Talkin' Horses - Live Discussions

Jason Shandler Bloodhorse.com blogger
Triple Crown Talk

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blood-Horse staff writer Jason Shandler makes his debut on Talkin' Horses for a special Belmont Stakes (gr. I) handicapping preview. With Big Brown winning both the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Shandler will examine his chances of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years. He will also help handicappers break down the race from a betting perspective and give his opinions on the best way to make money on the race.

Shandler has been a Blood-Horse writer since 2004, initially covering the Triple Crown quests of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Barbaro from Philadelphia, where he was born and raised. Shandler moved to Lexington in 2007, joining Blood-Horse as a full-time writer. Specializing as a racing writer, he covers all the Thoroughbred action on a weekly basis. Shandler also hosts his "Triple Crown Talk" blog on Bloodhorse.com , where he shares his thoughts about racing and interacts with readers. An avid bettor, he does not claim to be a "professional handicapper," as many so-called experts do, but has been known to hit a few big trifectas in his day and will often focus on finding longshots or value plays.

Shandler was a correspondent and features writer for both NTRA.com and ESPN.com before joining Blood-Horse. Please submit your questions about the Belmont, handicapping, and other racing related issues below.

Barboursville, WV:
Everyone is talking Big Brown, but I say all the signs are there for his defeat in the Belmont. History, the cocky trainer, the hoof injury, and everything else. I don't think he'll get the mile and a half. Your thoughts?

Shandler:
Based on all of the Triple Crown disappointments over the past three decades, I can see how you would be skeptical about Big Brown's chances. But the quarter crack seems to be a non-issue at this point and even though Dutrow's arrogance may be a turn-off, it will not affect the race. He has done a terrific job with this horse and seems to be pushing all the right buttons. And while Big Brown's pedigree doesn't suggest a mile and half will be his ideal distance, sometimes horses can outrun their pedigrees. If Big Brown runs anything close to how he did in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, he wins the Belmont.

Arlington Heights, IL:
Jason....thanks for hosting what is a terrific blog. Just curious if you think Rick Dutrow's boasting and bold talk is actually great for the sport because it grabs headlines, is part of sport talk radio conversation and generates opinions, one way or another?

Shandler:
Thanks for the kind words. I do not think Dutrow's boastfulness has been good for horse racing. From interviewing him on several occasions, I came to the realization that Dutrow is a pretty likable guy and despite his brash comments, he does it in a way that does not come off as arrogant. It is just him being self-confident. The problem is, the average person does not get to see what I do. They only see his words in black and white, and it is a turn-off to many people. I would say over half of the people who comment on my blog are not rooting for Big Brown to win, and that has mainly to do with Dutrow's perceived arrogance and cockiness.

Surrey, BC Canada:
Do you think racing protects the betting public diligently enough?

Shandler:
That's a great question. I believe the Thoroughbred industry does an adequate job of protecting the bettors. There have been some scandals over the years ' the Breeders' Cup Pick 6, the Tampa Bay jockeys investigation, and the current Kentucky Derby quick pick superfecta situation are the first that come to mind ' but overall, I feel fairly confident that racing is doing its best to protect bettors. It is certainly in their best interest to do so. Anytime you have gambling involved there is the possibility of scandal. Look at the NBA referee situation, the numerous point-shaving scandals that have happened in NCAA basketball over the years, and most recently, the problems with professional tennis overseas. To me, as I said above, the best way the industry can level the playing field is by getting stricter with medication violations. The trainers are the ones who have the most say in how fast horses run, and if they are allowed to put whatever they want in horses bodies without fear of significant punishment, the public will always be at a disadvantage. The industry must act quickly on this. Medication is the No. 1 problem in the sport.

York, PA:
Jason-- am thoroughly enjoying your reporting and Triple Crown blog, although jealous you are now based in Lexington-- one of the few places on Earth where a horse nut like me feels truly at home. The decision by Sparkle Candle's connections not to use this rabbit to give stablemate Casino Drive and the Belmont some pace-- was this a decision to give Sparkle Candle a legitimate shot at winning at a mile, and/or is this tantamount to a concession Casino Drive, running with or without his stablemate, has no shot at winning against Big Brown? Frankly, I think Casino Drive will prove to be a non-factor, regardless and is set-up to bounce big after that nice run and win in the Peter Pan. Your informed judgments, please.

