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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

FOR THE GOOD OF THE SPORT, A HIGH QUALITY BELMONT STAKES IS ESSENTIAL

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., May 20, 2021 – In two weeks, the Belmont Stakes will not test a champion… but it might, and at year’s end it is no cinch to produce one, but it might…

The chances of this happening would be better if the probable starters, which number nine as of 6:50 pm today, were joined by several of the possibilities, notably Essential Quality, who is, after all, a champion, albeit last year’s model.

Name brand three-year-olds that can make this a memorable renewal of the Belmont Stakes are impressive Preakness hero Rombauer, Kentucky Derby show finisher Hot Rod Charlie, start-eliminated Derby second-favorite, Rock Your World, and the standout winner of the UAE Derby, Rebel’s Romance.

The supporting cast is a solid one with Preakness runner-up Midnight Bourbon, Florida Derby and Wood Memorial winners, Known Agenda and Bourbonic, respectively, the long-winded Keepmeinmind and intriguing Japanese runner, France Go de Ina.

While the sideline-mandated Bob Baffert sits this one out, Todd Pletcher will have a third starter in addition to his Florida Derby and Wood winners; late-striding and distance-meant Peter Pan third, Overtook, the most intriguing of the Todd trio.

As a fan, I don’t know that I could forgive the connections of Essential Quality if they deny racing another Triple Crown run. Some would argue that, as the race was run, Essential Quality ran the best race in Louisville. Ground loss matters. Racing wide on both turns is a killer.

And given that four of the last eight runners who raced in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and returned five weeks later won the Triple Crown’s third jewel.

Playing the long game is understandable; Haskell or Travers, older horses in mid-September or thereabouts, and the Classic of November, is a winning Horse of the Year formula, providing one wins at least two of the three—and the Classic had better be one of them.

Mystic Guide, anyone?

The Belmont is a perfect fit for Essential Quality, a rhythmic galloper with speed and stamina who should easily be able to dictate his own trip. Given recent scandalous events, it would be good if the sport had something to celebrate, sooner rather than later.

Currently, entrants from Japan and Great Britain are supporting the Belmont Stakes, an American classic. A little support from the Middle East, by way of Kentucky, would be nice.

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27 Responses

  1. You would think the industry in general would remember how the Belmont Stakes took the lead and essentially brought major sporting events back last year, and be extra interested in throwing major support to a racetrack that is frankly the most important grounds in the history of the sport.

    Haha just kidding; nobody in their right mind would think this industry would give the slightest damn about anything.

    1. Doc, your cynicism, unfortunately, is grounded in historical reality of the racing industry continually worshipping at the altar of the status quo. I don’t however, now that HISA is looming that this trend will continue. And the CD and NYRA refusal to take Bob Baffert’s entries and the harsh penalty assessed Linda Rice makes it appear that the industry is starting to take things more seriously. Of course, it didn’t need to take this long…

  2. Nobody asked me but: What ever happened to the split second sample test for Baffert’s horse ? What did Baffert mean by saying that his connections were going to be transparent about the test results? Where are they now and what are they,along with their lawyers ,doing now ?Just noticed,after a few weeks’ tab notes that most,if not all,experts,”sports anal lysts”,handicappers from different media outlets ( Internet,radio,television,mock and fantasy(?)),are under,not being able to be Profitable especially with their Best Bets,from baseball,hockey,basketball to Horseracing ,which by now the way, even Newsday’s Matthews does not keep a public account of his batting average or ROI and now it’s only picks ,BB and best value. I guess that the last year or so had not been a celebratory one with few winners and lots of negative balance sheets. I guess that’s what happens when someone makes ‘ professional picks several days in advance of post time. So, considering everything else, How’s Your Horse Running Four Days from now ? In baseball,a 30-1 shot to be MVP in March is now odds on to win it. Future expectations and propositions? Only for Daydreamers even if Kansas City seems too logical to repeat as Super Bowl champions.Me? One game at a time,right before kick -off or Post time.

