Belmont Stakes: Field Includes Triple Crown Tested Contenders

Early Probables Include Four Kentucky Derby Entries

Dullahan Headlines The Potential Spoilers

When a Triple Crown bid survives the first two legs is when the excitement really kicks into high gear. Because the drought has carried on for 34 years the horse that is in line to make it rain deserves all the attention and coverage that he is going to receive. What this doesn’t eliminate though is a look at the field that will be racing to win and prevent the Triple Crown gods from anointing another champion. Even though we’re still two weeks out, it’s never too early to get a look at the probable’s that will be lining up against our Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. 

With the recent announcements that Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes Runner-up Bodemeister, Creative Cause, Went The Day Well and Daddy Nose Best would not be entering the Belmont Stakes it leaves Optimizer as the only Probable horse to accompany I’ll Have Another through all three legs of the Triple Crown. Although the legendary Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has reached a level of success beyond many trainers in the past and has won this race four times, winning again in 2012 is a significant challenge.

Optimizer’s trail to the Triple Crown really got legs after he finished in the top 3 for the first time in 2012. Although the 2nd place finish in the G2 Rebel and a late entry in the Kentucky Derby steered him in the right direction, Optimizer has not been able to convince any that he is in the same class with I’ll Have Another. With the exception of the Rebel Stakes, Optimizer has finished no better than 6th in his 5 other races this year. Taking this into account along with his 11th in the Kentucky Derby and 6th in the Preakness Stakes is when I find it hard to believe that Optimizer is on deck for a breakout performance. Although it’s been discussed that D. Wayne Lukas believes the extra distance will benefit Optimizer it’s still not enough to consider him a serious Triple Crown spoiler.

3 of the last 5 Triple Crown Bids that were foiled in the Belmont Stakes were won by a horse that ran the Kentucky Derby but sat out the Preakness Stakes – Birdstone ’04, Empire Maker ’03 and Lemon Drop Kid ’99. In 2012, the two horses that are getting the most consideration as likely spoilers are Dullahan and Union Rags, two horses that also skipped the Preakness Stakes after racing in the Kentucky Derby. Both horses have proven they belong in the same class as I’ll Have Another so their spoiler status should be considered valid.

Of the two, Dullahan grabs my attention just a bit more. The main reason is because 1 ¼ Mile is a distance that suits this deep closing colt. After closing brilliantly from 11th to win the Blue Grass Stakes, it posed a serious concern for his chances in the Derby because there isn’t a good percentage for winning the roses with that style. But Dullahan made a very gutsy run at it. Positioned in 13th at the ¾ mark is when he and jockey Kent Desormeaux made their move through traffic and began to close. Unfortunately it wasn’t in time. What makes his Belmont chances so intriguing though is guessing whether or not the extra distance would give him the real estate he needs. If you rewind to the Kentucky Derby it looked like that his 3rd place finish could have been a very close 2nd or maybe even a win at the distance of 1 ¼ Mile.

Looking back I can’t really discredit Union Rags for becoming the second choice at post time in the Kentucky Derby. Despite his poor showing in the Florida Derby, 3rd place, Union Rags had shown plenty in his previous 7 races. Since he had there wasn’t any reason to doubt that he couldn’t find it on the first Saturday in May. Adversely Union Rags went the other direction and finished out of the money for the first time in his career – 7th. There’s been a lot of talk behind why he raced so flat. One of the reasons that many point to has been addressed when earlier this week it was confirmed that Julien Leparoux was not selected to ride again and has been replaced by John Velazquez.

Jockey’s do receive a fair share of the blame but there are a lot of elements in a race to consider. For Union Rags in the Kentucky Derby you might look at how he was pinched right out of the gate which created a very complicated route to the finish line. You then might have to also analyze how he responded to weaving through the field to get there. Whichever you decide as the cause is one thing but since that’s history the more important question is if he can handle the distance and find the form that led him to a successful 2-yr-old season and win in the G2 Fountain of Youth. Analysis on Union Rags right now: Expect the decision on these questions to vary but don’t be surprised if contends or fizzles.

Written by: Little Brink

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