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Staff Picks: 2012 Belmont Stakes

Can anyone tell me if anything interesting happened in horse racing on Friday? Goodness. What a day. The scratch of I'll Have Another sent shock waves through the horse racing world, but our very own J P Fanshawe is here to break down the post-I'll Have Another Belmont Stakes


So, it turns out that this isn't quite the event we all hoped it would be, and that is a shame, because I'll Have Another seemed like such a good possibility to complete the Triple Crown. At first glance, this edition of the Belmont appears very similar to the Preakness in that three horses appear to be the class of the race. Let's take a look horse-by-horse and see if we can make a case for anyone else in the field.

1-Street Life What I Like: I was a huge fan of Street Sense, and this son of his intrigues me a bit. He exits the Peter Pan, where he ran third after coming five wide into the lane and had something left at the wire. He has the fourth-best closing figure in the field, and eeks his way into the fifth place in BRIS class, BRIS Speed Figure Average, and Class Plus Speed. Trainer Brown is 18 percent in Graded Stakes, and 24 percent in both routes, and dirt starts Belmont's rail post is winning at a 22 percent clip, and jockey Lezcano has won 2 and placed in 4 of 5 starts for Brown. What Worries Me: His best speed figure was in his last race, and the 100 he ran there is seven points shy of the par. Clearly lacks the class of the two best in here.

2-Unstoppable U What I Like: Undefeated in two starts, the last an impressive 6 ¼ length win in an OC75000 over this same track. Horse could be the lone speed in this race and who knows, maybe he could steal it. He has the sixth-best pedigree for distance number here. Jockey has placed both times he has been in the saddle for trainer McPeek. What Worries Me: Only two races and here he is in the Test of the Champion? Seems like a stretch, although I very much respect McPeek. He struggles in stakes races, though, hitting just 9 percent of 171 starts. Nowhere in the numbers, which is especially when one considers he is listed as a front runner but doesn't have an early fraction number that gets him anywhere the top 5.

3-Union Rags What I Like: 100, 102,103, 103: horse's last four BRIS speed figs are a portrait of consistency. He won the Champagne by open lengths over this track, and is 5-of-6 hitting the board on a fast track. He could very much relish an honest or slow pace, as he has crushed fields three times when given that scenario. Training as good as anyone save possibly the 5. All over the numbers: 4thth in early pace, 4thth in middle, and tops in late (an angle I love, since it usually indicates the horse will be forwardly placed, and have plenty left for the stretch), best earnings per start in the group now. The kicker may be that his pedigree for distance number is also best of the bunch. What Worries Me: Can he get a good ride. Leparoux lost the mount to John Velazquez, who is o-for2 riding for Matz and has won only 7-of-86 mounts at Belmont (uncharacteristically low for him). Matz, incidentally, is winning just 5 percent of 92 graded stakes entries.

4-Atigun What I Like: Trainer McPeek's second entry in the race, worked a bullet in his next-to-last work, and has won twice in the optional claiming ranks. Leparoux picks up the mount since, he was, like, available. What Worries Me: A lot. In three graded stakes attempts, he has done no better than 5th. His best speed rating is 11 points below par, and he appears nowhere in my numbers.

5-Dullahan What I Like: A lot. From all accounts, he is training beautifully. Bullet work from the third was blistering, and was followed by a gallop out so good, some clockers I read considered counting the work as a 6 furlong. I also love the mile work from May 26th. Horse is 4-for-6 placing over a fast track. Second in early pace and middle pace, 5th in late pace. Tops in BRIS average competitive level, Prime Power, BRIS Class, and Class Plus Speed. Second in earnings per start. A deserving favorite. What Worries Me: The jockey change. Desormeaux's personal problems lost him this mount, and Castellano is no slouch, winning 24 percent of his mounts at Belmont, but still, it is a change. Trainer Romans numbers are a bit pedestrian.

