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Wednesday, September 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Want A Good Plodder? Try Timber Country

By Bill Finley New York Daily News

He’s still a plodder and he’s not that good. I’m no Timber Country fan. But I can’t beat him, not in the Belmont Stakes, so I won’t waste my money on someone else. Regrettably, I must jump on the bandwagon, if there is any room left.

It’s hard to take a short price on any horse, let alone one that is 1-for5 this year and one that was hardly dominant in a half-length win in the Preakness over a 25-1 shot named Oliver’s Twist, who had a horrible trip. He’s not even Wayne Lukas’ best 3-year-old. Serena’s Song is.

It’s just that never has a horse been in such a good spot at such a good time. Considering the situation and the opposition, how are you going to beat this horse?

Timber Country appears to be back at the top of his game after he finally won a race, the Preakness. The difference no doubt was the change in tactics by the usually unimpassioned Pat Day, who got nasty, whipping on Timber Country to let him know that he had better get serious.

He’s on the right track, he should have no problem handling the Belmont’s anachronistic distance of a mile and a half, he’s got a good trainer, a good jockey, and he’s got class. Along with his stablemate Thunder Gulch, he’s one of only two Grade I stakes winners in the field.

If only there was someone out there to beat him. Normally, the Belmont attracts a dangerous new face or two, a quality horse that wasn’t quite ready for the Kentucky Derby. Since 1980, eight Belmont winners did not run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.

From a wagering standpoint, Timber Country at 3-5 or so is no bargain. It gets worse. On paper, Thunder Gulch is clearly the second-best horse and a Timber Country-Thunder Gulch exacta may pay less than $6. No thanks.

The only way to bet the race is to throw out Thunder Gulch. This isn’t as goofy as it sounds. The Triple Crown grind can cause a horse to come apart and there are signs that Thunder Gulch is headed in the wrong direction.

On the same day that Timber Country worked six furlongs in 1:12, Thunder Gulch went five furlongs in 1:02, not a good work. The Racing Form’s Steve Haskin, who observed the works, noted that rider Donna Barton gave Thunder Gulch “three whacks with the stick.” Three whacks with the stick and still he can’t break 1:02.

Plus he’s by champion sprinter Gulch, and it’s hard to believe a son of Gulch can go a mile and a half.

That leaves Star Standard, Citadeed and Ave’s Flag as legitimate threats for second. I’m going to use those three under Timber Country in the exactas.

There’ll be other days to bet against Timber Country - like when Cigar crushes him in the Woodward - but Belmont Day is not it.

Triple trickle

The ratings for the Triple Crown races on ABC continue to slide, an alarming trend and a strong indication of how much that interest in thoroughbred racing has waned. This year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness ratings set all-time lows and there’s no end in sight. The ratings for this year’s Derby were down 20 percent from last year and the Preakness ratings fell by 27 percent. The Belmont, a race without a superstar or a compelling story line, should be more of the same.

The spin is that ratings are off because so many people now watch and wager on the race at tracks or off-track betting shops around the country. There’s some truth to that and it may explain in part why the 1990 Derby had a 10.1 rating as opposed to a 6.0 this year.

But the industry is fooling itself if it thinks that is the main reason. There is no more simulcasting in 1995 than there was in 1994. Sadly, it’s just another sign that thoroughbred racing becomes less and less popular all the time.

The Belmont Stakes desperately needs something to stir up interest. No horse has gone for a Triple Crown since Sunday Silence in 1989 and no one has won one since 1978. Meanwhile, the Breeders’ Cup has surpassed it and the Preakness as the second biggest deal in racing behind the Kentucky Derby.

This will be a good Belmont, not a great Belmont. Hopefully, someone will be watching.

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