We are nineteen weeks into the Derbyologist Triple Crown fantasy league, and the day of reckoning is near. There’s just one more day of points races left, this Saturday, and then the league is over. Just in time for this final day of points races, there are a few new faces in my stable, who I introduced last week. As Murphy’s Law would suggest, however, I made what may possibly be a crucial mistake in my claiming strategy. I stand behind all three horses I claimed last week. However, I set up my drops based on the best information I had — and the best information I had included absolutely no scuttlebutt that General a Rod would be headed to the Belmont. He was fairly late in declaring that he would go to the Preakness, but at least there were people whispering about whether he would be headed out there or not. I heard no rumours, and I saw no works back since the Preakness, so I assumed he would not be Belmont-bound. Saturday? He worked a five-furlong bullet in 1:00.20 over the Churchill training track, and his connections proclaim him Belmont-bound.
That said, it is difficult to say what I would have done had I known General a Rod were going to the Belmont, other than keep the General in my stable, of course. Empress of Midway and Sugar Shock were obvious drops. However, I had no other obvious drops. Maybe I would have just bid on two horses, and bid slightly higher for Top Fortitude. Maybe I would have taken the gamble that either She’s a Tiger or Stopchargingmaria would not go to the Acorn, and listed one of them as my lowest-priority drop. I can’t say for certain. All I know is, I’m bummed to have dropped a Belmont starter right before the Belmont, especially since it turns out that three of the horses I kept aren’t actually running during Belmont weekend. This stings even more than having dropped Please Explain before her surprise entry in the Oaks, because I see General a Rod having somewhat more of a chance in the Belmont than she had in the run for the lilies.
Let’s take one last look at the horses in my stable now that the races have been drawn, and before they go off:
- Embellishing Bob – Embellishing Bob shipped out to Belmont Park and posted a work there this week. On May 31, he worked four furlongs in 49.02 over the main track. Consistent with the scuttlebutt, he did end up drawing into the Woody Stephens (GII). He has the 6 gate in the 13-horse field. It’ll be a tougher field than he faced in the Derby Trial last out, but he is cutting back a furlong in distance, and his maiden race suggests he has some even better speed than he showed last out that he can run back to. He has won on the early speed, but has also shown the ability to rate just off the pace, so he isn’t out of it if he’s completely outgunned early. This is the hardest test he has faced, but nothing on paper suggests he won’t be up to it.
- Life In Shambles – On May 31, he went out as Tonalist’s workmate; both horses are in the Christophe Clement barn. The clockers had Tonalist at 1:00.14 (8/29) for the five furlongs over the Belmont main track, and Life In Shambles at 1:00.24 (10/29). The video tells the story, though; Life In Shambles was very much under a hold for as much of the work as was shown. He has plenty of energy, and may well be ready to run a big one next out. This was exactly what I hoped to see when I drafted him. Life In Shambles did end up drawing into the Easy Goer; he drew the rail in a field of nine. There is enough early pace in this race that hopefully he gets a nice spot stalking a little off. The rail isn’t ideal, but he’s good enough compared to the rest of the field that he still has a great shot despite his draw.
- Ride On Curlin – Ride On Curlin posted his one scheduled work for before the Belmont on June 1, going 7 furlongs over the Belmont main track in 1:28.03. It was the same kind of thing that trainer Billy Gowan has been doing all season: plenty of jogs and gallops, and then one published work before the race. As for the Belmont draw, he finally didn’t draw a gate in the next zip code over. He drew the 5 slot in the 11 horse field. That should be just fine; the only gate I was really hoping not to see him get was the rail, or maybe the 2, since he doesn’t do his best work on the inside. I am hoping to see him come from off the pace, but not from as far back as Borel tried to take him in the Derby. That seems especially necessary since no one in the field is a breakneck early speed horse, so a true pace collapse is not likely.
- Top Fortitude – Top Fortitude shipped out to Belmont, and breezed three furlongs in 36.55 over the main track there on June 3. As I hoped when I claimed him, he did draw into the Woody Stephens (GII); he has the 12 gate in the field of 13. Mike Smith has the mount, as opposed to Kayla Stra, who has ridden him in his two wins. I like the switch to Smith, given his experience over the Belmont track. As long as he runs back to his last effort he should have a chance; if he even improves third off the lay (a possibility given how well he ran last year in his debut), he has a shot. The Laz Barrera was at the same seven-furlong distance as the Woody Stephens, and his running style is a stalking one. If the outside post doesn’t affect him badly (something questionable, since the only time he has had a far-outside post was that dismal allowance first back off the lay), he can be right in this.
- Wicked Strong – On June 1, Wicked Strong worked a bullet five furlongs in 59.10 over the Belmont training track. It is his third work between the Derby and the Belmont; all three have been over the Belmont training track. He drew into the Belmont, and got the 9 post in the field of 11. The pace should be interesting, since there isn’t anyone in the field who is desperate for blazing speed. It shouldn’t be too terrible from him; his best work has been from stalking or midpack positions, so he shouldn’t be badly pace compromised. His breeding suggests that he may handle the mile and a half better than most, and I stand by my opinion when I drafted him that he has a wicked strong shot to at least hit the board.
- Conquest Titan – Conquest Titan posted another work at Churchill Downs this week, going five furlongs in 1:00.00. However, even though he was nominated to the Woody Stephens, he did not go to the Woody Stephens. I think that’s a good move, as I’m not sure he is a seven-furlong horse, much less likely to compete at seven furlongs against horses such as Coup de Grace, Tonito M., Top Fortitude, or Social Inclusion. I still think it’s goofy that he was not nominated to the Easy Goer; that seemed like just the class relief he needed, and he would have had a nice chance in that race.
- She’s a Tiger – She’s a Tiger worked again at Santa Anita this week, going five furlongs on May 31 in 59.80. However, it appears from the video endoscope she was wearing recently, as well as how she looked after running, that she may be having some breathing problems that she is working through. I was not aware of this before the draft, though it would explain her complete failure to fire in the Eight Belles last month. This makes it an unsurprising development that she has not drawn into the Acorn, despite having been nominated.
- Stopchargingmaria – Stopchargingmaria still has not worked back since the Black-Eyed Susan. She did not turn up on the Acorn Stakes probable or possible lists released by Belmont Park, and unsurprisingly given that, was not in today’s Acorn draw. This is not a complete surprise; trainer Todd Pletcher sounded after the Black-Eyed Susan win that even though the Acorn was a possibility, something later was more likely.