The Pi-Rate Ratings

June 6, 2008

A PiRate Look At The Belmont Stakes

A PiRate Extra

Belmont Stakes 140


Belmont Park—Elmont, NY

Approximately 6:25 PM EDT

Television: ABC

Radio: ESPN Radio

Forecast Weather at Post-Time: Sunny and mid-80’s


That great purveyor of prose Yogi Berra once supposedly said, “It’s Déjà vu all over again.”  That’s the scary thought that has been going through my head about the Belmont Stakes.  Let’s look back at three famous winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown that failed to win the Belmont as prohibitive favorites—two of them were post 1978, the last year a horse won the Triple Crown.


In 1979, Spectacular Bid was even more of a heavy favorite than Big Brown is in 2008.  He went to post at 1-10 odds and was already considered to be better than any of the three Triple Crown winner in the 1970’s and maybe the best of all time.  Trainer Bud Delp was confident if not downright cocky enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.  For 20 days after the Preakness, Delp could be seen, heard, and read throughout the nation’s sports pages, television newscasts, and radio broadcasts.  The Bid had won a dozen consecutive races and most of them were not close, so there was no possibility of him losing the Belmont.  Until, that is, he stepped on a safety pin (or as some pundits believe trainer Ronnie Franklin rode the worst race in the history of the Belmont).  One way or the other, a long shot named Coastal pulled off the biggest upset since a horse name Upset pinned the lone loss on Man O’ War.  Coastal was the son of the great Majestic Prince.


Majestic Prince was and will always be my favorite horse.  I loved and idolized him the way kids idolize Michael Jordan, A-Rod, or Lebron James; he is the reason the sport of kings is my favorite sport.  Majestic Prince entered the 1969 Kentucky Derby having won all seven of his previous races.  In a year many believe to have been the strongest ever for thoroughbreds with Top Knight, Arts & Letters, and Dike competing against him, and the great Ack Ack waiting in the wings later in the summer, there was no way Majestic Prince or any of these other greats could possibly win the Triple Crown. 


The Prince won the Derby by coming from behind to edge Arts & Letters.  He repeated the feat at Pimlico two weeks later, but in the Preakness, he injured a tendon on his right front leg.  Trainer Johnny Longden, one of the best jockeys ever and rider of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, was ready to pull Majestic Prince from the Belmont, as the horse weight and training time and was obviously not ready to run.  Because it had been 21 years since Citation had been the last Triple Crown winner, there was intense pressure from all sources for Majestic Prince to run.  That pressure plus Triple Crown Fever led owner Frank McMahon to overrule Longden and enter the Prince in the Belmont.


Majestic Prince trailed far behind for one mile of the Belmont as jockey Bill Hartack didn’t want to force the great, but ailing horse to stalk from just off the lead (the normal strategy for the horse).  In the final two furlongs, Majestic Prince made a move and passed three horses but couldn’t overtake Arts & Letters, losing by five lengths.  It was the Prince’s last race.


Let us fast forward to the year 1981.  A horse named Pleasant Colony was not undefeated entering the Kentucky Derby, but he was one for one under his new trainer, Johnny Campo.  Campo was a likeable loudmouth.  He was the quintessential New Yorker with a large opinion of his opinions.  He was never at a loss for words, and when his horse won the roses at Churchill Downs, Campo’s lips were the only thing that he exercised. 


Campo was a short and quite obese but hard-working trainer with a chip on his shoulders the size of his girth.  He made for great copy.  Members of the press would ask him one question and get enough information for two stories.  When Pleasant Colony won the Preakness, Campo was ready to give reporters enough verbiage to write a book the size of War and Peace.  He had a heated feud with commentator and hall of fame jockey Eddie Arcaro.


Pleasant Colony was a heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown, but a horse named Summing held off his late charge.  Pleasant Colony finished third, and Campo took his medicine but was gracious in defeat.


So here we are in 2008.  Big Brown has impressively won all of his prior races.  Trainer Rick Dutrow has been almost as controversial and loudmouthed as Delp and Campo.  Big Brown has suffered an injury that led to the possibility that he might not run.  However, after the now infamous quarter crack has supposedly healed, he has been deemed well enough to run.  Following a seemingly excellent workout at the track, all is apparently well with the newest “greatest horse of all time.”


Wednesday morning’s Belmont draw found the big favorite assigned to the number one post.  That’s not where Dutrow wanted his phenom to break.  To make matters worse, the chief rival, Casino Drive, drew the fifth post that Dutrow was hoping for.  To make matters even worse, the horse that drew the second post is a maiden who really doesn’t belong in this race.  All the cards are stacked against Big Brown.  At his current 2-5 odds, there is no value whatsoever in putting two bucks on him to win $2.80.