Shandler:
Thanks. I am enjoying my time in Lexington. It is the perfect place for us horse nuts. I was disappointed when the connections decided not to enter Spark Candle in the Belmont. For anyone to beat Big Brown I feel there needs to be a quick, early pace, and Spark Candle was the perfect "rabbit" to do this. From what I can see, his defection leaves a void of any legitimate early speed (other than maybe Da'Tara) and Big Brown may be able to have things his own way now. I can't really be sure what motivated the owners to point Spark Candle to the Hill Prince, but since they paid $1.5 million for him, my guess is that they want to give him every opportunity to win at his preferred distance and not just "waste" him in the Belmont. I am with you on Casino Drive. I think he regresses from his Peter Pan and is a non-factor in the Belmont.

Wilmington, DE:
Big Brown does not seem to have captured the hearts of the American public in the same way that some of the more recent Triple Crown contenders have (i.e. Smarty Jones). A lot of people say it is because of Dutrow and his personality. I don't buy it. I think it is because the public sees a competition without a true rival. Let's face it -- the crop of horses this year is abysmal. What are your thoughts?

Shandler:
I think it's a combination of factors and I do agree that this is a fairly weak string of 3-year-olds, but I do believe the main reason Big Brown has not captivated America is because of his connections. With Smarty Jones, it was a feel-good story from every angle - the owners, small-time trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott, and Smarty, who was undersized, from little known Philadelphia Park, and nearly never made it to the Derby because of an early injury. It was a fairy tale story all around. Dutrow's outspoken comments and past drug violations have turned some off, Kent Desormeaux also has detractors because of his brash personality, and IEAH Stables is perceived as a group of rich people who plunked down a bunch of money to buy a horse for millions, almost like George Steinbrenner does with the Yankees. People in America root for the underdog and Big Brown is not perceived as an underdog.

Saint Petersburg, FL:
Jason, Here is my tri-box for the Belmont... what do you think? Big Brown, Macho Again, Casino Drive

Shandler:
As I stated above, I do not like Casino Drive. I know he is the hot horse right now and he has the great Belmont pedigree, but I just feel like he will regress from his last race. Remember, he only has two career starts and he will be expected to run a mile and half against the best 3-year-olds. I do like Macho Again to finish in the top four, but all of my exotic tickets will include Denis of Cork, who I think is sitting on a big race. His recent works have been terrific, he has the right running style to be effective in the Belmont, and I think he will improve upon his Derby. As of now, my superfecta will include Big Brown, Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati and Macho Again. It could change by Saturday though.

East Meadow, NY:
If I have a few hundred dollars to bet and feel that Big Brown is a lock but he will pay $2.20 to win and the BB-Casino Drive exacta will probably pay $4-$5, how do I make money on a horse I know will win with ease?

Shandler:
If you have a few hundred dollars to bet, I would not suggest betting him to win or playing the above mentioned exacta. To make any real money in this race (assuming Big Brown wins) you will need to play the superfecta or the late Pick 4. If Big Brown wins, even the trifecta probably will not pay much over $100. My suggestion would to bet half of your money with Big Brown in a superfecta key, and the other half on the late Pick 4. Look at it this way, if you think Big Brown will win, the late Pick 4 becomes a late Pick 3. Start handicapping the undercard early in the week. I will give my late Pick 4 selections and analysis on my blog the day before the Belmont.

New Brunswick, Canada:
Hello Jason. I have been reading your work since you started a few years ago and I believe you are honest with opinions. One opinion I would like to hear of yours is this: Was Smarty Jones cheated out of the Triple Crown by Jerry Bailey and Alex Solis. Thanks and keep up the good stuff.

Shandler:
Thanks for reading. I do not believe Smarty was cheated. After watching the 2004 Belmont dozens and dozens of times, I don't buy into the theory that Bailey and Solis sacrificed their horses to make Smarty go faster early on. To say that Bailey and Solis teamed up to deny Smarty would be inferring an awful lot. More likely, I believe Smarty lost because of Elliott's inability to settle him through the backstretch. I also think Elliott moved Smarty about 10 seconds too soon.

Pittsburgh, PA:
Which of the probable Belmont starters do not even have much of a chance to finish at least third? How would an off track change the order of finish? And the Manhattan looks to have an awesome field.... How do you see that order of finish?

