In today’s preamble to Benny Southstreet’s trip notes to the Belmont Stakes, I’m going to reveal a secret, but first you have to promise that you won’t tell anyone, OK?
Alright, now that that’s out of the way we can continue. I’m sure many of you have noted from Benny’s appearances on the podcasts so far that it sounds like he’s using some sort of voice-altering software, like a guy who’s in witness protection looking to hide his identity from the folks who’d recognize his dulcet tones. Well, there’s a simple reason for that: he IS in witness protection looking to hide his identity from the folks who’d recognize his dulcet tones.
By order of the Justice Department of the United States of America, I can’t reveal too much but I will say this. After his youth growing up at racetracks in Southern California and Tijuana and before the summer I met him in Saratoga, Benny was briefly a New Yorker. It was that Spring he became a regular at Belmont Park, volunteering at the Bronx Zoo on the dark days putting his herpetology skills to work.
That’s when the incident occurred. Benny discovered a crooked zoo keeper. This guy would take exotic baby snakes when they were born, raise them separately and sell them into the exotic pet trade as an unethical side hustle. Benny is the last guy you’d think of as a whistleblower — his attitude is typically live-and-let-live, but when you start messing with his beloved cold-blooded friends, that attitude becomes live-and-let-die.
Long story short, the corrupt zoologist turned out to have a pretty scary past (think of the vet in Better Call Saul but less ethical), and in exchange for his help putting him away, Benny was re-relocated back out to SoCal, courtesy of WITSEC. The story was the first in history to make the covers of both National Geographic and The New York Post. Benny’s nom de birth was left out of the contemporaneous news coverage but there are people out there looking for him. We should always appreciate it when he comes out of hiding to share his notes with us. Take it away, Benny!
- 5-12-19: Away best. Clean. Dawdle early with all four being stacked across through the first turn. Dawdle with an eye ball duel out of the first turn. All runners within 2.5 lengths entering the far turn. Easily going best when the other eye balling dueler broke down. Alone in lead now, this one kept plodding along for the win, beating 2 foes to the wire. Unimpressive.
- 4-6-19: Away well. Clean. Careless ride early, fouling three inside foes while blasting off for the lead and then barely clearing and crossing Tax, causing him to slightly pause & move outward (creating more havoc). Hooked while 7-8 clear down backstretch. All in by midway in turn and ridden hard while on empty. Would have liked to see this jock give up but he didn’t – an all around clueless ride combining danger with complete disregard for his mount being exhausted and well beaten in the stretch.
- 5-18-19: Away fine. Clean. Restrained early and to the rail. On hold and well back while at the rail for all of first turn. I’ve heard a lot of noise about how this one was 20+ lengths behind early – this is just plain exaggeration. I timed it, albeit hand timed. He was 2.30 seconds behind the leader at the midway point of the 1st turn and 2 seconds behind the leader at the midway point down the backstretch. This one was in a very good spot – maybe the best spot out of all runners considering the pace was very fast and he hadn’t spent a penny until some very mild nibbling late in backstretch. Harder urging while saving ground through far turn. Eased around a stopper in the lane and then back to the wood for a clear shot. Never found a step of trouble down the lane and won a massive head bob to snatch 2nd. Eh.
- 3-30-19: Away fine. Clean. Relaxed and found good spot at the rail entering and through the first turn. On hold a bit when Hidden Scroll was forced to tap on the breaks. Was running fine after leaving the first turn. On hold at rail for the entire backstretch – was the rail runner on a 4-across stack entering the far turn. Then the pace quickened. When race turned into a sprint for home the others took off and this one couldn’t quicken. Maintained the rail through the far turn and ran fine through the lane.
- 3-2-19: Away great. Clean. 5 wide through first turn. Maintained a wide path entire backstretch with rider nibbling at this one. Wide entering the far turn and now an all-out shove. Outrun by most, now able to ease to 3-2 path for the rest of the turn. Coasted in stretch with token whipping.
