Smile Politely

End of the trail

Summer BirdFor the fickle fan, the Belmont Stakes doesn’t seem to offer much this year. Neither the winner of the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness Stakes have tossed in their bids to contest the mammoth 1 ½-mile distance at “Big Sandy,” and of the horses entered, only four were in previous legs of the Triple Crown. But there’s something unique about this Belmont; the runners-up from the Derby and Preakness, Ice Box and First Dude, were both impressive in their second-place finishes to the respective winners, and now will be vying to see which of them can survive the grueling distance of the Belmont. Both of these colts fell only a few strides short of achieving the biggest win of their lives in these races; now, they have a chance to come out on top in the biggest dogfight in the dusk of spring. This year, the final leg of the Triple Crown is essentially a duel of the underdogs.

There is an intriguing aspect to this Ice Box versus First Dude rivalry: their running styles are the exact opposite of one another. While First Dude nearly stole the Preakness running wire-to-wire, and was only outdueled in the final jumps of the race at Pimlico, Ice Box likes to win his races from coming out of the clouds to nip the wire in the last possible moment. In the Florida Derby, Ice Box won only by the slimmest of margins after putting in an impossible late kick to stifle Pleasant Prince in the last breath in the shadow of the wire, and if not for having to battle his way through a 19-horse field in the Kentucky Derby after trailing the pack, the colt may have been able to cut corners like Super Ice BoxSaver and score a victory in the Kentucky Derbybut even his fast-closing kick couldn’t make up for lost ground. First Dude did everything right in the Preakness Stakes, and was only defeated by the tenacity of the valiant Lookin at Lucky in the last few strides of the race. While it seems Ice Box would relish the extra distance of the Belmont, First Dude’s chances of leading a 1 ½-mile race and winning it seem a little less certain. But if Da’ Tara can do it, why not the game First Dude? Belmont itself is a speed-favoring track, after all; but don’t forget that last year’s winner, Summer Bird, came from near the back of the pack to win the race by saving ground. That’s the name of the game in this test of champions.

The question to consider now is, will the chance at redemption for Ice Box or First Dude by stolen by an outsider? There are twelve horses entered the 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes, and plenty of chances at upsets. If the long distance, a poor trip, or a misjudgment by jockey on those daunting turns makes both of these horses fumble, several contenders have a legitimate chance to pick up the pieces. Case number one is Fly Down, the winner of the 1 1/8th-mile Grade II Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on May 8th. Ridden by Belmont regular John Velasquez, Fly Down made a good field look like a bunch of wanna-bes when the colt romped by 6 lengths with a last-to-first victory. Also in that race was Drosselmeyer, who ran good enough for second, but was nowhere near as classy in an effort where he really had no excuse for being so far behind the winner.

Make Music for Me, who finished 4th in the Kentucky Derby, is trying to make his trainer, Alexis Barba, the first woman trainer to win the a Triple Crown race. Music has a good shot based on his barometer, Lookin at Lucky; in three different stakes races, he ran second or third to the Preakness winner, and his effort in the Derby forces his opponents to take him seriously. The biggest detractor for Make Music for Me is the fact he’s never won over a fast dirt track. The upside? The forecast for Elmont, New York, on Saturday is calling for a chance of thunderstorms, and we all know what the track was like the day of the Kentucky Derby.

Uptowncharlybrown is back after sitting on the bench for the first two legs of the Triple Crown; though he has not duplicated the winning form he displayed in his first two starts, the lightly-raced colt has some excuses for his most recent disappointing efforts. In the Tampa Bay Derby, Uptowncharlybrown endured a bad trip and ended up placing fifth, with such notables as Odysseus, Schoolyard Dreams, and Super Saver finishing in front of him. In his last bid for graded earnings before the Derby, Charly ran a good race over the tricky Polytrack at Keeneland to nab third place in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes. The winner of the Lexington, Exhi, has since come back to win the Marine Stakes at Woodbine by 4 ½ lengths. So if you’re measuring Charly by what he’s faced, the contenders in the Belmont Stakes have quite a bit to live up to if they’re going to measure up to the sort of beasts Charly is used to tangling with.

Though there may be no Triple Crown on the line, and no rematch of the Derby and Preakness winner, the 1 1/2-mile test of the Belmont Stakes has the reputation of producing a star to follow for the rest of the year. Last year gave us Summer Bird, who didn’t win the Derby or Preakness, but went on to win the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup; two years before that, we saw a thrilling stretch duel between Curlin and the filly Rags to Riches; there’s no telling what the future may hold for the eventual winner of this most daunting of 3-year-old races… or, for that matter, the runner-up.


Post positions, contenders, and morning-line odds. 

  1. Dave in Dixie (20-1)
  2. Spangled Star (30-1)
  3. Uptowncharlybrown (10-1)
  4. Make Music for Me (10-1)
  5. Fly Down (9-2)
  6. Ice Box (3-1)
  7. Drosselmeyer (12-1)
  8. Game On Dude (10-1)
  9. Stately Victor (15-1)
  10. Stay Put (20-1)
  11. First Dude (7-2)
  12. Interactif (12-1)


The 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes will air live on NBC at 4pm ET. The undercard races will air live on HRTV and TVG.

More Articles