JC / Railbird

Belmont Stakes

House Rule

Relevant Belmont Stakes-eve information on whip use via the New York Times:

In New York, the state issues a fine or penalty for excessive use of the whip. But since 2010, racing stewards have also enforced a house rule of no more than five strikes in succession, with a pause of two or three strides to see if the horse responds.

When a rider violates the rule, one of the tan wall phones in the jockeys’ locker room will ring, Dr. Hill said, and the call will go out: “Movies for Jockey A tomorrow” — meaning a violation was caught on film, and the jockey will be given a $500 fine that will go to a track-related charity.

Retired jockey and NYRA analyst Richard Migliore says he’d like to see a whip rule that goes beyond the soon-to-be implemented California guidelines: “one strike of the whip, then wait a few strides to see if the horse responds.”

Plainly Said

Dick Powell:

I love the Met Mile (G1) and hate that it is run on the Belmont Stakes undercard. It is a race worthy of its own big stage and should not share it with anyone.

Seconding the sentiment. It pains me to see a race as significant and historic as the Met Mile crammed into a bloated Belmont Stakes “Big Day” card between the Just a Game and the Manhattan Stakes. Restore it to Memorial Day!

Buck Up

Shying from picking American Pharoah? Dick Jerardi understands (DRF+):

The near Triple Crown misses have collectively psyched us all out. I definitely include myself in that group.

When you see Smarty Jones run maybe the best race of his life and get beat, and you see Big Brown get eased, and you see California Chrome get stepped on at the start, get trapped on the rail and get beat, you would not be human if you did not at least consider the history that also includes Spectacular Bid getting a ridiculous ride, Silver Charm doing everything but win, and Real Quiet winning for all but the final stride.

For sure! But the Belmont Stakes has also been a great race for playing against the favorite in recent years. The last post-time favorite to win was Afleet Alex in 2005, and only short-priced Union Rags (the second favorite to 3-2 Dullahan) in 2012 disturbs the string of double-digits since:

Winning favorites are indicated by a gray background.

For that matter, Curlin in 2007 was the last favorite to finish second.

American Pharoah is 3-5 on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes, which drew a field of eight, and if the public sticks to its Triple Crown wagering ways, it’ll be as “incorrigibly optimistic” as ever about his chances.

Root for history, bet for cashing.

6/5/15 Addendum: More on playing against from Ted McClelland:

If you want to go for an even bigger payoff, spend $84 to box all the challengers in the exacta…. In Triple Crown attempts since 1987, when the exacta was introduced, that strategy would have cost $1,284 and returned $5,119 — a 299 percent return.

6/8/15 Update: American Pharoah’s win added to the chart above. He’s the first favorite to win since Afleet Alex. His win pay is the lowest this century. The betting public looks pretty smart this year.

The Contrarian

Steve Wolfson, Sr., son of Louis Wolfson, the owner of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed, tells Peter Thomas Fornatale that when it comes to American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes:

“For the sake of racing, I hope he loses,” Wolfson said. “We talked last year about how I root for all of these old streaks in sports to never be equaled — DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, John Wooden’s great run of victories, Rod Laver’s Grand Slams — I believe that the fact it’s been so long since we’ve seen a Triple Crown is why all these people care.”

American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat wants the win, obviously:

“I want it for the fans,” he said. “They’ve been waiting for 37 years. The sport needs it. A sport without a star is not a sport. Imagine having basketball without Michael Jordan or LeBron [James]. I’m excited. I’m pumped.”

Hm … American racing isn’t exactly going without stars. Since 2009, we’ve had Rachel Alexandra (brilliant, and gamely campaigned), Zenyatta (whose mainstream crossover was the best since Barbaro, and without the tragic end), Wise Dan (beloved), and California Chrome (a star big enough that the racing programs of other countries want him). It’s probably better to think of Pharoah as a comet — win or lose on Saturday, he’ll be off the track by the end of the year, and possibly sooner. If he runs for the remainder of the season, he’ll likely have no more than another two or three starts — “limiting the possibility for large-scale marketing opportunities,” or for fans to get attached.

