As we turn the calendar to June, we find ourselves at the final leg of the Triple Crown – the Belmont Stakes. A field of ten line up to show the world what they can do, here in the Test of Champions. For these horses, they will do something they may never do again in their careers, race at a mile and a half on the dirt. Both speed and stamina is tested as the field takes a trip around the famed New York oval, Big Sandy.
While most of the top horses that we saw on the Road to the Kentucky Derby will be sitting at home, we do get the Preakness winner, War of Will, to show up, competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. A good case can be made the he could have been the winner of the Kentucky Derby, had it not been for Maximum Security. And yet, here we are – no Derby winner in the field (neither of them) and a race far from filled with star talent – but this may be one of the toughest Belmont Stakes in recent memory. With favorites drawn wide and many with the pedigree to go long, its hard to land on just one horse to win here – there is no clear favorite, unlike many of the previous years, and rather a collection of talent that outlasted the spring grind. With that, let’s go through the field.
Belmont Stakes (Race 11)
1 – Joevia (Jose Lezcano, Gregory Sacco)
He showed flashes of talent in the Long Branch, but when facing similar in the Wood Memorial, he showed nothing that would put him in the winners circle or even close to it. This is too tough an ask.
2 – Everfast (Luis Saez, Dale Romans)
He closed down late on what was a decently hot pace in the Preakness to finish second. He relished the ground there, but won’t get the same trip on Saturday. Closes don’t usually do well in the Belmont and there is a lot to say last out was all he had.
3 – Master Fencer (Julien Leparoux, Koichi Tsunoda)
The Japanese invader outperformed his talent in the Kentucky Derby, closing quickly from dead last to run well and gain ground (something few did at the end) down the stretch. His workout missteps have made many question his ability and soundness going into the race, but he has always been a quirky worker. Big Sandy is a track that should be much more to his liking. While his running style is far from what is needed to win, he may relish the ground and the trip. Exotics chance.
4 – Tax (Irad Ortiz Jr, Danny Gargan)
Has the pedigree to run all day. His running style (near the front) is exactly what you want to win this race. While he does his best running off a long layoff, which is not what he gets here, and his workouts have been less than stellar, it is hard to ignore him, especially in the exotics.
5 – Bourbon War (Mike Smith, Mark Hennig)
He hasn’t really shown anything to suggest he belongs. Mike Smith hops aboard here, but that won’t be enough to get him home anywhere near the front.
6 – Spinoff (Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher)
I loved him as my Belmont horse back in early May entering the Derby and he still is high on my list. The slop spoiled this son of Hard Spun’s chances last out in the Derby, but that won’t be anything near what he gets come race time. He is lightly race, but his Louisiana Derby effort was a huge jump up to the top. He wanted to stay further in that race and should improve going longer. Major player.
7 – Sir Winston (Joel Rosario, Mark Casse)
Although he finished up well in the Peter Pan, his closing effort there may have been the peak of his form cycle. He hasn’t had much success since he left the synthetic. Toss.
8 – Intrepid Heart (John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher)
Slowing and fading fast in the Peter Pan isn’t an angle I’ll be playing any time soon. Just a step below. Could improve with blinkers, but not enough to be near the top.
9 – War of Will (Tyler Gaffalione, Mark Casse)
One of the most consistent 3yos all year, the Preakness champion gave quite a thrill last out as he got the redemption he needed. Now he comes back for his third race in five weeks to show that no matter the race, he can be the one finishing first in the end. His stalking style is what most Belmont winners have and his tactical speed puts him in perfect positions. Pedigree is the only thing against him here, but he has proven that wrong on every occasion.
10 – Tacitus (Jose Ortiz, William Mott)
My vote for the second most talented 3yo (behind Maximum Security), this son of Tapit looks to make it another win for his champion sire. He started off a step slow and got caught in traffic in the slop at Churchill Downs, but was able to make up ground well late to finish near the front. His closing style isn’t one that you want in a Belmont winner, but I can’t see him being as far back as he was in his last few. He has tactical speed and his Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial wins are as good as any this year by any 3yo. He was improving entering the Derby and even afterwards showed to make big strides since his win at Tampa. Major factor.
Belmont Stakes Selections:
(6) Spinoff | (10) Tacitus | (9) War of Will
I cannot find a reason to knock Spinoff out of my top spot. He checks all the boxes I like to see for a Belmont winner and looks to be in good form. Returning to a fast track will help greatly this improving son of Hard Spun. His pedigree is there and he looks ready to keep on running. Lots of talent in this one and finds himself in the perfect spot.
Easy Goer (Race 3)
The Preakness was just too much for the hometown star Alwaysmining but looks to rebound in a softer spot. Cutting back in distance is key here for the son of Stay Thirsty; he gets Javier Castellano aboard. Lock of the Day.
Just A Game (Race 4)
(4) Rushing Fall | (3) Beau Recall
Going for four straight, Rushing Fall continues to impress as one of Chad’s top runners. She has shown nothing to doubt in her previous races and continues to get better. Returning to Belmont may be to her favor. There is almost no pace in this race, which could push her to a gate-to-wire victory in what is essentially an elongated sprint.
If Rushing Fall is not her best, Beau Recall would be the one to watch for coming down the lane late. She showed a lot of ability to close off a lack of pace in her races at the Fair Grounds. Brad Cox is sure to have her at her best.
