Real Quiet, the horse denied the Triple Crown by the smallest of margins, again came up just short in a fantasy Belmont Stakes (gr. I) race featuring Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) winners and the Belmont winners who spoiled those Triple Crown bids from 1997-2013.
Empire Maker prevailed in the fantasy race put together in conjunction with a longform story that launched May 28 on Derby and Preakness winners from the past 20 years and the horses who spoiled their Triple Crown bids.
In a vote from a dozen writers, handicappers, and racing experts, Empire Maker emerged the winner of a fictional 1 1/2-mile race on the dirt at Belmont Park that featured the seven Derby/Preakness winners who started in the Belmont Stakes against the seven Belmont winners who spoiled their Triple Crown bids.
The race conditions mimicked the conditions of the Belmont Stakes. In handicapping the fantasy race, voters were to consider the horse's form at 1 1/2 miles in early June of their 3-year-old season.
But those conditions also included some wrinkles. For instance, all horses would enter the fictional race fresh, with no wear and tear from a Triple Crown campaign. Voters were to assume each horse broke from its ideal post and received a splendid trip.
With those conditions in mind, the voters gave the nod to Empire Maker, who in 2004 spoiled the Triple Crown bid of Funny Cide with a three-quarter-length victory over Ten Most Wanted in the Belmont Stakes. Empire Maker secured the most first-place votes of any in the 14-horse field as six of the voters had the son of Unbridled as their choice to win.
Voters cited Empire Maker's talents as well as his breeding for the 1 1/2-mile distance.
"You need a horse that can actually handle the distance, and Empire Maker is that horse," said Ian Tapp of TrueNicks. "He has enough tactical speed that he won't lose touch with the field, and he'll outstay everyone in the final quarter-mile."
Jude Feld, an analyst with Horse Racing Radio Network, recalls the high praise trainer Bobby Frankel reserved for Empire Maker.
"Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has said many times that Empire Maker is the best horse he's ever trained; no faint praise," Feld said. "You know the no-nonsense Brooklyn native wants to win this race badly and he will have the Juddmonte color-bearer ready to go."
Ed DeRosa of BrisNet.com noted that Empire Maker, Victory Gallop, and Real Quiet tied for the highest BrisNet speed figure in their Belmont Stakes efforts (113). He said he'd suspect one of those three, or perhaps Birdstone—who would have a favorable pace scenario with early runners Da' Tara, War Emblem, and Smarty Jones in the field—would emerge. Still, DeRosa ultimately placed Empire Maker on top.
Blood-Horse Southern California correspondent Tracy Gantz was one of two voters to place Real Quiet in the winner's circle. Considering the 1998 Derby-Preakness winner only lost the Belmont by a nose—showing he could handle the distance—and would start fresh in the 1 1/2-mile fantasy Belmont, the selection makes plenty of sense.
"I think the key is that if you assume the horses are fresh and sound, many of those who lost the Triple Crown would have won it that year," Gantz said. "While others may argue that Real Quiet isn't as good as some of the others, I have to put him first because he came so close to actually winning the Triple Crown. With very little change in circumstances, he would be a Triple Crown winner and thus would be in more exalted company."
Silver Charm also secured two top votes and was placed third overall by the voters. Blood-Horse contributor John Scheinman noted that Silver Charm not only was one of the best horses in the group but the pace dynamics of this Belmont would play into his running style.
While the voters tabbed a "spoiler" on top in Empire Maker, the dual classic winners held down second through fifth in Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Big Brown , and Smarty Jones. The next spoiler to show up was Victory Gallop in sixth.
Voters often were forced to decide if the dual classic winners came up short because of fatigue after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown or the challenges of the 1 1/2-mile distance. DeRosa believes the distance factor explains the poor Belmont efforts of at least two of the dual classic winners.