So, let’s take a look at the field and try to find value elsewhere.



The Horses


1-Big Brown: Morning Line Odds- 2-5/Jockey- Kent Desormeaux/Trainer- Rick Dutrow, Jr.

Most of the horse-racing fans throughout the world will be pulling for Big Brown to win the Triple Crown, and I will predict the bettors at Belmont Park and elsewhere will drive his odds down below the current 2-5.  The odds could even go to 1-10 by post time.  Many people will purchase two dollar tickets and hold them with the hopes that a never cashed ticket of a Triple Crown winner might one day be worth several times more than the $2.20 for which it could be cashed around 6:30 PM Saturday night.  As I have explained herein, I am not one for sentiment.  While I agree he is a super horse win or lose this race, I am not risking capital for such a small return.  He might win with ease, and he might do it in a manner similar to Secretariat, but $2.20 is just not enough reward here.  Horses can lose a race due to many factors beyond their jockey’s control.  All it takes is a little stumble, a bumping from another horse, or jockey’s error, and the greatest horses can be upset.  Kent Desormeaux has stated on record that he erred when he rode Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont and narrowly lost a Triple Crown bid.  He took Real Quiet to the lead too early and vows not to do the same with Big Brown.  There is a possibility he could overcompensate and go for the lead too late.  We’ll have to wait and see, but there are place and show bets that will return far more money than $2.20 if Big Brown wins the race.


2-Guadalcanal: Morning Line Odds- 50-1/Jockey- Javier Castellano/Trainer- Fred Seitz

This horse has already run a race of 1 ½ miles, albeit on turf.  That’s the only good thing to say about him.  He is a maiden, and maidens don’t finish in the money in Triple Crown races.  He is a notorious slow starter coming out of the gate, and he has a history of getting involved with another horse in a bumping contest.  If he bumps Big Brown at the start, it could be the bump heard around the world.  He’s clearly out of his class here, and I wouldn’t consider him.


3-Macho Again: Morning Line Odds- 20-1/Jockey- Garrett Gomez/Trainer- Dallas Stewart

When was the last time the second place horse in the Preakness was 20-1 in the Belmont Morning Line?  Now, take into consideration that this horse gained in the stretch on Big Brown, and even though Big Brown was not asked to run all out, none of the other horses in the race gained 1¾ lengths.  New jockey Garrett Gomez should get a great trip coming out of the third post.  Look for Macho Again to make a game effort and possibly take the lead at some point after six furlongs.  Whether he can hold off a charge from two excellent horses, I don’t know, but he has as strong a chance of finishing third as any of the other contenders.  I’d highly consider putting Macho Again in your show betting and as part of your exacta and trifectas.


4-Denis of Cork: Morning Line Odds- 12-1/Jockey- Robby Albarado/Trainer- David Carroll

Here is a horse whose past performances scream for inclusion in some form of your wagers.  He will be racing on five weeks rest.  His pedigree screams for him to run at longer distances.  He only needs a hot pace to be considered a serious contender to hit the board and possibly pull off a big upset.  I’m not sure we’re going to see the opening quarter in less than 23 and change and the opening half in less than 46 and change.  It may be tough for him to make that one huge run in the final furlong and get a piece of the pot.  Still, you have to give him strong consideration in your wagering.


5-Casino Drive: Morning Line Odds-7-2/Jockey-Edgar Prado/Trainer-Kazuo Fujisawa

If this were a Western movie, this horse would come to the track with jockey Edgar Prado wearing the black hat.  Prado has already played the role of spoiler twice before, when he rode Sarava and Birdstone to upset wins in the Belmont, preventing War Emblem and Smarty Jones from winning the Triple Crown.  He has a stronger horse in this race than he had when he pulled off those upsets.  In the Peter Pan Stakes, Casino Drive ran the type of race that Big Brown likes to run.  He relaxed into a nice stalking position about two lengths off the pace and then made one tremendous move in the final quarter, running away from the field.  The one real weakness this horse has is little experience.  This will be just his third race.  Both of his previous races were at 1 1/8 miles, and there is no hard evidence that this horse can go 12 furlongs.  Still, he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Rating for his Peter Pan win, while Big Brown earned a 100 in the Preakness.  His odds may be as low as 5-2 by post time, but if they move to 4-1 or more, he becomes a value play.  Betting Big Brown and Casino Drive in a cold exacta may return little more than bus fare.  



