Certainly he looked like a superhorse winning the Preakness in what only could be described as a singular performance. I never saw anything like his re-rally win in four decades of watching races.
Curlin is a deserving early line favorite at 6-5, more likely 4-5 by late Saturday afternoon. But I’ll be betting against him. Here’s a look at the field for Belmont 139 in alphabetical order, with post position and early line odds in parentheses:
#4 C P West (12-1): Nick Zito was adamant moments after the Preakness that there would be Belmont for this colt but here he is. And why not? He ran his way into the Belmont with a breakthrough performance in Baltimore. Until three weeks ago, he gave no indication he made the transition from precocious juvenile to classics performer. It was a good prep, but not perfect, because it was too good, too fast. Further, one could argue that Hard Spun wasn’t the only horse who might have moved prematurely. The colt deserves this chance and will make his presence felt, but not likely in the top spot. Money prospects.
#3 Curlin (6-5): Certainly needs no introduction. He’ll be the one wearing a black hat. Curlin’s a very good horse, perhaps even great, but winning the Belmont is not a given for the legendary Preakness performer. His extremely impressive Equiform performance figure at Pimlico represented a 3-point forward move. Regression is virtually assured making his fourth start in eight weeks off an enervating race against fresher rivals at a distance for which he is unsuited by pedigree. Without the benefit of a two-year-old foundation, all his rapid development figures to catch up with him somewhere along the line. What better time than at a mile and a half?
#6 Hard Spun (5-2): The first lesson taught in Handicapping 101 is this: “Speed is always dangerous.” The most important thing to learn about speed is that it’s the element that can’t be learned; either you have it or you don’t. It’s a racehorse’s best weapon and is effective at any distance, including this one. A video review of Hard Spun’s Derby and Preakness indicates he didn’t race as some kind of rank run-off. He was fairly handy and amenable to rating. Much has been made of the filly’s pedigree to handle the distance, justifiably. But this is the best bred horse for the Belmont distance. So, as the presumed leader reaches the Belmont halfway mark and the timer indicates something around 1:12, there should be enough left in this tank to make it the rest of the way home. Upset call.
#1 Imawildandcrazyguy (20-1): Hard to believe but this colt came from farther back than Street Sense in the Derby. From last of 20 to fourth is no small feat. He was finishing with gusto, not just out-plodding tired rivals to the finish. Bill Kaplan said he’s been pointing for the Belmont since January. This stayer is a grinder type who just keeps finishing up his races, a rare commodity in the modern thoroughbred. Grinders win the Belmont over middling competition. The big three here are anything but middle of the road. For trifecta and superfecta players only.
#7 Rags To Riches (3-1): Win or lose, this filly is a most welcome Belmont addition and all her connections should be celebrated for stepping up to take on colts at a mile and half. Bred for the distance is one thing and doing it is another, but this filly can win the Belmont. On performance figure projections, she’d be maybe four to six lengths behind the top males here. But her five pound sex allowance is significant. Rags To Riches gains three lengths from her weight advantage and that puts her in the picture with the big boys. Her three Grade 1 victories this year are more than the field has won combined and she has six Belmont winners in her first three generations. Class, pedigree and speed are a handicapping holy trinity. She can become the first filly in a century to do this. Drawn next to Hard Spun, watching the battle into the first turn between Garrett Gomez [Hard Spun] and Johnny Velazquez alone is worth the admission price. Very dangerous rival.
#5 Slew’s Tizzy (20-1): At early line odds this colt would be an underlay. He was classy enough to win a Grade 2 and Grade 3 recently but these are decidedly different animals, at a decidedly different distance. But if Rafael Bejarano picked up the phone to personal hustle the mount after Velazquez asked out of his commitment to ride the filly, then that talented rider might want to make his presence felt somewhere along the way. No where remotely close to the top of the ticket. Rank outsider.
#2 Tiago (10-1): Trainer John Sherriffs and Mike Smith began making their Belmont plans before Tiago was cooled out after the Derby. He won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby over moderate rivals then ran well in the Derby despite encountering some traffic and, of greater significantly, racing greenly. He has trained strongly since then and continues to develop the right way. The problem is that he lacks the performance figures to compete with the big three, but he has all the rest of the tools to indicate he more than belongs. We see his participation as another step in his development, but he might prove a boon to trifecta and superfecta players. Strong money prospects.
Selections: 1. Hard Spun 2. Rags To Riches 3. Curlin 4. Tiago
Wagers: Hard Spun to win at 5-2 or greater. Exacta box with Rags To Riches.