Belmont outcome not a sure bet

RICHARD MAUNTAH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:27 PM ET

For the first time, the Belmont Stakes will feature the first seven finishers from the Kentucky Derby. That should be enough to entice New Yorkers to flock to Penn and Jamaica stations and grab the next train to the track, just like the old days.

The 12-horse field provides some interesting questions for handicappers. A lot of these either have past Belmont winners in their pedigrees or horses who had no problem with the 1 1/2-mile distance.

The advantage clearly goes to Shackleford. There's no way he'll need to exhibit the same type of speed he showed in winning the Preakness, and can go back to controlling the field with the more comfortable clip he did when fourth in the Derby. The only question is how much he has recovered in the three weeks following that run in Baltimore.

There are four horses that ran similar races in the Derby that cannot be discounted. Mucho Macho Man, Master of Hounds, Santiva and Brilliant Speed placed 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th respectively, after being, respectively, 8th, 15th, 11th and 14th in the early going.

The interesting part of all their running lines is that they stayed a consistent amount of lengths behind the lead at all points of call. And all have shown in the past they can close if need be. So they have to be included in exotics.

Of course we can't forget Nehro. In the Derby he did everything right, especially coming from post 18. But his inability to close the deal, which he showed in two previous starts, could hurt him this time.

And given that the Belmont has seen its share of long-priced bombers, 15 double-digit-priced winners in the past 30 years, we should be looking for some value. The shocker this year could by Monzon. The son of 1995 Belmont winner Thunder Gulch finished sixth in the Peter Pan at Belmont is his previous start but has shown the closing ability needed to possibly put up the triple-digit payoff that Sarava lit the board with in 2002.

Then there is Animal Kingdom. He went to the Derby as a well-kept secret who went to Louisville off a minor Grade 3 prep in northern Kentucky. He goes into the Belmont off a run in the Preakness where he nearly made up almost 18 lengths. He'll need to be much closer this time but has shown the versatility shown by no other horse in the field. And there's no doubt he has the ability to stay the distance. But like Shackleford, you have to wonder how much is left in the tank.

With the Derby and Preakness winner skipping last year's Belmont, it's easy to forget Drosselmeyer's win in that race. With the quality of this year's field and the difficulty in pinning the winner, the fact this will be one of the more memorable Belmont Stakes in years may be the safest bet of all.

richard.mauntah@sunmedia.ca


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