The Belmont Stakes is the hardest race in the Triple Crown series for a horse and jockey to win. Not only does the horse have to have the pedigree and current form, but the jockey and trainer get a chance to do something rare in modern days – compete in a 1 ½ mile race over the dirt. It takes a combination of genes, talent, current form, trainer acumen and a jockey’s skill to conquer the Belmont Stakes. Let’s take a closer look at the remaining contestants in the Belmont Stakes to see who the logical choices are and who might spring an upset.
STREET LIFE (Street Sense - Stone Hope, by Grindstone) Trainer: Chad Brown Jockey: Jose Lezcano
Pedigree: 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.
Form: Street Life’s Brisnet speed figures have improved in each of his starts since winning his debut in January. In his first time wearing blinkers, Street Life was third in the Peter Pan Stakes, beaten a narrowing 1 ¾ lengths by Mark Valeski. Street Life has no early speed, but in all except his maiden race, he’s racked up triple digit late pace figures and he should be flying at the end. The only concern may be his class. He’s been whipped a combined nine lengths in two graded stakes contests.
Trainer: Chad Brown is best known for hasn’t sent a horse to the post of the Belmont Stakes, but as a long-time assistant to the late great Bobby Frankel, Chad gained Triple Crown experience with Empire Maker.
Jockey: Jose Lezcano rides regularly at Belmont. Last year he finished ninth aboard Monzon in the Belmont.
Win Potential: A
UNSTOPPABLE U (Exchange Rate – Naseem, by Point Given) Trainer: Ken McPeek Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Pedigree: Unstoppable U has a middle distance pedigree borderline for classic distances. His sire Exchange Rate has never sired a stakes winner beyond 1 1/8 miles and the majority of his offspring are sprinter/milers. Unstoppable U receives stamina from his Belmont Stakes winning sire and second damsire Triple Crown Hero Seattle Slew.
Form: Unstoppable U is the most lightly raced colt in the field. He's won his two starts by a combined 9 lengths, beating Belmont Stakes entrant Guyana Star Dweej by 6 1/4 lengths. Unstoppable U hasn’t raced beyond a mile. He likes to be on or pressing the lead.
Trainer: Ken McPeek pulled an upset in the 2002 Belmont Stakes with Savara. This year, he’ll take a double shot with Unstoppable U and Atigun.
Jockey: Junior Alvarado rides regularly in New York. He may try to wing it on the front end by slowing the pace to a crawl. This tactic may not work since there are other horses in the race with speed.
Win Potential: D
UNION RAGS (Dixie Union – Tempo, by Gone West) Trainer: Michael Matz Jockey: John Velazquez
Pedigree: Union Rags' pedigree is borderline for 1 1/2 miles. His sire Dixie Union has never produced a stakes winner past 1 1/8 miles. Union Rags does carry plenty of stamina on his distaff side. As a broodmare sire, Gone West has six stakes winners at 1 ½ miles to his credit. Union Rags’ second damsire is the legendary Nijinsky, a Classic/Stout Chef-de-race, proven to pass along plenty of stamina to his descendants.
Form: Union Rags was a top three year old and many thought he would be the colt in I’ll Have Another’s horseshoes as winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Unfortunately, little has gone right for the hard-luck Union Rags this year. He was a dominating winner of the Fountain Of Youth, but found all sorts of trouble in the Florida and Kentucky Derbies. He’s rested up and ready to go in the Belmont Stakes. Union Rags likes to sit no farther back than mid-pack.
Trainer: Michael Matz is a consummate horseman. He’s best known for training the brave Barbaro to a Kentucky Derby win. Union Rags is his first Belmont Stakes horse.
Jockey: John Velazquez is always one of the leading riders on the New York circuit. He was aboard the filly Rags To Riches for her epic head and head battle with Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, so Johnny V. knows how to win this race. He’s a major asset to Union Rags and should give the colt a smooth trip.
Win Potential: B
ATIGUN (Istan – Rimini Road, by Dynaformer) Trainer: Ken McPeek Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Pedigree: Atigun has a borderline pedigree for classic distances. His sire Istan was a Grade 3 level miler and other than Atigun, none of his offspring have won beyond a mile. Atigun receives his stamina from the international legend Dynaformer. As a broodmare sire, Dynaformer is represented by seven stakes winners at 1 ½ miles.
Form: Atigun has never raced at Belmont Park. His form has improved in his last three races, but he was unplaced each time that he faced graded stakes competition, indicating that he may be better suited to listed stakes ranks. His strongest victory was obtained over a muddy Churchill track, so Atigun’s best chance will be if the Belmont track is muddy. Atigun likes to make one run from the back of the pack.
Trainer: Ken McPeek pulled an upset in the 2002 Belmont Stakes with Savara. He also has Unstoppable U entered.
