Waiting in the Weeds Theory Applies to Belmont Stakes: Picks J. Boys Echo, Tapwrit, Irish War Cry

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By John Cirillo

The Triple Crown complexion has changed in recent years, but it’s still has luster. Simply stated, the connections of top three-year-old colts in the land no longer feel compelled to race in all three legs of the series. In fact, they rarely do.


Cigar compares notes at Sardi’s soiree with legendary Dave Johnson

In fact, in this Saturday’s 149th rendition, Steve Asmussen’s Lookin At Lee will the only colt to run in the troika, flying to finish second to Always Dreaming in the Derby, and then after an awkward break rallied for fourth in the Preakness won by Cloud Computing. Local hero Irad Ortiz, Jr. gets the ride in place of Corie Lanerie.

You’ll remember Irad hopped about Creator for the cagey Asmussen last year, and took all the marbles with a marvelous display of race riding to turn back Destin by a nose.

Lookin’ At Lee deserves a long look.

But we’ll have to go with our ”Waiting in the Weeds” theory in the Belmont – horses who skipped the Preakness after troubled trips in the Kentucky Derby. It paid big dividends with Creator, our Derby pick last year, who came back to score in the Belmont, as it did in 2012 with Palace Malice, our Derby selection who also won the Belmont at bombs away odds.


Daily Racing Form ace Jay Privman, like Jay-C, tabbed Creator last year

Here’s our Belmont analysis, followed by last year’s post which explains the “in the weeds” theory in greater detail:

J Boys Echo: was awesome in the Gotham with a snazzy 102 Beyer speed figure, and regular rider Robby Albarado returns to the saddle. Training up to the Belmont well for trainer Dale Romans, but needs to put his best foot forward and run back to that Wood performance. Bounced around in the Derby, should get a clean trip from post four. ALL SYSTEMS GO. He was our Derby pick.

Tapwrit is another with Derby troubles: “tight, forced in, steady,” according to the Daily Racing Form. Irad’s brother Jose Ortiz gets the call for trainer Todd Pletcher. Tampa Derby winner needs his best performance to date.

Irish War Cry is a handsome chestnut who had trouble at the start in the Derby, and his wide trip proved lethal. Wood Memorial and Holy Bull champ is the only colt in the Belmont with a pair of 100 Beyers and will be a tough foe if he can run back to those two.

Lookin’ at Lee has the Irad-Asmussen tandem described above, and gets kudos for racing in all three legs of the Crown. Needs a Beyer boost and close to the pace tactics to contend.

Gormley was bumped at Churchill after his Santa Anita Derby win, fits the “weeds” theory, but not sure he’s fast enough. Victor Espinoza knows his way around the classic races notably with Triple Crown king American Pharoah and two out of three California Chrome.

 Senior Investment, Meantime and Patch are possibilities for bottom of exotics, but need lifetime performances.

Multiplier, Hollywood Handsome, Twisted Tom won’t be on my tickets.

Epicharis is the nice Japanese colt who is four for five in his career, but has been battling injury leading into the Belmont.

Good luck all, and here’s the racing surgeon general reminder: Bet these selections at your own risk, after all it’s your money.

As promised, here is last year’s analysis with greater detail of ‘Waiting in the Weeds’ theory:


JC and crony Joe Buono at Belmont in ’14

Back In the “olden days,” the “Golden Days,” which actually wasn’t that (or maybe doesn’t seem that) long ago, Triple Crown contenders would race in all three jewels of the series to prove their mettle against the best in the three-year-old division. Rivalries for the ages were born that still live today.

Example: in 2001, Point Given was a disappointing fifth in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Bob Baffert knew that the handsome, chestnut colt was the best. The son of Thunder Gulch emphatically won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes, not to mention the Haskell and Travers to complete his career with four straight victories.

Of course, back in ’78, Alydar kept chasing Affirmed to no avail; Sunday Silence went after Easy Goer to finally turn the tables on his arch rival in the Belmont in 1989; and in 1998 Victory Gallop, like Sunday Silence had been runner up in the first two jewels, thwarted Real Quiet and his bid to immortality in the shadow of the wire, when the rafters shook at Belmont; both rivalries called by the inimitable Dave Johnson that are indelibly etched in the mind’s eye then, now and forever.


Dave Johnson recalls the good old days and good times ahead every year at Sardi’s soiree on Belmont Wednesday

In recent vintage, I call it the “Waiting in the Weeds Era,” we’ve seen such Derby starters and Belmont champions as Empire Maker (2003), who thwarted Funny Cide’s Triple Crown bid;


Gutsy gelding Funny Cide foiled by Empire  Maker

Birdstone (2014), who foiled Smarty Jones, Union Rags (2012), who didn’t have to deal with a scratched I’ll Have Another, and Palace Malice (2013) all skipped the Preakness. Note that in ’13, Derby winner Orb and Preakness champ Oxbow raced in all three legs in 2013, which was a throwback.


Palace Malice was my long shot pick in 2013

A more than interesting sidebar was the filly Rags to Riches (2007), the winner of the Kentucky Oaks who bypassed the Black Eyed Susan, and then beat the boys including eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in the Belmont.


Rags to Riches boys at Belmont

Fast forward to this year: What if Exxagerator had skipped the Preakness? Bravo to Keith Desormeaux for giving the colt a chance to shine in the slop at Pimlico, and he now clearly looms as the horse to beat in the Belmont.

That being said, I’ll go with my “Palace Malice fresh horse waiting in the weeds” theory for this year’s  Belmont, and the pick here is Creator to take the  1 ½ mile Test of the Champion.

These are our picks, followed by the full analysis and commentary. First our customary disclaimer: ‘Surgeon General’s Warning: Bet these picks at your own risk. It’s your money! We’re not telling you who to play, just who we like.”


Creator gets the call

Creator (13); Destin (2); Exaggerator (11); SuddenBreakingNews (4); Stradivari (5)

Creator (13) good-looking grey Asmussen trainee gets top New York jock Irad Ortiz, familiar with wide Belmont turns; was jostled in Derby after an emphatic last-to-first Arkansas Derby triumph; needs disputed pace; Destin (2) another who sat out Preakness and was bumped around in Derby, too; top jock in America Javy Castellano can take the whole shebang; an all grey exacta? Exaggerator (11) legit favorite for Team Desormeaux is another come-from-behind colt but was closer-up in Preakness win; obviously moves up if there’s a rain dance in early evening; SuddenBreakingNews (4) strong finish in Derby after some early trouble, can’t discount with jockey switch to Hall of Famer Mike Smith; was second to Creator in Arkansas; Stradivari (5) improving colt may try to steal it on the lead for Johnny V. if he can stifle early pressure from Gettysburg. Cherry Wine (3) rates a mention after picking up pieces to finish second to Exaggerator in Preakness.


DRF expert Jay Privman compares Belmont notes with Dave Johnson


Thoroughbred zealots Elinor Penna, Jim Gluckson, Bill Nader can talk ponies for hours upon end


Good times at Belmont with Lou, Dereck and Johnny T.


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