Shandler:
I will not include Da'Tara, Ready's Echo, Icabad Crane or Casino Drive in my top 3. I expressed my thoughts on Casino Drive above, and even if he does get second or third, the exacta and trifecta will be very low payouts (assuming Big Brown wins) due to the fact that he will go off as the clear second choice. I think an off-track would benefit Big Brown more than the other horses. As far as the Manhattan, I have not handicapped it yet, but I will do so soon and have my selections on my blog by Friday.

Drexel Hill, PA:
If Big Brown wins the Belmont where does he rank in the greatest horses of all time?

Shandler:
If Big Brown wins the Triple Crown he will automatically go down as one of the best 3-year-olds ever, but I do not think you can put him up there with the all-time greats until you see what else he accomplishes. If he does in fact retire after the Belmont, no way you can put him in the top 15. In my opinion, you have to win more than six races, or even eight races (assuming he runs in and wins the Travers and BC Classic) to be one of the all-time greats. Horses like Man 'o War, Citation, Native Dancer and Spectacular Bid - now they are great. To put it another way, would you put a baseball player amongst the best of all-time if he won the Triple Crown in his second or third season and then retired? It would be hard for me to. Greatness is measured through an entire body of work.

Vero Beach, FL:
As I've been reading about Big Brown's progress since the quarter crack; please tell me the difference between gallop, breeze and blowout. Is gallop the same as canter? Is a jog a collected canter? Thanks!

Shandler:
A canter and gallop are both types of gaits. A gallop is basically a fast canter; a breeze is a moderate work, usually what trainers do to prepare horses for races; a blowout is a short work a day or two before a race to sharpen speed.

Covington, GA:
Do you know why the turf at Mountaineer Park is so long? Looks like it has not been cut in months, but they still run turf races over it?

Shandler:
Sorry. I am not sure about the Mountaineer turf and its length. You do know the Belmont is on Saturday, right?

Brewerton, NY:
How do you see the Belmont unfolding from a pace standpoint and do you see Big Brown winning the Triple Crown? I enjoy reading your posts on Triple Crown Talk and I look forward to future posts.

Shandler:
Thanks for the nice comments. From what I can see, there is not a ton of early speed in this race, which will play to Big Brown's favor. I think Big Brown will be up close to the lead, maybe just off of Da'Tara. Tale of Ekati and Casino Drive might be sitting just off the pace as well. I think Big Brown will probably grab the lead somewhere after six furlongs or a mile, and be in perfect position at the quarter-pole. The only question is, will Tale of Ekati or Casino Drive, or any of the closers, namely Denis or Cork, give him a battle in the final furlong? As we've seen many times in the Belmont, anything can happen, but I see Big Brown winning by about 2-3 lengths.

Canterbury, CT:
Do you know when Dreaming Of Anna and Indian Blessing are going to be making their next starts? Also, is Curlin confirmed for the Stephen Foster Handicap?

Shandler:
I'm not sure where Dreaming of Anna is headed after losing the Distaff Turf on May 3, but Indian Blessing is in the Grade 1 Acorn Saturday at Belmont Park. Curlin is on track for the Stephen Foster. He worked seven furlongs on June 2 and if all goes well from now until June 14, he will be entered.

Clearwater, FL:
What makes Big Brown so dominant and why do you think he has a much better chance of winning the Belmont than Smarty Jones and Funny Cide had?

Shandler:
Big Brown is dominant because of several factors: He has tremendous acceleration or turn of foot, as some like to call it; he has great tactical speed; he can win by stalking or setting the pace; and he is smart and not too head strong, which allows him to settle well early in races. I think he is a better horse than Funny Cide, plus Funny Cide had a tough rival in Empire Maker to deal with (which Big Brown doesn't seem to have) and a sloppy track that didn't play to his favor in the Belmont. I thought Smarty had a terrific chance of winning the Triple Crown and I give Big Brown about the same chance. To put a number on it, I think he has about an 80% chance to win.

Devon, PA:
Hi Jason. I like your work and have been following your work when you were writing at ESPN. Compare Big Brown to Barbaro---who was the better horse. My friend and I are fighting over this--please settle the dispute.

Shandler:
Thanks for the words. It's tough to compare Big Brown to Barbaro, although I do think Big Brown is a little faster. His Florida Derby time was almost a full second faster than Barbaro and he did that from the 12 post. His Derby time was a tad bit slower than Barbaro's, but he broke from post 20 and was running into a heavy headwind. Other than that, all you have to go by is what you see. Both were exceptional horses who were basically unchallenged in every start. If you had to put a gun to my head, I would take Big Brown.