Jockey: Julien Leparoux stormed upon the US racing scene in 2006 claiming an Eclipse Award as Apprentice Jockey. Since then, he’s become a top rider wherever he hangs his saddle. He was third in the 2008 Belmont Stakes on Anak Nakal.
Win Potential: C
DULLAHAN (Even the Score – Mining My Own, by Smart Strike) Trainer: Dale Romans Jockey: Javier Castellano
Pedigree: Dullahan has a borderline pedigree for classic distances. 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.
Form: Dullahan’s Brisnet speed figures have improved in just about every start. He likes to make one run and closes like a freight train. Of concern is that Dullahan’s record over dirt isn’t that great. His only in the money finishes over the surface came at Churchill, earning third place in both his maiden start and the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer: Dale Romans has started three horses in the Belmont and finished third with two of them, most recently with First Dude in 2010.
Jockey: Javier Castellano has been aboard plenty of nice horses, including Champions Ghostzapper and Bernardini. Last year, he was a close second in the Belmont Stakes with Stay Thirsty.
Win Potential: B
RAVELO’S BOY (Lawyer Ron – Dance Tune, by French Deputy) Trainer: Manny Azpurua Jockey: Alex Solis
Pedigree: Ravelo's Boy has a middle distance pedigree, indicating that may have trouble negotiating past 1 1/8 miles. So far, Lawyer Ron's offspring haven't won a stakes race beyond a mile, but he does have a maiden winner at 1 1/8 miles over the turf. Lawyer Ron was best at a mile to 1 1/8 miles. In four tries at 1 1/4 miles, his best finish was a second place while finishing off of the board in the other three. As a broodmare sire, top miler French Deputy is represented by two winners at 1 1/2 miles, both victories were earned over the turf. The second damsire Fly So Free was a multiple graded stakes winner in the 7F to 1 1/8 mile range.
Form: Ravelo's Boy has spent his career racing unsuccessfully against allowance class foes at Calder. It's a huge leap from there to a Classic Grade 1 Stakes race. Ravelo's Boy is a one run closer who doesn't appear to have the turn of foot needed to be successful in the Belmont Stakes.
Trainer: Manny Azpurua is a South Florida-based trainer. This is his first shot at the Belmont Stakes.
Jockey: Alex Solis is one of racing’s top veterans. His last mount in the Belmont Stakes was a fifth place finish aboard Rock Hard Ten in 2004.
Win Potential: D
FIVE SIXTEEN (Invasor – Third Street, by Salt Lake) Trainer: Dominick Schettino Jockey: Anna Napravnik
Pedigree: Five Sixteen's second crop sire Invasor won six consecutive Grade One Stakes on his way to being named Champion Older Male in 2005 and Horse of the Year in 2006. Unfortunately, Invasor hasn't set the world on fire at stud. He has a couple of minor stakes placed runners, but no stakes winners. Five Sixteen is Invasor's top money earner. Invasor's offspring haven't won beyond 1 1/8 miles, but he should impart stamina to his slowly maturing offspring. As a broodmare sire, Five Sixteen's damsire Salt Lake is represented by two winners at 1/12 miles, both over turf. Five Sixteen's second damsire Quadrangle was a long-winded router who was victorious in the Travers, Belmont Stakes and the 1 5/8 mile (13 furlongs) Lawrence Realization Stakes.
Form: Five Sixteen needed five starts to win his maiden. In his last start, he finished fourth, beaten by over 11 lengths by allowance runners at Aqueduct. He's a slow, one-run grinder. Contrary to popular myth, these types of horses seldom win the Belmont Stakes unless there’s an unreasonably fast pace.
Trainer: Dominick Schettino is a New York based trainer. Five Sixteen is his first Belmont Stakes entry.
Jockey: Anna Napravnik started out as a top competitor in Maryland and is currently enjoying a hot streak. This year, she was the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks.
Win Potential: D
GUYANA STAR DWEEJ (Eddington – Special Feeling, by Pine Bluff) Trainer: Doodnauth Shivmangal Jockey: Kent Desormeaux
Pedigree: Guyana Star Dweej has a miler pedigree. His sire Eddington has produced only two stakes winners, both sprinters. Eddington's offspring are distance challenged. He has one winner at 1 1/8 miles over dirt. The rest are best up to 1 1/16 miles. Damsire Pine Bluff won the Preakness and was third behind A.P. Indy in the Belmont Stakes. The majority of Pine Bluff's daughters' offspring are miler types, although he is represented by a restricted stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles.
Form: Guyana Star Dweej was well on his way to becoming a career maiden when he finally broke through with a win in his eighth race. Wheeling back in 20 days, Guyana Star Dweej was no match for the winner of a $75K Optional Claimer, Belmont Stakes entrant, Unstoppable U, finishing second beaten by over six lengths at Belmont Park. Guyana Star Dweej hasn't won beyond a mile. He has yet to defeat winners and he's a cut below the Belmont field.