- 5-4-19: Broke slowly and outward. Mild bump with Game Winner. Was not a good start at all. Back to last. Well back early. To the rail and saved ground through the first turn. Was moving up early on the backstretch at the rail and then jock paused and began easing out. Big, long strider. Caught the next to last runner by the far turn. On hold, seemingly going well. Jock couldn’t make a decision, and mild peeking at spots with no real ask. Finally let loose nearing the top of the stretch and really took off. Big rally after diving to the rail and then easing out so slightly to bully his way through a tight spot like a real good one. Picked off some late stoppers for a nice placing.
- 5-4-19: Away OK and a mild brush early. To rail. Unhappy gait while well behind early pace setters. Seemed relaxed enough down the backstretch while playing chess with Code of Honor (trying to get inside of him and then pausing). Some nibbling while entering the far turn – mild shuffle when the turn came. Seemed to be going OK but Plus Que Parfait took his spot and this one was relegated to the fence. Clear shot from here to the wire but had no answers. This is another one that deserves a pass as he is better when he’s forward and his body language early in the race told the whole story….tough to earn the right positions when you’re not happy.
- 4-6-19: Away best. Clean. Good spot early but did put others in tight when not taking the turn as outside foe crossed right in front of him and he quickly tried to move out a bit. Fell into a good tracking position with hooked duelers taking off. Pace was hot – and he was probably too close while 7-8 lengths from leaders down backstretch. Jock blew it. Should have ridden race vs those behind him and instead he took off entering the far turn chasing foes that had no shot given their boxing match up front. Went from 1 length advantage vs Tacitus to 3 and burning fuel. Easily picked up exhausted leaders and now asked to hold off Tacitus. Fought hard while being put in tight quarters late and rider even conceded the last 70 yards – and this one didn’t lose ground to the winner – actually galloped out better than Tacitus also. This was a very good run and a huge move up from the Withers.
- 2-2-19: Stumble from the gate but still quick from the stalls. No big deal. In front entering the first turn and then ceded lead. Tracked leader from the pocket down the backstretch. Pace quickened entering the far turn. A few nibbles and easily accelerated. Rail through far turn and asked hard late in turn and into top of stretch. In tight briefly while shoving through a tight opening at the rail for lead. All out through lane and barely got home. This was a very good trip and considering the leader was coming back vs this one at the wire I’d be very surprised to see this one get any more distance.
- 5-18-19: Away ½ length slow. No big deal. Allowed to settle at fence with 2 foes to his outside. Head cocked to the grandstand side and a bit unhappy early. In a touch tight when first turn arrived but no real hurt. Allowed to ease off the rail out of the first turn & now by himself and relaxed. Pace was honest ahead of him and going well. Nearing the far turn he was in the 4 path & permitted 2 others to run inside of him. Lost some positions. Entering the far turn was in the clear while in the 4-5 path and jock began hard ask. Went from seemingly having horse to plodding home. No apparent excuses.
- 3-30-19: (had lost weight since his previous race) Away average. Clean. Allowed to settle early but immediately found himself behind a wall of three foes into and through the first turn as pace was a dawdle. Field was very compact and was regulated to a ‘sit and hope position.’ Began moving a bit entering the far turn, easing 3-4-5 wide. Hand shoving through the turn and all out drive through the lane, which was a bit green. Overall this was a good race in which he realistically had no chance given the pace and ground loss. Would expect a move up after this.
- 3-2-19: Away below average and mild bump. To last early and at rail. A great spot actually, given what shaped up in front of him. Saving ground moved him up several positions. At rail most of backstretch and then to the 2 path entering far turn. Some slight pausing while looking for room in between in the far turn. Finally powered through and eased out into lane. Clear shot through lane but trouble switching lead. We he finally did he really leveled nicely, only to run out of time. Was the only runner on the gallop out with his ears forward that seemed comfortable.