6/3/15 Addendum: Jerry Izenberg shares the sport needs a star perspective. “How can you have a major sport without a superstar?” So much emphasis gets placed on one horse becoming a name outside the game, and what that would mean for marketing and awareness. It’s wishful thinking.

Now, let’s swing back: “It is entirely plausible that a Triple Crown winner is the exact opposite of what horse racing ‘needs.’

6/4/15 Addendum: Well, Zayat found a large-scale marketing opportunity — ESPN reports that Monster (the energy drink) has signed on for American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run, in what is “believed to be one of the largest single-horse sponsorship deals in history.” (“$5-million initial ask,” Ed DeRosa tweeted, noting he didn’t know the final sum.) There’ll be no publicity shots of Pharoah enjoying a Monster — the drink is loaded with caffeine. “A racehorse promoting a stimulant,” wrote Pull the Pocket, “that’s like Amgen sponsoring a long distance bike race.” That’s racing!


The field for the Belmont Stakes will be drawn on Wednesday, and challengers are lining up to spoil American Pharoah’s Triple Crown run.

“Weird things happen in the Belmont. Never duck one horse,” trainer Kenny McPeek texted the Churchill Downs press office on Friday, explaining why he was entering The Truth or Else. [10:10 AM Update: The Truth or Else is out of Saturday’s race with “filling in ankle.” The likely field is now nine eight.]

I should probably run four,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who plans to start three two — Carpe Diem Materiality and Madefromlucky. “[I]t’s a little bittersweet to have a horse in the race trying to beat [Pharoah],” said Materiality co-owner Gil Moutray. “We’re a spoiler and we like our horse.”

I think I have a live long shot, and I think people might feel the same way in another week,” said trainer Nick Zito of his contender, Frammento.

Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve will also take a shot.

American Pharoah worked on Monday, going five furlongs in 1:00.20 (splits from Churchill Downs: 13, 25, 36.60, 48.60). Mike Welsch, getting him in 1:00.08, praised the move: “AP seemingly getting stronger the further he went while giving the appearance that he was just galloping the entire way.”

The only thing that’s easy about the Belmont six days out is imagining what the Pharoah camp is thinking right now: Good luck, spoilers.

Video of Pharoah’s five-furlong breeze:

6/1/15 Update: Reaction to American Pharoah’s Monday appearance: “One trainer who detailed all the reasons American Pharoah would not win the Triple Crown before he breezed said simply afterward, ‘I take it all back.’ Others said his coat looked shiny and he appeared to be in great shape.”

6/2/15 Addendum: Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin hopes to hear boos after the Belmont Stakes because Frosted has won. “You know I’m a racing fan too, and if we lose, I hope he wins for the Triple Crown, but once they go in the starting gate it’s all about your team and your own horse. We’re trying to win the race.”


Victor Espinoza sums up California Chrome’s 2014 Belmont Stakes effort:

“California Chrome was tired going into the race and his energy wasn’t quite what it was. Also, another horse stepped on his foot and that happens when a horse doesn’t have the energy it should. They do things in slow motion, and that’s what happened.”

The week before, California Chrome was “ready,” had “a perfect work,” was full of “tremendous energy,” and “seemed to have plenty left in the tank.” Pointing those quotes out is a reminder, mostly to myself, not to get too caught up in whatever hype there is about American Pharoah as he preps for the Belmont over the next two weeks. He “looks great,” but he also had to “recuperate” from winning the Preakness by walking for four days at Churchill, and his time exercising each morning is so far being reported in single-digit minutes.

Meanwhile, challengers such as Materiality, who skipped the Preakness, are training like the fresh horses they are. The son of 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex “solidified his status … as the major threat to American Pharoah,” working five furlongs in :59.87 at Belmont Park on Friday (video).

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