Thursday, June 7, 2012

Belmont Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

   Horseplayers, investors and other types of gamblers often place too much emphasis on trends that seem pertinent but are not. When one bets on red in roulette because it has come out the past five spins, that's what we call the gambler's fallacy--each spin, or hand or race featuring disparate players or factors is its own entity, undetermined by and unrelated to past events. In racing, we've seen supposed un-buckable trends broken in recent years because what was perceived as causally determined by real and relevant factors was probably simply variance or randomness. If this notion holds merit, perhaps we should simply ignore the past 11 failed Triple Crown attempts and hand over the GI Belmont S. trophy to I'll Have Another (Flower Alley)--he certainly would be a deserving winner. It shouldn't matter that Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin, or that Smarty Jones couldn't quite go that far or that Big Brown had a shoe issue, didn't like the weather or just failed to show up. But it does, because the Belmont isn't like other races.
   For all the factors that make an impact on every race every day--pace dynamics, traffic, bias, etc.--the Belmont has a set of additional factors almost all its own. The quirky distance that has become completely irrelevant in the modern American sport, the short turnaround from the Preakness and the Derby and the large target that a Triple Crown aspirant has on his back are tiny roadblocks in and of themselves, but when combined they present a major hurdle. In wagering, it all comes down to price, and while no rational person would deny that I'll Have Another has proven up to this point to be the best runner in this field by a large margin, you simply can't do anything but play against him at less than even money. We'd all like to see a deserving Triple Crown winner, though it certainly won't be the sport's saving grace that some hope it might, but to bet on it would be a mistake that would leave some value on the table.
Paynter stretches his legs at Belmont
   I'm going with Paynter (Awesome Again) on top mainly because he's the one horse in this race who could potentially prove more talented than the favorite. I'll Have Another did beat Paynter by 3 3/4 lengths in the GI Santa Anita Derby when the latter was fourth, but the Zayat colorbearer was coming off just a 5 1/2-furlong debut. He then turned back for Churchill's one-mile GIII Derby Trial S. and dug in well in the slop to be second after contesting a pace that was 10 points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale. Paynter earned a revised Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for that effort--none of I'll Have Another's other challengers have reached the century mark. The $325,000 KEESEP yearling wasn't done climbing the Beyer scale, however, as he earned a 106 for a 5 3/4-length allowance romp on the Preakness undercard. He faced little adversity and/or resistance in that race, but did everything that was asked of him and comes into this race relatively fresh compared to those who have already competed in one or two Triple Crown events. Seasoning is certainly the main concern for Paynter--it's possible that he doesn't have the foundation to get this demanding distance off just a four-race career that started in February--but perhaps his stout pedigree will help him. The bay is the son of a major route influence in Awesome Again out of a full-sister to Tiznow and Budroyale, both runners who excelled at 10 furlongs.
   I'll also use two back-ups in my attempt to beat I'll Have Another that I fear could very well turn out to be trap horses because of their late-running styles, but who could benefit if Paynter does too much early. Dullahan (Even the Score) hung a bit in the Derby, but he has looked exceptional working and galloping over the track since he's been in New York. He came into the GI Blue Grass S. the same way, and certainly gives the impression that more distance can only be to his advantage. I was extremely high on Street Life (Street Sense) after his graduation and subsequent victory in the Big A's Broad Brush S. He has shown such a lack of early speed in his last two races, however, that he's forfeited any chance of victory. I was ready to sign the divorce papers with Street Life last time after his third in the GII Peter Pan S. from out of the clouds behind a quick pace, but I spoke with trainer Chad Brown last week (click here for TDN story) and he made some interesting and logical points that have convinced me to give Street Life one more chance, albeit not as my main play.
   I've voiced my doubts about Union Rags (Dixie Union) a number of times here and nothing has changed. I'll change my tune when he runs a fast race, though I do think the rider change to John Velazquez should allow the good-looking bay to relocate some of the speed he had as a 2-year-old. I'm not sure that'll help him get the distance, however.

Now for some undercard thoughts...

GI Manhattan H. - Hudson Steele (Johannesburg) couldn't have had an easier trip than the ground-saving pocket journey he enjoyed last time in the GII Dixie S., and his pedigree doesn't scream 10 furlongs. I'll look to beat him with Desert Blanc (GB) (Desert Style {Ire}), who kept superior company in Europe last year (Cirrus des Aigles, Casamento, etc.) at distances such as this one. He was completely left at the break against several of these foes in the 8 1/2-furlong GIII Fort Marcy S. last time, but recovered nicely to be second despite losing plenty of ground throughout. The Chad Brown trainee hasn't shown tons of speed in the past, but I have a feeling that the always pace conscious Ramon Dominguez might look to steal this one. 6-1 would be a gift. I'll also spread with some others, including longshots Al Khali (Medaglia d'Oro), who I've always been a sucker for and who seems best suited to this sort of distance and a turf course; and Omayad (Chi), a Chilean superstar who was clearly prepping last time in a one-mile Hollywood allowance.

GII Woody Stephens S. - Bourbon Courage (Lion Heart) could not have been more impressive in his first two starts, but he disappointed a bit when fourth in the GIII Derby Trial S. That race came after a deluge-induced delay at Churchill, however, and the bay traveled as if he despised the slop. A return to his best makes him very much the horse to beat, especially at a trip that may be better for him than a flat mile. I'm also interested in Il Villano (Pollard's Vision), whose Chick Lang S. score (99 Beyer) is hard to argue with; and Isn't He Clever (Smarty Jones), who may show more outside of New Mexico this time off the trainer change. This is definitely a race to go price hunting.

GI Just a Game S. - Winter Memories (El Prado {Ire}) is undoubtedly a very nice horse from a nice family, but she's a perpetual underlay. For whatever reason--maybe her running style that gives the illusion that she's overcome adversity when she's actually had an easy trip or her grey color--she's always overbet. There is absolutely no way she should be half or a third the price of Hungry Island (More Than Ready), who has beaten her before and whose win in the GII Distaff Turf Mile was superior to Winter Memories's GIII Beaugay S. score. I do think that last time was the time to have Hungry Island, however, so I'll also include pace players Wallis (GB) (King's Best) and Tapitsfly (Tapit) as well as Sylvestris (Ire) (Arch), who was extremely visually impressive last time in a local seven-furlong optional claimer.

Race 4 - Turf MSW - Ruthless Alley (Flower Alley) ran huge in his lone turf try when dueling through hot splits before settling for third. He should get clear here, and is a very likely winner relative to his odds. He'll probably be the overlay of the day at 8-1 or better.

No comments: