Tomorrow's 110th running of the Belmont Stakes, correctly called the "Race Of Champions," shapes up as a match race between Affirmed and Alydar. The two have met eight times, with Affirmed holding a 6-2 edge, including victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Often, in shorter races, a horse that closes fast but fails to get up appears to be hanging at the end and the front-runner in able to hold him off convincingly. The post-race comment is likely to be: "He could have beat that closing horse, if they'd gone around again." That seemed to be the consensus after the Preakness. But that race was at 13-16 miles; the Belmont is at 1 1/2 miles.
The extra five-sixteenths of a mile tomorrow can make all the difference in the world. It is possible that Affirmed could hold off Alydar for 1 1/4 miles, draw off to lead decisively after 13-8 miles, then drop back in the last eighth of a mile.
Condition is an important factor. Affirmed may have dropped some weight after racing hard since the first of the year. The same goes for Alydar, although both have trained up to this race perfectly. Laz Barrera, as he has done in the past, seems to be sacrificing shapness for energy by not working Affirmed long and hard.
John Veitch has Alydar as sharp as he ever will be. In addition, and this may be crucial, he has decided to take the blinkers off the Claumet colt. May be seeing his rival is just what Alydar needs to upset Affirmed.
This corner sees the Belmont shaping up the same as the Derby and Preakness up to the 1 1/4-mile mark. After that, it's anybody's guess.
We'll stick with Affirmed largey on the faith that trainer Barrera has executed his job in his inimitable style.
But should the track come up muddy, the vote would have to go to Alydar, winner of the Champagne over Affirmed at Belmont Park over an off track. However, the forecast is for clear and fast track conditions to it should take Affirmed about 2:27 to get the job done.