The absence of Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing and now the scratch of Classic Empire, and possibly Epicharis, this year's Belmont Stakes has been stripped of much of its luster. Irish War Cry, who wasn't being pointed to the race, has inherited the role of favorite but under the circumstances, this isn't a year when it's prudent to go with the chalk.

This hasn't been a good year for me when it comes to important family events conflicting with significant racing events. My wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on Nov. 5. For those with short memories, that was Breeders' Cup Day. I saw that one coming a couple of years out. Fortunately my wife loves Las Vegas as much as I do so we celebrated there. She played the slots while I played the Breeders' Cup card, then we had a great dinner.

I've also known for quite a while that our only grandson will be playing in a national baseball tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y.--home of baseball's Hall of Fame--starting this Saturday, Belmont Stakes Day. Couldn't miss that. I'm writing this en route there.

Recent events have made missing the Belmont for the first time in--I don't know how long--less painful.

I was planning to knock myself out scouring Central New York to find a place to bet and watch the Belmont. Now I'll settle for making a small bet and probably watching it on my phone. This Belmont might be a Classic with a capital C, but it isn't a classic with a lower case c.

The absence of a Triple Crown candidate makes Saturday's third jewel of the Triple Crown less compelling. The news Wednesday morning that Classic Empire has another foot abscess (just like the aftermath of his disastrous Holy Bull) that will keep him out of the Belmont, eradicated any disappointment I might feel.

I really thought that this was the Triple Crown race with his name on it. So did his trainer, Mark Casse. "He's been really unlucky," Casse said during an NTRA conference call last week. "I think he deserves to win one of these races. I think we have the best 3-year-old and I wanted to prove it."

He's down to the Haskell, Travers and Breeders' Cup to do it.

Call it irony, call it karma, but before Classic Empire was knocked out of the Belmont, Casse took a little dig at Chad Brown for not running Preakness champion Cloud Computing. “Always Dreaming is not at the top of his game so I’m not disappointed he’s not running, but I’m really disappointed the Preakness winner isn’t there. Why not? He’s fine.”

He also said something that endeared him to me forever. "We're not afraid to run even if we might not have a 25% winning record. I think too many horses sit in the barn when they’re ready to run.” That last sentence should be chiseled in stone and hung over the entrance to every barn in America.

With three big horses out, only two of the Top 10 3-year-olds in the weekly NTRA poll will make the Belmont, Irish War Cry and Lookin at Lee.

Graham Motion didn't make the decision to run Irish War Cry, who has misfired badly in two of his three most recent races, until early this week. Now with the defection of Classic Empire, he'll probably be the post time favorite.

Cloud Computing provided a big boost to the Wood Memorial's campaign to restore its Grade 1 status by winning the Preakness. Irish War Cry could do even more if he gets the job done Saturday.

Lookin at Lee hasn't won since last August at Ellis Park. The Pea Patch is the site of the only winner's circle Lookin at Lee has ever earned his way into. That's an eight-race slide. He could be the second choice.

Without strong feelings about anyone in the field, I was going to take a shot with the stranger danger, Japan's Epicharis. The way the Japanese love to bet, he'll probably be the favorite back home but this action will not be commingled with the U.S. pools.

Alas, there is a report Thursday morning that he was treated with Butazolidin for lameness in his right fore. His trainer said he will know more about his ultimate Saturday Friday morning.

The way this Belmont in shaping up, it could be won by another Da'Tara or Sarava.

The latter was trained by Ken McPeek. In a strange year without a standout horse, maybe McPeek can strike again with the improving Senior Investor.

Just for action, make it Senior Investor, Irish War Cry, Multiplier.

TVG screws viewers to serve bottom line

Let's play TVG producer. Two races are coming up and it's clear they will break from the gate almost simultaneously. One is a maiden race at Golden Gate; the other is the $500,000 Grade 2 Penn Mile. Which one do you present live and which do you exile to TVG2, which not everyone has access to, or save to play on a delayed tape on the main network?

If your answer seems to be the no-brainer, you don't know racetrack politics, business practices, and you'll never work for TVG.

Golden Gate is owned by Frank Stronach, Penn National is not. [Ed. note] Stronach tracks pay a premium to have their races shown live and not on tape delay.

These agreements do racing fans a disservice. The decision to delay the Penn Mile was on its face outrageous. It was equally contemptuous of fans that Golden Gate didn't have the sense to delay the post of a relatively meaningless race by a couple of minutes so that racing fans could see one of the most significant stakes of the day.

It's not as if dragging posts isn't standard operating procedure at Stronach tracks.