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One week does not a trend make, but if this goes longer, I could get real used to it.
That would be big race days without Bob "Silver-Maned" Baffert boppin' all over my viewing screen.
But we'll get to him later - there's much to do on that front - and talk about a potentially wonderful day of racing.
Our focus shifts east to beautiful Belmont Park, Elmont, NY, for the 153rd Belmont Stakes. There's no Triple Crown on the line, just as well, but this race and a menu of other stakes will do quite nicely.
This is Belmont's big day. Besides fields being on the short side, we'll find out how our old friends are doing. The Belmont, at 12 furlongs, is an anomaly, but maybe it will help us sort out these blasted three-year-olds. None of these ran in both the Derby and the Preakness. The majority were in Kentucky and skipped the Preakness.
Keep in mind throughout the card that top jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was unseated Thursday and banged up on the fall. X-rays were negative and he's expected to be out for a number of weeks. He'll probably be replaced on his mounts Saturday by a variety of jockeys.
In post order:
1. Bourbonic (jockey Kendrick Carmouche, trainer Todd Pletcher, morning line 15-1)
His claim to fame is a win in the Wood Memorial, with a tepid, and top, 89 Beyer Speed Figure. He was 13th in the Derby. At his best, he's a deep closer, but he'll probably be back too far to do it here. Todd, he's a miler.
2. Essential Quality (Luis Saez, Brad Cox, 2-1 ML favorite)
He won five straight, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, before a tough-trip fourth in the Derby. His class willed out as he was only a length back, enough to like him here, at the wire. His sire, Tapit has produced three (Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit) Belmont winners. With challengers, he'll need to put in a professional performance and Saez must measure him all the way and time his move perfectly. I'm not wild about 2-1, which portends chalk at Big Sandy.
3. Rombauer (John Velazquez, Michael McCarthy, 3-1)
Your Preakness winner, the little colt reminds me of Birdstone, probably in appearance only, who thwarted Smarty Jones in the 2004 Belmont. Flavien Prat rides Hot Rod Charlie, but in Johnny V., nobody knows Belmont better. He had a 14-point Beyer improvement in the Preakness, so that's either coming into his own, or a total giraffe figure. This is even headier company, so he'll need a lot of help up front. I had him at Pimlico at 12-1, won't get that here, but will include.
4. Hot Rod Charlie (Flavien Prat, Doug O'Neill, 7-2)
Son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow, Prat aggressively got him up to third in the Derby. He won the Louisiana Derby against a quality field and was nipped by Essential Quality in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Close third in the Robert Lewis and a close win in a $55,000 maiden race last fall. That's my point. He'll need to step up from his 100 Derby Beyer, and in general. A tough task in a 12-furlong race for a horse who loves to be up front. Damsire Indian Charlie is likely a distance red flag. They say he's loaded for bear in workouts. He needs to stay on the improve. I can't say I see him winning.
5. France Go de Ina (Ricardo Santana Jr. Hideyki Mori, 30-1)
Everything says no, but he seems to have heart, if not enough talent. He kept up for awhile there in the Preakness (only a 77 Beyer!) before fading to seventh. His only angle is to love the really long distance. I'll fly on him. Call me irresponsible.
6. Known Agenda (TBD, Todd Pletcher, 6-1)
If his price stays there or higher, this could be a gift. He looked strong by three in his Florida Derby win, but drew the dreaded one post at Churchill Downs. While he ran relatively well in Kentucky, he's going to need to step up pretty bigger than his 94 Beyer at Gulfstream. With the undeserved hype he got for the Derby, his 10-1 there was a little light. With sire Curlin (Smart Strike) on his side, he figures to contend. I think.
7. Rock Your World (Joel Rosario, John Sadler, 9-2)
Put a line through his Derby. He got a terrible trip. He beat Medina Spirit by nearly five in the Santa Anita Derby, which may shed light on Baffert's meds organization. If you look at the Derby as a workout and learning experience, he'll be ready. Include.
