Preview: Belmont Stakes

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11.50 Belmont: Belmont Stakes (Grade 1)

Pretty clear storyline tonight: American Pharoah wins the Belmont and becomes the first conquer of the Triple Crown in ages. That’s the theory at least, or what the betting is telling us. Well, in fact many experts were making strong cases for this scenario as well. Pharoah’s relaxed attitude, lack of real opposition and so on where all brought up. And rightly so.

It would be massive for our sport if American Pharoah could make it happen – the sport needs superstars. Pharoah already is a star, of course. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. But win the Triple Crown and immortality beckons. While he was still heavily challenged in the Derby, he hacked up at sloppy Pimlico – but here’s the all important question: can he show the same class over in the Belmont Stakes, a race which puts an alien like test to him?

Alien like because the 12f trip is a marathon distance for US racing. Something comparable with 2m in Europe. That’s down the nature of US racing. Emphasis is on early speed, unlike in Europe.

Personally I’m wary. I was sceptical before the Preakness, back then voicing concerns about the potential third leg of the Tripe Crown. American Pharoah doesn’t give me the impression to be a stayer. He’s speedy and powerful, but on pedigree you would give him very little chance to go as far as 12f.

Now, he has the right attitude, he really has! And he usually hits the line strongly – so happened in the Derby and the Preakness – plus there is there general perception of the lack of classy opposition in the Belmont Stakes, which many believe there is just nobody who’s capable of beating him.

My view is: that all counts for nothing if he doesn’t stay the trip. It’s that simple. Yes, my heart is with him tonight, all fingers crossed when he enters the home straight. But my money won’t be.

So let’s check out Pharoah’s opposition, shall we? I’m a huge fan of Mike De Kock and South African racing, so I’d love to see Mubtaahij running a mighty race. He swerved the Preakness, which was probably the right decision. But I’ve trouble to see him getting home over this trip. Unfortunately.

Derby fourth Frosted is thought to be the biggest danger to American Pharoah. He also comes here as a fresh horse and seems likely to appreciate the trip. He wasn’t well positioned at Churchill Downs, staying on well from the back. On pedigree he has a fair chance to stay 12f, but it’s not a given either.

Tale Of Vale came from a long way back to finish second in the Preakness, albeit still decisively beaten by Pharoah. Not sure if this performance reflects his true ability. He didn’t really excel in minor races before. So I’m rather cautious – he might not be able to back it up. Though the longer trip may well suit.

Staying on in the Derby was Materiality. A son of Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, he may appreciated the trip. Whether he is good enough is another question. At least he already is a Grade 1 winner, so can’t be easily discounted. Might be an interesting alternative against the red hot favourite.

However I find Keen Ice more appealing at a much bigger price. He also didn’t go to Pimlico, and is closely matched with Materiality on the Kentucky Derby form, as he finished behind him in 7th. Keen Ice encountered a troubled run, travelling way off the pace. He was hampered and short of room in the closing stages, but finished the race well enough.

He’s a son of Belmont Stakes runner-up Curlin, who can get offspring capable of staying the Belmont trip, like in 2013 with Palace malice – his stock sometimes needs a while to hit best form as well. Keen ice has some fair Belmont form in his dam line too.

That brings me to my final point: the heart is with American Pharoah – if he wins tonight he’s to be considered one of the all-time greats. My head and money is with Keen Ice, though, who seems to have good credentials to appreciate the Belmont trip and who looks still a big price, despite some money pouring in for him.

Keen Ice @ 16/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

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