- 5-4-19: Away well. Clean. Nibbled early to get a good spot. Success. But something telling happened here. This one had a clear path to move behind the leaders – and the jock opted to maintain a wide path through the 1st turn – which would basically mean he’d have no shot – and the jock chose the wide path anyway. I believe the rider knew this one hated the track. A couple of shoulder taps through the first turn, too, and he obviously wasn’t tired yet – merely trying to urge him through a sloppy mess that horse didn’t care for. A strong left handed reign down the backstretch run (likely to keep him from running away from the throwback) while gradually losing ground. Being slightly overtaken by outside foes, this one was forced to steady pretty good while in the far turn, ending what little hope that he had left. Jock protected this one the rest of the journey and token riding the rest of the way. Draw a line through.
- 3-23-19: Away average. Mild brush. No big deal. Up to track early speed while 4-3 wide through the 1st turn. Good spot tracking a mild contest on slightly slower than normal pace down the backstretch. Three wide through the turn. On hold until late in the turn and then asked hard at the top of the stretch. Good kick. Outrun by By My Standards but not disgraced as these two kicked away from the pack nicely. Top two both galloped out well. Good trip.
- 2-22-19: Holy Mother of God. Cat. Meet ball of yarn. Have fun. Away well. Good speed early. Jock was taking back and then Johnny decided to get aggressive and go to the front while inside, but jock changed his mind after the outside foe’s jock peeked over and continued his suicide mission. So Velasquez allowed the foe to go a length clear, paused ever so slightly, then eased around that one. In a matter of 11 strides he was lapped onto the leader, now on the outside. It was freakishly athletic and the pace was hot. Asked midway in the turn and he quickly blew past the early leader, immediately throwing his ears in the air and began waiting for competition. So did his jock. When he saw the perfect tripper rolling into 2ndhe nudged this one for a few strides and began pulling away. In the stretch he almost looked disinterested, so jock cracked him a couple of times right handed, and…..lights out. The stretch run of this one was an absolute joke, ears forward and comfortable with no effort at all. If he’d have had a good trip it’d be one thing, but this thing dueled, went around, waited, and then shot away while truly not really trying. On top of it all he had a very, very good gallop out. What a freakish run with a very difficult trip, albeit against inferior foes.
- 5-11-19: Away fine just not quick and allowed to settle at the back. With this fast pace he was in a great spot after ¼, probably a dozen from the lead. Allowed to relax at the back for the entire backstretch. While at rail received mild hand urging midway in the far turn and gradually received more aggressive shoving until an all out ask nearing the top of the stretch. Eased out at this point and a perfect slingshot trip to come over the top. Couldn’t reach winner. This was a very, very good trip considering pace and ground covered.
- 4-6-19: Away well. Clean. Good spot entering first turn. Mild bump. Pace seemed normal up front – maybe a touch on the slower side. Saved good ground through the first turn and good spot leaving turn with open air down the backstretch and a very good spot entering the far turn. Was asked to get around some stalling foes but just didn’t quicken while wide. Win Win Win blew right past this one on his inside, steadied & re-rallied past this one again. Was spun wide throughout this 2nd turn but this one really didn’t show much at all and had a pretty good trip.
- 5-11-19: Tangled up & stumbled from gate to lose a couple of lengths. Pace seemed faster than normal for these. Allowed to cruise at the rail early & down the backstretch. Mild ask entering the far turn and scrubbed pretty good through the turn while being eased out & given cue to pick up leaders. Not today. Was grinding through the lane when running up on Final Jeopardy a touch but he was well beaten at this point.
- 4-5-19: Away fine. Clean. Perfect spot entering the first turn, stalking the top two. Pace began to slow out of the first turn so rider gave a couple of shoulder taps to push the stalker into the leader. Success. Now 3 wide down backstretch and in the clear. Pace seemed on the slower side and looked like it had to be one of the top three for the win. Mild urging entering the far turn. Went from mild urge to hard ask early/mid turn. Moved 3-4 wide throughout turn and grinding, finally getting to the early pace setter on the line. This one looked beaten and really liked his action in the lane. Seems like a “stay all day” sort.