8. Overtook (Manny Franco, Todd Pletcher, 20-1)
Another Curlin (Smart Strike), he has the distance cred. But he's only won once in five races, an $80k maiden special weight, and had only an 84 Beyer in his last, third in the Grade III Peter Pan here. He's going to need every inch of 12 furlongs, with others hitting the exit ramps. He'll get blinkers on for the first time, and Pletcher is 18 percent on that angle. Not bad. flyer.
Savor The Whole Day
We were given some bad news the past couple days as Swiss Skydiver and Valiance both spiked fevers and will not go in the 53rd The Ogden Phipps Stakes. (Grade I, 1-1/16 miles, Four-and up, dirt, $500,000). 'Skydiver has been really up and down in the past year with the arrow pointing up for the Phipps. Valiance hasn't run since November's Breeders' Cup Distaff.
But there should be a showdown between Letruska, a thrilling, driving winner by a nose over superwoman Monomoy Girl in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April; and Shedaresthedevil, your 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner, Azeri winner at Oaklawn in March and best in the LaTroienne on this year's Oaks undercard. Your other shot might be Bonny South, winner of the Grade III Doubledogdare in April at Keeneland. This is a step up in class.
Knicks Go, morning line 6-5, is the buzz horse in the 127th Metropolitan Handicap (Grade I, 1 mile, dirt, $1,000,000), better known as The Met Mile. But he'll have to prove it, at a prohibitive price. He's flush with four triple-digit Beyer Speed figures and wins, including the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the Pegasus World Cup Invitational. But he ran into a brick wall in the Saudi Cup in February, finishing fourth. I can't find an angle, although the mile seems up his alley. He's never run at Belmont.
He'll have a lot to deal with in Mischevious Alex, Dr. Post, and Silver State. I love this race. It's not a sprint, but these guys can't afford to dilly-dally.
Domestic Spending, Gufo and Colonel Liam all figure to duke it out in The Manhattan (Grade I, 1-1/4 miles turf, $750,000). They all come in relatively hot. I'll take a flyer on Channel Cat, who cuts back in distance.
The Bob Baffert saga continues. The second, split sample from Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit also tested positive for betamethasone, a steroid.
On Wednesday, Churchill Downs banned Baffert from running any horses from his barn, even under another trainer's name, at any Churchill track until after the 2023 spring meet is over.
Churchill cited Baffert's "increasingly extraordinary explanations" for his slew of drug violations, including the hay salesman did it, the groom did it, my assistant did it, the vet did it.
The New York Racing Association had also banned Baffert indefinitely from its tracks Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga. NBC reported Friday that Monmouth will allow Baffert to run there. I wonder why the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission did not itself ban Baffert from all Kentucky tracks.
Until a few things happen, I believe this is garbage starting to rot.
Churchill has said it will take away the Derby from Medina Spirit and Baffert. I assume that will happen, but I'm not sure if some sort of appeals process has to run its course first.
Then, either the Stronach tracks or, better yet, the California Horse Racing Board needs to suspend Baffert.
Keeneland needs to suspend him and, because the Breeders' Cup is actually headquartered in Lexington, they need to keep Baffert out of the Breeders' Cup.
A more difficult task will be to get owners to keep horses away from him. As Jerry Bailey said on NBC Friday, turning into 2022, if an owner knows his horse can't run in that Derby, why give his horse to Baffert?
If you subscribe to the theory that no one, in sentencing, should be made an example of simply because of who he is, no.
In this case, Baffert should be taken out of racing because he is Baffert. Not only one of the winningest trainers by many measures, but now one of the most corrupt.
Just look at the Derby. I had Mandaloun. Baffert ruined the pari-mutuel payouts on a goddamned fix. Messing with the betting is the mortal sin in racing. His is in no effing way too big to fail; he saw to that himself.
It sickens me, but I don't believe he will pay nearly the price he should for his arrogant, blatant cheating. This is America, where everything is OK, if even only one deranged person says it is so.
I say, bust him down to sitting in a McLaughlin, Nevada casino selling tout sheets. I won't miss him.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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