Wally the Horseman
Saturday's Belmont Stakes doesn't seem to be generating a whole lot of enthusiasm. Folks have become spoiled in recent years with a surfeit of potential Triple Crown winners heading into the final leg, most recently Smarty Jones and Funny Cide.
But there also seems to be a general consensus that this year's Belmont field is a bit rank. A.P Arrow and Nolan's Cat, in particular, look more like candidates for the glue factory than the winner's circle. Then again, nobody was much talking about Birdstone last year prior to his upset victory.
Afleet Alex, after an incredible performance in the Preakness, is the overwhelming favorite. Even so, some publicity-starved jackasses continue to insist that jockey Jeremy Rose should be replaced. (Thanks to the redoubtable Jeff Johnson for the link.)
But even if you can't get stirred up about the Belmont, there's another reason to head out to Canterbury Park this Saturday. The seventh race, the $50,000 Brooks Field Stakes, which is set to go off a little before the Belmont, features a top-flight, 12-horse field of turf racers.
The slight favorite, at odds of 7/2, is Vazandar. The Minnesota-bred horse has already won two races at Canterbury this season.
Kevin Gorg, who handicaps races for the Star Tribune, likes Slew Slayer. The four-year-old gelding, currently going off at 5-1, is in from Arlington Park in Chicago. He's only won about $60,000, but has generally faced competition a class above what he'll see on Saturday.
But most intriguing is Wally's Choice, pegged at odds of 9/2. The four-year-old gelding had a monster 2004. Last summer at Canterbury he won both the Minnesota Classic and the Minnesota Derby, raking in more than $80,000 for the season.
Wally's Choice really turned heads, though, last November at the Oklahoma Derby. Going off at odds of 33-1, he rallied from last in the field down the stretch to capture the $168,550 stakes race.
In 17 lifetime races, Wally's Choice has posed in the winner's circle eight times and taken third place on three occasions. (Strangely the horse has never finished second.)
But what makes Saturday's mount even more compelling is that it will be the first time that Wally's Choice has run on the turf. "His mother, L'Etoile Jolie, was a monster on the turf," notes Gorg.
And oh yeah: Wally's Choice is partially owned by Wally McNeil, better known as Wally the Beerman.