6-Da’ Tara: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey-Alan Garcia/Trainer-Nick Zito

I don’t wager on horses with only a maiden win in their history in Triple Crown races.  Da’Tara broke his maiden in January at Gulfstream Park, finished third in a cheap allowance race, and then finished well back in the Florida Derby.  He is better than Guadalcanal, but that’s not saying much.



7-Tale of Ekati: Morning Line Odds-20-1/Jockey-Eibar Coa/Trainer-Barclay Tagg

I suspect this horse will eventually prove to be a capable sprinter.  I don’t believe distance racing is his strong point.  In the Louisiana and Kentucky Derbies, he was close to the lead entering the home stretch and faded.  He won the Wood Memorial when the opening fractions were ridiculously fast.  This won’t happen in the Belmont, and this horse will be forced to make his move at the same time Big Brown and Casino Drive make their move.  He’ll be left behind.




This horse has done absolutely nothing this year after looking strong as a two year old.  His four 2008 races resulted in finishes of eighth, seventh, fifth, and seventh.  I’d toss this one out, unless you plan on playing several long shots in your exotic wagers. 

8-Anak Nakal: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey- Julien Leparoux/Trainer- Nick Zito

9-Ready’s Echo: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey- John Velazquez/Trainer- Todd Pletcher

We have yet another horse eligible to race in no victories other than maiden allowance races, so he is supposed to be automatically tossed out.  He won’t win the race and won’t get any win wagers placed by me, but he just may be strong enough to contend for finishing in the money.  Ready’s Echo ran in the Peter Pan against Casino Drive, and while he finished 6¼ lengths back in third, he basically ran even with him in the final two calls after making up several lengths earlier in the race.  This horse has some intriguing factors working in his favor.  He should like the long distance, and he should be considered in your place, show, and exotic wagers.


10-Icabad Crane: Morning Line Odds- 20-1/Jockey-Jeremy Rose/Trainer- H. Graham Motion

He finished third in the Preakness and made up 1 ¼ lengths only after Big Brown wasn’t pushed in the final 220 yards.  Yet another stretch running horse who likes to come from off the pace, he should be forced to go wide when he makes his move.  He cannot afford to be more than three wide and have any chance to pass enough horses to hit the board.  I’ll pass on him.


My $100 Mythical Wager


I am not wagering at all on Big Brown in this race.  I am looking for better value.  I am also going to lay off Casino Drive, because I think Prado will go for the lead earlier than he can afford to do so, and Casino Drive will run out of gas and/or his odds will not be high enough for there to be betting value. 


On the other hand, I am not about to pick another horse to win this race.  I’m looking for long shots to hit the board in the second and third place slots.  At least one long shot is guaranteed to hit the board because there are just two low-priced horses in the race as of late Thursday night when I write this story.


There are three horses I like in this betting strategy—Macho Again, Denis of Cork and Ready’s Echo.  I like Macho Again and Ready’s Echo a little more than Denis of Cork, so here is how I am playing the Belmont.  I am putting $20 on Macho Again and Ready’s Echo to both place and show (4 wagers) and $20 on Denis of Cork to show.  I decided to avoid the exotics due to the high take on exotics at Belmont Park.  These wagers are still a bit risky, as I will need two of these horses to finish in the money in order to make a profit.  I think I have the three top long shots though, and I like my chances of two of them finishing in the money, if Casino Drive proves not to be up for the distance.   


The PiRate Team Makes Their Mythical $100 Wagers


Because I have to compose this story a day earlier than normal due to travel considerations, I had to ask my band of experts to submit their ideas a day earlier than normal as well.  Not all of them could participate this time, and the three who did could only submit their betting choices without commentary.  Here is how they see the race.


Walker Jones picks Big Brown, Casino Drive, and Ready’s Echo in that order.  His $100 wager includes a $60 exacta straight on Big Brown on top of Casino Drive; a $20 Trifecta with Big Brown on top of Casino Drive and Ready’s Echo; and a $20 Trifecta with Big Brown on top of Ready’s Echo and Casino Drive.


Wesley Kahnert picks Big Brown, Casino Drive, and Tale of Ekati to finish one-two-three.  His $100 wager includes $10 on Big Brown on top of each of the other nine horses and $2 each on Big Brown on top of Casino Drive and these five horses in a trifecta: Macho Again, Ready’s Echo, Denis of Cork, Icabad Crane, and Anak Nakal.


Boulder Bob picks a huge upset in this race.  He picks Ready’s Echo to win with Big Brown second and Da’Tara third.  His $100 wager includes $20 on Ready’s Echo to win, $30 on Ready’s Echo to place, and $50 on Ready’s Echo to show.

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