    1. JG, where go from Baffert’s horses to public handicappers announcing their selections far in advance of post time. Not sure but I think that’s why they are called public handicappers. And we provide a service by being wrong so that last minute sharps such as yourself can make a fortune betting against. Some guys get all the breaks…

  3. One way to generate interest in the Belmont Stakes is for more of the horses to run in all 3 TC races. That can help to establish an identity with casual fans and the general public. Note that on this list, of the top 6 years, the most recent was 14 years ago.

    Last 25 Years.

    YEAR;
    PERCENTAGE OF HORSES IN THE BELMONT STAKES WHO RAN IN ALL 3 TRIPLE CROWN RACES;
    HORSES IN THE BELMONT STAKES WHO RAN IN ALL 3 TRIPLE CROWN RACES;
    HORSES IN THE BELMONT STAKES

    2001 44% (4/9)
    1996 43% (6/14)
    1999 33% (4/12)
    2003 33% (2/6)
    2007 29% (2/7)
    1997 29% (2/7)
    2014 27% (3/11)
    2002 27% (3/11)
    1998 27% (3/11)
    2011 25% (3/12)
    2013 21% (3/14)
    2018 20% (2/10)
    2009 20% (2/10)
    2005 18% (2/11)
    2016 15% (2/13)
    2015 13% (1/8)
    2008 11% (1/9)
    2004 11% (1/9)
    2020 10% (1/10)
    2019 10% (1/10)
    2017 9% (1/11)
    2012 9% (1/11)
    2000 9% (1/11)
    1995 9% (1/11)
    2010 0% (0/12)
    2006 0% (0/12)

    1. More horses do not increase more interest.More competition does !! What sense does it make to have plodders in the way of other horses? How many times have we seen egomaniac,delusional owners ‘put their horse in ‘ so that they can brag to the wind that they once had a horse in one of the big three races? So what ..those horses ended up the track, several lengths behind whoever came into the money! Once in a while they may get enough purse money to reimburse their expenses but usually about half of them are out of competition before getting into the stretch ,looking worse than cheap maiden claimers in a two – bit track. Give me another Affirmed- Alydar once in a while and I will be happy ! It’s not Quantity but Quality,in races,food, entertainment and life in general that makes it fun,Worthwhile!!🤔

      1. Can’t argue with your quality over quantity argument, but the two need not be mutually exclusive. It’s about “want to,” not “have to.” The owners pay the freight, can do as they wish, and the game us very democratic (small d) in that context.

        With regard to your other point, that’s why I’ve supported the Derby point system from Day 1. Can it be tweaked–to include fillies for one thing? Sure. But it has managed to assemble a pecking order, eliminating some of the chaos and the entry of many complete no-hopers.

      2. The top year (2001), the 4 horses who ran in all 3 Triple Crown races finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th in the Belmont Stakes. (Point Given, A.P. Valentine, Monarchos, Dollar Bill). No plodders owned by egomaniacs in that bunch.

        That type of durability no longer exists in the North American thoroughbred.

    2. Very interesting Dan, and thanks for all your research on this topic. Not sure what the HRI Faithful think but its editor appreciates the hell out of it. While skipping the Preakness is not a new phenomenon, the trend does appear to be getting a bit worse in recent years. The point? It doesn’t have to be this way. Long after I’m dead and raceday Lasix a thing of the past, horses should become less brittle… in about two decades.

  4. “Playing the long game is understandable…”

    Here’s the thing, though, John: it arguably requires a suspension of credibility to believe that Cox would choose to skip both the Preakness and Belmont because he is “playing the long game”.

    Think about it. The facts are that the Triple Crown races are the most attractive races for owners of American horses to win – even more so than Breeders’ Cup races. Prominent Arab owners, such as Juddmonte and Godolphin, owners of the second and fourth-place Derby finishers, are especially keen to win Classics, both in Europe and the U.S. They have won plenty of Breeders’ Cup races, but very few Classics, yet we are to believe that they are happy to skip both the second and third legs of the TC with perfectly sound runners that, on form, would be major players?

