Veteran Turf Writers Analyze the Contenders for the 2022 Belmont Stakes

Nest (left) and Mo Donegal train together for Todd Pletcher at Belmont Park on June 4 in preparation for starts in the Belmont Stakes. (Susie Raisher/NYRA)

Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1970. Bob soon introduced Tom to the joys of Thoroughbred racing.

They have endured some rough moments at the track, with Tom taking exception when Bob repeatedly smacks him on the back with a program as one of their horses launches an all-out drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as he proceeds to cash a $27 triple.

They have owned a number of horses together and were part of the group that owned 1998 Whitney runner-up Tale of the Cat. They are often seen carrying on as if they never left their teenage years.

Here is their take on the 154th Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, to be run at a mile and a half Saturday at New York’s Belmont Park:

We the People (Susie Raisher/NYRA)

PEDULLA: First of all, kudos to you on having Early Voting in the Preakness while I settled for second best with Epicenter for the second consecutive Triple Crown race. Everything about this Belmont tells me it has Todd Pletcher’s name on it. With three previous Belmont wins, he sure knows how to get the job done and he has two strong starters in Mo Donegal and a formidable filly, Nest. I think there is every reason to believe that Mo Donegal, who defeated Early Voting in the Wood Memorial, will bounce back from his fifth-place Kentucky Derby finish. Given the trip he endured after breaking from the rail, I was impressed he finished that high.

EHALT: Thomas, let me start my saluting you for assembling these picks under very trying circumstances. I saw how you began to shake when I told you the New York Bee Gees would be playing at Belmont Park Friday, resurrecting some very bad memories. I’m one of the very few who know the story of your short-lived singing career. You landed a dream job as a backup singer for the Bee Gees, but then you got into a nasty fight with Barry Gibb because of your insistence that “Fanny Be Tender” be changed to “Tammy Be Tender” because you believed that sounded better. Your life as a sportswriter ever since then shows how well that argument went for you. Oh well, disco’s loss was horse racing’s gain. I think. Anyway, after saving some face for us and hitting Early Voting in the Preakness so we would not be shut out in 2022, I’m going for a Meat Loaf. Since two out of three ain’t bad, I’m taking We the People to control the pace and win the Belmont Stakes. I know you may disagree, but, hey, be tender.

PEDULLA: One of Pletcher’s Belmont wins came with a filly. Neither of us will ever forget standing side by side in the press box while Rags to Riches outslugged eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in one of the fiercest stretch duels either of us has ever witnessed. Pletcher would never risk Nest in a race of this caliber if he did not believe she belonged. I can recall interviewing him in Florida much earlier this season, when he raved about her stamina. If there is a horse built for the mile and a half, this daughter of Curlin is it.

EHALT: Knowing the ladies’ man that you were in our high school days, I’m not surprised by that pick. As for me, watching Rich Strike train this week at Belmont Park this week I’ve reached the conclusion he’s not Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He’s no one-hit wonder. I’m not sure if he can overcome a slow pace, but I believe he’s good enough to grab the place spot. C’mon buddy. Trust me, Toora-Loora-Aye and all that.

PEDULLA: At least on paper, Peter Pan Stakes winner We the People is a threat to go gate to wire as the lone speed in the eight-horse field. He will be doubly dangerous if the track comes up wet and there is a chance of rain in the forecast. But he is no American Pharoah (2015) or Justify (2018), Triple Crown winners who were never seriously challenged on the front end.

EHALT: I see some of your logic with Mo Donegal and like him for third. He did indeed have some bad luck in the Derby that left his backers downhearted and confused. Some were walking around with their pockets bare. At least the law of averages plainly states that chance is going around, so I’m looking for a good enough effort to get him into the trifecta and end all of this bad luck.

PEDULLA: Bob, I am going to make this interesting by leaving out Rich Strike and selecting Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road to nab fourth. He lost a ton of ground in the Derby, where he was 11 wide at the quarter pole in finishing a respectable sixth. With blinkers coming off and Joel Rosario in the irons for the first time, Barber Road is a worthy longshot for up-and-coming trainer John Ortiz. Leave him out at your own peril!

EHALT: Thomas, you left out Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, and look at what happened. Since I have him covered for us, for my final spot I’m going with Creative Minister, who seems to be getting better with each start. I’m not sure if he wants to go 1 ½ miles, but he’s talented enough to be used in the exotics. Oh, and if you’re looking for some old song lyrics for the fourth time, sorry, unlike my pick for fourth, I’m not that creative.

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