"I'd tab Smarty Jones and Big Brown as the most brilliant 3-year-olds in the group and if the race were nine or 10 furlongs then I'd decide between the two of them," DeRosa said. "But it's 1 1/2 miles and their worst races were at that distance. Given a redo in their particular Belmonts, I'd expect either of them to be the most likely winner but that's not the case here as they're facing other classic winners."
Other horses receiving at least one first-place vote were Charismatic and Smarty Jones.
Rounding out the race, based on the voters' opinions, would be Touch Gold in seventh, Birdstone , eighth; Lemon Drop Kid , ninth; Charismatic, 10th; Funny Cide, 11th; War Emblem, 12th; Sarava, 13th, and Da' Tara, 14th.
Besides Tapp, Feld, Gantz, DeRosa, and Scheinman, other participating voters included Blood-Horse writers and editors Frank Angst, Lenny Shulman, and Steve Haskin; Santa Anita Park oddsmaker Jon White; Blood-Horse correspondent Paul Volponi; national Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association chief executive officer Phil Hanrahan; Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation president Ed Bowen; and handicapper Brian Stevens.
White put together a morning-line for the fantasy race that is listed below.
Fantasy Belmont Stakes
Conditions: 1 1/2 miles, dirt, Belmont Park, contested in early June of 3yo season of each horse. For this race, all horses will be fresh—no Triple Crown rigors. Horses are listed alphabetically, assume each breaks from ideal post and receives ideal trip. Connections are same as horse's actual Belmont Stakes (gr. I) connections.
Fantasy Belmont Stakes
|Big Brown||Rick Dutrow Jr.||Kent Desormeaux||5-1|
|Birdstone||Nick Zito||Edgar Prado||15-1|
|Charismatic||D. Wayne Lukas||Chris Antley||12-1|
|Da' Tara||Nick Zito||Alan Garcia||50-1|
|Empire Maker||Bobby Frankel||Jerry Bailey||12-1|
|Funny Cide||Barclay Tagg||Jose Santos||20-1|
|Lemon Drop Kid||Flint Schulhofer||Jose Santos||12-1|
|Real Quiet||Bob Baffert||Kent Desormeaux||9-2|
|Sarava||Ken McPeek||Edgar Prado||30-1|
|Silver Charm||Bob Baffert||Gary Stevens||8-1|
|Smarty Jones||John Servis||Stewart Elliott||6-1|
|Touch Gold||David Hofmans||Chris McCarron||6-1|
|Victory Gallop||Elliott Walden||Gary Stevens||5-1|
|War Emblem||Bob Baffert||Victor Espinoza||20-1|
White's thoughts on the morning-line odds: I had to try to weigh a number of different factors for this exercise, but three things I especially emphasized were (1) a horse's ability to win a 1 1/2-mile race, (2) a horse's popularity with the bettors, and (3) the strength of the crop.
For instance, Smarty Jones was very popular with bettors. He was favored in all but one of his nine career starts. On the other hand, the one time he tried to go 1 1/2 miles in the 2004 Belmont Stakes, he got beat. I would have made him 8-1 for a 1 1/2-mile race based on his loss at the distance, but I made him 6-1 because of how much he was bet on during his entire career.
It was very hard to decide who to make the morning-line favorite. I nearly made Big Brown the favorite. But he is a question mark at 1 1/2 miles because he was a no show in the 2008 Belmont Stakes for whatever reason or reasons. The thing is, because Big Brown was a no-show in the Belmont and won all of his other races, who is to say how really great he was?
Touch Gold won the 1997 Belmont as a member of one of the strongest 3-year-old crops in American racing history. So I considered making him the favorite.
I also considered making Victory Gallop the favorite. But the more I thought about it, I'd say he really was very fortunate to win the 1998 Belmont. Victory Gallop won the Belmont thanks in large part to a patient ride by Gary Stevens, while Kent Desormeaux moved way too soon on Real Quiet and still lost that race and the Triple Crown by only a nose.
I decided to make Real Quiet a lukewarm 9-2 favorite for the Fantasy Belmont Stakes, with Victory Gallop and Big Brown co-second choices at 5-1.