When it was announced at the draw Wednesday morning that First Dude , installed as the 7-2 second choice behind Ice Box (3-1), had drawn post 11 in the 12-horse field, some may have thought of it as a bad post.
Not true. With virtually no speed in the race, Ramon Dominguez should have no problem clearing the field and tucking First Dude in wherever he wants him, whether on the lead or just off it, in case someone else is determined to set the pace. But the key is breaking sharply.
First Dude is a mountain of a horse with a long, loping stride that gives him the appearance of going slower than he is. Although he turned in a huge effort in the Preakness (gr. I) racing on the inside, he should love those big, sweeping turns at Belmont as long as he doesn’t take the first turn too wide and get hung out there. That likely won’t happen. This colt is deceptively quick, and by breaking from post 11, Dominguez will have a great look at the other horses and act accordingly. The guess here is that he will clear the field, drop in and set the pace, in the hope that First Dude can simply run the others off their feet and keep going.
After what he did in the Preakness, setting quick fractions and gamely coming back in the final furlong, will any of the other riders want any part of him early? Super Saver tried to keep up with him in the Preakness and faded. You certainly don’t want to match strides with a big, intimidating horse like this going a mile and a half through soft fractions.
His gallops the last couple of days have been energetic, and he had assistant trainer Tammy Fox pulling hard on the reins, so it’s probably going to be best just letting him have his head and dictating the pace.
Uptowncharlybrown , who does have the early speed if they want to use it, drew post 3, and he likely will get out of there aggressively and establish his spot on the inside. If First Dude comes charging up on his outside, you can bet Rajiv Maragh is going to let him go and try to get a comfortable position right behind him.
The Bob Baffert-trained Game on Dude, has good tactical speed, but he’s never been closer than 1 1/2 lengths from the lead, so don’t expect Martin Garcia to try to run with First Dude. Even with the addition of blinkers for the Lone Star Derby, Game On Dude still was 6 1/2 lengths off the pace. Now, if they go in :49 or slower, you can be sure he’ll be closer than that. He’s been running :45 and :46 halfs in all his races, so he’s got to be fairly close.
The key horse could be Interactif, who has drawn on the outside in several big races, forcing him to be aggressive and show more early speed than he wants to. Well, he drew post 12 in the Belmont, which means Javier Castellano will have to either gun him out of there again and press the pace or take a hold of him and drop him back, then try to tuck in and save ground. The belief here is that this horse is much more effective coming from farther back, as he did in his two stakes victories on the grass last year. He does possess a middle move, so it might not be a bad idea to go with strategy No. 2 and gradually work your way into contention rather than use too much energy sending him out of the gate. He’s been working like gangbusters and flying home his last quarter, so he’s geared up to use his closing kick, something he hasn’t been able to do much this year.
The sneaky horse in the field is Spangled Star, who was five lengths off a :45 3/5 and 1:09 1/5 pace in the Withers Stakes (gr. III) at a mile in his last start and has been fairly close up in several of his earlier races. And he’s trained by Rick Dutrow, who always has a few tricks up his sleeve. He’s ridden by Garrett Gomez and has a strong enough pedigree to give Dutrow confidence to tell Gomez to put him in the fray early. Dutrow is not the type to let any horse have an easy time of it.
Trainers have to remember, however, that First Dude is an intimidating horse who takes one stride to their horse’s two, and as much as they want to pressure him, it might not be in their best interest to look him in the eye early.
As for some of the others, expect to see Ice Box much closer to the pace than he’s been in his last three races. In his maiden win at the Meadowlands and an allowance victory at Gulfstream, he sat two lengths off the pace each time, and trainer Nick Zito has been putting a lot of speed into him in his works. Even late runners like Stay Put and Make Music For Me will be closer this time, as will Stately Victor. In fact, don’t be surprised to see the entire field fairly bunched up in an effort to keep First Dude in their sights.
Another interesting horse is Drosselmeyer, who has trained brilliantly, and was a tiger galloping out after his :59 3/5 work this week. He is sharp right now, and being a one-paced grinder type, you can expect to see him sitting fairly close and just ripping off steady fractions. He hasn’t shown a quick turn of foot, and with the way he runs and being as sharp as he is, if he somehow can get into serious contention or even take the lead turning for home, he could be tough.