There is no Triple Crown on the line.
In fact, neither the Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver nor Preakness champ Lookin at Lucky bothered to show up to run in the third jewel of racing's Triple Crown on Saturday.
The Belmont may not have much intrigue, but it surely doesn't lack in betability. Twelve horses are scheduled to test their courage, speed and stamina over 12 furlongs.
Off a troubled second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the Nick Zito-trained Ice Box is likely to go favored, and although I like his chances to run well, I can't help but think that his Derby performance was aided by the sloppy conditions, much like 2009 upsetter Mine That Bird.
Ice Box won the Florida Derby too, but just narrowly over the very average Pleasant Price. He's rested and ready for the Belmont, but he's a deep closer in a race that is not overloaded with early speed.
I think Nick Zito will win the Belmont, just not with Ice Box.
Impressive off the bench to break his maiden over nine furlongs in February, Zito's Fly Down was immediately stepped up into stakes company for a run at the G2 Louisiana Derby. He would finish ninth of 13 that day, but traffic trouble may have cost him a better placing.
His coming-out party came in the G2 Dwyer last outing at Belmont. Rated at the back of the pack, he circled the field while four-wide, and darted away pounds the best. He's a rapidly developing colt who is proven over the racetrack.
Gimmicks to consider
There was a lot of Kentucky Derby buzz surrounding Drosselmeyer in January following his sharp allowance win over nine furlongs at Gulfstream.
Soft fractions compromised his chances in the G2 Risen Star (4th), and he ran a similar race to earn the show dough in the G2 Louisiana Derby.
Left out of the Kentucky Derby starting gate due to lack of earnings, Drosselmeyer would make his next start in the G2 Dwyer, where he proved to be no match for Fly Down, finishing a distant second. He has been dealing with some hoof issues recently, but he shook them off in a recent bullet work. Certainly has some upside.
First Dude, a game second behind fellow Belmont contender Fly Down in a nine furlong, first-level allowance at Gulfstream in February, would have little luck in a pair of follow-up graded stakes tries. He ran into traffic trouble in the G1 Florida Derby (5th) and got bounced around at the start of the G1 Blue Grass (3rd).
Dismissed at odds of 23-1, First Dude avoided trouble by making the lead in the G1 Preakness, setting honest fractions throughout. He dug in gamely once engaged by eventual winner Lookin at Lucky, and held on for second in what was a breakthrough performance.
If allowed to coast on the lead today, First Dude may prove tough to run down.
The deep closing Stay Put bagged consecutive wins early in the winter at Fair Grounds. Fifth in both the G2 Risen Star and the G2 Louisiana Derby with almost carbon copy performances, he was last seen taking down a sloppy track second-level allowance as the 3-5 Churchill chalk.
Stay Put steps back up with renewed confidence, but will need honest fractions to kick at in order to prove effective. A price shot to consider in the gimmicks.
Game On Dude looked good when breaking his maiden at Gulfstream in late February, and he didn't have the greatest of trips in the G1 Florida Derby.
Turned over to Bob Baffert prior to the Derby Trial, you can toss out his muddy track clunker. He looked good winning the G3 Lone Star Derby last out, but he didn't beat much. I still look at Game On Due as a horse with some upside.
Horses I'm against
Uptowncharlybrown: I am skeptical he can get Uptowncharlybrown, the son of Limehouse, to run big over 12 furlongs. Don't think he runs better with blinkers on, or off.
Make Music For Me: I believe his surprising fourth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Much like Ice Box, was also a product of the sloppy track. After the Belmont, I'm guessing you'll watch him return to turf or synthetics.
Interactif: A last minute Belmont entry by trainer Todd Pletcher, who said he was happy the way the horse had been training on dirt, and decided to take a shot. Like Make Music For Me, I think this is the last time we'll see him on dirt for a while.
Stately Victor: Yet another who should stick to turf/synthetics.
Can't see how..
Dave In Dixie: I'm a big fan of trainer John Sadler, but off a dull fifth-place finish in the G3 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, this horse is ambitiously placed.
Spangled Star: He ran the race of his life in finishing third in the G3 Withers at Aqueduct, but he'll need to take another giant step forward in order to get a stretch call on Saturday.