Sure, Americans have short attention spans, but don't you know there's a Triple Crown on? Even if there are no contenders for the Crown this , and even if many of us believe that the most interesting racehorses in America this year are fillies, not colts, there is always a lot to be said for the mile and a half Belmont Stakes, the third and most grueling of the Triple Crown's legs.
Racing a mile and half is bad enough; racing a mile and half on Belmont's huge oval with its wide turns and notoriously sandy surface is another. Running in a loose track might sound like it is more forgiving to a horse's legs in terms of concussion, but the horse's energy used to propel himself forward to is increased. Ever run through sand dunes? Belmont isn't beach-sand sandy, but loose surfaces are inefficient when it comes to returning energy. And it's a long way around.
You wouldn't know that by watching Secretariat's 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont. He really was "moving like a tremendous machine". When Affirmed and Alydar battled to the wire in 1978, the Belmont's long stretch created a dramatic stage that would not be equaled until the matching reds of Curlin and Rags to Riches closed the 2007 Belmont with a victory for the filly.
The Belmont is a race for fit horses with the quality of not just speed but endurance. Can you pick these horses out? Probably not. The Belmont is frequently won by a dark horse, often one trained by a specialist like Nick Zito who knows the track and the race and his horse and can read the calendar and count the days.
But science will not leave racing to luck and skilled trainers alone. At Ontario's University of Guelph, a new study looks at 200 racehorses and their hemoglobin levels before and after racing. Do the successful horses have a capacity to optimize their hemoglobin function and utilize oxygen more efficiently?
At the University of Dubin in Ireland, a project that is an offshoot of equine genomics is based on the belief that there really is such a thing as a speed gene...and they'll go looking for it your horse's DNA.
At the Royal Veterinary College, London, the explanation of racehorse speed is shared by a scientific analysis of the jockey's crouch and motion in concert with the horse, as well as the horse's conformation. Yet the researchers contend that the fastest racehorse will not be the one with the longest legs or neck. It will actually be the most "average" one: a horse with body parts in harmonic balance with no one part too much larger or smaller that the others.
Don't tell First Dude about that. He's one of the favorites in the Belmont on Saturday, and he's huge. I guess the question is: is he huge all over? Are all his bones proportionately larger than the average stable pony who'll be leading him to the gate? Check him out; this horse could have a second career as a movie star or a sculptor's model if racing doesn't pan out.
Americans may have forgotten there's a Triple Crown on, and they can be forgiven. The contenders who started out so hopefully in the Kentucky Derby a month ago have scattered to the four winds.
New Yorkers, on the other hand, will be reminded that it's time to go to the races in a wonderful way. On Friday night, the Empire State Building will shine green and white in honor of the 142nd Belmont Stakes
Saturday's race is one of America's greatest tests of our horses and it deserves our attention. Its winner warrants our respect and our analysis, whether there was a Triple Crown possibility this year or not.
ESPN and ABC agree with me--they will offer seven hours of continuous racing "analysis" on Saturday. Broadcasting begins at noon on ESPN and switches over to ABC at 5 p.m. Post time for the 142nd Belmont Stakes, which is the 11th race, should be at 6:32 p.m.