Ambler, PA:
Yo Jason my main man! I miss going to the Oaks Turf Club with you up here in Philly brother. Do you think Big Brown is a lock to hit in the place pool in the Belmont when all the newbie's will be buying that $2 win ticket to sell on Ebay and all the small timers will be betting to show? Do you think the place pool payout will be bigger on Big Brown then his win pool or do you think I should make a big $$$ Tri Key with only 3 horses under the key? Your homeboy from Philly, Johnny Mas.

Shandler:
Hey John. Good to hear from you. I do miss playing races with you guys at the Turf Club. We had some good times. Your angle on the place pool is interesting. If you are going to play as much money as I know you are, it might not be a bad idea to bet place instead of win. You know you won't get more than $2.20 to win or show on Big Brown. But there is a chance you could get more to place. We saw it happen with Smarty in 2004 when he was paying more to place than win. If you are going to play exotics, I say play the super instead of the tri. I am leaning towards playing a Big Brown, Denis of Cork/Big Brown, Denis of Cork/All/All. If Casino Drive runs out of the money it might be a nice ticket.

Boca Raton, FL:
What specifically does ready's echo have to do to compete successfully in the Belmont? I know he breaks slow and gets a little too far behind early, but is his late kick good enough?

Shandler:
For Ready's Echo to do anything more than close a little bit of late ground and get third or fourth is asking a lot. We're talking about a horse that has only a maiden win to show for four starts, and was more than six lengths back of Casino Drive in the Peter Pan. If you look at the charts, he did not even close much ground on the leader in the final furlong, just passed tiring rivals. To have a chance at hitting the board I would say that Ready's Echo needs a hot pace and will need to improve a whole lot in a short period of time. If you are talking about winning the race, I would say he needs a miracle.

Elon, NC:
If not Big Brown, which horse has the best chance of winning?

Shandler:
As I said earlier, I think Denis of Cork would have the best shot of pulling the upset. Tale of Ekati would be my second choice.

Binghamton, NY:
Hi Jason, I really enjoy your "Triple Crown Talk" blog. I'm interested to know how you will use Casino Drive in your wagers? You have to love his breeding, but what do you make of him running a mile and a half in his third start?

Shandler:
Thank you. Casino Drive will not be in the top two spots in my wagers. I will have him as part of the "all" in the third and fourth spots of my superfecta. There is no question that he is bred for this distance, but asking a horse to run a mile and half in his third start, and beat a horse like Big Brown, is a tall order. While many people see him improving off his Peter Pan, I see him regressing a bit. We're talking about a horse that had two and half months to prepare for the Peter Pan and will now have to come back in less than a month and go an extra half-mile - and still improve more to beat Big Brown. Plus, his stablemate helped him get the perfect stalking trip in the Peter Pan. He will not have that luxury this time. And if you look at his "works" the past week or so, he has not exactly been lighting the track on fire. I see Casino Drive finishing middle of the pack.

Lexington, KY:
I heard you like Point Given, so how do you think he compares to Curlin and Big Brown in your opinion?

Shandler:
Point Given is my favorite horse of all-time. I loved his imposing physical nature and the way he dominated races. Comparing him to Big Brown and Curlin is difficult. I would have loved to have seen him race as a 4-year-old, because I happen to think, like Curlin, that's when he would have hit his peak. If Big Brown wins the Triple Crown he will almost certainly go down as better than Point Given, and if Curlin continues his domination, he probably will too. I know I am biased, but I would have taken "T-Rex" over both of them. Remember, he is the only horse ever to win four $1 million races in a row. He was a monster.

Pacifica, CA:
I wondered about inquiries and why they differ from track to track. I`ve seen horses coming out of the gate and smashing into other horses. He wins, and the horse he ran into runs 2nd. But no change. Thanks.

Shandler:
Inquires are handled by a different group of stewards at each individual track. While all stewards have strict guidelines that they must follow, the final decision is ultimately a judgment call - kind of like an umpire in a baseball game. Of course, when people make judgment calls, they are open to criticism. That is why you see bettors, jockeys and trainers disagree with them all the time. As far as horses hitting one another coming out of the gate, that happens all the time and rarely does it warrant an inquiry. In cases like that, one horse must severely cross his path and take out another horse with a hard jolt.

