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OPINION | WALLY HALL: This Belmont not an easy one to handicap

by Wally Hall | June 9, 2022 at 2:23 a.m.

On June 9, 1973, only four horses dared contest Secretariat in the 105th running of the Belmont Stakes.

Only Sham stood a a chance of an upset and not much of one.

Secretariat won by 31 lengths, that and his time of 2:24 for the 11/2 miles, were records.

Sham, who tried to run with "Big Red" for 6 furlongs, faded to last.

There is no Secretariat in this Saturday's Belmont Stakes, and only nine horses will take the track.

Just how convoluted this field is can be seen in the fact that Rich Strike, winner of the Kentucky Derby who passed on the Preakness, is not the favorite or even second-favorite.

We the People is the morning-line favorite at 2-1 and Mo Donegal is second at 5-2.

Rich Strike is 7-2.

We the People finished seventh in the Arkansas Derby, his only loss in four races.

He had won two previous races easily at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort in Hot Springs. But on the day of the Arkansas Derby, We the People was what is called "washy" in racing circles.

He was sweating a lot. Usually that is a bad thing, and it was that day.

We the People did bounce back and win the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 14 by 10 lengths.

He is expected to be the pace setter Saturday, which means jockey Flavien Prat has a lot to do with the outcome of the longest race in the Triple Crown series.

If he can get him to rate -- not run too fast -- he has the breeding to get the distance.

If he does rate, you can almost rule Rich Strike out, as he was so far back in the Kentucky Derby when blazing fractions were being set that he had plenty left for the stretch run.

Mo Donegal ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby and was closing, passing tiring horses.

He hasn't raced since the May 7 Run for the Roses but is training well at what is considered his home track, where he ran third his first time out before breaking his maiden.

He's a stalker, preferring to run behind the pace setters.

All you can really say about Rich Strike was he benefited from the fast past and was an amazing closer that day when he got the second win of his career in eight starts.

Creative Minister will get some consideration after closing for third in the Preakness.

A sidebar to the race: Epicenter, which finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is taking a pass on this race.

Value horses are Golden Glider, who ran second in the Peter Pan, but was 10 lengths behind We the People, and Skippylongstocking, who would pay a good price because he's never won a graded stakes race.

Nest was second to Secret Oath in the Kentucky Oaks, and in six outings she's never been off the board.

Which leaves us with No. 8, Barber Road, a $7,500 bargain who trained for the Kentucky Derby at Oaklawn.

In four races, he has three places and one show.

For whatever reason, he didn't ship to Belmont until this week, so he'll get one work at the track, a gallop.

However, he's interesting, or at least should be.

In the Arkansas Derby, he was closing on Cyberknife and finished second by less than 3 lengths.

In the Kentucky Derby, he was a carbon copy of Rich Strike's ride, so far back that he could see Lexington, except at the head of the stretch when Sonny Leon took his mount inside and Reylu Gutierrez took Barber Road 11 wide to go from ninth to sixth.

Joel Rosario will be in the saddle for Barber Road on Saturday.

Like Rich Strike, he needs a faster pace than what We the People is likely to set. Although, We the People is in the No. 1 post, and it is easy to get trapped on the rail.

Although not easy to handicap with a field of nine, it would be even less if there was a Secretariat running.

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