Post positions were drawn today for the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. As we all know, the big story is Big Brown’s quest for the Triple Crown. Nine other horses will contend with the super-colt as he tries to make history as just the 12th horse ever to win the Triple Crown. The field will be as follows:
- Big Brown
- Macho Again
- Denis of Cork
- Casino Drive
- Da’ Tara
- Tale of Ekati
- Anak Nakal
- Ready’s Echo
- Icabad Crane
Some of you may not know this, but I’m a bit of a history lover – especially military history - so the irony that a battle between a U.S. trained colt (Big Brown) and a Japanese trained colt (Casino Drive) that now also includes a horse named Guadalcanal is not lost on me.
For those who don’t know what Guadalcanal was – it was a particularly fierce battle between the U.S. and the Japanese in the early days of World War 2 (early from the U.S. perspective, that is). The battle raged from August of 1942 to February of 1943. The U.S. fleet had been significantly weakened during the Pearl Harbor raid, and throughout much of the fighting the Japanese actually enjoyed naval superiority over our troops. The so-called “Tokyo Express” ferrying fresh troops and supplies to the island while the U.S. troops tried to secure the area inch by inch.
The U.S. would lose 29 ships, 600+ aircraft, and would lose over 7,000 men during the battle. The Japanese, fighting to the bitter end, would lose roughly 25,000 men, as well as 38 ships and over 700 aircraft. The battle itself was a turning point – a significant allied victory – and a hard earned one at that.
Looking ahead to the race, Big Brown certainly has a “significant victory” well within reach – but he may well have to do battle with the Japanese competitor in the stretch. It could well be a hard earned victory. A victory that perhaps will seem in doubt at some point during the race -just as the outcome of Guadalcanal seemingly hung in the balance during those dark days of WW2.
During the battle the fierce fighting around Henderson field became something of a focal point. The Japanese wanted to knock it out to prevent aerial resupply of U.S. forces. The U.S. wanted desperately to hang on. At times the fighting was close-quarters. Grim, bloody stuff – with bayonet charges against machine gun positions, night attacks, and even concentrated bombardment of the field from Japanese battleships just offshore.
Might Big Brown find himself in a similar predicament? Might the quarter pole, or perhaps the length of the Belmont stretch be Big Brown’s version of Henderson Field? I don’t mean to make light of the sacrifices of those who fought there by drawing too many comparisons between an actual battle for life and death and a horse race, but surely there are some interesting story lines amd ironies to consider here.
In the end, Guadalcanal was a U.S. victory. The Japanese defenders were vanquished, and the long campaign of “island hopping” in the Pacific soon began, culminating with the Japanese surrender aboard the “Mighty Mo” (USS Missouri – BB 63) in 1945.
The obvious contender that everyone is buzzing about with a chance to knock off Big Brown is the Japanese trained Casino Drive. The eastern invader is talented son of Mineshaft that is undefeated thus far racing in Japan, as well as at Belmont Park in the Peter Pan.
Several other familiar faces return to take on Big Brown, including the 3rd and 4th place finishers from the Kentucky Derby – Denis of Cork and Tale of Ekati. They will join the 2nd and 3rd place finishers from the Preakness – Macho Again and Icabad Crane.
Rounding out the field are the likely longshots Anak Nakal, Da’ Tara, Ready’s Echo, and the Guadalcanal. Of those longer shots, we last saw Da’ Tara battling it out with Roman Emperor in the stretch at Pimlico in the Barbaro Stakes. Ready’s Echo has chased Casino Drive in the Peter Pan and could pose a chance to get into the money. Anak Nakal is probably the better bred of these guys for the distance, being a son of Victory Gallop.
I see this race as having a chance to play out a bit similarly to the historical fight on Guadalcanal. I’ve posted before that I do think Big Brown will be tested by Casino Drive, perhaps more than he’s been tested before in the Derby and Preakness. On Guadalcanal the Japanese Army was seemingly ahead of the U.S. at the time in terms of jungle fighting capabilities – they were some of the finest light infantry in the world. Similarly, Casino Drive seems bred for the fight on Saturday, with his kinship to Jazil and Rags to Riches, Belmont winners both. Being some of the finest light infantry in the world couldn’t save the Japanese on Guadalcanal – and I doubt pedigree alone will save Casino Drive in the Belmont. I see Big Brown looking him straight in the eye and running right past him, with Casino Drive putting up a brave challenge, but falling short in the end.
Breaking from the inside post would usually mean Big Brown would have to gun it out of the gate, and he may well do so, but with his patented cruising speed, one gets the feeling he may hold off quite a bit on Saturday before unleashing his main run.
Casino Drive looks like the obvious play in the exacta. When filling out the trifecta I think you could make a case for Denis of Cork, Icabad Crane, Macho Again, and Tale of Ekati to all wind up in the money. The key is going to be using those guys along with Casino Drive in the right position. Ready’s Echo I have ranked just a tad outside of these guys, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if he or Anak Nakal found there way into show.
Denis of Cork is likely going to be the third choice on the line, and would be my straight up prediction for third. That being said, I’ve got to use Icabad Crane. I’ve followed this guy since Tesio day at Pimlico andhe looked to be moving well along the rail late in the Preakness. The distance of the Belmont is my biggest concern with him. That same concern applies to Macho Again – the horse that many have to thank for whatever winnings they were able to scrape up on Preakness day.
Tale of Ekati is a horse I’m not quite as fond of, but he did run on for 4th in the Derby, and he did get past War Pass at a time when many thought War Pass was headed for a Triple Crown season (not me, but others did – even if they don’t want to admit it now).
We’ve only got a few days away before it’s time to finalize predictions. I’ll be headed out to Belmont on Friday afternoon and won’t return until Sunday. By then we’ll know if history has been made or if we’ve been teased once again.