Ruler On Ice (above) won the 2011 Belmont Stakes on a sloppy track after stalking the pace from second. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
Sitting at Belmont Park on a dank Friday afternoon, as a tropical turbulence named Andrea bears down on the Big Apple, it’s becoming clear that a new stakes should be added to Saturday’s Belmont Stakes undercard.
Let’s call it the Noah and the Ark Stakes.
Belmont’s main track was a sea of goo at mid-afternoon Friday, and while the storm may run its course by Saturday afternoon, the 145th Belmont figures to be contested on a wet track – unless the New York Racing Association pours 100 tons of kitty litter on the track.
With that understanding hovering in the background, wet-track form becomes a primary factor in handicapping the final jewel of the Triple Crown. But what should you look for? A closer? A front-runner?
At this point, a review of recent editions of the Belmont could provide some helpful nuggets of information, so here’s a quick review of what has happened in the last 33 years when Mother Nature has rained on the parade at Belmont Park:
2011 – Track: Sloppy; Winner: Ruler On Ice; Odds: 24-1; Sire: Roman Ruler
On a river of slop, speed ruled the day. Preakness winner Shackleford set the early pace and faded to fifth, but later races in his career showed he didn’t care much for an off-track. Longshots Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty were 2-3 early and finished 1-2. The only one who did much running from the back of the pack was Brilliant Speed. He was ninth after the opening quarter and finished third, 2 ¼ lengths behind the winner.
2003 – Track: Sloppy; Winner: Empire Maker; Odds: 2-1; Sire: Unbridled
Funny Cide’s Triple Crown hopes ran aground on the rocks of a soaked, sloppy track when heavy storms turned Belmont’s main track into a sea of goo. Empire Maker pressed the pace of even-money favorite Funny Cide from second, took over at the quarter pole and held off Ten Most Wanted in the stretch. Ten Most Wanted was fifth in a field of six after a half-mile, but was only 3 ¼ lengths off the lead.
1993 – Track: Good; Winner: Colonial Affair; Odds: 13-1; Sire: Pleasant Colony
On a day that turned dark, cold and rainy at post time, the track was downgraded to good while the field was leaving the paddock. The race went to a closer as the speed flopped, though 63-1 shot Antrim Rd. set the pace and right behind him was Cherokee Run, who was a miler at best. Colonial Affair was ninth after a half-mile, a little more than seven lengths off the lead. He made a 4-5 wide move on the turn and powered clear in the stretch. Kissin Kris rallied from 12th after a half-mile to take second and Wild Gale, who tracked in fourth much of the way, was third.
1992 – Track: Good; Winner A.P. Indy; Odds: 11-10; Sire: Seattle Slew
The sun came out and dried out a wet track, which was labeled “good” for the race. Speed held up for much of the card (though stone-cold closer Strike the Gold won the Nassau County on a muddy track in the race before the Belmont) and horses close to the pace controlled the Belmont, though, the winner, A.P. Indy, was the best horse in the field. A.P. Indy, My Memoirs and Pine Bluff, who finished 1-2-3, were 4th, 5th and 3rd, respectively, after a half-mile, with A.P. Indy only 2 ¼ lengths behind the leader at that point.
A.P. INDY WINNING 1992 BELMONT
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com
1990 – Track: Good; Winner: Go And Go; Odds: 7-1; Sire: Be My Guest
On another drying-out track, speed held up fairly well. The victorious Go And Go was fifth along the inside after a half-mile, about 3 ¾ lengths behind the leader, moved up on the turn, then tipped outside in the stretch and drew off to win by 8 ¼ lengths. The pacesetting Thirty Six Red and Baron de Vaux, who moved up to second on the backstretch, finished second and third.
1986 – Track: Sloppy; Winner: Danzig Connection; Odds: 8-1; Sire: Danzig
A wet, rainy day was once again a blessing for speed. Danzig Connection, trainer Woody Stephens’ fifth straight Belmont winner, tracked the pacesetting Mogambo in second from the outside for about a mile, then forged to the front midway on the turn and fended off stretch bids from Johns Treasure and Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand, both of whom were outside of him, to win by 1 ¼ lengths. Ferdinand was third and Johns Treasure fourth after a half-mile, which showed respect for the speed-favoring surface. Ferdinand had been 16th and last after a half-mile in the Kentucky Derby.
1985 – Track: Muddy; Winner: Creme Fraiche; Odds: 5-2 entry; Sire: Rich Cream
The rain had stopped at post time, but the heavy, drying-out track was labeled “muddy” and the closers thrived. Stephens ran 1-2 as Creme Fraiche, who was ninth after a half-mile (about nine lengths behind), won the race and Stephan’s Odyssey, who was last in the field of 11 at that point (16 lengths behind), took second. Favored Chief’s Crown, who was fourth after a half-mile, 2 ¾ lengths behind the leader, took third as the three logical horses ran 1-2-3.
1982 – Track: Sloppy; Winner: Conquistador Cielo; Odds 4-1; Sire: Mr. Prospector
Another monsoon, and speed, speed and more speed. Conquistador Cielo, just five days after winning the Met Mile, opened a clear advantage after a half-mile and never was challenged. He won by 14 lengths, giving no chance to Derby winner Gato Del Sol, who closed from 8th after a half-mile to finish second. Illuminate, who was last at that point and wound up third.
CONQUISTADOR CIELO WINNING 1982 BELMONT
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com
1980 – Track: Muddy. Winner: Temperence Hill; Odds: 53-1; Sire: Stop the Music.
Water was visible on a track listed as “muddy” and it was Temperence Hill who came from behind to stage a stunning upset. He was eighth after a half-mile, though he was just 5 1/4 lengths behind the pacesetting Comptroller. Temperence Hill then moved into contention from the outside on the turn, joining Rockhill Native and Genuine Risk who were inside of him. It was those three at the quarter pole and in the stretch Temperence Hill edged clear in the final furlong. Rockhill Native was second after a half-mile and Genuine Risk fifth. It spoke volumes that Rockhill Native, who was anything but a stayer, finished third at a mile and a half on the wet track.
So what do those nine wet and soggy Belmonts tell us?
If the rain persists on Saturday and the sloppy main track could pass for the Hudson River, look for speed, or more specifically someone like Freedom Child who won by 13 ¼ lengths in Belmont’s Peter Pan Stakes.
If normalcy returns and the track dries out, then the horses on or pressing for the lead will have their work cut out for them. Closers with mud form, like Orb, Revolutionary and Golden Soul, should stand a better chance on the wet but not water-logged track. A muddy track might help a deep closer like Golden Soul or perhaps Revolutionary, while a good track should help a horse who stays within comfortable striking distance of the lead, say fourth or fifth. Several horses can fit into that category.
So there’s an overview. Now let’s see what Mother Nature has in store for us on Saturday while we salute the Belmont Stakes with an old refrain. Here’s mud in your eye, folks.