On Monday, five days before the Belmont Stakes, jockey Calvin Borel hopped off Mine That Bird after a workout and had this to say about the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up's chances at Saturday's Belmont Stakes: "We're gonna win, no questions asked," he said. Borel repeated his bold claim throughout the week in a city that knows something about guarantees in sports.
If he's right and Mine That Bird does win the Belmont, Borel will become the only jockey to win a Triple Crown on multiple horses. (He was aboard Rachel Alexandra for the Preakness.) But as everyone witnessed last year when overwhelming favorite Big Brown was pulled up in the Belmont, even the surest things don't always pan out.
6 Charitable Man (3-1)7 Mine That Bird (2-1) 9 Miner's Escape (15-1) 2 Dunkirk (4-1)
6 Charitable ManThe top spot almost came down to a coin flip between Charitable Man, who impressively won the Peter Pan four weeks ago, and Mine That Bird. The former wins out because, as has been repeated many times, "Pace makes the race," and Charitable Man is the lone speed in a Belmont packed with late-run closers. If he can get away with a half mile in :49, he should be home free.
In addition, after Charitable Man was forced to make a late 2009 debut because of injury, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin elected to bypass the Kentucky Derby and target the Belmont instead so the horse is set up to run big on Saturday. Also, there are no concerns about him getting the Belmont's 1 ½ mile distance since his sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won the 1999 Belmont. And if that isn't enough evidence in his favor, Charitable Man is a perfect 3-for-3 on dirt surfaces and 2-for-2 at Belmont. The pick.
7 Mine That BirdIt's hard to go against this nimble gelding who validated his Derby victory with a strong second to superfilly Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. (Even the girlfriend likes him. "Three words," she said this morning. "Mine That Biiiiiird.") He has fired two straight big races, he should relish the distance (his sire, Birdstone, won the 2004 Belmont) and he gets Borel back in the saddle. But Mine That Bird's late-running style will be compromised if the pace is slow, as expected. And for whatever reason, deep closers traditionally do not fare well in the Belmont. Obviously, a major threat.
9 Miner's EscapeIf you think the pace will be slow, then you have to take a look at Miner's Escape, who figures to be the only horse other than Charitable Man to be forwardly placed. Since stretching out to nine furlongs, Miner's Escape has won two straight races by a combined 8 ½ lengths, which also suggests he is improving at the right time. He is a little light on the speed figures (his best is an 89 in his last race) so he will have to take another step forward, against the best level of competition he's faced, in order to finish this high.
2 DunkirkYou can throw out his 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He stumbled at the start, and trainer Todd Pletcher says the horse did not like the sloppy track. So, given that mulligan, Dunkirk still has as good a résumé as anyone other than Mine That Bird in the race. He showed a breathtaking turn of foot around the far turn in the Florida Derby only to come up short to Quality Road, and he should be fresh after having five weeks to prepare for this race. Dangerous.
I can hear Belmont race caller Tom Durkin's voice now: "A son of Birdstone has won the third leg of the Triple Crown. But it's Summer Bird to win the Belmont Stakes!" Summer Bird (12-1), the other son of the 2004 Belmont winner in the race, continues to improve, running a quietly good sixth in the Derby despite racing in the worst part of that sloppy track. As is the case with his half-brother, Summer Bird should enjoy the added distance and could surprise.... This space was high on Chocolate Candy (10-1) five weeks ago as a longshot in Louisville, where he finished fifth. And, while it would be a shock to see him under the wire first, he has the ability to hit the board. He has reportedly trained beautifully since shipping to Belmont immediately after the Derby, but he still carries that big scarlet letter S as a runner who is unproven on anything other than synthetic surfaces.
GALLERY: Preview the Belmont Stakes