ELMONT -- It's not exactly the day we thought it would be with the scratch of I'll Have Another yesterday here on Long Island, but there is still a healthy crowd and the weather (at the moment) couldn't be better. It's currently sunny and the track conditions are fast and firm at beautiful Belmont Park.
While the undertone of disappointment is still present, racing fans are still fired up for a good day of racing. The stakes portion of the card was just kicked off with Teeth of the Dog winning the $100K Easy Goer impressively over a nice field of 3-year-old colts.
We'll take you through the graded stakes portion of the card starting with Race No. 7, the Grade 2 True North Handicap a $400,000 race for 3-year-olds and upward going 6 furlongs. I favor 1-Pacific Ocean in here and will a win wager on him. It's a competitive field of eight, including 6-Giant Ryan (3-1 ML) and 7-Caixa Eletronica (4-1), two horses with graded stakes victories on their respective resumes.
Keep checking back throughout the day for selections and our thoughts on how the day is progressing. Back after the True North.
3:28 p.m.: With a huge charge at the wire 7-Caixa Eletronica ($9.20) stormed past 8-Justin Phillip at the wire to take the True North. Unfortunately, 6-Giant Ryan took a misstep around the sixteenth pole and was vanned off by the equine ambulance. Surely that casts a bit of a dark cloud over a weekend that certainly hasn't been on the bright side so far. Giant Ryan was coming off a trip to Dubai where he finished 5th in the Golden Shaheen. It has certainly quelled the atmosphere here.
The announced Pick-6 pool is approximately $1.7 million and we are about to start the guaranteed $1 millon Pick-4. The Grade 1 Just a Game is next up where fillies and mares three years old and up will be running on the outer turf course at a mile. I'm on three horses here to kick off the Pick-4, 1-Tapitsfly, 4-Winter Memories and 5-Hungry Island.
3:37 p.m.: Update on Giant Ryan: According to on-track veteranarian Larry Bramlage, Giant Ryan suffered a fractured sesamoid and ligament damage and was comfortable in the splint and will be examined in his own stall. Cautious optimism here at Belmont.
3:57 p.m.: In case you missed it, I'll Have Another will lead the Belmont horses in the parade around the paddock before the race,originally he was going to lead them onto the track, but those plans were changed today. He'll be ceremonially retired in the winner's circle before the big race.
4:01 p.m.: Interesting tidbit -- Todd Pletcher does not have a horse in the Belmont today after having a horse in the big race every year since 2005. Of course, his presence is still felt here today with a victory in the Grade 2 True North.
4:12 p.m.: So we are off and rolling in the PIck-4 with 1-Tapisfly ($8.40) wiring the field in the Just a Game. If you boxed my top 3 in a $2 trifecta you'd be $40 richer. Next up is the very competitive Grade 2 Woody Stephens, and in my opinion the most difficult handicap on today's card. I've gone four deep here with 2-Hardened Wildcat, 5-Bourbon Courage, 6-Trinniberg and 8-Isn't He Clever.
2-Hardened Wildcat (12-1) finished three lengths behind Trinniberg in the Grade 3 Bay Shore and I think he has a nice post and his trainer Chad Brown is white hot (29%) at Belmont. 3-Bourbon Courage (5-1) is a lightly raced Lion Heart colt who had two solid efforts at the Fair Grounds before faltering in the slop in the Derby Trial. I'll give him a pass on that race and include him with Rosie in the irons (as long as the track stays dry). 6-Trinniberg (7-2) comes out of an ill-advised attempt at the Derby to cut back to a more familiar distance. The question here is whether the Derby took any toll on him. Tough to exclude him just on talent alone. 8-Isn't He Clever (8-1) with Johnny V in the irons for Steve Asmussen (32%) comes off the Derby trail and should be fairly fresh (Asmussen 22% off the layoff).
I'm going down to the paddock for this one and will watch from the winner's circle, back to give you my thoughts on the Manhattan (Race 10).
5:00 p.m.: It's 6-Trinniberg ($7.70) in the Woody Stephens to keep our late Pick-4 alive. No bounce from him coming off a rough effort in the Derby at a distance that certainly isn't his forte. 9-Currency Swap ran a huge race to come in second and complete a $62 exacta for $2.
We're going three deep in the Manhatttan with 2-Boisterous, 4-Desert Blanc and 6-Brilliant Speed in the 1 1/4-mile turf race.