Versailles, KY:
Jason, I really enjoyed your story on CLASSY John Servis. All of Smarty Jones connections are a wonderful example for the world. We hope to see you at Three Chimneys soon. Ann.

Shandler:
Thanks. I'm guessing that this is Ann Hayes, the tour director at Three Chimneys. For those of you who have not done it, you must take Ann's guided tour of the farm. It is enlightening and awe inspiring, especially to see Point Given, Dynaformer, Smarty, and pretty soon, Big Brown. John Servis has always been a class act. What I remember most about that run with Smarty is after he lost the Belmont. At a time when he must have been devastated, Servis found it within himself to congratulate Nick Zito after Birdstone's upset. And the fact that he did not get into a war of words after Dutrow's insensitive comments last week, that confirmed my opinion of him even more.

Lexington, KY:
Jason: If you had $100 to bet on the Belmont, what would your wager look like?

Shandler:
If I had $100 my bet would look like this: $1 superfecta Big Brown, Denis of Cork/Big Brown, Denis of Cork/All/All ($60). This way, I am basically making the race an exacta with my two top choices and not worrying about who slops up for third and fourth. My thinking is that the exacta and trifecta will both be very small if Big Brown wins, so the super is the only way to go. I would use the final $40 on a late Pick 4, singling Big Brown in the last leg. My late Pick 4 selections will be posted on my blog by Friday.

Elmont, NY:
Thanks for stopping by. I saw a recent video clip saying that you like Denis of Cork. What makes you think that a grandson of Storm Cat can distance effectively, where else does he get the Belmont stamina from his pedigree? I heard he never sired a Derby winner so far.

Shandler:
Denis of Cork is by Harlan's Holiday, who is out of the Affirmed mare Christmas in Aiken. Of course, Affirmed won the 1978 Belmont. Denis of Cork is out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Girl. Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic, both 1 1/4 miles. In light of this, I think Denis of Cork will enjoy the distance. I loved the way he closed in the Derby after a sluggish start. I think Denis of Cork will need some pace in the early part of the race to have an ideal chance, and he will certainly have to improve to beat Big Brown. In closing, I just think he is a horse on the rise, has the right running style for the Belmont, I like David Carroll as a trainer, and I like the switch to Robby Albarado as the rider.

Chicago, IL:
From a pure pedigree angle, should a Boundary horse be able to handle 12 furlongs?

Shandler:
Boundary was a sprinter himself and his sire, Danzig, was also. But Boundary's broodmare sire was Damascus, who won the 1967 Belmont. More importantly, I believe, is that sometimes special horses can outrun their pedigree. From a distance standpoint, I don't think the 12 furlongs will be a problem with Big Brown. He has proven he has plenty left in the tank at the end of two-turn races.

Milton, IN:
With the changes in the state breeding programs, what do you believe the chances are of the next big horse coming from somewhere outside of Kentucky?

Shandler:
I think it's been proven over the last few years with Funny Cide (NY), Smarty Jones (PA) and Afleet Alex (FL) that a horse does not have to be a Kentucky-bred to win Classic races. There are terrific horses bred in every state, many of which are not in the seven-figure range. As you indicated, the breeding programs that now financially encourage owners to race their horses for huge purses in-state will only help the chances of having "a big horse" come out of other states.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
Hi Jason. I've been a big fan of your Triple Crown blog with great delight and have enjoyed contributing to it as well as reading all the other entries in it. My question simply put is this, do you think that any horse that does not have an authoritative or militaristic name can win the Triple Crown. Only two horses with "silly" names have: Whirlaway and Seattle Slew. The other winners bear names such as Count Fleet, War Admiral, Secretariat, Affirmed. History has proven that there are few holes in my theory. Keep up the great work.

Shandler:
Thank you and I appreciate you blogging with me. I don't really get caught up in names as much as some people. It's always fun to see a familiar name in a racing program and put a couple bucks on that horse, but that's as far as I go in analyzing it. But sure, any horse can win the Triple Crown despite its name. For the record, I believe Big Brown fits into your definition of "silly names", and I do think he will win the Triple Crown.

Garland TX:
Hi Jason, Thanks for taking our questions. Do you think that Big Brown's hoof problems are from breeding, diet, or bad luck? When he stops racing, will they heal up completely?

