Belmont Stakes analysis, picks
The Belmont will not feature the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Preakness
Morning line favorite Ice Box, a closer, may be too far back if the pace is slow
Fly Down, making his Triple Crown debut, has looked impressive on this track
Before we dive into the Belmont Stakes, let's look back at the Preakness. This space could not have been more wrong about Super Saver. The race looked to be set up perfectly for him and, indeed, he was in the garden spot stalking a good, but not unreasonable, pace.
He just didn't fire.
Lookin At Lucky and First Dude ran well, with Lucky prevailing in the stretch.
Saturday's Belmont field will not have either the winner of the Kentucky Derby or Preakness and has only one entrant, First Dude, running back three weeks after the Preakness. The morning line odds show three clear choices and nine others, and, while long shots are always a favorite in this space, it's hard to get away from the top three here.
Selections (morning line odds in parentheses):
5 -- Fly Down (9-2)
6 -- Ice Box (3-1)
11 -- First Dude (7-2)
10 -- Stay Put (20-1)
This Nick Zito trainee is making his Triple Crown debut. Four weeks ago, in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes run at Belmont Park, Fly Down made an impressive, four-wide move around the far turn and won by an easy six lengths. The move around the turn was the kind that you see in Belmont winners, and, if he can repeat that effort on Saturday, he'll be tough to beat. He also has two wins over First Dude earlier in his career, and that rival proved his quality three weeks ago with a game second place finish in the Preakness Stakes. Three more reasons to like Fly Down: He's improving, he has a two-time Belmont winning trainer and he should enjoy the Belmont's distance of 1½ miles, which you cannot say about a lot of the choices. The pick.
Here's predicting a Zito exacta. Ice Box is coming off a five-week layoff after his troubled runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby, and the Derby-to-Belmont strategy has been successful in recent years with Birdstone (2004), Jazil (2006) and Summer Bird (2009). The freshening looks to have worked for Ice Box, who fired a bullet workout in preparation for the Belmont. (He also fired a bullet in preparation for the Derby.) The main concern is how far back this late runner will be from what's expected to be a slow pace. (First Dude may be the lone pacesetter.) Ice Box benefitted from slow fractions in Louisville and in the Florida Derby, but he's not likely to get those on Saturday. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him win, but he's not attractive at 3-1 on the morning line.
The Preakness long shot set a respectable pace at Pimlico and was game in finishing second to Lookin At Lucky, considered one of the best, if not the best, 3-year-old in the country. With the lack of pacesetters in the Belmont, he's likely to again be out in front, and if he can get away with fractions of 49 and change, he could be home free. But with four hard races under him since the end of February, First Dude is also a candidate to regress.
Among the long shots, Stay Put is the most attractive. In his two stakes races, both at the Fair Grounds earlier in the year, he rallied late but was compromised by soft fractions. He finished fifth both times but losing by less than three lengths. In his last start, against four overmatched rivals, he won. His running style suggests that he should get the distance, and his trainer, Steve Margolis, is winning at a rate better than Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, Bill Mott and Kiaran McLaughlin right now. At 20-1 on the morning line, he would make the payouts interesting.
The highly regarded Drosselmeyer was whipped by Fly Down in the Dwyer and will need an improvement in form to contend. ... Game On Dude won going away in his last start, but beat a weak field. He lost to Ice Box by double digit lengths in the Florida Derby. ... The Kentucky Derby's fourth-place finisher, Make Music For Me, was running late in Louisville and should be running late on Saturday. ... Late Belmont entry Interactif, trained by Pletcher, has done his best running on grass. ... A son of Lighthouse, Uptowncharlybrown does not have the bloodlines to get the Belmont's 1½ miles. ... Stately Victor's form makes one think he's just a synthetic sensation. ... Spangled Star has never been beyond 1 1/6 miles, but he does have successful connections in Rick Dutrow and Garrett Gomez .... Dave in Dixie has lost by more than a combed 20 lengths in his last two races.
For more Belmont Stakes observations, follow Gene on Twitter at SI_GeneMenez.
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