Nyquist’s failure in the Preakness Stakes was a reminder of just how daunting this series of three races can be for a young three-year-old, making American Pharoah’s accomplishments last year all the more impressive in retrospect. This is a grueling series of races, which is why we see just two horses who are on the brink of competing in all three legs.
Of the three Triple Crown races, this one—The Test of the Champion—has most often been the undoing of horses that are otherwise dominant forces in their respective crops. Accordingly, in recent years it has also produced the largest mutuel payouts of any of the Triple Crown races. The Belmont Stakes requires a unique combination of stamina, speed, adaptability, and durability. Who among these 13 young runners will be its conqueror this year?
The Pace Projector is not predicting a situation that favors any particular running style, but there are a few clearly defined pace players that should assert themselves in the early portion of this race. Gettysburg (#6) is predicted to be on the lead, but of those predicted to be racing in the first flight of runners, only Todd Pletcher’s pair of Destin (#2) and Stradivari (#5) are expected to attract significant wagering support.
Instead, this race is dominated by late runners, with Preakness winner Exaggerator leading the group. The conventional wisdom among handicappers is that plodding types that received fast paces to close into in the Derby and Preakness are often at a disadvantage in the Belmont. However, this year we’re presented with such an overwhelming number of appealing options among the closers—many of which possess stamina-laden pedigrees—that we’re forced to lay aside many of our preconceived notions about the types of running styles that we’d prefer to support in this race.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of the contenders.
#1, Governor Malibu (12/1): The lone New York-bred in this year’s Belmont Stakes has been improving with seemingly every start. Stepped up to graded stakes company for the first time in the Peter Pan, he put in a strong late rally to just miss catching Unified after making a run through on the rail. He had to alter course briefly around the far turn, but all in all, he worked out a very good trip. Despite the positive visual impressive that he gave that day, the 108 speed figure that he earned for that effort is on the slow side when compared with other top contenders in this race. While his sire, Malibu Moon, is the son of a Belmont winner, there are limited stamina influences on the dam’s side of Governor Malibu’s pedigree. We always respect a horse that’s improving, but we think the waters are too deep for this colt.
#2, Destin (6/1):
This colt really did not run all that badly in the Kentucky Derby. Despite having to deal with an unconventional layoff heading into that race, he made a strong move into contention around the far turn and entered the stretch in fourth place. After briefly looming a threat, he tired through the final furlong while ducking down towards the rail. The 114 speed figure that he earned for that effort puts him in the mix, and his tactical speed may give him a slight advantage over his rivals with less early speed. However, we got the feeling in re-watching his Derby that he was pushed to his limit trying to get the 10 furlongs of that race. Others have more stamina-oriented pedigrees than does this full-brother to Creative Cause. There are some things to like, but he’s unappealing at anything close to his 6/1 morning line.
#3, Cherry Wine (8/1): We’ve never been great fans of this horse, but we have to give credit where it’s due now that he’s finally started to run some faster races. He was no match for stablemate Brody’s Cause in the Blue Grass, but his Preakness effort suggests that he may have moved forward off that effort. Both of the top two finishers in the Preakness rode the rail for much of the way, and Corey Lanerie deserves a ton of credit for orchestrating the ground-saving trip that led to his second-place finish. Stamina should not be an issue for this grey son of Paddy O’Prado. There are plenty of hidden stamina influences on the female side of his pedigree. Most notably, his dam is a half-sister to a horse that was stakes-placed at two miles in Australia. We believe other closers will offer better value, but he’s a trifecta player nonetheless.
#4, Suddenbreakingnews (10/1):
Five horses in this race skipped the Preakness and instead were freshened up for the trip to New York after their runs in the Kentucky Derby. Of that group, this is the runner that interests us most. The son of Mineshaft caught the attention of many at Churchill Downs in the immediate aftermath of the Derby, in which he passed 14 horses while finishing fastest of all across the wire. This ridgling behaves as if he were born to run this distance, and his pedigree supports that notion, since both his sire and dam are by Belmont winners. Previous rider Luis Quinonez made no major mistakes in the Derby, but it certainly does not hurt to have an experienced rider like Mike Smith on board for the trip around Belmont Park’s unique mile and a half oval. We hope Smith can keep him from dropping too far off the early pace, which is likely to be much slower than that of the Derby. In a race where so many still have questions to answer, we feel confident in his ability to handle this test.
#5, Stradivari (5/1):
Stradivari ran an admirable race in the Preakness, considering that it was just the fourth start of his career. However, despite his encouraging result, he did show some immaturity in the early going, tugging at John Velazquez while not adapting well to being asked to rate in behind horses. He does not have the most convincing mile and a half pedigree, considering that his dam was best at distances ranging from seven furlongs to a mile. Furthermore, Todd Pletcher, a 100-rated trainer overall, gets just a 56 trainer rating with three-year-olds running back in stakes off just 15-26 days rest. In other words, running back a horse like this in consecutive Triple Crown races is a pretty atypical move for this barn. We wonder if Stradivari is quite ready for this punishing test.