    To my mind, this is the biggest unreported story of the year. Of course it is understandable that the Baffert scandal would steal the thunder, but I haven’t seen or heard anyone talk about Cox’s bizarre choices (thus far). To be clear, I am not suggesting that he is wrong about horses benefitting from skipping those races – he’s not! But we’re not talking about Richard Mandella, Neil Drysdale or Charlie Whittingham here. We’re talking about a relatively young trainer who has only recently hit the big time.

    So, what am I implying? This: horses that race under the influence of PEDs in the blood-doping category are precisely the ones that benefit the most from extended recuperative time between races, and, especially if Mandaloun and Essential Quality were to both be absent from the Belmont, it would strike me as a more likely explanation for such a historically strange string of decisions, than skipping two Classic races with two healthy horses owned by important people who crave Classic success, simply because Cox is playing the “long game”.

  5. Tink, the lack of TC support may have been underreported in industry media, but we wrote about the absence of Mandaloun and Caddo River from the Preakness in a column here the day the announcement was made. See the archives. It has been reported on Twitter than Essential Quality is pointing to the Belmont. When NYRA officially announces that, upgrading from possible to probable, I’m taking a wait-and-see. And while trainer Cox has his preferences in terms of his “program,” it Godolphin’s call.

    1. Sorry John, I wasn’t clear. You did cover Cox’s decision not to run in the Preakness, and in more depth than most. So kudos. However, I was referring to any consideration of an alternative to Cox’s narrative, which you essentially endorsed.

      This is from your article on the topic:

      1. Tink, I don’t think acknowledging an approach or training philosophy is the same as an endorsement. I’m all for proper spacing in the modern era when it makes sense. Essential Quality skipping the Belmont, and Caddo River the Preakness, was not justified on those grounds…

  6. Oops! Didn’t mean to post (yet). So…(con’t):

    “Here’s a 411 for the industry: It’s 2021 and no trainer at this level of the sport wants to run back in two weeks.

    Today’s stakeholders have a poor sense of history unless it benefits them and consequently fail to honor tradition. Owners and breeders know they can make a sire in some other race and win a million dollars in the process. And they’re good with that.”

    There are a variety of reasons why fewer horses run back in the Preakness, not least of which is the degradation of durability of the breed. But given the context of this year’s race, that is a tough excuse to swallow. Everyone, least of all Cox, knew that Medina’s Spirit benefitted from the track and trip to win the Derby, and that he would therefore likely be very vulnerable in the Preakness. There were no scary new-shooters, either. So Cox essentially passed on a golden opportunity to win a Classic for one of two very important owners.

    Why?

    I hope that EQ does run in the Belmont, but the decision to skip the Preakness with both of those horses remains dubious based on the explanation given. I haven’t even gotten into the question of distance, as I have my doubts that EQ would even want a truly run 10f., let alone 12. Of course if there is a slow pace in the Belmont, anything could happen, but given an honest pace, I would not expect him to be the likeliest winner.

  7. Well, if we are to take Cox at his word, he said on TV that he turned to his assistant after the first time he saw EQ breeze and said “I’ve got my Belmont horse.” Perhaps he was being facetious, buy maybe not, too.

    It’s like old school trainers say: “All horses can go a mile and a half, the question is how fast?”

    1. Yes, if none of the runners are suited to 12f., or the ones that are are plodders, it does set potential the stage for a higher quality non-stayer to win.

      It will be interesting to see what happens.