Trainer: Doodnauth Shivmangal sent the hopelessly overmatched Isn’t He Perfect to a last place finish in last year’s Belmont Stakes.
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux best known for riding “almost” Triple Crown hero Real Quiet, won the 2009 Belmont Stakes with Summer Bird.
Win Potential: D
PAYNTER (Awesome Again – Tizso, by Cee’s Tizzy) Trainer: Bob Baffert Jockey: Mike Smith
Pedigree: Paynter has a late-maturing, stamina-oriented pedigree. His 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. Damsire Cee’s Tizzy is best known as the sire of two-time Classic champ Tiznow. Paynter is closely related to Tiznow as his dam Tizso is a full sister to the stallion.
Form: Another dangerously improving colt, Paynter's speed figures have increased in every start. He's been victorious from on the lead and off of the pace. He has the turn of foot to win at 5 1/2 furlongs and the pedigree to stretch his speed to 1 1/2 miles. Paynter is coming into the Belmont fresh and he may wind up the favorite at post time.
Trainer: Bob Baffert has been around the Belmont oval quite a bit. Out of eight starters, he’s finished in the money with three – Point Given, who decimated the Belmont field by over 12 lengths, a heartbreaking nose loss by Real Quiet, and Silver Charm. Baffert finished second with Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Jockey: Mike Smith is another racing veteran, best known as the regular jockey of Champion Zenyatta. Mike won the 2010 Belmont Stakes on Drosselmeyer.
Win Potential: A
OPTIMIZER (English Channel - Indy Pick, by A.P. Indy) Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas Jockey: Corey Nakatani
Pedigree: Optimizer has the best pedigree in the field to handle the Belmont Stakes distance. His second crop sire English Channel is a Turf Champion who set a new course record in the United Nations Handicap at 1 3/16 miles and won the Breeders' Cup Turf in his final start. Damsire A.P. Indy won the Belmont Stakes and is a noted Classic Chef-de-race, who passes along stamina to his descendants. Unfortunately, Optimizer has a strong turf oriented pedigree. Out of 63 starters, only two of English Channels offspring have won over dirt.
Form: Other than passing exhausted horses in the Arkansas Derby to get up for second place, Optimizer hasn't been remotely competitive in any of his dirt races. He has plenty of stamina, but this is a case of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Optimizer's best chance of finishing in the money is if the track comes up sloppy. If that's the case, count him in as your longshot pick.
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas has started more horses in the Belmont Stakes than the rest of them combined. Twenty-one to be exact. Four have won and one finished third. He won the Belmont Stakes three years running, from 1994 – 1996, and again in 2000. Unfortunately, his last great year of racing was 2000 and although he still trains a full stable, his numbers aren’t what they were.
Jockey: Corey Nakatani was fourth aboard Nehro in last year’s Belmont Stakes. He’s won many meet titles on the cutthroat Southern California circuit.
Win Potential: D
MY ADONIS (Pleasantly Perfect - Silent Justice, by Elusive Quality) Trainer: Kelly Breen Jockey: Ramon Dominguez
Pedigree: My Adonis has a stamina over speed pedigree. His sire Pleasantly Perfect won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Santa Anita Handicap and Dubai World Cup. Pleasantly Perfect has one winner at 1 ¼ miles, but most of his offspring haven’t run farther. Elusive Quality is a young broodmare sire. He’s known best as a miler sire, although he’s produced three winners at 1 ¼ miles, including Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones. He has no winners at 1 ½ miles.
Form: My Adonis likes to race on or near the lead. He’s never won past a mile and hit a brick wall the only time he tried 1 1/8 miles. He does like the slop so his best bet to hit the board would be over a muddy track.
Trainer: Kelly Breen is 1-1-0-0 in the Belmont Stakes. He sent out Ruler On Ice to upset last year’s Belmont Stakes field. Ruler On Ice had a poor pedigree for the distance, but he had a much better record than My Adonis.
Jockey: A year ago Ramon Dominguez rode six winners from eight mounts at Belmont Park. He’s only the second jockey in history to do so. Last year he finished seventh in the Belmont Stakes aboard Mucho Macho Man.
Win Potential: D
Although the racing world will be disappointed not to see I’ll Have Another attempt to win the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes still shapes up as a competitive affair. Street Life, Union Rags, Dullahan, and Paynter appear to be the colts with the best chances of winning. If the track comes up sloppy, Optimizer, Atigun and My Adonis may be worth longshot looks. Strange things happen in the Belmont Stakes, so don’t be surprised to see another longshot shocker this year.