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Summer Stakes Schedule

I’m trying to catch Dayatthespa and Wise Dan for the first time this summer, so help me god!

Here are my tabbed trips to Belmont Park and Saratoga from now until September as I currently see it. Asterisks indicate I’m only a possible for that day:

  • June 7 - Belmont Stakes Day and holy crap is this day looking like the first half of the year’s Breeders’ Cup  (done)
  • July 5 - The Stars and Stripes Festival: Suburban, Belmont Oaks, Belmont Derby, etc.
  • July 18-20 - Saratoga’s opening weekend with the Diana Handicap, Sanford Stakes, Coaching Club American Oaks, Lucky Coin Stakes
  • August 2 - Whitney Handicap & many other major stakes
  • ***August 9 - Fourstardave (if Wise Dan shows)
  • August 14-17 - Alabama/Sword Dancer weekend aka Dawna’s 25th birthday extravaganza at Saratoga
  • ***August 22-24 - Travers & New York-bred weekend
  • ***August 30 & 31 - Woodward weekend

Get. Excite. Yes it’ll probably be somewhat of an expensive summer, but I’m drinking it up while I can! Feel free to message me if you’re coming to any of those days!

California Chrome stumbles at the break of the Belmont Stakes

California Chrome stumbles at the break of the Belmont Stakes

I was at the Belmont too and also got sick from heat exhausation... was hoping to spot you, but I think I was further down on the fence than you!

Asked by Anonymous

Aww I’m so sorry to hear that! It sucked didn’t it? I’ll be writing something to NYRA… again… about the enhanced security policy. It’s hurting them and it’s hurting us not being allowed to bring our own items. 

I didn’t see a LOT of people I was hoping to see at the Belmont. It was just way too crazy trying to move further than a few feet no matter where you sat/stood. I’ll be at the Stars and Stripes Festival on July 5 if you’re going!

Grading the Diehard Fan’s Belmont Stakes Experience

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The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes (I) was my third trip out to New York’s toughest race and my first-ever in-person Triple Crown run. The events of the day were as wild— and at times as disappointing— as the end result of the race. Because I used to be a video game writer and in honor of E3 week, I’ll be using the 1 to 10 grading scale. A “10” is the best I’ve ever had and exceeding expectations while a “1” is the worst imaginable.

I count myself among the few that could be labeled as “diehard, kind of selfish young racing fans.” I would rather glue myself to the rail all day then retreat inside for a beer and a hot dog, and would rather my beloved heart pick look straight at me than cash in a longshot. In that sense, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card was like dying and going to heaven with more graded stakes action and racing superstars in one day than I’ve ever seen before. Triple Crown run or not, I was running to make it out to Long Island and drove the 3-hour drive back home with mixed results.

The Drive, Entering, Parking, and Leaving Belmont: 8.0

Thanks to my rampant problems with my car (I still love you, Cammy!), I had to drive my dad’s boat down to New York, which sucks because it’s really difficult to see around the car when I have to change lanes. The drive to was nearly flawless except for heavy bridge traffic on the Throg’s Neck, and more traffic than I expected coming into the peasant parking lot at Belmont. Upgrade this year: they had a few nicer shuttle buses to bring you to the gate! Unlike a lot of other people, I had next to no notable issues leaving Belmont when it was time to go and had a way easy time getting back onto the Cross Island Parkway since police had shut down the merging lane just for us, something they didn’t do last year.

Energy!: 9.0

One thing that immediately stood out this year for me: the excitement and enthusiasm I saw everywhere. So many fans dressed up in purple and green and some went the extra mile wearing elaborate costumes, hats, and made really neat signs. California Chrome’s co-owner came out and waved to fans and autographed items thrown up to him in the owner’s box, which was cool and really livened things up. This is what you come TO the races for.

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The Lineup of Races: 9.0

I was not a fan originally of smushing the Memorial Day card with the Belmont Stakes card, but it was probably a good idea in the long run just by looking at the quality of contenders that ran. I think I looked forward to every race leading up to the Belmont, and I commend the 30-minute or so wait between races (except the Belmont) as opposed to the past couple of years when it was 40-50 minutes between EVERY race. The Met Mile was stacked and the Ogden Phipps attracted the best mares in the country.

Handicapping: 9.5

I was very impressed with the fair track bias at Belmont Park that day and I was all-around very pleased with racing results which birthed very good if not excellent payouts and worthy winners as well as exciting performances. I unfortunately did not spread to Coffee Clique in my pick 4 ticket in the Just a Game (I), so thus I did not cash in. Can’t win ‘em all, but I am very happy with how my selections ran as well as horses I praised on this blog ran. Bayern finally made me a very proud supporter cutting back to the 7-furlong Woody Stephens (II), blowing Social Inclusion out of the water like I knew he could. Preakness pick Kid Cruz also made me ecstatic winning the Easy Goer Stakes, and a horse who failed me and a Moreno double wager last year, Wabbajack, cruised to victory in the first race. I wagered ahead of the crowd rush and on mobile, so my thoughts are untarnished by the long lines.

