ELMONT, N.Y. - How strong is the field for the 133rd running of the Belmont Stakes today at Belmont Park?
"This might be the strongest Belmont ever run," said John Ward Jr., trainer of Monarchos.
The Belmont features the Kentucky Derby winner (Monarchos), Preakness winner (Point Given), Santa Anita Derby winner (Point Given), Florida Derby winner (Monarchos), Hollywood Futurity winner (Point Given) and Champagne Stakes winner (A P Valentine). All those are Grade I races, the sport's toughest.
But the strongest Belmont ever? That's almost impossible to gauge. Nevertheless, few dispute that the field and this group of 3-year-olds rank among the best.
Jerry Brown said before the Kentucky Derby that these 3-year-olds were the best since at least 1982. That's when Brown's Thoro-Graph began analyzing various aspects of races and rating horses' performances.
"This crop is ridiculously fast," Brown said five weeks ago. "A lot of these horses have already run fast enough to win every Derby in the past 20 years."
This week, after analyzing the Derby and Preakness, Brown said: "All those races did was confirm the kind of crop we thought this was going into the Triple Crown. This is an incredible crop of 3-year-olds."
He said the second- and third-place finishers in the Derby, Invisible Ink and Congaree, ran well enough to have won every Derby since 1982, Thoro-Graph's first year. Point Given ran what Brown considered a standout race in the Preakness.
Even with Point Given's poor performance in the Derby, Brown said, "If you look at his graph, it's the best graph ever of a 3-year-old this time of year."
Point Given, then, is Brown's selection in the Belmont. He said he considers Balto Star and Invisible Ink live long shots.
Zito likes chances
As a native of New York City - he grew up near Aqueduct racetrack - trainer Nick Zito yearns to win the Belmont.
Although he's won two Kentucky Derbies and one Preakness, he has failed with 10 horses in the third leg of the Triple Crown. He's come close, finishing second four times. His best chance this year in New York's biggest race may be A P Valentine, whom bettors may make the second choice behind Point Given.
"We'd love to get one," Zito said of the Belmont. "We'd love to do it with this particular horse. We've been preaching the gospel how good he is. ... "
"I'm positive he'll run a great race in the Belmont."
`Daydream' wins Flash
Belmont Stakes weekend kicked off yesterday with two stakes won by extreme long shots, including one from Maryland.
The Laurel-based Buster's Daydream romped to a 4 1/2 -length victory in the $75,000 Flash Stakes, a Grade III, five-furlong sprint for 2-year-olds. Trained by Tim Tullock and ridden by Edgar Prado, Buster's Daydream paid $44.40 to win.
One race later, Forest Secrets captured the Grade I, $200,000 Acorn Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at odds of 50-1.