Ah sum-sum-summertime. It’s almost here.
The weather has been warming nicely in the Northeast. Memorial Day arrives next weekend and the racing action is heating up. Monmouth Park, a vital cog in the Mid-Atlantic region, reopens Friday and the Belmont Stakes (G1) is only two weeks away.
We all need the change of season. As summer approaches, many of the COVID-19 restrictions are easing. Fans are returning to the racetracks. We are all moving about with greater freedom.
Racing could certainly use a dose of sunshine. The spring was clouded by controversy and suspensions and we still don’t have an official Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.
Let’s welcome in those lazy, hazy days as we look ahead, not back. And don’t forget the sunscreen.
Regular readers of this column know that I hold the first two legs of this year’s Triple Crown in low regard.
Putting aside the medication controversy, Medina Spirit did what he needed to do by controlling the pace in the Derby. The compact colt deserves full marks while the rest of the field failed to show up. It was a front-running snoozer.
Two weeks later, Rombauer pulled a stunner in the Preakness (G1) by rallying past Medina Spirit and Midnight Bourbon who were both running on fumes in deep stretch.
From winter into spring, I felt there was depth and quality in this crop of 3-year-olds. They haven’t shown it yet, and perhaps they won’t until later in the summer into the handicap stakes in the fall.
The Belmont on June 5 would be a good starting point on the road to collective redemption. The final jewel of the Triple Crown could be the race that sets things right with potential for an excellent contest.
Only three Derby runners returned for the Preakness: Medina Spirit, Midnight Bourbon and Keepmeinmind. No member of that trio is advancing to the Belmont (at least at this moment).
Rombauer will take aim at the “Test of the Champion” in a bid for two thirds of this year’s Crown. He finished the Preakness with good energy and some bettors will assume his closing kick works in the 1 ½-mile Belmont.
Perhaps. Keep in mind that speed is always a key tactical advantage, even in the Belmont. You don’t have to set the pace, but it helps to stay within a reasonable range of the leaders.
Rombauer was 11-1 in the Preakness. One fascinating aspect of the Belmont will be the serious players’ opinion of Rombauer. As they say in the detective movies: “Follow the money.” His price will be shorter in the Belmont. The question is: how much lower?
We could see an unusual situation — a Preakness winner rated no better than third or fourth betting choice in the Belmont.
That’s a reflection of the depth and quality of the potential lineup two weeks out from the race. Essential Quality, Hot Rod Charlie and Rock Your World all figure to be at or below Rombauer’s final odds.
Hang on to your pennies. There could be some enticing value options in this year’s Belmont.
Top jockeys sometimes go through stretches where everything they ride is golden.
For many years, Mike Smith was the man with the magic touch. Not only did Smith ride brilliantly but he always landed on the right horse at the right time.
John Velazquez is now the jockey in that groove. He guided Medina Spirit to the surprise Derby victory and was aboard for the third-place finish in the Preakness.
With Medina Spirit getting a well-deserved rest, Velazquez needed a Belmont mount. So where does he land? On the Preakness winner.
Flavien Prat, in the saddle for Rombauer’s Preakness victory, opted to ride Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont.
It is eerie, almost freaky, how often those things work out. Lose a Derby mount, pick up a Preakness winner.
I’m not convinced Rombauer is the best horse in the Belmont. It won’t hurt his cause to have the hottest big-money rider in the irons.
Mike Farrell has worked in thoroughbred and harness racing for much of his career in journalism. Mike is a turf writer, harness writer, and handicapper, covering and analyzing races at dozens of racetracks around the country. Based on the East Coast, Mike has covered the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup for a number of publications, including Daily Racing Form, as well as The Associated Press. He spends time at Gulfstream Park taking in the races, and also hits the harness racing circuit in the Northeast region. He’s been a fixture at The Hambletonian and the Haskell Invitational for longer than he’d like to remember.