Ogden Phipps (Race 5)
(2) Midnight Bisou
Spending the Spring down south at Sam Houston and Oaklawn, Midnight Bisou has opened up the year with three straight wins, including the G1 Apple Blossom. Now she comes back to NY, the site of her runaway win in the Mother Goose, looking to continue her winning ways this summer. I don’t see anyone with a chance of bringing her down here.
Jaipur Invitational (Race 6)
(8) World of Trouble
I cannot play against this excellent sprinter. Last time World of Trouble was here, he romped home in the Allied Forces. While he might be even better on the dirt, his easy win in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint puts him right where he needs to be.
Acorn (Race 7)
(3) Cookie Dough | (8) Queen of Beas | (2) Jeltrin
How many times can you show speed and get beat late? Cookie Dough has been on the lead up until the stretch in each of her last three. She has progressively gotten better since and should relish the one-turn mile. Her last race was very impressive (Black-Eyed Susan) and she looked like the winner but got caught by two fliers. This race sets up to be more her style.
Scratch out the last line for Queen of Beas and you have a horse that looks like one of the best in the field. She didn’t take to the slop last out at Churchill Downs but shouldn’t need to worry about that here. Her tactical speed led her to success at Gulfstream Park and now she tries the step up. I think she is one to watch.
Jeltrin had no chance in the Kentucky Oaks from the wide post – she lost far too much ground on her foes to be a factor. Drawing inside, she gets to play her style, sit and pounce, without losing ground (and one turn helps!). Her Davona Dale was a solid victory and shows that she has a lot of upside.
Woody Stephens (Race 8)
(3) Borracho | (2) Much Better | (4) Complexity
This is a difficult field to handicap – lots of hard triers and very similar types make for a cloudy field. Borracho is one that has been bouncing around distances and tracks throughout his career, but his best days are sprinting. He has improved in each of his last four races, including his last two both at sprinting distances. Switching over to Jose Lezcano gives me a lot of upside on this runner.
Blinkers off and Mike Smith coming into ride Much Better makes for a better formula than we have seen as of late for this son of Pioneerof the Nile. Scratch out his last effort and he has been solid throughout his career on the dirt – he loves this route of ground. Taking the blinkers off should help him concentrate down the lane, which will be key if he wants to fend off his foes.
Last seen running up the track in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, Complexity comes back off a more than seven month layoff to try these foes. His workouts have been sharp, and he is known to show speed on the front going around one turn. Chad Brown would not put him in this top spot if he didn’t think he was an elite sprinter. The layoff will be tough to overcome, but he should be ready in his return.
Metropolitan Handicap (Race 9)
(3) Mitole | (1) Coal Front | (7) Firenze Fire
Entering what is arguably the best collected Met Mile in recent memory, Mitole as a tall test as he goes from sprint to route. It is hard to figure out if he will be able to sustain his lightning fast kick going the extra furlong, but his win in the Churchill Downs at 7 furlongs puts him close. This is a tough ask, but he looks like the one that will relish the one-turf mile the best.
Interestingly enough, this “Classic Division” race has been dominated by true milers, with the Godolphin Mile winner Coal Front essentially that. His tactical speed on the front end is what got him his last two wins, as he switched from sprinting to routing. The only question here – is he good enough? I sure hope so.
I’m not sold that Firenze Fire has enough to win against top competition, but this race sets up well for him nonetheless. He runs best with plenty of pace to stalk, something he will definitely have here. Returning a route distance, and a one-turn route at that, should bode well for him.
Manhattan (Race 10)
(10) Channel Maker | (8) Bricks and Mortar | (7) Olympico
Chad Brown brings in a huge contingent of turf stars for the Manhattan, but I will be going to the Mott horse first, Channel Maker. His lifetime best performances have come at Belmont going a route of ground. He looked in top form in the Man O’ War last month and showed tremendous turn of foot. The key here is the outside draw – which will allow him to be more forwardly placed than he has been when he got an inside draw.
The Pegasus World Cup Turf winner Bricks and Mortar has been putting together a legendary season, with win after win. He has never finished out of the money on the turf and has 8 wins for 10 starts on the surface. My only fear is the distance – he is his best around a mile/mile and an eighth – this won’t be tough ask, but in a race where everything has to go right, this is one knock that makes me look elsewhere.
Another Chad Brown runner, Olympico makes his second start in the US after a win in the Fort Marcy. His turn of foot is one of the best in the field, and Brown’s horses rarely ever miss the money in their second career stakes start for him. Tough to leave off – a future star in the making??
Brooklyn (Race 13)
(3) Sonneteer | (1) Marconi | (9) Forewarned
Perhaps the best bet of the day with odds, I will gladly take 10/1 on Sonneteer – who just wants to run all day and night going long. The sun will be setting on NY when this race goes of at 8:00pm, but hopefully the last glimpse of the sunset will be shining on down on the Calumet silks. He is a marathon type who truly came alive last out going long.
If not Sonneteer, then maybe Marconi on the rail will get the job done. Another type that likes to go on the front end, he has been consistent in his last two starts, each one getting longer. His tactical speed will pose a threat to anyone and he could be poised pop one out late and run off from the field.
One thing I’ve learned is to never doubt the Flat Out’s going long. Forewarned might not have the best of form, but his last out race was a good tune-up for this. His figures have been improving, albeit lower than some of this field, but looks to be sitting on a nice race here.