Shandler:
I think Big Brown's hoof problems are probably primarily due to breeding and genetics, although I am certainly not an expert on this subject. I am no trainer, but I would surmise that the less he runs, the more the hoof would heal. I'm sure Three Chimneys will keep a close eye on his feet in the coming years and he will get the best of treatment.

Shoreview, MN:
I like to play trifectas...I am no handicapper, I just place bets for fun, in the hopes of picking the winners...my picks for this race are combinations of Big Brown, Casino Drive and Macho Again. I want to see a Triple Crown winner. That said, I think that if for some reason Big Brown doesn't run his race, and Casino Drive is a flop...my fun trifecta bet is Macho Again, Denis of Cork and Anak Nakal...what do you think?

Shandler:
If you believe Big Brown will win, this is not a great betting race. If he does win and the horses that you mention, Casino Drive and Macho Again, fill out the trifecta, the payout will be very small. In light of that, if you are just having fun with a few dollars, my advice would be to play trifecta box combinations that do not include both Big Brown and Casino Drive. You have to throw out one of those two favorites to have any chance at a big ticket. Since I do not like Casino Drive in this race, I would play combinations with Big Brown, Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati, and perhaps Ready's Echo and Macho Again. Make sure to box them in case Big Brown does get upset.

Saratoga Springs, NY:
If Colonel John and Big Brown, among others, run, who's going to win the Travers?

Shandler:
It's way too early to talk about who wins the Travers. But if Big Brown is healthy and runs, it would be hard not to like him. Let's get through the Belmont first.

Hillsdale, MI:
By how many lengths will Big Brown win the Belmont?

Shandler:
My guess is between two and three lengths.

Mason, OH:
What's your favorite type of bet? Do you concentrate on single race bets or multi-race bets?

Shandler:
I like betting exactas, trifectas and pick 3 and 4 bets. That's only because I like to risk little for a big reward. If, however, I was a professional betting horses for a living, I would only bet horses to win or show. That is the safest, and probably the only way, you can win at horse racing in the long run.

Monrovia, CA:
What is your favorite track and why?

Shandler:
My favorite racetracks to go to are Saratoga and Keeneland. I think they have great tradition and atmosphere. From a betting standpoint, I also like Keeneland because it seems that a lot of big prices come in every meet. I've had the most success, for whatever reason, betting Gulfstream and some of the smaller tracks like Mountaineer and Delta Downs.

Summerfield, IL:
What's your favorite type of race to bet (maiden, stakes, claiming, etc.)?

Shandler:
I enjoy betting all types of races, but graded stakes are my favorite for the simple reason of seeing the best horses run. But often times the best value is in maiden or claiming races, so I have no problem handicapping those types. I also prefer races with large fields. As an exotics player, this is usually where you can find overlays that produce large tickets.

New Orleans, LA:
Would you still be a horse racing fan if betting was no longer allowed?

Shandler:
Good question. I will always like horses, watching them run and writing about them, but honestly, without being able to bet races, it would take a lot of the joy out of it for me.

Newark, NJ:
How much do you usually bet per race? Do you have a set amount or does it depend on the type of race?

Shandler:
I am a small player. I usually play about $10-$20 per race - an exacta and a trifecta. Sometimes a pick 3 or 4. If I am up money for the day, I will increase my bets. Since I only bet a few times per month, I am always looking for the big score. I've cashed a few IRS tickets in my time, so that keeps me coming back for more, even though it's very difficult to win that way over a lifetime.

Ambler, PA:
Jason What do think the chances are of #9 Ready's Echo with Johnnie V aboard springing the upset on Saturday afternoon. Also is it a good idea to middle the horse?

Shandler:
Ready's Echo was closing very well in the Peter Pan. The more I look at him the more I think he can get a piece of the money in the Belmont. But to ask him to improve six lengths on Casino Drive, and then also spring the upset over Big Brown is just too much. I guess he is worth putting a few bucks across the board. He will be 30-1 or more, and anytime you can get a Pletcher/Velazquez horse at those odds ' even in the Belmont ' it's not a bad idea.

