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Jun 04, 2010

Belmont Stakes - Bet on one of the "Dudes"

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Nick Zito's Ice Box is the 3-1 morning line favorite for this Saturday's Belmont Stakes, but his come-from-the-clouds style might not be well-suited to the 1 1/2-mile race.

Only one horse since 1998 has won the third leg of the Triple Crown after racing last or next-to-last through the first quarter-mile. That was Jazil back in 2006 and the only reason he was able to close from far back was due to the insanely fast early fractions of 23 and 47 1/5 set by Bob and John. It's highly doubtful this year's field will run anywhere near those numbers.

A few of the other top choices - Fly Down, Stately Victor, Make Music for Me and Stay Put - also come from off-the-pace so they'll have to alter their running style to suit the distance as well or be caught 10 lengths behind the pacesetters through slow internal fractions.

Two horses that should be close to the pace, if not first and second, are First Dude and Game On Dude. The last time the two "dudes" met they finished out of the money in the Florida Derby. The former ran fifth while the latter ended up seventh.

First Dude has won only one race in his career, but he was extremely game in defeat vs. Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness. Racing on the lead for the first time in seven lifetime starts, the son of Stephen Got Even more than held his own battling back on the rail to hold off Jackson Bend for the place spot.

The key question for First Dude is how the colt will respond after that gut- wrenching performance three weeks ago. Keep in mind this will be his fifth, two-turn race in 3 1/2 months.

Game On Dude showed promise this winter at Gulfstream Park finishing second in his debut and then breaking his maiden by three lengths next time out. His connections thought so much of that effort they sent him right into the Grade I Florida Derby. It was a case of "too much too soon" as Ice Box crushed him by over 10 lengths. The horse was then sold and sent to Bob Baffert's barn

The Kentucky-bred's first appearance for Baffert came in the Derby Trial, a race he failed miserably, getting beat by almost 20 lengths. However, his poor performance was partly due to the sloppy race conditions.

Baffert then brought the recently gelded three-year-old to Texas for the Lone Star Derby and the results were just what the doctor ordered. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Game On Dude prevailed by almost five lengths with Martin Garcia replacing Robby Albarado in the irons. (One week later, Garcia won the Preakness with Lookin At Lucky.)

After the race, Baffert sent Game On Dude to California and the horse responded with three solid workouts. The son of Awesome Again posted a bullet 1:12 2/5 six-furlong work on May 18, and then put forth a seven-furlong trek in 1:26 3/5 seven days later. (Sangaree, who ran second to Rail Trip in the Mervyn Leroy Handicap, also worked seven furlongs that day finishing up a tick slower in 1:26 4/5.)

In his last work before the Belmont Stakes, Game On Dude fired off another six-furlong 1:12 2/5 bullet, this time from the gate at Santa Anita.

Baffert usually doesn't send horses to New York unless he's confident in their abilities so look for Game On Dude to more than hold his own in the "Test of Champions."

Of the two "Dudes," the one to follow is Game On Dude, especially since it's likely he'll go off at 10-1 or higher. The only question is his ability to get the distance, but that could be said about the other 11 horses in the starting gate.

THE TWO FAVORITES MUST BE RESPECTED

Ice Box has to be held in high esteem after his last two efforts - the monstrous second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby as well as the win in the Florida Derby. He posted a four-furlong bullet workout prior to both races and the son of Pulpit did so again last week at the Saratoga training track. The 1 1/2-miles will not be a problem, but the pace of the race, as mentioned earlier, could work to his disadvantage.

Don't forget, he closed from 19th to finish second in the Kentucky Derby primarily due to the insane early fractions set by Conveyance and Sidney's Candy. That duo reeled off 22 3/5, 46 and 1:10 2/5 splits, and the two horses that were last and next-to-last through those numbers finished second and fourth.

Don't forget, in the Florida Derby, Ice Box benefited from similar fractions (23 1/5, 46 2/5 and 1:10 3/5) and rallied from last to defeat Pleasant Prince by a nose.

Has Ice Box suddenly emerged as a major player or was he the beneficiary of fast early fractions in both races? At 10-1 or higher, he'd be a worthy play in the Belmont Stakes; as the favorite, it's best to side with others.

Jockey J. R. Velazquez takes over the mount from Jose Lezcano on Fly Down, the other horse in the race trained by Nick Zito. Velazquez rode Fly Down in his debut last October at Belmont Park and the pair finished third in a troubled trip.

Since that loss, Fly Down has won three of four appearances, including a pair of victories over First Dude. His only off-the-board finish came in the Louisiana Derby, a race he finished in the ninth spot, beaten 6 3/4-lengths.

His last effort was his best. Going off at 7-2, Fly Down came through with a dominating six-length win over Drosselmeyer in the Dwyer Stakes and should on top of his game once again this Saturday.

OTHER POSSIBILITIES

Make Music for Me shocked a lot of people with his fourth-place finish at 30-1 in the Kentucky Derby, but he's well rested after sitting out the Preakness.

Like Ice Box, Make Music for Me benefited from a very fast pace in the Run for the Roses and there are those experts who feel he will bounce from such an effort. Still, the horse is talented enough to have picked up a check in seven of nine career starts, including three in-the-money finishes to Lookin At Lucky.

It's doubtful he'll be able to win the Belmont since he's only won one race, a non-graded stakes race on the turf, but do not toss him from trifecta or superfecta wagering.

Interactif, trained by Todd Pletcher, completes the field of a dozen three- year-olds. The bay colt hasn't raced since a lackluster fourth-place finish as the 3-1 favorite in the Blue Grass, but he's been training well enough for a chance to give Pletcher his second Belmont Stakes victory in the last four years.

The son of Broken Vow never took to the Polytrack surface at Keeneland after a solid second to Sidney's Candy in the San Felipe at Santa Anita, and Pletcher was all set to run him back on the turf. However, the colt's last two works (1:14 1/5 and 1:00 2/5) convinced him to try one more dirt race.

Interactif broke his maiden on conventional dirt last July at Monmouth Park then ran eighth in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. His four turf starts include two victories, a second, and a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

Unfortunately, he was saddled with post 12, which could have him farther back at the start than expected. Still, look for Interactif to make a run at the leaders around the far turn with a decent chance to stick around for third or fourth at the finish line.

Selections: 1) Game On Dude; 2) Fly Down; 3) Ice Box. The top longshot play is Interactif.



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