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BELMONT STAKES AND TRIPLE CROWN REVIEW

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ELMONT, NY - JUNE 11: Jose Valdivia, Jr. rides Ruler On Ice to victory during the running of the 143rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, 2011 in Elmont, New York.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
ELMONT, NY - JUNE 11: Jose Valdivia, Jr. rides Ruler On Ice to victory during the running of the 143rd Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 11, 2011 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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With the completion of the Belmont Stakes yesterday afternoon another Triple Crown season comes to a close. Below is a review of yesterday's Belmont, along with a look at another wide-open winter and spring of three-year-old stakes races.

Belmont Stakes Re-Cap

  • The final splits for each horse in yesterday's Belmont paint a vivid picture of horses that were able to keep grinding in the final quarter mile compared to those that wanted nothing to do with 12 furlongs in the slop.  Stay Thirsty actually ran the fastest final quarter mile, but the ability of Ruler On Ice to stay closer to the lead in the early stages set up him for Belmont glory.

    Horse Final Split
    Ruler On Ice 25.62
    Stay Thirsty 25.49
    Brilliant Speed 25.83
    Nehro 26.30
    Shackleford 27.11
    Animal Kingdom 26.68
    Mucho Macho Man 28.81
    Santiva 28.89
    Monzon 28.22
    Master of Hounds 28.65
    Prime Cut 28.99
    Isn't He Perfect 28.73

  • We can also look at the splits by comparing the opening half mile with the final half mile.  Below are those fractions for each horse in the field

    Horse First 4f Last 4f
    Ruler On Ice 49.34 50.76
    Stay Thirsty 49.51 50.72
    Brilliant Speed 50.03 50.37
    Nehro 49.93 51.30
    Shackleford 49.08 52.25
    Animal Kingdom 51.41 51.82
    Mucho Macho Man 49.95 53.35
    Santiva 49.59 54.54
    Monzon 50.56 54.36
    Master of Hounds 50.55 54.81
    Prime Cut 50.37 54.90
    Isn't He Perfect 50.29 54.45

    Horses that finished 1-2-3 at the wire were running 2-3-7 after the opening half mile.  Brilliant Speed ran the fastest final half mile of any horse in the field. 
  • Aidan O'Brien continues to struggle with graded races on dirt in America.  If the numbers thrown around on TV yesterday were accurate, he is now 1-for-34 in those conditions.
  • Speaking of TV, Belmont ratings were up 55% from one year ago (via Paulick Report).  Considering there was no Triple Crown attempt on the line, that is very impressive.

    I give NBC a hard time with their race coverage but, overall, I think they do a better job than ESPN does with the Breeders' Cup (despite missing the Dixie on the Preakness undercard, which was probably more a function of their agreement with Pimlico than anything else).  To post such measurable improvements in ratings (for both the Belmont and the undercard) is very impressive.  I hope it continues with their Saratoga coverage this summer. 
  • Handle on the entire Belmont card was up 9% from a year ago. (via DRF.com)
  • Animal Kingdom made a huge move from a ½ mile to a mile into the race, and clocked that portion in 49.82 seconds (according to Formulator Interactive Charts).  That was the fastest fraction of any horse at that point in the race and was 100% necessitated by his horrendous start. The split was almost a full second faster than any horse in the race, but the fact that he had to make that move at all cost him any chance at victory.
  • Shackleford ran his heart out once again, but clearly hit the wall with around a quarter mile to go. Shack ran the opening ½ mile in 49.08, and the last ½ mile in 52.25. That just wasn't going to get it done.
  • The last 10 Triple Crown races, beginning with the Belmont Stakes in 2008 (when Big Brown was going for a clean sweep) has seen 10 different winners.  That is the longest streak of that kind in the Triple Crown series since 1924 to 1929, when there were 18 different winners in a row.  Gallant Fox broke that streak in 1930 by sweeping all three and winning the Triple Crown.

Triple Crown Re-Cap

Since the beginning of the year, there have been 39 graded stakes races for three-year-old colts in the United States at various distances and over multiple surfaces. Those 39 graded stakes races have produced 35 different winners, with only four horses winning more than one race. Those four colts are:

Animal Kingdom (G3-Spiral and G1-Kentucky Derby)
Archarcharch
(G3-Southwest and G1-Arkansas Derby)
The Factor
(G2-San Vicente and G2-Rebel Stakes)
Dialed In
(G3-Holy Bull and G1-Florida Derby)

That's it. Every other graded stakes race for three-year-old colts this year has been won by a different horse. It doesn't matter the distance or the surface, the result was the same (or not the same).

If we compare this Triple Crown season with that of 2010 we get a similar picture. Last year there were 43 graded stakes races for three-year-olds through a comparable period of time (Belmont Stakes Saturday). Of those 43 races, we saw 36 different winners. The following horses won multiple races during the last Triple Crown season:

Conveyance (G3-San Rafael and G3-Southwest)
D'Funnybone (G2-Hutcheson, G2-Swale, G2-Woody Stephens)
Eskendereya (G2-Fountain of Youth and G1-Wood Memorial)
Lookin At Lucky (G2-Rebel and G1-Preakness)
Sidney's Candy (G2-San Vicente, G2-San Felipe, G1-Santa Anita Derby)

So 2010 saw a bit more consistency (especially out West with Sidney's Candy dominating at Santa Anita), but overall, there was a significant amount of volatility within the ranks. 

Let's go back one more year, to 2009, and look at the same data. In 2009, there were 42 graded stakes races for three-year-old colts through a comparable period of time, of which eight colts won multiple races.

Capt. Candyman Can (G2-Hutcheson and G3-Bay Shore)
Friesan Fire (G3-LeComte, G3-Risen Star, G2-Louisiana Derby)
General Quarters (G3-Sam F. Davis and G1-Blue Grass)
I Want Revenge (G3-Gotham and G1-Wood Memorial)
Musket Man (G3-Tampa Bay Derby and G2-Illinois Derby
Pioneer of the Nile (G2-Lewis, G2-San Felipe, and G1-Santa Anita Derby)
Quality Road (G2-Fountain of Youth and G1-Florida Derby)
The Pamplemousse (G3-San Rafael and G3-Sham)

In three years we've gone from eight repeat winners, to five, to four. And while it certainly adds to the unknown to see a different horse win almost every stakes race, it also creates a feeling of mediocrity among the division.  That's not to say that colts like Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, et al., aren't good horses. But there clearly wasn't a horse that stood out, head and shoulders, above the group.

The three-year-old championship is still wide-open and will ultimately be decided this summer and fall.

What's Next?

The Royal Ascot meeting in England begins on Tuesday with a tasty match-up of Goldikova (IRE) and Canford Cliffs (IRE) in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes.  I'll have a preview of Royal Ascot tomorrow, and daily previews/recaps of the meet all week long. 

In the weeks ahead we will have the opening of Saratoga (Friday, July 22nd) and Del Mar (Wednesday, July 20th), along with the Arlington Million (Saturday, August 13th) and other select days (Travers, Haskell, etc.).  The Triple Crown may be over, but there is plenty of excellent racing on the calendar this summer.