      1. Think it will be a fascinating handicapping puzzle should all the remaining good horses enter; here’s hoping Tink…

  8. Does someone still use that Route DNA which was used for the Belmont Stakes yrs ago? I believe that the lower number presumably indicated the horses ability to run the distance. What about that Wilkinson,?, mudders rating? My early picks, so far that Charlie and that Brooklyn horses. Known Agenda keeps on having excuses and the top favs do not convince me even with their numbers

    1. Tomlinson’s Turf and Mud ratings. .🐴🐴🐴🐴….Roman Dosage: 4 plus generations of Sire pedigree in 5 different categories,degrees of Chefs-de- Race.🐴🐴🐴🐴🐴When I see Sadler Wells horses on Turf, in any track,almost automatically bet them to WPS whether watching the race or not. Did the same with the TIZ horses.

  9. Did use the original “Mudders & Turfers” until it was subsequently sold and the author no longer was hands on.

    I now simply look at the average winning distance of offspring of sire and grandsire and personally require an average winning distance of 7 furlongs for each for races around two turns. To me, the longer the distance, the better the aptitude.

  10. Just thought I would mention the FIVE Belmont winners in a row that Woody Stephens saddled. Saw him once in clubhouse bar at Belmont. Before Bob Baffert there was Woody. I was at Hollywood Park when the last of the five splashed home at double digits. They even named a stakes race after him, run in early June at Belmont. Oh yeah, Woody also won eight US Triple Crown races. The stake is part of the undercard on Belmont Stakes day. It is run at 7 furlongs for three year olds and often includes horses that are cutting back in distance after attempting qualify on the road to KY Derby. It’s a grade one. They’ll probably name a stake after BB in the future but for now I want to acknowledge the HOF trainer par excellence, Woodford Stephens.

    1. Woody Stephens was training and winning in an era which was in my opinion,and we all have one,says my wife, the Best years of horse racing and I’m not saying that because we were younger,either! Check the names of horses which were running and challenging each other,the rivalries,the names of those Hall of Fame trainers,owners and yes,the horses themselves ridden by all time known jockeys! No need to name them because if we cannot remember them we were either not paying attention or we’ve become absent minded and Amnesia has set in. If BB gets a stake race names after him… then Oscar Barrera Jr should get a cheap claiming race named after his reputation just as well!🤐 ” Image is Everything” said A. Agassi,former tennis player,But the facts erase the Bologna Sandwiches and Snake Oil Charlatans.

    2. Woodford Cefis Stephens, indeed. Fortunate to share a few cocktails and his lively bride, Lucille. Think I may have been the first to refer to him as “The Wood Man” in print. He liked that. One of the game’s great horsemen–and storytellers.

      Recalling moments such as these puts me in mind of Burt Lancaster’s line in Atlantic City when, as he walked down the boardwalk with Susan Sarandon, peered over his shoulder toward the Atlantic and said to her, wistfully, “you should have seen the ocean in those days.”

      1. Pricci,mentioning my favorite male actor( what happened to the word Actress? ) In his,I believe,last movie you hit, 🎯, a special spot ! Have seen that little movie more than I’d like to admit,along with ” Searchers”,Grapes of Wrath,Godfathers and the 1952 version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Can only recall one bad Lancaster flick in which he was a Crimson Pirate. Hey , can’t always hit a home run ! That phrase can be applied to food,events and even racetracks: Roosevelt,Yonkers,Aquaduct,old Yankee Stadium,Shea Stadium ,collecting winning tickets or having a simple Nathan’s hot dog in humid,overcrowded Coney Island. They’re still there,but it ain’t the same.I d trade my fancy,mostly plastic,electric SUV with my first used ,1974 Malibu Chevelle and watch Seattle Slew,Affirmed-Alydar and the One of a kind Secretariat do their thing while I’m devouring a Carvel Banana Barge..HAD to be there to comprehend how lucky we were,which,I sometime wonder if some of us Took it All x Granted,as my ex wife told me several times.. Yeah,she was right in that,too ! Live and learn.. or at least,Appreciate the moments…🤔 which won’t pass by again ( as a song of those times sang.).Happy Memorial weekend, y’all !

  11. Like many of my colleagues and most racing fans, we looked back at the 70s and remember “racing’s golden age.”

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