6-Ravelo's Boy What I Like: Six solid works lead him in, so perhaps some maturation has happened during his three-month layoff. He better hope so. What Worries Me: Pretty long layoff to jump into a Grade 1, especially when the horse has never won above the OC75000n1x level. Trainer Azpuna is o-for 16 in graded stakes, and has hit the board just 12 percent of the time in them. He is also only 5 percent scoring off of layoffs of 90+ days. Horse is 18 points shy of par. Nowhere in the numbers.

7-Five Sixteen What I Like: The horse's name. Horse is 3-of-5 on a fast track, and has four decent current works. Daddy is Invasor. Rosie is aboard. What Worries Me: Horse is two starts removed from winning a maiden 65k, and his best speed fig in his last out was only good enough to net him 4th beaten 11 ¾. Trainer is lower than 14 percent in several categories. Nowhere in the numbers. Would need some serious improvement to win.

8-Guyana Star Dweej What I Like: The trainer Shivmangal also owns, which I generally love in any kind of stakes race, but not so much here, as this looks to be a huge step up. Horse does have a second-place finish over the track, and is 4-of-6 on a fast track. His best ever speed fig came in his maiden-breaker two starts back, and a return to that number could get him into the exotics. What I Dislike: Trainer's numbers are all sub 11 percent, and Desormeax has just one win in 17 starts at Belmont. Nowhere in the numbers. Works are middling. I am pretty sure Larry Colmus will not dig this horse's name as it is quite a jumble.

9-Paynter What I Like: Numbers. With the defection of I'll Have Another, horse inherits the top spot in both early and middle pace, and only falls to second with his late pace fig, so he figures to be capable of a front-running bid that might hold up. Second in pedigree for distance, 3rd in SFA, and Class Plus Speed, and 4th in dollars. Baffert's numbers are ridiculous as usual: 31 percent shipping, 22 percent in graded stakes, 27 percent with a winner last out. Exemplary back-to-back works lead him in. Jockey Smith, who has won 5-of-10 for Baffert in the last 60 days, stays aboard. What Worries Me: Lightly raced (but from the same barn as Bodemeister, so does it matter?) and has seen a couple of soft fields in his last two, so speed figs of 107 and 105, respectively seem a bit high. Of course if he can run one of those numbers here, it might be enough.

10-Optimizer What I Like: One of these days this horse is going to win. If you take a bird's eye view, you notice he hasn't been out of stakes company in his last 10, although he has fallen on hard times the last three. I suppose trainer Lukas is waiting for a return to the form displayed in the Rebel. One decent work leads him in, and he does creep into 4th in BRIS Prime Power, so he could fit in exotics. What Worries Me: With races rated above a BRIS number of 119, his best finish is his 6th and that in the Preakness. Lukas' graded stakes success continues to shrink: 2 percent wins in 165 starts. Despite all his efforts in stakes, he still hasn't run a number within 11 of par.

11-I'll Have Another Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. I think he would have had an excellent chance to win the Triple Crown.

12-My Adonis What I Like: A bullet work precedes his entry, and I like the pattern of races Breen chose for him. He may appreciate the added ground, especially given his third-best pedigree for distance number. He reached up and ran a 102 in the Gotham and that might be a good enough number here to win. He is 5-for-7 hitting the board on a fast track, and picks up jockey Dominguez, who is suddenly his old self again, winning 26 percent of his mounts at Belmont. Breen is scoring 27 percent with beaten favorites, and 18 percent in routes. Third in early and middle pace, but falls way short in late pace. Would probably need to try to steal it. He has won and placed second when competing in a race with a par pace. What Worries Me: Classy enough? Breen is just 6 percent winning in 81 graded stakes starts.

It is hard for me to see anyone other than Union Rags or Dullahan winning here, and both of them will be included in my Pick 4 tickets, but the contest player in me is always trying to create value, and I suspect I will do just that by keying a longer-price horse through the superfectas and hoping for a little craziness. I am always disappointed in myself when I side with the chalky horses. I hate chalk, but sometimes the class of the race is just that, the class.

Top Selection: Dullahan

Alternate: Union Rags

Will Use: Paynter, Street Life, My Adonis, Optimizer Good Luck!