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Events: 6.0

There were several goings-on and giveaways that made the day a bit of a spree affair. I was able to pick up a California Chrome poster thanks to TVG and got autographs from the Triple Crown jockeys that were set up. Unfortunately, the crowds were too massive to take advantage of everything without missing a lot of racing; I waited an hour and a half in line for the jockey signing which I don’t think was worth it. And of course, you throw in the word “free” and people will try to grab 10 of everything only to abandon much on the grandstand floor. That’s people for you. I can’t say I was that excited for the music guests, but I appreciated the gesture of having something going on in the hour between the Manhattan Handicap (I) and the Belmont (I).

My Own Experience: 6.0

Loved getting to see so many greats, loved slithering my way down to the finish line once again this year, loved getting to see a Triple Crown attempt. I experienced very little of the tense interactions others had throughout the day. However, my time was marred thanks to a number of things that could have been prevented:

  • The laughable extended security ban: Does nothing, and it will never do anything except harm the experience of the average fan/racegoer and bring down handle and attendance. Every other person was trying to bring in contraband items at the gates and many prevailed somehow. It does not work and NYRA would be better off doing common sense inspections next year.
  • Getting ill because of above ban: Other than the Belmont, I was looking forward most to the Ogden Phipps, but I didn’t even get to see the post parade because I was sickened by heat exhaustion to the point where I threw up over the rail and had to be carted out by the medics. If I could have brought my sparkly new mini cooler with me, this wouldn’t have happened. Could I have bought ice or other? Yes… if I cared to wait 45+ minutes. The medics even advised me to get lunch but we wound up discarding the idea because of the lines. A big thank you to Bismarck and those around me who helped stabilize and comfort me.
  • Media interference: I feel for those who got stuck behind the speakers for the concert, which were originally raised but then lowered down right before the Belmont, obstructing the view of many. Even worse, that impacted myself and those around me, some Channel 10 guy from Albany thought it was suitable to set up shop on our side of the fence with a massive TV camera. I don’t give a damn if this guy would get fired for not getting his shot, we were there since 8:30am. Have some respect. You have a press pass. I do not like paying admission and sickening myself all day only to have some camera guy obstruct my view.

I give NYRA credit for going big, and I blame inexperience and moments without tact for ultimately garnering a lot of poor publicity. Regardless, if this was a purely racing crowd we wouldn’t have heard half of the complaints. Dismiss the security ban and consider doing an infield type location/setup for “mild” or newbie fans bothered by normal major sporting event woes. Advice to those coming out to big stakes days: come prepared, and if you don’t like the baggage of lines, expenses, and travel hiccups, you can always wager from home.

The home team at the Belmont Stakes: Wicked Strong and Rajiv Maragh

The home team at the Belmont Stakes: Wicked Strong and Rajiv Maragh

A lordly Samraat walks up to the gate of the Belmont Stakes

A lordly Samraat walks up to the gate of the Belmont Stakes

And they’re off in the Belmont Stakes!

And they’re off in the Belmont Stakes!

California Chrome vs. History in the Belmont Stakes

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To be or not to be: will California Chrome make history in the Belmont Stakes? Can he continue his dizzying winning streak and prove all the doubters wrong yet again? He handled the chore of the Kentucky Derby like a pro and dismissed the field in the Preakness, but therein lies his greatest challenge: the test of the champion.

$1.5 million Belmont Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/2 miles on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, June 7 at 6:52pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Medal Count - Robby Albarado, Dale Romans - Argued by many to be or not to be a poly or a turf horse, the Dynaformer colt emerges from his 8th place Derby finish intact and ready for a better trip in the Belmont, whose distance should appeal to his pedigree. He is currently 1-for-4 on fast dirt and has logged two promising workouts at Churchill Downs. No Belmont prep? Best races came on poly or turf? Romans’ last Belmont hope was Dullahan, who bombed the race. I’m on the side that says “Medal Count is a turf horse. A good one that should stay there.”

2) California Chrome - Victor Espinoza, Art Sherman - No introduction needed! The champ has been on a roll since turning 3, racking up 6 straight wins on his way to immortality. His two prior races have both been very good with strong early action followed by solid stretch runs. His physical condition is bar none the best and he is definitely the one to beat strategically. As long as he nails the break, he has few legitimate excuses.

3) Matterhorn - Joe Bravo, Todd Pletcher - The Tapit colt is lightly raced, with just 4 starts with 1 win before being purchased by the owners of Danza for this race. He was 4th last out in the Peter Pan (II) but that could be tossed due to the long layoff and sloppy conditions, and he is game to improve on his second start back. Joe Bravo also has a positive ROI in routes.

4) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart - Really liked this Master Command colt back when he was preparing for the Risen Star (II), so it was a pleasant surprise to see him rallying on late in the Derby. Properly rested and ready for a race he could do well in, Curve hasn’t won since his maiden, but has been on the improving path as the distances have grown. Curve could upset, but I am interested to see if he’s a Churchill only horse as his top 2 performances both came at the Twin Spires. Everything else has just been “ok.”

5) Ride On Curlin John Velazquez, Billy Gowan - Curlin sired the surprise winner of last year’s Belmont Stakes, and there’s reason to believe RoC could get better with more ground as he made up some daylight separating him and California Chrome in the Preakness once he got some running room. Improving steadily and put in a position of reaching power, RoC could upset and he might not. While I would readily agree that he had the momentum going to beat Chrome, he seemed to stop gaining. I could be very wrong, but I get the sense he might be a “permanently second place” horse. 

6) Matsuzak - Mike Smith, Bill Mott - Bernardini almost had a winner a few years ago with Stay Thirsty, further proving Bernies are a force on New York soil. Matsuzak hasn’t won since his maiden last year, but did improve to nearly win the Federico Tesio at Pimlico last month. With that said, he owns some really good late pace figures, but has some major class hurdles to clear. Exotics horse.

7) Samraat - Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette - The mighty New York-bred faces down the rest! The Noble Causeway colt owns a win at Belmont Park already and has the advantage of a good rest and a quiet place to train at Aqueduct, where he has logged several leisurely mile breezes as preps. I love Sammy, but he has yet to make some cracking figures going further than 9 furlongs and he is probably best going 7-9 furlongs. No further.

8) Commissioner - Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher - The victim of not being raced at his most advantageous conditions, the A.P. Indy colt last won a Gulfstream Park allowance in January going 9 furlongs before repeatedly finishing up the track in prep races. He made some headway missing by 4 to Tonalist in the Peter Pan (II). I have every reason to love Commissioner in this spot as an A.P. Indy son with Javier and Toddster on board, but c’mon, if you can’t win in the slop or at least get closer to the winner… I just…

9) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, Allen Jerkens - By Hard Spun and out of a Charismatic mare, it came as little surprise that Wicked Strong improved as the distances grew, and trainer Jerkens has been instilling long breezes of 7 to 8 furlongs in the colt since he was a 2-year-old. Thus, after sweeping wide to be 4th in the Derby, the colt is being taken seriously after a rest at his home base for the Belmont. Biggest concern for me is actually Rajiv Maragh, who seems too willing to give the colt the most wide trip possible and giving him too much work to do. Other than that, he looks very sharp and has every reason to do very well.

10) General a Rod - Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker - By my own omission, I disregarded this Roman Ruler colt almost immediately, and he has come to buck my own opinions throughout the Derby trail by placing and or winning the Florida preps. He was 11th in the Derby, beaten some 8 lengths by Chrome, and was beaten around the same amount next out in the Preakness. He switches back to Rosie in his second start under Skychai’s colors, but honestly after all those races I’m not optimistic about his chances, even if he does place himself further up this time.

11) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement - This Tapit colt was among my top choices early on in the Derby trail, and I still think pretty highly of him. Lightly raced with just 4 starts, he won the 9-furlong Peter Pan (II) last out easily enough, kicking clear of Commissioner and the rest of the field on the turn to win easily by 4 lengths on a sloppy-sealed going. Clement would be breaking the mold if Tonalist can buck the Tapit trend of doing more than 9 furlongs and racking up dirt wins instead of grass wins. Tonalist has some coasting early speed, but will have to break well and quickly from the outer post and be able to hold off the rest when things get tough.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) California Chrome

2) Wicked Strong

3) Ride On Curlin

Pick 4: California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin. If you’re feeling smarmy, shoot for Commanding Curve or Tonalist to spread.

Chrome can win, Chrome can lose. Like in the Preakness, he will have to be better than everyone else despite being in the vulnerable position of favorite with early pressure as well as horses who will be hunting him late. Should he blow the break, it may very well be over. If there’s pace much faster than :24 1/2 and :49, watch out for Wicked Strong, RoC, and Curve. Tonalist could arguably slow things down as an improving colt to win, but I think Chrome can outfoot him and outdistance him.

California Chrome Giveaway

Because I’m super nice and you guys are all very awesome, I will give away 2 souvenir win tickets on California Chrome to two followers who like or reblog this post by midnight (EST) on Sunday.

If Chrome wins, I’ll give away a “Go Chrome or Go Home” tee to a third follower.

Thanks again for following, and may we see history tomorrow!

Edit: Open to everyone internationally!

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.


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