2-Boisterous is my top pick here for Shug McGaughey. I love this horse's form and he loves Belmont (6-4-0-1). 4-Desert Blanc (6-1) finished second to Boisterous in the Grade 3 Ft. Marcy and warrants consideration. Ramon is in the irons and Brown is 30% second off the layoff. 6-Brilliant Speed (3-1) is another horse that rarely gives you a poor effort. He made his move too late on Derby day and I think the extra furlong is the right medicine today.
We'll take those three horses over my four paper picks (Dullahan, Street Life, Paynter and Atigun) to round out the Pick-4 play. The weather continues to be nice with no threat of rain in the distant future. The crowd is still fairly large and the backyard is packed, especially around the paddock.
There's still a lot of head shaking going on about the scratch of the Triple Crown hopeful, and the retirement ceremony will be sure to illicit a huge response from this crowd. I watched from the tunnel the last race as Mario Gutierrez (I'll Have Another's jockey) was pounding his heart to the fans as he took the track on Brian in the Woody Stephens, still smiling. You have to love that kid and all he must have gone through in the past 24 hours.
Down to the paddock for the Manhattan and we'll be back with our Belmont thoughts after the race.
5:05 p.m.: Current Belmont odds -- 3-Union Rags (5-2) remains a slight favorite over 5-Dullahan (3-1). 9-Paynter (9-2), and 1-Street Life (9-1). The big surprise at the moment is 2-Unstoppable U at 10-1.
6:05 p.m. That's what I'm talking about! 4-Desert Blanc ($14.40) slices through two horses and wins a head bob with 5-Papaw Bodie at the wire to win the Manhattan and our Pick-4 play is live to four horses. The will pays for the $0.50 play are 1-Street Life ($894.50), 4-Atigun ($2,842.00), 5-Dullahan ($292.50) and 9-Paynter ($375.07). As Adam Sandler would say, not too shabby.
I was delayed getting back to post in the press box to watch the I'll Have Another ceremony in the winner's circle. He was wearing his No. 11 colors and jockey Mario Gutierrez came down to mount him for some pictures. 3-Union Rags is taking money at the window and is currently 5-2 with 30 MTP.
6:12 p.m.: Here's a photo from the I'll Have Another Retirement ceremony in the winner's circle.
6:25 p.m.: 5-Dullahan (5-2) has taken over the favorite role momentarily with 3-Union Rags slightly behind him. Super Bowl champion New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin just called "riders up." There is a slight rain falling at Belmont that started during the I'll Have Another ceremony, but shouldn't be a factor in the race.
6:30 p.m.:They're about to head to the track for the Belmont Stakes and there's a solid crowd here today cheering on the horses in the final post parade and the Call to Post. Good luck to all and we'll be back after the race with final comments.
6:48 p.m.: And it's 3-Union Rags in the Belmont with new rider Johnny Velazquez up! He overtook 4-Paynter who tried to take the field gate-to-wire in a valiant effort winning by a neck. Bob Baffert and Mike Smith take second in all three Triple Crown races, what a heartbreak for those connections as each horse was passed in the stretch before the wire.
6:52 p.m.: 4-Atigun, with Union Rags' former rider Julien Leparoux in the irons, finished third and 1-Street Life finished fourth to complete the superfecta.
6:55 p.m.: After a horrible trip in the Derby under Leparoux, where he recovered to finish seventh, today was all about redemption for trainer Michael Matz and Chadds Ford Stable. Union Rags ($7.50) was in great shape tracking the leaders throughout the race and pounced in deep stretch.
7:03 p.m.: Here are the payouts: $1 exacta - $15.70; $1 trifecta - $248.00; and $1 superfecta - $953.00. Looks like Governor Cuomo isn't here to present the Belmont Stakes trophy, the honors being done by New York Racing Association Board Chairman C. Stephen Duncker. Paynter paid $5.10 to place and $3.90 to show and my long shot selection Atigun paid $10.60 to show. Today's attendance was 85,811, not a bad showing by the New York faithful.
That's a wrap on the Triple Crown season. We've had plenty of ups and downs and it sure has been exciting. It will be 34 consecutive years without a Triple Crown...here's hoping 2013 gives us another chance. Check tomorrow's Buffalo News for our commentary on the Belmont.