This past Saturday we saw the most exciting edition of the Belmont Derby in the short history of the race.
Martin Panza, of the New York Racing Association, had a great idea implementing this race on the New York circuit. He recognized a void and filled it, and then some, building a new super day and card, anchored by the new race. The Dwyer, and Suburban were moved to Belmont Derby day, a filly counterpart was added, the Belmont Oaks, along with the Belmont Sprint Championship. There is something for everyone and in keeping with the now trend in racing, another huge event was created.
The Belmont Derby and Oaks were designed to attract International horses, and as such both are turf races for three-year-old horses over 1 ¼ mile. Prior to the Belmont Derby and Oaks, there were really no distance turf races of note for this category at this time of year.
What Martin did was actually do away with the Jamaica Handicap, a race that had seen a fair share of changes including age, distance and surface. It was a Grade 1 despite the staggered history and the Belmont Derby kept that status. It was first run under the current name in 2014. In the first four years there has been one winner from overseas, Deauville in 2016. There has also been plenty of other contenders from across the Atlantic, so I would say we can call it a success on that front.
In this year’s running we saw Catholic Boy give Analyze It a rematch from their odd race, just a little over a month ago in the Pennine Ridge. In that race, Catholic Boy decided he was a front runner, only to be passed in the stretch by favored and previously unbeaten Analyze It. Catholic Boy and rider Javier Castellano had to avoid Analyze It and Jose Ortiz who came in on them after making the lead, angle out and re-rally to out game them at the finish. It is rare for a horse on the lead to be passed and come back again. It shows heart, a will to win, and determination.
In the Belmont Derby the pair were joined by Hunting Horn, a highly regarded runner from the powerhouse Aidan O’Brien stable, and Hawkish, the Penn Mile winner who also had his share of supporters. My Boy Jack and four others rounded out the field.
The race unfolded differently, but with the same result. Analyze It went out for the lead but was overtaken by Catholic Boy, who again set the pace. Analyze It kept him in range and again overtook him to look like he was on his way to a revengeful victory. Catholic Boy would have none of it however, and this time without having to overcome trouble, re-rallied on the inside to out game Analyze It and beat him on the square again. It was a great race, one for the books, and proved beyond any doubt Catholic Boy is one gutsy racehorse.
While the race was great and noteworthy, a rivalry it was not. Catholic Boy has handled Analyze It twice now, both times coming again to snatch victory from defeat. To be a true rivalry, Analyze It would have to beat Catholic Boy one of these days. Now we just have two great races. Professional media people and social media calling this a great rivalry, as some have done, is at best premature and at worst plain silly. Are we that desperate to generate false hype in our game? I don’t know, but we shouldn’t be, as we have had two recent Triple Crown winners and a slew, no pun intended, of other great horses in the last 10 years. There is no need to over hype things and distort the facts and history of this great sport.
Frankly, there has been too much of that in our game. When we see things like Mind Your Biscuits, as nice a horse as he is, getting an NTRA vote for the top horse in the country, without a single win in North America, it reminds me of California Chrome getting a vote for top turf horse a few years ago in the Eclipse ballots. While so much of our game is subjective, a lot of it isn’t. Those votes display a lack of understanding of the game and discredit the voting process and any awards attached thereto. That’s just my opinion as a long-time student of the game. This is nothing new however, two of our most well-known horses, Secretariat and Ruffian, have so many falsehoods believed about them and some of the people around them. It makes one who knows the stories and what occurred and what didn’t occur, question the journalistic integrity of our sport. That is not a good place to be, but I guess if enough people believe the myths, it doesn’t matter. The worst part is, some historians and journalists are aware of these fables and just sit idly by and allow them to continue to exist. You know, just like tote companies don’t implement real time instant odds to correlate with when wagers are made, nobody cares.
That said, we saw one heck of a race and the best Belmont Derby to date on Saturday.