The win contender list for Saturday's 151st running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets has to start with War of Will, who rebounded from a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby to win the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes three weeks ago. Preakness runner-up Everfast, who rallied from more than 20 lengths back in the early stages, hopes to run as well or better, while eighth-place finisher Bourbon War will try to return to the form which saw him finish second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes in March behind eventual Derby runner-up Code of Honor. The Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, run four weeks before the Belmont Stakes, has had horses run well in this race previously. This year, Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston and third-place finisher Intrepid Heart are horses with a shot to run well.
In recent history, horses who finished up the track in the Derby and then skipped the Preakness have done well in the Belmont. Master Fencer (seventh prior to Maximum Security’s disqualification in the Derby), Tax (15th) and Spinoff (18th) make up that group, with Tax having the best credentials of the trio in races previous to the Derby as he finished second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Tacitus won the Wood Memorial prior to rallying from 15th to fourth in the Derby and will likely be co-favored by bettors with War of Will at post time. Spinoff finished second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby prior to Kentucky so has proven competitive at the level. Master Fencer rallied from 19th to be beaten just four lengths in the Derby and may improve in the Belmont. Joevia rounds out the Belmont Stakes field, entering the race off a strong wire-to-wire win in the Long Branch Stakes last month.
Overview and contenders:
As written on these pages prior to the Preakness, War of Will has a great deal of competitive spirit. In spite of fighting his jockey in the early stages in a few of his races, when he is asked to run his best he responds nicely. Even after the incident early in the stretch of the Derby, War of Will re-engaged with Maximum Security for a number of strides before tiring. Then, when allowed to make one run in the Preakness, War of Will took the inside path and ran very well to draw off by a length and a quarter, earning a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. The biggest question I have about War of Will repeating or improving upon his Preakness effort in the Belmont is related to his pedigree and ability to run as well at the distance of 1 ½ miles. Horses outrun their pedigree all the time, but considering none of the sons or daughters of sire War Front have run well at the distance, on turf or on dirt, I will look elsewhere for my top contenders although I will not discount the chances of War of Will to win the Belmont entirely.
Sir Winston will be my top choice. He may only have a career record of 2-for-9 but the second of the two was in the Display Stakes, an important stakes race for 2-year-olds at Woodbine. Returning two months later in February of this year, Sir Winston finished well in the late stages when fourth behind Tax in the Withers Stakes then rallied from 11th to fifth behind Tacitus in the Tampa Bay Derby in March. After a troubled trip when seventh in the Blue Grass Stakes in April and not having enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, Sir Winston pointed to the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago as a prep for the Belmont Stakes. This is the same prep the 2014 top two finishers (Tonalist and Commissioner) used. Until 2010, the Dwyer Stakes was run four weeks prior to the Belmont, with the top two finishers in that race (Drosselmeyer and Fly Down) finishing one-two in the Belmont. Joel Rosario rode Sir Winston in the Peter Pan and will once again be in the saddle in the Belmont. It must be noted in 2014 when Tonalist won the Peter Pan he was ridden by Joel Rosario, who won the Belmont with the colt one month later. Although the 101 speed figure Sir Winston earned in the Peter Pan is a bit shy of the 107 War of Will earned in the Preakness and the same figure Tacitus earned in the Derby, I think Sir Winston can improve more than enough to post the upset in this year's Belmont.
Master Fencer may not have been fully acclimated to U.S. racing when he ran in the Kentucky Derby, especially with a 19-horse field and water being splashed into him. In the Derby, it appeared Master Fencer didn't really know what to do as the field broke and he seemed a bit taken aback by all the water being kicked up so jockey Leparoux just let him drop back to last in the field of 19 in the early stages, as many as 23 lengths behind the early leader. As the race went on, Master Fencer started to run more confidently and by the end he was rolling on the inside to be beaten just four lengths at the end. Galloping out second on the turn and having put in a series of strong workouts in Kentucky and then at Belmont Park since the Derby, there is a lot of upside for this young colt. Considering his Derby effort earned a 106 figure, I think Master Fencer deserves a good deal of respect as a contender in the Belmont Stakes.
Tacitus was also rolling faster than most horses in the last quarter mile of the Derby, earning a career-best 107 figure when beaten just three-quarters of a length for third at the finish. Tacitus had won three races in a row prior to that including the Wood Memorial and in that race the colt recovered from early trouble where he nearly fell, after which many horses may have given up. As a son of Tapit, who sired three recent winners of the Belmont (Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016, and Tapwrit in 2017), there is no question Tacitus can get the mile and a half distance of the Belmont. Trainer Bill Mott won this race in 2010 with Drosselmeyer so he knows what it takes to get a horse ready for this marathon test as well.
In addition to the four horses I think have the bulk of the probability to win this year's Belmont Stakes - Sir Winston, Master Fencer, Tacitus and War of Will, Everfast is a horse I think we need to consider for any exacta or trifecta tickets we play. Coming off a career-best 105 figure effort when second in the Preakness, similar to the effort he put in four races before that when second in the Holy Bull, Everfast will be rallying from far back and passing many of the horses who will find the mile and a half distance to be beyond their range.
The rest of the Belmont Stakes field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Bourbon War (110), Intrepid Heart (103), Joevia (100), Spinoff (100) and Tax (105).
Win contenders, in probability order:
War of Will
For the exacta and trifecta:
You can get Ellis' entire Belmont Stakes day selections and analysis at Equibase.com and most legal online wagering websites.