Third time's still a charm

Even though the best that horse racing can give the sporting world Saturday is a Double Crown winner with Curlin, I can still think of a number of reasons why the Belmont Stakes is always good.

1. There is no casino in what used to be the parking lot leading to the Jockey Club.

Just think, a horse racetrack that is a horse racetrack.

2. The race is a mile and a half.

Add a few yards for passing; that's a long way. It's such a considerable distance to race a horse, you almost expect to see a hedge, or a water jump or two, somewhere along the course. It's about the distance of one of my trail rides at a dude ranch in Wyoming where we followed a path along the Gros Venture River, which had big rocks in it.

Measure a mile and a half on your odometer and then imagine a horse running that far with others chasing him.

3. There will be more ball caps in New York than the living art-type hats that you found at the first two Triple Crown races.

When I lived in New York, we would grab an anchovy pizza and then take the train to Belmont Park. The anchovy is a small green fish that reaches a maximum length of nine inches. The herring is a less noticeable relative from the poor side of the ship wreck. The anchovy dines on plankton and fish larvae and gets its strong taste from the curing process, which includes being salted in brine. You don't have to kiss a person to know that he or she has had an anchovy this week. The only place you need to be to know that somebody had an anchovy is on the same train.

There's no better way to go to the horse races than by train. New Yorkers can do anything while moving quickly. Studying past performances in a crowded, loud or bumpy situation is a cinch.

At the rail at the Belmont Stakes, you are apt to see more Racing Forms than guest lists from a party the night before.

4. No excuses.

A race this long, there's no post position bias.

Traffic is hard to find.

Strategy is relatively simple: Stay on the horse. Stay on the lead or close to it. Then go.

5. No jockey controversy.

As baseball players are sending teammates to the hospital for stitches, and as Danica Patrick shoves a member of her racing team, pretty salty behavior from somebody who has gotten more mileage out of posing than driving, good sportsmanship prevails among jockeys.

Imagine the Yankees and Boston sharing a locker room.

6. There is the powerful illusion that classic closers have a great chance to win the Belmont Stakes.

Handicappers who have seen it all, and have actually conversed with too much of it, honestly think that if a horse closes well at a mile, and passes still more horses at a mile and a sixteenth, then he or she will be just the ticket at a mile and a half.

Just the opposite is usually true. The longer the race, the slower the pace, the less likely the leaders are to back up. Check the fractions. Check the charts. At a mile and a half, when the closers turn for home at Belmont Park, they'll start wondering where everybody went.

Write to Jay at jaycronley@yahoo.com.