Sean Morris is a Media Specialist at The New York Racing Association, Inc. and ardent handicapper. Like most horseplayers, his skill is surpassed only by his confidence.
You can find Sean on twitter at: @horseplayer_
Believe it or not, there are other horses in the Belmont besides California Chrome. A strong collection of challengers are waiting in the wings for him, ready and willing to play the role of spoiler.
Here’s a closer look at the prospective field:
Evoking memories of Golden Soul a year earlier, Commanding Curve closed to get second in the Derby for trainer Dallas Stewart, despite some underwhelming prep races.
There’s not much to say about his Derby performance. It was good, not great. He showed a strong closing kick and was forced wide around the far turn, but did not have to face the adversity that a host of others did.
I didn’t feel like I had a good bead on him going into the Derby, and I don’t feel like I know any more about him now. Other than that, given the right circumstances, he can blow up your trifecta.
Also covered a bit in the Tonalist post, Commissioner is a horse who is “all A.P. Indy” according to his trainer Todd Pletcher, and his performance on the racetrack seems to agree with that assessment. He may not have the raw talent of his sire, but he appears to have the stamina.
His runner-up performance in the Peter Pan was a solid effort. He was clearly second best that day, beaten four lengths by the winner, but was still going strongly at the finish. When considering his chances at turning the tables on Tonalist, two things are possible: he may not have cared for the sloppy racetrack as much, and he may appreciate the added ground more.
In the Arkansas Derby, he totally unraveled pre-race, and understandably was a non-factor.
His Sunland Derby was fine for Belmont Stakes purposes. He came from well off the pace (not usually a good idea at Sunland Park) and put in a solid run to finish third.
It feels like he’s a cut below the very best of the division (and maybe even a cut below that), but his superior stamina is enough to make him a fringe contender.
As of writing this, he’s 50/50 for the race. And that’s probably a good thing.
As evidenced by his eighth-place finish in the Preakness, he’s not this caliber of horse. His best races have come over some very taxing surfaces in Maryland, so unless the track is a tar pit for the race, it’s hard to envision him making an impact on the finish. And that’s a shame, because Linda Rice is an underrated trainer who deserves to get some recognition on a big stage.
I can’t provide much insight here that isn’t immediately evident from glancing at his past performances. He has Todd Pletcher in his corner, but not much to recommend otherwise and was a late addition to the field. He is simply not fast enough on paper and his dam was a sprinter, so he doesn’t figure to appreciate the added ground.
Another with not a lot to recommend on paper other than a Hall of Fame trainer. He had significant trouble in the Federico Tesio, which was won by Kid Cruz, but he probably wasn’t beating that one even with a clean trip, so where does that leave him?
By the stamina-rich Dynaformer, Medal Count is an interesting item in this year’s Belmont Stakes.
In the Kentucky Derby, he was shuffled back entering the clubhouse turn and put in an uncomfortable position among a crush of horses. He settled down on the backstretch and took up good position on the outside, but lost all chance in the stretch when Danza swerved right in front of him at the most crucial point of the race. There’s no telling where he would have finished otherwise, but it’s safe to say it wouldn’t have been eighth.
He proved he has a good deal of stamina in a pair of races at Keeneland this year. He won the Grade 3 Transylvania at 1 1/16 miles over a tiring polytrack when the race was moved to the main track, and nearly duplicated the feat eight days later in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 1 Blue Grass.
The trouble is deciphering how these races translate to the dirt surface at Belmont. If his Derby performance is any indication, it should not be a problem. However, that is the only good dirt race he has in his PP’s. Ability-wise, I think he’s on par with Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin, and Wicked Strong, but the surface remains a mystery.
Bottom line: he’s a great horse to use underneath at a price, and could even have the potential to upset the field if everything falls into place.
Ride On Curlin
Ride On Curlin proved in the Preakness that he’s for real. He got closer to California Chrome than anyone else has in 2014, losing by 1 ½ lengths, and even appeared poised to go by the Derby-Preakness winner in the stretch, though that scenario failed to materialize.
The talent is obviously there, but it’s fair to wonder if his ambitious campaign will catch up to him in the Belmont, as he has already run six times in 2014 and competed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Furthermore, it looked like even if they ran another lap in the Preakness, he wasn’t going to get by Chrome. He’s probably best used underneath, as he ostensibly lacks the upside of some others.
I respect Samraat a lot as a racehorse and the job trainer Rick Violette has done with him, but it seems like there too many things working against him in the Belmont to consider him a serious win threat.
He had a pretty easy go of things in the Derby. The pace was on the quick side (assuming the track was slow, which has yet to really be confirmed) and he was right up on it, but was beaten handily by California Chrome and Commanding Curve, and passed late by Wicked Strong.
I just can’t envision a winning trip for him and I don’t think the distance will move him up, so at this point, it’s tough to include him in any capacity.
The Peter Pan winner has been covered in depth here and by all accounts is doing very well in the lead up to the Belmont Stakes.
Wicked Strong profiles like a horse who will flourish at 1 ½ miles. There’s nothing flashy about him; he’s a grinder, and his win in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial is a good illustration of that.
When angled out at the top of the stretch in the Wood, he didn’t look like a runaway winner – maybe not even a winner. But he kept coming and coming and went on to win by 3 ½ lengths while showing no signs of slowing down at the wire. Considering how tiring the track was that day, 1:49.31 was a very solid time for the 1 1/8-mile distance, and the 104 Beyer he earned for the effort certainly corroborates that.
Sent off at 6-1 in a field of 19, his fourth-place finish in the Derby left something to be desired. Breaking from the far outside, the Hard Spun colt had to go five wide around the clubhouse turn. From there, he was able to take up good position down the backstretch, and actually got to the inside by the time they rounded the far turn. He was in and among horses in the stretch – never really finding clear sailing but also not totally obstructed – and was beaten 5 ¾ lengths by California Chrome in the end. It feels like he could have been a little closer with a clean trip, but then again, he didn’t have such a bad trip.
At this point, it feels like he’s a cut below the very best of the division. However, the mile and a half could really help bridge that gap.