The Belmont Stakes has developed a reputation for being the most unpredictable of the three Triple Crown races. Whereas the Preakness is typically dominated by logical horses that had run well in the Kentucky Derby, there has been no established formula for winning the Belmont Stakes in recent years. The 1 1/2-mile distance of the Test of the Champion evens the playing field, making it into a great opportunity to pick against the favorites. Horses that are genetically or mentally predisposed to succeed at this demanding trip tend do well in this race – regardless of their preparation—and many of them go off at enticing prices. Indeed, longshots like Creator, Ruler On Ice, Summer Bird, and Drosselmeyer have all pulled off major upsets within the last decade, due in large part to their ability to excel at 12 furlongs.
The key to successfully wagering on the Belmont Stakes often comes down to selecting those runners that will offer the best value, both in the win pool and exotics. That is especially true this year after the withdrawal of the expected favorite, Classic Empire, making the event as wide open as any Belmont Stakes in recent memory.
The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, which is likely to be set by Irish War Cry (#7) and Meantime (#9), with Gormley (#3) in close pursuit. Japanese raider Epicharis (#11) has been assigned an estimated early pace rating, which suggests that he, too, will be among the first flight of runners. While the pace is predicted to be on the quick side, historically the Belmont Stakes is not a race that is typically dominated by closers, and horses with forward position often do quite well.
Let’s go through the entire field:
#1, TWISTED TOM (20-1): Chad Brown is running him in this race because he seems convinced that 1 1/2 miles will be an ideal distance for him. That had better be the case, because his races suggest that he simply is not fast enough to compete with this field. Furthermore, his one somewhat competitive speed figure (a 111 TimeformUS number) was earned over a sloppy track, which he will not encounter Saturday.
#2, TAPWRIT (6-1): This is one of a few horses that was compromised by his trip in the Kentucky Derby. Like Classic Empire, he was hampered by a severe bumping incident at the start of the race, which placed him farther back in the pack than he otherwise would have been. After that early bumping incident, he did get a pretty decent trip under Jose Ortiz, saving ground whenever possible, and even making his way over to the strong rail in the late stages. Nevertheless, he still did well to eventually rally into sixth while never really threatening for a top slot.
Tapwrit gives the impression that he should handle added ground, and Tapit has sired the winner of this race in two of the past three years. If he can get back to the form that carried him to victory in the Tampa Bay Derby in March, he figures to be a major factor in this race.
#3, GORMLEY (8-1): His Derby performance wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. The rail was the place to be during that race, and Gormley raced wide throughout his entire trip after breaking from post 18. He briefly advanced into contention around the far turn, but then could not match strides with the horses ahead of him in the stretch. He worked out a perfect trip when winning the Santa Anita Derby in his prior start, closing into a fast pace (indicated by red color-coding in the PPs). Before that, he had been a one-dimensional front-runner. With the defection of Classic Empire, he becomes the only Grade 1 winner in this field. Other horses in this race have more convincing 1 1/2-mile pedigrees, and I’ve wondered if this horse would actually be better shortening up in distance, rather than stretching out. That said, he clearly possesses some quality, which is more than can be said about a few of his rivals. He’s usable, but I prefer others in the top slots.
#4, J BOYS ECHO (15-1): The only major excuse that you can make for this colt’s Derby performance is the sloppy track. He had never raced over anything but fast going prior to that race, and it’s possible that he just did not handle the racetrack. Prior to that race, he had defeated Cloud Computing in a fast edition of the Gotham back in March. He did work out a dream trip that day, but he still earned the co-fastest TimeformUS Speed Figure (118) in this race. I can make some excuses for his Blue Grass effort, since he was out of position for much of that race after getting bumped at the start. The major concern with him, however, is the added distance of this race. His dam was more of a sprinter, and his best half-sibling Unbridled Outlaw does not want to run much farther than a mile. He figures to be an enticing price, so I would hesitate to talk anyone off of him, but he’s not for me in this race.
#5, HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME (30-1): He was no match for a few of Saturday’s rivals in the Louisiana Derby and Illinois Derby, and it’s not as if his pedigree indicates that he’s supposed to improve at this distance. I suppose he could plod along for a minor award if the race completely falls apart, but there are better late-runners in this field.
#6, LOOKIN AT LEE (5-1): This is the kind of horse that many handicappers tend to gravitate toward in the Belmont Stakes. The logic goes: He was making up ground late in the both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, so it stands to reason that he should finally get there now that he has two extra furlongs to play with. Not so fast. Deep-closing plodders actually have often struggled in the Belmont Stakes, due to the fact that the pace is usually more moderate than in the prior two Triple Crown races. Instead, the Kentucky Derby runner-up looks poised to secure another minor award in this race. He worked out a perfect trip while racing on the best part of the track in Louisville, and he is unlikely to duplicate that effort in this spot. His speed figures suggest that he’s a bit faster than some of the other closers in this race, but he’s also going to be a much shorter price.
