Beware the 20-1 Crazy Horse in the Belmont

  • Lani has been the butt of jokes since arriving in the U.S.
  • The colt gets shot at redemption in final leg of Triple Crown

Poor Lani. How they mocked the Japanese colt before the Kentucky Derby. Such quirky, immature antics on the racetrack each morning, and that training regimen, punctuated by lap after endless lap of slow gallops, so foreign to the American eye. Two weeks later, they were quick to dismiss him in the Preakness Stakes as well -- too slow, too dull to threaten the top three-year-old horses in the U.S.

The chuckling and snickering can still be heard this week in the run-up to the Belmont Stakes. For while Lani may have settled into life in America a bit better -- the random starting and stopping that was disrupting his morning workouts has largely disappeared -- he still has a rather awkward habit of flaunting his affection for the fillies he encounters on the track. (Acting “studdish’’ is the polite term in horseracing circles.) He’ll get little respect from New York gamblers on Saturday. Belmont Park’s oddsmaker forecasts he’ll go off at odds of 20-1.

Lani on the track prior to the 142nd Kentucky Derby.

Photographer: Rob Carr/Getty Images

I will be one of those few souls brave enough, or perhaps crazy enough, to bet on him. Lani may not be nearly as talented as the heavy favorite, the Preakness winner Exaggerator, but if there’s ever a race ideally suited for his slow-and-steady, plodding style of running, it is the Belmont Stakes. At 1 1/2 miles, it’s by far the longest of the Triple Crown races, a marathon distance so rare in American racing today that it’s unlikely any of the 13 contenders will ever try it again after Saturday.

In the Belmont, a brilliant flash of speed -- a quarter-mile spurt in, say, 23 seconds flat -- isn’t worth much. It gets swallowed up in the vastness of Belmont Park’s massive turns. Rattling off quarters in 25-second clips, one after another after another, is the right formula. Lani is definitely capable of that, especially after the kind of extreme endurance training he’s been put through.

On many mornings, his Japanese handlers have sent him out on six-mile treks, some of it at a gallop, some at a walk. American trainers worry too much about over-working, and potentially injuring, their stars to try such extended gallops. On a typical morning, a thoroughbred here would maybe cover half that distance. So when the field enters the stretch in the Belmont and his rivals start gasping for air, I’m figuring Lani, the fittest racehorse in the land, will keep cruising along.

Japan to Dubai to U.S.

Lani, it should be noted, isn’t Japanese in the true sense of the word. He was actually bred in Kentucky, a gray son of America’s No. 1 stallion, Tapit. His owner, Koji Maeda, whisked him off to Japan to start his career. After flashing some ability in five races there, he was shipped to Dubai, where he captured the UAE Derby. Six weeks later, he trudged home ninth in the Kentucky Derby. In the Preakness, he was a late-charging fifth.

Stradivari training prior to the 148th Belmont Stakes.

Photograph: Al Bello/Getty Images

I will bet him to win in the Belmont and combine him in exacta wagers with a rising superstar by the name of Stradivari. As for Exaggerator, I find it hard to be interested in him at such short odds. (Belmont’s official forecast is that he’ll go off at about 2-1; I think he’ll be closer to 1-1.) If I were to mix him into my bets, I’d just do it defensively, putting him on top of Lani in a small exacta wager.

The rest of the horses in here are just an OK bunch. Some, like Creator and Destin, can run a bit. Others, like Trojan Nation and Forever d’Oro, not so much. Fortunately, none of them are fillies. That ought to calm Japan’s Casanova down, I hope, and keep him focused on the task at hand.

(David Papadopoulos, a managing editor at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and is a voter in the industry’s annual Eclipse Awards.)

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