Rockland, MA:
Hello- I have enjoyed watching the beauty and athleticism of horse races since I was a kid. As an athlete myself I can relate to what seems to be the horses' desire to compete and run. However, this past weekend I witnessed a horse break its leg pretty badly, which was absolutely heartbreaking. With Barbaro and Eight Belles also recently breaking legs very publicly, how often does this really happen, and can you give me any insight into why it happens? I am scared to watch another race for fear I will see it happen again.

Shandler:
From the data I've seen, horses break down at a rate of about 1.6 times for every 1,000 starts. You're right, any time you see a horse break a leg it is devastating. While most people do not like to hear the answer 'it is part of the sport,' that is the reality. No matter how much safer we try to make racing surfaces, improve the breeding or regulate medications, breakdowns are going to happen. Now, with that being said, I do feel that strict medication regulation will significantly reduce the rate of injury. I believe the industry needs to implement a zero-tolerance rule on illegal medications and steroids, and ban any trainer for a minimum of five years if he/she is caught using illegal substances. The industry has gone too long without enforcing this and people want change. From my understanding, when horses continually race on medication it compromises their bodies, and over a long period of time it will wear them down. Some of the medications they are given also mask sore or tired bodies, so instead of a horse being given time off when it's needed, they are sent back on the racetrack, which increases the chance of injury. Most of the time this happens in the lower-level claiming races.

Los Angeles, CA:
What is your opinion on the training methods (the long walks, etc) for Casino Drive and, also, how does a horse keep fit standing in a barn over 23 hours a day?

Shandler:
The trainer who has been using this strategy with Casino Drive is the leading trainer in Japan, so he obviously knows what he is doing. With that being said, I am not completely buying the slow works he has turned in over the past two weeks. If you recall, Casino Drive worked five furlongs in a very fast :59.94 three days before the Peter Pan. On June 5 he worked four furlongs in about :57 in preparation for the Belmont. Apparently, the trainer had a different strategy for the Peter Pan. My opinion is that Casino Drive is a tired horse who regresses in the Belmont. He had two and a half months to prepare for the Peter Pan, and now will come back in less than four weeks to race 12 furlongs in his third career start. I think it will be too much for him.

Clayton,DE:
Hey Jason, first off just want you to know I love reading your blogs on the triple crown. My question is, and I know it's very unlikely to happen, is if Curlin and Big Brown did meet, on a good old fashion dirt track going 11/4, who do you think would win. I'm not talking about a match race, I'm saying any race.

Shandler:
Thank you. Appreciate you reading and blogging with me. Good question. I know everyone who is a fan of racing wants to see this happen. It is a dream match-up between the two best dirt horses in the world. You're right, I do think it is unlikely because there is a good chance Big Brown never races after the Belmont, despite what Mike Iavarone is saying right now. Also, Steve Asmussen has made it known that he is not a big fan of racing horses on synthetics surfaces, especially a horse like Curlin who has never tried it. If it did happen, my money would be on Curlin. A 4-year-old has a big advantage on a 3-year-old from a maturity standpoint. Curlin is peaking right now, whereas Big Brown, although we'll never see it, would probably do his best running next year. Both are exceptional horses, but Curlin is such a monster right now, I think he would win.

Baltimore, MD:
Why aren't there any actual racing conditions that must be met before being allowed to be entered in the Belmont (or other Triple Crown Stakes? A horse like Guadacanal breaking next to Big Brown scares me to death. If he should come in on him out of the gate and force him into the rail or to take back suddenly and compromise his chance to be the next Triple Crown winner would be a real shame.

Shandler:
The conditions are written into the original Triple Crown nominations. Basically, as long as a horse is nominated by the deadline, he or she is eligible to run in all three races. The only time qualifiers come into play is when the race is overfilled, in other words, when more horses are entered than are allowed to start. Usually that only comes into play in the Derby.

Baltimore, MD:
Why aren't there any actual racing conditions that must be met before being allowed to be entered in the Belmont (or other Triple Crown Stakes? A horse like Guadacanal breaking next to Big Brown scares me to death. If he should come in on him out of the gate and force him into the rail or to take back suddenly and compromise his chance to be the next Triple Crown winner would be a real shame.

Shandler:
The conditions are written into the original Triple Crown nominations. Basically, as long as a horse is nominated by the deadline, he or she is eligible to run in all three races. The only time qualifiers come into play is when the race is overfilled, in other words, when more horses are entered than are allowed to start. Usually that only comes into play in the Derby.

LAST UPDATED: 1:20 P.M. (ET)

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