#7, IRISH WAR CRY (7-2): The strapping chestnut colt was installed as the morning-line choice, but he’s a difficult favorite to trust. Those making a positive case for him can point to his fast win in the Wood Memorial, in which he earned a field-best 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure, as evidence that he’s talented enough to win this race. Horses with some tactical speed usually excel in this event, and he’s a son of stamina influence Curlin, so he may be well-suited to this distance.
On the other hand, he has completely fallen apart in the late stages of two of his last three starts. He may have been against the racetrack in his poor Derby performance, but he was riding a speed bias when he won the Wood Memorial in his prior start, so his true ability may lie somewhere in between those two polar opposites. He’s the kind of horse that seems to give up when things do not go perfectly. I will not be surprised if he wins, and I will not be surprised if he finishes last. He is an unreliable favorite.
#8, SENIOR INVESTMENT (12-1): I’m generally taking a somewhat negative view of the horses that were making late runs in the Preakness. Classic Empire did all of the hard work up front, pushing Always Dreaming past his limit before just getting run down late by Cloud Computing, who had also been chasing that solid pace. Horses like Senior Investment were running on after the race had been decided. He does deserve some credit for producing the best performance of his career in Maryland, when it really counted. However, he’s another one with a pedigree that suggests 1 1/2 miles may be a stretch, and it’s hard to see the pace of this race totally melting down. A minor award may be his ceiling again.
#9, MEANTIME (15-1): He’s progressed nicely in a short period of time, and he should lead this field for a long way. However, I do not expect him to be around at the finish. He was riding a somewhat speed-favoring surface when he was second to Timeline in the Peter Pan, a performance that may not be quite as strong as it seems. He’s a half-brother to top sprinter/miler Sweet Reason, so there are some reasons to be very concerned about his ability to handle this distance.
#10, MULTIPLIER (15-1): If I were going to use one horse out of the Preakness, it would probably be him. Unlike Lookin At Lee and Senior Investment, who made outside runs through the stretch, he was weaving his way through traffic inside and actually ran reasonably well to finish just a length out of third. Furthermore, he’s raced fewer times than those two colts and appears to be rapidly improving coming into his sixth start. Brendan Walsh has gained somewhat of a reputation for training winners of marathon dirt races in recent years, so perhaps he’s a decent judge of this horse’s ability to handle the distance. That said, it would be quite a training feat to get a son of The Factor out of a Trippi mare to win going this far.
#11, EPICHARIS (4-1): Japan’s representative in this year’s race takes a slightly different path than Lani did last year, coming into this race fresh after losing the UAE Derby. The winner of that race, Thunder Snow, is best known in the United States for his infamous Kentucky Derby debacle, but he is actually a talented horse who rebounded to finish a good second in the Irish 2000 Guineas recently. Epicharis did have everything his own way up front that day, but losing to a colt like Thunder Snow should hardly be viewed as a disappointment.
There are stamina influences throughout Epicharis’s pedigree, tracing to his grandsire, Sunday Silence, and his damsire, Carnegie, who was himself a winner of the 12-furlong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. His dam, Stapes Mitsuko, produced a half-sibling that won a Group 3 race at 10 furlongs and was second in a prestigious Group 2 going 11 furlongs. Epicharis tends to be forwardly placed in his races, but he doesn’t need the lead, which should allow him to work out a decent stalking trip in this event. I think he will stack up well against this mediocre group of U.S. 3-year-olds.
#12, PATCH (12-1): This colt was the underlay of the Kentucky Derby as many fans were stirred by the one-eyed colt’s backstory. Based on his form coming into that race, he really should have been closer to 50-1, rather than his 14-1 final odds. While he never threatened to be a serious factor in the Derby, his performance was not quite as poor as it seems, since he had some serious trouble in that race. Breaking from the far outside post in a 20-horse field is hardly ideal, but Patch was able to attain decent position in midpack. He was traveling well past the half-mile pole, at which point he attempted to follow Practical Joke’s move around the far turn. However, that plan backfired when he got sawed off by two tiring runners at the five-sixteenths pole. Patch then attempted to rally around those horses, but again got stopped in a traffic jam at the quarter pole as runners ahead were drifting about. Robbed of all his forward momentum, he trudged home to finish a well-beaten 14th.
What I like about Patch is that he fits the profile of the kind of horse that should take a step forward in this race. Considering that he only got his career started in January, he projects to continue improving into the second half the season. He showed enough talent to make it into the Kentucky Derby, but he just wasn’t fast enough to really distinguish himself racing against the best of his division at conventional distances. However, that may change now that he’s stretching out. He is sired by Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and is out of a dam that is by another Belmont winner, A.P. Indy. There is quality dirt route form running right down through his female family, tracing to the dam of champion filly Banshee Breeze. This distance should be right up his alley and his new rider, John Velazquez, knows how to win this race. We should see Patch produce the best effort of his career thus far. He is the selection.