What factors will be at play in the Belmont?

DaTara won the 2008 Belmont Stakes.
Da'Tara won the 2008 Belmont Stakes foiling Big Brown's sweep of the Triple Crown.

In anticipation of the Belmont Stakes, I’ve been reading the racing press. While I’m routing for Calvin Borel and Mine That Bird, I’ve been trying to better understand the factors that influence the outcome.

Distance, I get — at a mile and a half, with no “rabbit” entered in the Belmont, there won’t be any early speed. A slower pace at the beginning will mean that when MTB makes his bid, the horses ahead of him will likely not be as tired as they were in the Derby and the Preakness.

Length of the home stretch is an issue. The Belmont track has the longest stretch in the country: 1,097 feet from the top of the stretch to the finish line. That’s the length of six football fields! Jockeys need to know when to ask for their move or they could be out of horse before the finish line. Calvin Borel has only ridden a handful of races at Belmont and only one once on dirt (Belmont also offers races on turf). Will he make his move at the right time?

But what’s intrigued me the most is the talk about track surfaces. While all three of the Triple Crown races are run on dirt (as opposed to the synthetic surfaces that are emerging), there seem to be considerable differences among the three tracks. It seems that not all dirt is the same.

Now, the surface of a track is highly influenced by the weather, but the composition of the track gives it a certain amount of resiliency. Some horse just don’t like certain tracks.

The Kentucky Derby track was sloppy. Mind That Bird didn’t seem to mind it and Calvin Borel also commented how much Rachel Alexandra liked the track surface in the Oaks.

The gelding didn’t have a problem with the track at Pimlico, but Rachel Alexandra did. After the Preakness, Calvin Borel told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“The reason she struggled in the Preakness was because the track was very dry. It was supposed to rain and I don’t think the guys wet it enough. It was very powdery, like dry sand.

“She put so much power into her strides, it was just breaking out from under her. She won but you didn’t see the real Rachel Alexandra. She won on heart.”

I’ve read that the Belmont track is considered to be “unique” and not a surface that all horses like. It’s “cuppy” and heavy, kind of a mixture between sand and heavy loam. It’s probably why it’s known as “Big Sandy.”

That’s one of the reasons why Mine That Bird’s trainer, Chip Woolly said that he didn’t see an merit in bringing his horse to Belmont to train on it because if he didn’t like the surface, training on it would just get him madder.

Rain this week has left the Belmont track in sloppy condition with the rain forecast to end Saturday morning. We know that MTB doesn’t mind running in the mud, even with his run from behind style. In theory, it should suit his running style.

Of course, it’s the unpredictablility that makes it a horse race. Tune in tomorrow!

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