Smarty Jones will win the Triple Crown

Tomorrow afternoon the third and final jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, the 136th running of the Belmont Stakes, takes place at Belmont Park in New York. Nine horses are scheduled to race once around the track's huge one-and-a-half mile oval known for its wide, sweeping turns.

The main one of those horses entered, of course, is Smarty Jones. What makes this year's Belmont extra special is the possibility of Smarty Jones becoming the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win all three legs of the Triple Crown. That would earn him a $5 million bonus from Visa USA for becoming the 12th such champion, but more importantly, it would end the longest drought in Triple Crown history.

Predictions - Three weeks ago by boxing my five Preakness Stakes picks, everyone would have hit the superfecta, so my confidence is high right now.

Win - Smarty Jones. Horse racing desperately needs a living Triple Crown champion, so why not let it be Smarty Jones. The last undefeated horse like Smarty entering the Belmont was Seattle Slew in 1977, and he won the Triple Crown. Smarty Jones won the Preakness by a record 11 1/2 lengths, which has left many owners and jockeys at home thinking he is unbeatable.

But history says Smarty Jones will not win. Seventeen horses have had their Triple Crown bubbles burst in the Belmont, including nine since Affirmed, and five in the last seven years. Certainly a hectic schedule can take a toll, and Smarty Jones is running his sixth race in 14 weeks. The Belmont Stakes recently has not been kind to favorites either, as only one of the last eight finished first.

Looking at Smarty Jones' history, one can see that he is not bred for long distances, and he has never even had a workout at Belmont Park. Having the outside post position cannot help.

Place - Rock Hard Ten. This big, athletic horse finished second in the Preakness despite a terrible ride by jockey Gary Stevens. On board this time will be the nation's leading money winning jock Alex Solis, who in the 1998 Belmont with Victory Gallop spoiled Real Quiet's bid for the Triple Crown.

Rock Hard Ten should be much closer to the front when he hits the stretch than in the Preakness. He has the best distance rating in the field, he had an excellent workout this week, and other than once being disqualified, he has never finished worse than second.

Show - Eddington. This horse had a good workout this week, has Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey in the saddle, and has never finished worse than third.

Superfecta - The fresh horses shouldn't do much damage in this race, but Purge and Royal Assault are the best of the rest. Purge had his best race ever two weeks ago by winning the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, and Royal Assault is bred for the distance and carries ever-dangerous jockey Pat Day.

• With last year's NBA Finals between San Antonio and New Jersey recording the lowest television ratings ever, and Detroit being arguably the least exciting team to reach the Finals in basketball history, everyone still interested should thank God that at least the Los Angeles Lakers are still playing. But that's where the fun ends as the only real question that remains is how many games will it take for the Lakers to again be crowned world champions.

It's laughable to hear so-called experts say that Detroit's first-year head coach Larry Brown is just as good as LA's Phil Jackson. The NBA championship ledger so far: Brown zero titles, Jackson nine. Both teams play great at home, but Los Angeles is undefeated at the Staples Center during the playoffs.

Prediction - With the 2-3-2 Finals format and the Lakers owning home court advantage, that gives the Pistons a chance of prolonging the series to a Game 6. But my pick is Los Angeles in 5.

• It comes with great sadness to realize that by this time next week the playoffs will be over in the National Hockey League. What is even sadder is the possibility that a lockout will delay or perhaps even eliminate next year's season. Just in case, all hockey fans should soak in the excitement of the remaining games.

Before last night, over its last 11 games, Tampa Bay had alternated wins and losses. If that form held true, Calgary won Game 5 of the Finals. The first two games in Tampa went Over, while the first two games in Calgary were shutouts that went Under.

Prediction - Game 6 and Game 7 if necessary: Tampa Bay and Under.

• Tennis' second major, the French Open, is wrapping up at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris.

On the women's side, Russians Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva meet in the Final. With six Russians in the top 20 and three in the top 10, it was just a matter of time, but still a surprise that they would show their dominance this soon. My pick is Myskina.

On the men's side, for the 11th time in 16 years, the French Open will produce a first-time Grand Slam champion, and with three of four semi-finalists from Argentina, an all-Argentine final is certain. I'll stick with my pre-tournament choice of Guillermo Coria in the championship match.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.

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