TrackNotes: Not Upset At All

Horse racing nearly always exists in circular logic, no pun there to be pardoned.

We love the stars, sometimes even to destination viewing. Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Goldikova, California Chrome, Gio Ponti, Zenyatta, I guess. American Pharoah was a million-lumens time exposure and we felt damn lucky he saw it through all the way to the Breeders' Cup Classic before retiring at three. Seabiscuit and then Secretariat soothed their times and were the toasts of the globe.

But a consistent winner, or dominator, is also the wolf, stifling betting scenarios through tote favoritism.

Sorry, we don't got dat dis year. Despite all of those people who should know better than to project their champagne wishes and caviar dreams on a horse we like - like - like War of Will. Who I thought was going to be just as tired yesterday as he was.

Sir Winston, a son of Awesome Again out of the Afleet Alex - I loved that horse - mare Le Gran Bailadora, "upset" the 151st Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

I hate labels, which is how they called it an upset over Kentucky Derby mugging victim and Preakness winner War of Will, second favorite at 5-2, and race favorite Tacitus (9-5), who finished second after running probably some coupla hundred yards more while wide much of the time. Winston 10-1 and me hitting the life jacket exacta - $48 on the $1 dollar exacta $20 wagered - I was not upset at all.

Sir Winston paid $22.40, $8.80 and $6.00 in one of the very few lucratives of the day.

Joevia, the one-horse, inheriting the lead after the four Tax didn't seem to want it, set the pace much of the way with quickish opening splits of 23-and-four and 48-and-three.

Owner Terry Farmer, a Kentucky-based owner and Bluegrass State hierarchy denizen, having been told at least a few times he looks like the prime minister, Sir' was named after Winston Churchill. In the depression of the week with what we saw from stinky orange lard load, I was waiting for one of those birdie snipes complaining about how the horse who won in New York wasn't named after an American.

The racing media is no different than much of the other, and it seems to want to keep things in a certain comfortable order. Mike Watchmaker, the Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, went nine dimensions of backhanded non-diss on Sir Winston. "He wasn't impossible on paper."

Yes, the rail, as at Pimlico's Preakness, was the halo of success. All week. Big Sandy, as it always does, generally paid no good to stone closers, so racing Saturday required honest, all-race effort.

Joel Rosario and 'Winston seemed to enjoy the day, sitting mid- to back-pack, keeping in mind how long those one-and-a-half miles can be. Stewart Elliott ruined Smarty Jones in the fastest middle quarters of all time, after spending Belmont week hitting the late night talk shows.

Tacitus and Jose Ortiz were just ahead of him, but he was in the 3-4 lane, while 'Winston, like my Galaxy 5000 turntable, tracked precisely on the rail groove. He even pulled a Phil Georgeff and spun out of the turn like a sling shot. Around they went, subtle changes and moves that make racing so exciting, War of Will pumped it up at the top of the turn, which he had to do, but the needle went E and he finished ninth, second to last. Tacitus appeared to be the best horse on the day, for all 12 furlongs, but he may have run 13.

Digress, Bourbon War creeped back up to 10-1 off a 12-1 morning line and once as low as 6-1, which was way too low. Former jockey and horse riding track interviewer Donna Brothers said the Belmont Stakes is run two-thirds on the turns, as sweeping as those turns are.

I don't know if I liked Sir Winston or his 10-1 nose. He hadn't won a race of any import, but he was keeping good company, including Tacitus. He fit my giraffe angle, running a 100 Beyer Speed Figure in the Peter Pan right here at Belmont, after middling 80s and a clunk 65 in the Blue Grass Stakes just before. But it seemed the jockey change from Julien Leparoux, a nice underachiever who's better on turf, to wily Rosario paid off. 'Winston trainer Mark Casse also trains War of Will.

Many people worry about the Eclipse Awards that crown division "champions." I prefer the running. But Derby delinquent Maximum Security's owners, Gary and Mary West, got a lot of comebackin' to do. Duck the Preakness is one thing, but get the horse back on the track.

* * *

Belmont Stakes Day is better than it used to be, Triple Crown or no. But while the dais denizens Randy Moss and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey called it one of the greatest racing days of the year, besides the Breeders' Cup, or even one of the greatest racing cards of all time, except for the Breeders' Cup, further scrutiny is required.

It was good, but many of the fields were short with enough scratches to pique curious. Payouts weren't enough for a ham-and-cheese at a good Manhattan deli.

The Metropolitan Handicap, known now as the Met Mile, was touted as the best race ever. Fine, but the ones who were bums, in my mind, ran to their bumdom. The names were there, McKinzie, Thunder Snow, (ugh) Firenze Fire, Pavel. But worst-kept-secret wiseguy Mitole, an enjoyable and versatile horse who made this his seventh straight win, stretched to that mile and will never pay $9 again. I'll never feel guilty about cashing a ticket, but this one seemed easy pickings.

Belmont's sandy loam nearly started on fire in The Acorn, the Grade I $700,000 dirt mile for fillies. Guarana, an apple of Ghostzapper's eye - have you heard this before? - ran as eyepopping fast as the 'Zap, with a twist.

Serengeti Empress, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, did the atomic in blasting to go and setting early splits of 21-and-four and 43-and-four, just for starters. Jose Ortiz, jabbing with brother Irad, stayed with that pace, picked up Serengeti's jacks and continued with Guarana, winning by six and setting a new race record of 1:33.58. It was marvelous to watch. She stayed all through the wire just like her old man.

I'm not saying this is or will be a great season. We'll know something after the races are run.

As for me, it's hunkering down to handicapping.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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