2009: Mine That Bird had won the Derby with an electrifying rally, and Calvin Borel tried to duplicate it in the Belmont. After trailing the field early, he launched a last-to-first move on the turn, as track announcer Tom Durkin called: “It’s Mine That Bird with a bold blitz to the lead!” But Borel’s mount couldn’t sustain his momentum through the stretch, and he faded to finish third.
If Gutierrez studies these races, he will absorb the most important lessons about riding the Belmont Stakes: Don’t move too soon. And don’t try to win by making a bold blitz to the lead.
In the first two legs of the Triple Crown, horses often do win by making strong moves on the final turn. Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Ferdinand and Real Quiet all did so in the Kentucky Derby, took command a furlong from the finish line and went on to win the roses. But these horses all lost the Belmont, whose 12-furlong distance makes it a different type of race. The most efficient way to run the Belmont distance is to travel at a relative steady pace — a rule that applies to both front-runners and come-from-behind runners. When Drosselmeyer rallied to win in 2010, he ran his three half-miles in 49.8 seconds, 50.8 seconds and 50.8 seconds. When Swale led all the way in 1984, his three half miles were 49.4, 49.2 and 49.6.
The aforementioned jockeys who made premature moves had something else in common. Franklin, Elliott, Desormeaux and Borel were all based outside of New York and had never competed at Belmont Park regularly. Only Desormeaux had ridden in the Belmont Stakes.
Experience counts in the last leg of the Triple Crown. And Gutierrez’s lack of experience — at Belmont, at a mile and a half and at high-level racing in general — could be an issue on Saturday.
But the 25-year-old does bring significant assets into the race. He is thoughtful about his profession. As he demonstrated at Pimlico, he is willing to study and learn. The people in the I’ll Have Another camp say he has always appeared confident, relaxed and unfazed by pressure. Moreover, the fact that he has done most of his riding in the minor leagues may be a bit misleading. At the six-month Hastings Park season in 2011, Gutierrez won with 30 percent of his mounts throughout the season — an almost unheard-of rate at any level of the game. He was a star in the making.
His biggest asset, of course, is the colt who will be underneath him. Although I’ll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness with strong rallies, he had displayed good early speed in all of his prior California races. This versatility gives his jockey plenty of strategic options in the Belmont. All he needs to remember — on the biggest day of his life, with 100,000 people in the grandstand cheering and millions watching — is to stay calm and be patient.
For Andrew Beyer’s previous columns go to washingtonpost.com/beyer.