#6, Gettysburg (30/1): His connections have not been using the word ‘rabbit’ to describe his presence here, but it’s no secret that he’s in this race to make the pace. He doesn’t strike us as a mile and a half type of horse despite the fact that he has the same sire as American Pharoah. His dam’s family is very sprint-oriented. That said, this horse did run very well in the Arkansas Derby, actually earning the highest TimeformUS speed figure of any runner in that race. It was no disgrace losing to Gift Box last time, since that one should be a player in this division later in the year. You could certainly do worse—just look to this colt’s right in the starting gate—if shopping for a massive long shot to throw into superfectas.
#7, Seeking the Soul (30/1): This colt has only a maiden win to his credit. He’s never raced past a mile and has never even contested a race around two turns. He’s a potential pace factor, but not much more.
#8, Forever d’Oro (30/1): He’s slightly more convincing than his similar-looking stablemate, if just for the fact that he’s bred to be a good one, as a half-brother to graded stakes winners Forever Unbridled and Unbridled Forever. He gives the impression that he’ll run all day, but his best-ever speed figure of 93 does not make the cut.
#9, Trojan Nation (30/1): The Wood Memorial form is looking more and more dubious as horses continue to run back out of that race. Unlike others, Trojan Nation loved the sloppy track, closing strongly up the rail to nearly pull off the massive upset. He brings a classy stamina-oriented pedigree to the table, but we can’t ignore the fact that his fastest speed figure over a dry track is just a 96. This plodder belongs in a maiden special weight, not the Belmont Stakes.
#10, Lani (20/1):
With all of the focus on this horse’s unusual antics in the lead-up to his races, many lose sight of the fact that he actually put in highly commendable efforts in his last two starts. He worked out an extremely wide trip in the Derby and then was steadied at a key point in upper stretch of the Preakness. If he had gotten Cherry Wine’s trip that day, he almost surely would have been second. Aside from Exaggerator, he will be the only horse in the field to contest all three Triple Crown races, and workout reports have emphasized that he’s been flourishing in recent weeks. Lani received a speed figure that was only 8 points lower than Exaggerator’s in the Preakness, and it’s conceivable that he could be set for another step forward. One factor that figures to work in his favor is the distance. He possesses one of the most credible 12-furlong pedigrees in this field. Tapit was the sire of Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, and Lani’s dam, Heavenly Romance, was herself a Group 1 winner in Japan at a mile and a quarter. As a broodmare, she has produced a few runners to contest marathon distances, included a graded stakes winner at 12.5 furlongs on dirt. While he is projected to be last in the early going, Lani showed in the UAE Derby that he does not have to be ridden as a deep closer when the pace is slow. Others are undoubtedly more likely winners, but this is the horse that we believe will offer the best wagering value. At odds of 15/1 or higher, we will take a shot with the enigmatic Japanese wonder.
#11, Exaggerator (9/5):
In the absence of the Kentucky Derby winner, the overwhelming favorite for this year’s race is his chief rival, Exaggerator. Of the qualities mentioned at the start of this analysis, adaptability and durability are two of this colt’s greatest strengths. He is not the kind of horse that needs to carry his racetrack around with him. He has performed at the highest level over fast tracks and sloppy tracks, on the East Coast and the West Coast, and at distances ranging from 6 furlongs to a mile and a quarter. He is easily the most seasoned runner in this field, having already made 11 starts since debuting over a year ago. Despite such a rigorous schedule, Exaggerator has never been better, and actually appears to be thriving as we approach the end of the Triple Crown grind. The 122 speed figure that Exaggerator earned in his Preakness victory is easily the highest number in the field. However, it must be noted that while Nyquist was the victim of his rider’s tactical blunder that day, Kent Desormeaux worked out an absolutely perfect trip for his mount. Exaggerator also relished the sloppy conditions of the Preakness, since he is 3-for-3 over sealed, wet tracks. He is undoubtedly the deserving favorite in this race, but he is going to come down in price off the perfect storm of events that led to his Preakness win, and we feel that his margin for error may not be as great as others perceive it to be. That’s the very definition of an underlay, which sends us looking in other directions for our top selection.
#12, Brody’s Cause (20/1): We’re starting to wonder if this horse just loves Keeneland. He has not duplicated his visually impressive efforts over that surface at other venues and has not improved his speed figures enough as a three-year-old to be taken seriously in this race. We gave him the benefit of the doubt in the Derby, but, unlike some others, he got a relatively clean trip that day and just was not quick enough to make it through the necessary holes to reach a contending position in the stretch. It’s rarely safe to count out Dale Romans in big races, but we’ll restrict this one’s use to the bottom rungs of superfectas.
#13, Creator (10/1): The Arkansas Derby winner was basically eliminated from contention after an ugly bumping incident at the quarter pole in the Derby robbed him of all his momentum. Then, after straightening away into the stretch, he veered to the inside, causing his hind end to be knocked off balance by a tiring runner, thus sealing his fate. We know he’s capable of better than that, but, as with Brody’s Cause, we are still waiting for him to run some faster speed figures. That said, we do want to give him some extra consideration here, since he is bred to relish the mile and a half distance. Another son of Tapit, Creator has a dam who was a stakes winner at a mile and a half in Peru and brings a ton of stamina to this pedigree. He’ll certainly be on our trifecta tickets.
Lani (#10) is our pick to win the Belmont Stakes, over Suddenbreakingnews (#4) and Exaggerator (#11). Looking for our in-depth wagering strategies for the Belmont and the rest of the stakes on the Belmont Day Card? Get the TimeformUS Belmont Strategies Package Now: