Four of the most important factors in figuring
out the 2012 Belmont Stakes are pedigree, current form, running style and jockey
choice. A horse with the right
combination of these attributes can be lethal.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the threats that could ruin I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown venture.
Every year race fans debate the running
styles of the Belmont Stakes contestants. Which manner - front runner, pace
presser, mid-pack runner or come from behind stalker - is the most favorable
for winning the grueling 1 ½ mile Test of Champions?
After reviewing the last twenty-two
editions of the Belmont Stakes, the conclusion was that one-run closers won eight of
the races, with mid-pack runners taking six editions. Pace pressers presided
over five races and only two pace setters were victorious on the front end. The
1997 running of the Belmont Stakes was not counted, due to the unusual running
style of the winner, Touch Gold, who led in the early stages, took a breather in
the stretch, then came on again to win.
Fourteen of the last twenty-one Belmont
Stakes winners got into gear at the mile pole while the rest made their runs at
the 1 ¼ mile pole. Last year’s Belmont champ Ruler On Ice was an anomaly. He
didn’t have the pedigree to win the race, but he did benefit from a sloppy
track that was kind to horses on or near the pace. Ruler On Ice pressed the pace in second place
before taking over in the stretch from an exhausted Shackleford. If you recall, Shackleford was softened up
from running fourth in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness.
Pedigree plays a large part in
determining a Belmont Stakes winner. A horse
must be capable of making a strong, sustaining move after traveling a
mile. Although every colt entered in the
Belmont Stakes has the potential to upset the applecart, some have a better
chance than others. Viewing the current
entrants, I’ll Have Another faces five opponents with strong stamina oriented
pedigrees and four contestants with borderline pedigrees to sustain their speed
at 1 ½ miles. Out of the nine potential
rivals, the top four with current form to be serious threats to I’ll Have
Another’s Triple Crown bid are as follows:
(Bernardini—Munnaya, by Nijinsky) has the pedigree to run all day. His young
sire’s offspring have been successful at 1 ¼ miles over dirt and 1 ½ miles over
the turf. In the Kentucky Derby, Alpha was once again victim of circumstances
at the gate. He had a poor beginning, left fourteen lengths behind the front
runners and was taken out of his pace pressing running style. Alpha was second behind Union Rags in the
Champagne Stakes last year at Belmont Park and he’s been working strongly.
(Even the Score – Mining My Own, by Smart Strike) has a borderline pedigree for
1 ½ miles. His sire Even The Score has
produced one stakes winner at 1 ¼ miles, but none at farther distances. Dullahan
does have strong stamina influences on his distaff side and the huge colt was
closing fast in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby, so the potential to get 1 ½ miles
is there. Dullahan has strong current
form but his one-run style may be compromised if the Belmont Stakes pace is
(Awesome Again – Tizso, by Cee’s Tizzy) could well be I’ll Have Another’s most
dangerous foe in the Belmont Stakes. He’s lightly raced and has the pedigree to
handle 1 ½ miles. The late-maturing
colt’s sire Awesome Again was a ten furlong specialist, and won four times at 1
¼ miles, including Canada’s prestigious Queen’s Plate, and the Breeders’ Cup
Classic. He’s sired one stakes winner at 1 ½ miles. Paynter’s damsire Cee’s Tizzy is best known
as the sire of two-time Classic hero Tiznow. His daughters haven’t produced a
stakes winner past 1 1/8 miles, but Paynter is closely related to Tiznow, as
his dam Tizso is a full sister to the stallion.
Additionally, Paynter’s distaff line is boosted by the presence of his
second damsire, Seattle Song, winner of the now defunct Washington D.C.
Invitational at 1 ½ miles.
Paynter and I’ll Have Another have
similar running styles. Both usually sit directly behind the pace, however,
both colt have won on the lead as well. Paynter
has shown improvement in each of his four races. On Preakness day, Paynter outclassed
a group of allowance runners by 5 ¾ lengths.
Sense - Stone Hope, by Grindstone) has improved in each of his starts since
winning his debut in January. By Kentucky
Derby Champ Street Sense out of a mare by the 1996 Kentucky Derby hero, the
late maturing Street Life should be in his element at 1 ½ miles. His dam is a half-sister
to Jefferson Cup victor Brilliant. Street
Life was most recently third in the Peter Pan Stakes, beaten a narrowing 1 ¾
lengths by Mark Valeski. Like Dullahan, Street Life is a one run closer.
Besides pedigree and current form, a Belmont Stakes contender’s
jockey choice is crucial. Belmont Park
is the only 1 ½ mile oval in the United States and experience over the oval can
be a winning factor. Jockey’s seldom
have the opportunity to ride the 1 ½ mile distance. Given the huge track
configuration of Belmont Park, it can be easy to misjudge when to make a
winning move and the best part of the track to do so.
Jockeys of other high profile Belmont
runners have been a deciding factor in their mount’s winning chances. In the
last twenty years, all except two winning jockeys, Jeremy Rose and the top
Irish jockey Mick Kinane had previously ridden at Belmont Park.
Good examples of inexperience that cost
the race are the rides given to Smarty Jones in 2004, whose jockey sent him to
the front at the mile pole and Mine That Bird who charged to the front after
passing the mile pole but couldn't sustain his bid. Neither Stewart Elliot, the
jockey of Smarty Jones, nor Calvin Borel, Mine That Bird's pilot, rode regularly
at Belmont Park; however eleven of the last eleven Belmont Stakes champs all
had ridden on the New York circuit or had previous Belmont Stakes experience. Ruler On Ice’s jockey Jose Valdivia, Jr. also
had familiarity riding at Belmont Park before his Belmont Stakes victory.
This year, I’ll Have Another appears to
have almost everything going for him. He
has a stamina oriented pedigree and a pace presser/mid-pack running style.
Reports indicate that he’s kept his body weight up and his coat is shiny, which
is a good indicator that he should handle the physical demands of the Belmont
Stakes. The only drawback is that his
jockey Mario Gutierrez has no acquaintance with Belmont Park’s 1 ½ mile
oval. So far, Mario Gutierrez has performed
admirably in the biggest races of his career.
Hopefully, he’ll have a few mounts lined up before the Belmont Stakes to
get a feel for the track. It would be a
huge disappointment for racing if I’ll Have Another’s Triple Crown attempt was
denied due to jockey error during the race.
By HRN pedigree expert, Laurie Ross