Miner's Escape is the likely pacesetter in the Belmont Stakes.

Miner's Escape is the likely pacesetter in the Belmont Stakes.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Haskin's Belmont Report: Pace Makes the Race

The two key figures in the pace scenario for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes are Miner's Escape and Charitable Man. The former will be a longshot in the field of 10, while Charitable Man was made the 3-1 second choice behind Mine That Bird. So, let’s see how this may play out.


On paper, Miner’s Escape, despite coming off two victories racing right on the pace, does not have the speed of Charitable Man. Miner’s Escape is coming off two races in which the first three-quarters was run in 1:13 and 1:13 1/5. But those were slow tracks and trainer Nick Zito loves seeing his horses on the lead if he feels he can steal it, as he did last year with Da’ Tara. He likes it even more when he has another horse in the race who can pick up the pieces if Plan A fails.


Although Charitable Man won his career debut last year on the front end after setting a :45 2/5 half, the son of Lemon Drop Kid  seems more comfortable as a stalker, and he possesses the kind of strong, steady run that often wins the Belmont. The ideal scenario would be for him to sit right behind Miner’s Escape, grind him down, and then use his stamina to outstay the others.


Of course, that was Big Brown ’s strategy last year, and as we all know, the last anyone saw of Zito’s longshot on the lead who was supposed to stop was him drawing away from everyone in the stretch.


It would be a surprise if that happened again, as this looks to be a much deeper and talented field than last year. But Miner’s Escape is an improving colt with the pedigree to get the mile and a half and has won his last two by four lengths or more, so you never know.


Miner’s Escape breaks from post 9, with Charitable Man inside him in post 6, which means Miner’s Escape needs to break sharply and try for the lead in order not to get caught wide on the first turn, which is a disaster at Belmont. Charitable Man should have enough speed to let Miner’s Escape clear him and then come around him to get into a controlling position.


So, now that we’ve got the pace scenario pretty much nailed down, the question is, what’s going top be happening behind them? Chocolate Candy drew the rail, and while that’s not what his connections would prefer, it should not pose a problem. There is not a lot of second tier speed, so if he breaks well, Garrett Gomez will have plenty of time to come off the rail and settle in third or fourth. Also, look for Flying Private, who has sprinter’s speed, to be much closer to the pace, despite being way back in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. That was by circumstance, not design. This horse has good tactical speed when he gets a clean break. Rounding out the first five should be Zito’s other horse, Brave Victory, unless Zito employs the same tactics he did in the Peter Pan and takes him farther back. But this son of Lion Heart, who drew the outside post, showed good early lick in his first three career starts and did win a six-furlong allowance race in his 3-year-old debut.


Now, we come to Dunkirk, who, breaks from post 2. This talented son of Unbridled's Song has run well coming from two to seven lengths off the lead. He conceivably could be closer than sixth, but his main weapon in his turn of foot and his ability to cruise past horses without taking a lot out of himself. He should be racing in about sixth, anywhere from four to seven lengths off the lead. His sire, Unbridled’s Song, is questionable at 1 1/2 miles, so he probably would want to turn the race into a sprint the last three-eighths of a mile rather make this a test of stamina. If he is to outrun Charitable Man in the final furlong, he has to be within striking distance of him turning for home, because there are too many late-closing horses, mainly Mine That Bird, who should be coming late. The others are Summer Bird and Mr. Hot Stuff, both improving horses who are capable of making their presence felt in the stretch. Also, Luv Gov showed in his spectacular maiden victory at Churchill Downs on Derby Day that he has a big move in him.


The reason to think Chocolate Candy and possibly Dunkirk could be closer to the pace is that both colts are fresh, not having run since the Derby, and both were feeling good Wednesday morning, wanting to do a lot more than they did. Dunkirk was bouncing along walking to the track, constantly swishing his tail, and he was bouncing coming back after just jogging. He should be a handful to gallop tomorrow. Chocolate Candy was feeling frisky throughout and was jumping out of skin coming back after his gallop.


With the pace expected to be much slower than the Derby and especially the Preakness, Mine That Bird no doubt will be closer to the lead, but trainer Chip Woolley and jockey Calvin Borel are not going to want to alter the gelding’s running style that served him so well in those races. He’ll be back just far enough to enable him to make that big late run. The way Belmont Park plays, you don’t want to do anything dramatic with him too early. Ideally, you want him to run the exact the same race Afleet Alex did in 2005, which is move up gradually around the turn, while saving as much ground as possible. You definitely want to come between horses rather than try to circle the field – there usually are plenty of openings to weave your horse through.


Then, only use his big turn of foot once you get to the five-sixteenths pole. At that point, it’s OK to fan wide, as long as you have saved ground prior to that. The last thing you want to do with him is have him wide going into the turn – horses who do that usually flatten out after turning for home. So, the key is staying in contact with the leaders without turning on the juice too early. It’s a lot harder sustaining your run at Belmont than it is at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. Timing is everything with him, and Borel, with little experience at Belmont, must ride the course like he’s been here for years.


The ideal scenario is to have everyone in a position to win at the three-sixteenths pole and let the best horse win.