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Belmont Doings: Turn For the Worse

Belmont Park can be a horse's best friend or worst enemy. The same goes for jockeys

Belmont Park can be a horse’s best friend or its worst enemy. And the same goes for jockeys. To those who take the time to get to know Big Sandy’s idiosyncrasies, mainly its big sweeping turns, it can prove to be time well spent. To those who arrive to the party fashionably late, it can be a rude awakening come Belmont Stakes (gr. I) day.

But on other occasions, a horse’s raw talent can overcome anything. We’ll see how that plays out June 5 when three newcomers to Belmont – jockeys Martin Garcia, Joel Rosario, and Jamie Theriot – come face to face with what some strangers consider the turn from hell.


Remember the move Calvin Borel made in last year’s Belmont aboard Mine That Bird? Passing the five-sixteenths pole, Mine That Bird swept by horses to challenge for the lead and looked like a horse on his way to a Belmont victory. But Borel, unfamiliar with Belmont’s notorious turns, had gone into the turn about four-wide, stayed wide all the way around there, and paid the price.


The most important rule when it comes to Belmont is simply this: Do not go into the far turn wide. If you do, your horse, no matter how fast he’s going and how many horses he passes, will most almost certainly come up empty once he turns into the stretch.


Unless a horse has an abundance of stamina and great lung capacity, he will not be able to lose that much ground on the turn of no return and keep going.


One might say: “but I’ve seen horses go wide turning for home and win.” That is true; it happens often. But on those occasions, almost all the time the horse will save ground going into the turn, and the rider will then begin looking for seams to ease his way out. The turn is so long, there is plenty of time to wait for those seams to appear. Then, when you hit the five-sixteenths pole you can swing wide if you have to and still have a relatively fresh horse who has not expended too much energy losing ground on the turn.


Now, if you have a Forego, meaning a superstar with stamina and a humongous stride, then you can afford to lose ground. But you can count the number of Foregos on one hand – maybe even one finger.


Another general rule regarding the Belmont Stakes is: don’t be too far back at the quarter pole. Despite its configuration, Belmont is for the most part a speed-favoring track. Jeremy Rose, who rode Afleet Alex  in the 2005 Belmont Stakes, gave his horse a textbook ride on how to win the Test of the Champion from far back. Once into the turn, he had Alex weave his way between horses, picking his spots along the way, and remained patient until it came time to pull the trigger. Alex was able to save ground and reach contention nearing the stop of the stretch, and when Rose stepped on the gas, the result was devastating.


And finally, in the Belmont Stakes, try at all costs to avoid going into the first turn wide. If you lose too much ground getting around that turn it likely will catch up to you later on.


Another variant that can throw the Belmont Stakes for a loop is slop. There are various kinds of slop at Belmont – from a deep, tiring track to a blazing-fast track.


With Saturday’s forecast changed from sunny to scattered thunderstorms, you have to go over the horses again and try to figure out which ones will love the slop and which ones will despise it.


We already know Ice Box  can handle it, as can Make Music For Me and Stay Put. Others should handle it well because of their pedigree. First Dude ’s maternal great-grandsire is Relaunch and that alone all but assures he’ll love the slop. But he does have additional slop influences, so few doubts about him. Stately Victor’s paternal great-grandsire is Valid Appeal, like Relaunch a son of In Reality, and Valid Appeal is at least equal to Relaunch as a slop influence, if not more so. Dave in Dixie has a ton of slop breeding, especially in his female family.


Two Hall of Fame trainers were in attendance for the first time the morning of June 3, as Nick Zito sent out Ice Box and Fly Down for gallops on the training track, and Bob Baffert sent out Game on Dude for a solid gallop on the main track. For his first time over the track, Game On Dude looked terrific, as if he’d been training at Belmont all his life. His gallop was strong and he moved over the track beautifully.