I am counting the seconds until post time for the Belmont. It’s not hard, because they are passing so slowly. I have been waiting for a Triple Crown for most of my life, and I believe that the wait could and should be coming to an end. I’ve felt that several times before, and I have had my heart broken by each impressive horse – Alysheba, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones more than the others. Something seems different this year, though – Big Brown is more of a freak than past horses in this situation, and the field contains fewer landmines (I want to be clear that I am not nearly as negative about this crop of three year olds as most people, but I just don’t think that there is a horse of Big Brown’s class) than recent years.
I think Big Brown will win handily (like everyone else on the planet), and I think that he will be well below his 2/5 morning line by post time. That means that the race will not be a good source of profit unless something bizarre happens. I can’t pass on the race, though, so I am going to make two different bets. First, I will bet Big Brown to win (just two dollars, and I likely won’t cash the ticket if he wins – I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to racing). For a shot at making at least a little profit I will look to the superfecta. I will obviously key Big Brown on top, and I am going to buy into the hype because of the need to create an affordable ticket and key Casino Drive in second. That means I can afford to have a bunch of horses under those two. I’m going to have Macho Again, Icabad Crane, Denis of Cork and Tale of Ekati in the third spot and I might add Ready’s Echo and Anak Nakal to the bottom to make it an even $20 ticket. It won’t pay much, but it will it will at least give me something to cheer for. Not that I will need it.
The interesting thing to watch is going to be how the race plays out. Outside of Big Brown, the only horse that seems to be interested in the lead is Da’ Tara. That horse doesn’t have anywhere near the quality to stay at the lead to the end, so Kent Desormeaux won’t be too worried about him because Big Brown can probably brush him aside whenever he wants to. On the other hand, Casino Drive is the first horse he has faced with a closing kick that can even remotely rival his own. On top of it all, Desormeaux has to deal with the inside post and will have to make sure that his horse doesn’t get trapped somewhere he wants to be. Desormeaux could go for the lead early, but he has the memory of doing so with Real Quiet and then running out of gas just before the finish line. He could settle back and wait until a better time to make a move. This race is more than long enough to reward patience, but Desormeaux showed in the backstretch of the Preakness that he will go to great lengths to avoid being boxed in. He could try to move outside as quickly as he can to stay out of trouble. With so many options it will be interesting to see what strategy is employed for Big Brown, and how aggressively the other jockeys are riding to beat him. Jerry Bailey took all sorts of criticism in 2004 when it looked like he was riding to beat Smarty Jones instead of to win the race himself.
I’ll warn you now – if Big Brown doesn’t win I’ll be pouting in this space for weeks.