By Bodog SportsbookWhile victory by 24-1 shot RULER ON ICE in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday was a shock to many, the entire Triple Crown series certainly demonstrated—as so many of these classic races have shown in recent years—that form patterns have changed so dramatically that nothing can be taken for granted.
No previous pattern of prep races, no specified time away from competition can be construed as the key the Kentucky Derby. And if you do not believe that, go explain the six weeks that ANIMAL KONGDOM had between the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on Mar. 27 and his solid Kentucky Derby victory at Churchill Downs on May 7. Or Barbaro’s five weeks off prior to his 2006 Derby win.
Likewise, there is no pattern of speed figures, or “sheet numbers” that can be used as a reliable tool for predicting improvement or a sharp regression in the spring classics–at least not as reliable as the same tools were earlier in the decade. For that evidence, consider how Shackleford improved on his Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby numbers to win the Preakness, when the prevailing view was that his fourth in the Derby was the beginning of a regression. For that matter, many of these same gurus of speed patterns suggested that Animal Kingdom also would regress off his Derby win, yet AK ran quite well for a close second in the Preakness.
Ruler On Ice? Winning the Belmont? On what form pattern would that have seemed a logical outcome? Yet, in retrospect, this lightly raced 3-year-old hardly was an impossible winner—not when you consider that he had run well in all four of his prior route races and was likely to attend the Belmont pace without much exertion.
A few people I know, including a contest winner on my website, predicted that Ruler on Ice bet on the colt because of the way the probable pace was going to unfold.
These astute handicappers saw that Ruler on Ice would attend the pace right behind Preakness winner Shackleford, who seemed likely to get to the lead from his outside post and cruise through a mile or 1-1/4 miles without being forced to go at a rate of speed beyond his powers. Fact is, that is exactly what occurred, as Shackleford gave way entering the stretch trying to carry his speed 5/16 longer than the 1-3/16 miles Preakness.
Animal Kingdom certainly lost all chance in the Belmont when bumped by MUCHO MACHO MAN causing jockey John Velazquez to lose his irons while escaping a fall to the ground five strides out of the gate. That ‘AK’ rallied so strongly around most of the field on the long sweeping turn from the half mile pole to the quarter pole, suggested he could have been right there with a better start. Finishing sixth was not a true bill.
NEHRO, highly touted by many ‘form-pattern handicappers’ as the frequent bridesmaid who would become the groom in the Belmont, may have been hampered by the rain soaked, packed down and firmly sealed Belmont racing surface. But, his fourth in the Belmont was hard to excuse. Yet, the biggest surprise to me—even more than the winner—was STAY THIRSTY, who finished second after outgaming third place finisher BRILLIANT SPEED while both challenged the eventual winner throughout the final furlongs.
Here was Stay Thirsty, a horse had been used strictly as a workmate for several months for UNCLE MO, presumed to be the best 3 year old in America before he lost the Wood and was diagnosed with a stomach infection.
On his own at Gulfstream in April, Stay Thirsty looked like a cheap claiming horse finishing seventh, 16 lengths behind DIALED IN in the Florida Derby. He looked only slightly better when 12th in the Kentucky Derby, 11 lengths behind Animal Kingdom.
Back in New York, Stay Thirsty started to recover his Graded Stakes form of 2010 when he worked six furlongs in 1:12 flat over the Belmont main track on May 29 and a solid five furlongs in 1:00-2/5 on June 5.
Now with Stay Thirsty’s good second place performance in the Belmont, trainerTodd Pletcher has this son of Bernardini in position run anywhere against the best 3 year olds in training.
All that said, many were disappointed in the performances of MUCHO MACHO MAN (7th), SANTIVA (8th) and MASTER OF HOUNDS (10th); who were nowhere near the pace or the top finishing positions. Moreover, we had three different longshot winners in this Triple Crown series this year and that too has become more the norm than the exception. But no horseplayers I know arfe complaining. As much as we like races to be run formfully, we also like big races with big fields to produce exciting races and boxcar mutual payoffs.
Even though the Triple Crown is over you can still bet on the ponies in Bodog’sonline racebook. Get all your odds today.