Run at 1 ½ miles, the $1.5-million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y, is the longest of the Triple Crown races and is very likely the first and only time that the participants will run that far in their career, particularly on a dirt track.
Because of its massive circumference and beachy racing surface, Belmont is known as “Big Sandy.”
In the last 21 years, only three Belmont favorites have won - American Pharoah (2016), Afleet Alex (2005) and Point Given (2001).
Six of the last nine winners have been sent off at least 11-1, and since 1999, the Belmont has seen six winners at odds of 18-1 or higher. Last year's winner Creator was 16.40-1.
Some very average horses have won the Belmont - Ruler On Ice (2011), Da’ Tara (2008) and Sarava (2002) immediately come to mind.
A different trainer has won the Belmont in nine consecutive years, a different jockey in six straight.
Here are five questions that must be answered …
1. With Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Always Dreaming, Preakness Stakes victor Cloud Computing and champion Classic Empire all out, who is the horse to beat in the Belmont?
Joe’s answer: Good question! Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Irish War Cry has been installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite, but trainer Graham Motion didn’t even commit to running until a few days before the draw. He appeared loaded on the turn for home in the Kentucky Derby, but flattened like a pancake. He was hung wide on an inside-favoring track, so there’s that ...
Japanese invader Epicharis is the 4-1 second choice in the program, but he apparently came up lame Thursday morning, and his participation is in doubt.
Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee, who would later run fourth in the Preakness, is the third choice at 5-1. He is on course to become the ONLY horse to compete in all three Triple Crown races this year. He got a golden, rail trip in Louisville and ran a very average race in Baltimore.
The “horse to beat” could actually be 6-1 fourth-choice Tapwrit. He ran a deceivingly good sixth in the Derby and is rested and ready for the Belmont. His races at Tampa Bay Downs were some of the better performances of the spring and his grinding style should suit him well on Saturday. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won this race in similar fashion with Palace Malice in 2013, and he also scored with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007.
2. How will the pace unfold and what style horse will have an advantage?
Joe’s answer: Irish War Cry, Meantime and Epicharis (if he can run) should be forwardly placed, with Twisted Tom, Gormley, Tapwrit and Patch chasing from the second flight. J Boys Echo, Hollywood Handsome, Lookin At Lee and Senior Investment are likely to launch their bids from farther back, while the newly blinkered Multiplier is a bit of a wild card.
Irish War Cry is rateable, and Mike Smith probably will have a good hold on Meantime, so it’s highly unlikely that the pace will be hot, and at 1 ½ miles, the late runners will be closer in tow than they usually are.
Whomever handles the sandy surface while at the same time displaying stamina will run big. I don’t think pace will be a major factor.
3. Who is the best Belmont longshot?
Joe’s answer: I’d love to get the 12-1 morning line price on Senior Investment. Trainer Ken McPeek ended War Emblem’s Triple Crown bid in 2002 with 70.25-1 longshot Sarava and he also ran third in the 2012 Belmont with 20.50-1 shot Atigun. The light bulb really seemed to brighten in Senior Investment’s Stonestreet Lexington Stakes score on April 15. He was fractious in the gate in the Preakness and encountered some traffic trouble in the stretch before flying late while widest to get third.
We’ve seen some crazy Belmont upsets in the past, and this race appears to be ripe for one, so it’s difficult to discount any of them.
4. Who will be crowned 3-year-old champion at year’s end?
Joe’s answer: Who knows. What we do know is that for the second consecutive year three different horses will take down the Triple Crown races (2016 – Nyquist, Exaggerator and Creator). Before developing another abscess earlier in the week, Classic Empire was in position to nudge his way to the top of the list with a win in the Belmont, but if the season were to end today, the Eclipse Award would most likely go to Always Dreaming. He’s the only sophomore to bank two Grade 1 wins this season – Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby.
Remember, nobody even knew last year’s Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old Arrogate until the Travers Stakes at the end of August. There’s still a lot of races to be run.
5. Who wins the Belmont and why?
Joe’s answer: If you’re playing multi-race wagers, I wouldn’t discourage hitting the “all” button on one of your tickets. That being said, for the reasons listed above, the two horses I’ll be centering my wagers on are Tapwrit and Senior Investment.
Joe’s Belmont picks: 1. Tapwrit, 2. Senior Investment, 3. Irish War Cry, 4. Gormley, 5. Hollywood Handsome