida Derby, and one-run deep closers are frequently at a disadvantage behind race dynamics. Plus, while one might correctly assume a closer of his type, with unlikely distance limitations, will relish the Belmont distance, these horses frequently disappoint in the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes where speed can be more of an advantage than stamina. However, if nothing else, this leads to a great debate as to whether his in, in fact, the best 3YO racing, or merely a talented horse who needs circumstance to fall in his lap to appear as such. The Belmont Stakes will go a long way towards answering this question.

      Then there is First Dude, who some may feel is Ice Box's counterpart from the Preakness Stakes, arguably running the best race in Baltimore after setting fast fractions, and determinedly holding off all but one of his challengers, and even fighting back against Lookin at Lucky throughout the stretch despite appearing spent as the field turned for home. Unlike Ice Box, who had won the Florida Derby, First Dude entered the Preakness with little to no accomplishments to speak of. Still eligible for a NW1X allowance race, his 2010 record was spotty with, at best, " what could have been " types of performances. However, those that wondered just that, were hardly surprised that he gave a good account of himself at Pimlico, and all things considered, who is to say he too can't emerge from the Belmont Stakes at the top of this class? Unlike Ice Box, he has the kind of running style that could work out well in the Belmont, given that he can gallop along on the lead if the race should set up that way, or at the very least not necessarily become a victim of pace should the early fractions not be swift enough to help the perhaps more talented Ice Box. It is hard not to be optimistic about First Dude going forward.

     And, while having an Ice Box in one's barn may well seem good enough, Nick Zito will be entering this Belmont loaded for bear. While the aforementioned duo were contesting at least part of this year's Triple Crown, Fly Down more quietly buried the field in the Belmont Park prep for the Belmont Stakes, the Dwyer, run at 1 1/8 miles this year. Aside from a poor effort in the Louisiana Derby, Fly Down has done little wrong in his career, with three victories in his other four races, with each performance eclipsing his preceding effort. He also holds two relatively narrow victories over First Dude, one at Churchill Downs and another at Gulfstream. However, it would not be unfair to say that First Dude ran at least as well, if not better, in both of those matchups, doing more hard work early, while Fly Down was able to capitalize on these circumstances late in both races. But, either way, both of these horses have now proven separately to be genuinely talented, and this third matchup could well prove compelling.

     These are but three of the dozen or so horses expected to compete in the 142nd running of Belmont Stakes. While Bob Baffert may be leaving Lookin at Lucky in the barn on June 5th, he is expected to be represented by Lone Star Derby winner Game on Dude. Tim Ice, who trained Summer Bird to win last year's Belmont, will also be represented by New Madrid. And, Setsuko, who, despite my protestations, friends of mine in California continue to insist will be a major factor going forward, is also expected in the starting gate. Thus, while races are often remembered, especially these days, by who is not in the starting gate, I do not believe this will be the case this year. My money says this year's 3Y0 champion will run at Belmont Park in less than three weeks. Come on, after filling out the exacta in the first two legs, I'm due.

Comments :

  • guy | May 30 2010 04:02 PM

    How about Stately Victor for the Belmont? These guys tipped him and Ice Box for the Derby and are positive for the Belmont as well.

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  • Andy | May 30 2010 12:30 PM

    Hey Anthony, who's the idiot now?

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  • Anthony | May 29 2010 08:47 PM

    I correct myself Super Saver ran a mighty race in Tampa bay derby digging in when most horse would have been toast to just get beat by two very very good horses by less than a length third on a fast track. And came from behind to run a very close second to Line of David in Arkansass Derby... Its a bloody superstar you moron. What is all this dream trip bullshit you people keep would have won on a fast, dry or bright pink was good enough to be just of the pace and smoked them in the straight....They could have run it ten times and it would have won all ten!!! It will come back in August and prove it is a great horse... Its a 3 year old horse..After winning a derby the way it did on a sloppy track it should have been rested..especially for a distance like the preakness..its not suited to that distance..the horse needed a spell...First dude has no chance in ran a good race fresh in Preakness but any decent horse could in shorter race...Belmont is perfect for statley Victor or make music for me..Ice Box ran ok in Derby but anyone can sit right out the back and make late charge...It wasnt good enough..traffic or no traffic..easy to see you were not on super saver in the derby..all the losers are quick to can him!!!!!!

  • Anthony | May 29 2010 08:34 PM

    You are an idiot like most american handicappers...Super Saver is a damn good horse that won because he was the best horse in the field. He sat on the pace ulike most others and went away on a wet track!! He won last year by five lengths at Churchill on a dry track not to mention leading all the way to just get beat in Arkansass Derby on fast track and his other lead up race was a mighty run too finishing second again on a good track~!!!! What races are you watching!! I bet the world on it at 17 to 1 on fixedc odds...DO ANY OF YOU MORONS KNOW THESE RACES ARE ALL DIFFERENT DISTANCES?????? was tired and needed a break after derby and I got off it....Lucky was lucky that Jacksons bend didtn get off the fence in preakness....Why dont you follow me on my site..I backed Summer bird and got triple last year in Belmont as it was plain as day it was the ran 6th in the derby passing 10 horses on a track worse than sloppy in about its 4th start!!! it was out of Birdstone and all the other horses exhausted by the Belmont. Seriously I laugh every time I read a column by all experts in America!! they stick with all the favourites and when one finally wins like lucky they run around like they backed a 20 to 1 shot...That horse went off at 3 to 1 or less 4 times and won at 2 to 1 once hip hip hooray you losers!!!everyones done their pants following you!!!! how about really knowing the form and picking a good price winner now and then...Go to and follow me TONY GOLD for the real form....seriously..PS I have backed War Emblem, Barbaro, and Super Saver last 8 years. Just missed on Lion Heart. Got 2 triples and bet 4 Preakness winners and 3 Belmont winners last year backed Summer Bird and got triple keying it on top...Jazil was a moral a few years ago....wake up america..

  • Turfdocta | May 22 2010 12:06 PM

    Belmont is my favorite race of the year. I have seen so many grinders over the years win this race. People think closers at 1 1/2 miles, but there is never any pace. First Dude, Drosselmyer (at a price?) or even Uptowncharlybrown with his new connections seem like a possibility.... and oh yeah don't throw out the huge Stately Victor who may just love those big turns and actually ran deceptively well in the KD. Big Ballons?

  • JaxsonHype | May 20 2010 01:29 PM

    Will Jackson Bend run? Tiny horse but thought he had a little run left in him at Pimlico.

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  • Mark | May 19 2010 08:33 PM

    You gotta love Nick Zito he always enters horses with a chance to win the Belmont regardless of who is in the race. Love him or not Zito knows what he does well and he keeps doing it. Good luck in the Belmont everyone.

  • Andy | May 19 2010 01:41 PM

    Horses don't bounce.

  • Needles56 | May 19 2010 11:02 AM

    Agree..gritty race by First Dude..incredibly game. But doesn't that effort and marked improvement set him up for a bounce or at least a regression in 3 weeks at the Belmont?

  • Andy Serling | May 18 2010 11:35 PM

    You can count on me to praise Ramon....and deservedly so.

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  • Rick | May 18 2010 09:00 PM

    I like greys in long races any in Belmont?

  • JayGo | May 18 2010 05:21 PM

    Love your stuff, keep it coming! Ramon D and the Dude at Belmont seems a compelling threesome to me. Like the Box, but think Jose L will have trouble in a big spot beating ramon on a live horse. Ramon killed it all day at Pimlico, as he does in NY generally, but you never hear the media too this horn. What's up with that?

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