War of Will
- 5-18-19: Away well. Clean. Allowed to settle at the rail behind a seemingly faster than normal pace. Great spot down the backstretch. On hold and waiting for cue. Saved ground throughout turn. Late in the turn the leader eased to the about the 3 path and this one’s jock went from mild nibbling to hard ask to hit the hole. Success. Race over. Professional stretch run to win clear. Galloped out best by a mile, with other two closers that had a distinct pace advantage not getting to him at any point. This was a great trip by a horse that will continue to make his own good luck. He’s tactical and a real pro so no need to downgrade based on good trip.
- 5-4-19: Broke well. Clean. Some real urging to get away from the stalls early, I assume to avoid what can be a race to the fence during the cavalry charge down the stretch the 1sttime ‘round. About a dozen or so pumps from Tyler right out of the gate. Entering the first turn found a very good spot, saving ground with the top runners 2-3 lengths clear of this one. But if the first 3/8 for ‘Will’ was good, the remainder of the race was bad. Leaving the first turn the pace had already begun to do a 180. When the accordion flow arrived, Will had to tap on the breaks & Tyler found himself water skiing a bit. For pretty much the entire backstretch, Will was a touch keen – not the most ideal in any race – but going 10 furlongs – this was gas that he couldn’t afford to be burning. Remained in this box until midway in the far turn when he eased off of the rail to go around Maximum Security. Was running well. When ¾ of a length behind leader & moving for the lead, this one was impeded by the lugging leader and was now 1 ½ lengths behind and asked hard to stop the backward momentum. Immediately recovered and spurted up to the leader again. This was a huge loss on the gas tank needle and was also in a far less enviable position, having to battle between Maximum Security and Country House. Fought hard through the lane. With confidence likely waning, gradually gave way and passed by a few foes very late when Tyler finally conceded and offered him his lungs back. This was not a good trip and a gallant effort.
- 5-4-19: Away OK. Clean. Jock began moving towards rail early. When others in front of this one did the same he got hit with his first real test – and he failed. Throwback hit this one & he absolutely hated it, lugging outward and trying to find relief. The jock held him in and he continued his hideous gait into the first turn. Looked more relaxed down the backstretch but was not in a good spot – in between and nowhere to go. Finally found some room to go into the far turn, but it was not ideal. Asked and moving up while wide, then in between. In & out movement while passing and pausing through the far turn. Finally clear in the stretch but the damage had been done. A good run through the lane, but also was picking up some stoppers. An awful trip overall and more here – but tough to say how much given the track conditions.
- 4-6-19: Tacitus fans are not going to like my notes for him in this race. If you want a more positive take you can read his notes from the Kentucky Derby. Away fine. Clean. Was in a bit tight early and slight steady. Some traffic entering the first turn and bumped soundly while in tight & in between. Masterful job by Jose Ortiz. He didn’t lose that much ground – his velocity never really changed, he lost zero positions and actually made his way to an inside position for most of the first turn – saving more ground than Tax. Others were fouled much greater and essentially lost all chance (Overdeliver, Final Jeopardy & Outshine) but Tacitus was not one of them. And yes, while he did have some trouble early – the rest of the race was a dream come true for Tacitus. Two foes on a suicide mission carved out impossible fractions, the tracker that was in a good spot received a terribly impatient ride & a few others were truly fouled, limiting their chances of victory to nearly nil. Down the backstretch this one was by far in the best spot and allowed to get into rhythm. Finally some nibbling at the midway point of the far turn. Eased 3-4 wide late in turn to pick up Tax but was unimpressive in doing so, leaning inward like a prima donna and having a poor gallop out.