Run at 1 1/2 miles, the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets in Elmont, New York awaits this Saturday at Belmont Park. The final leg of the Triple Crown is called the “Test of the Champion” and the winner of this race could move closer to an Eclipse Award in a wide-open 3-year-old division.
It seems to be a developing theme in these races that many new shooters will be stepping up along with a couple of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and Preakness Stakes runners looking to pad their accomplishments.
It remains to be seen what interesting events are in store this time around in what many expect to be a competitive, exciting horse race.
1. “Do the horses coming out of the Preakness have an edge in the Belmont Stakes?”
Unlike the strong trend that continued this year in the Preakness Stakes with horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby performing well in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is a bit more complicated.
Horses that missed the Kentucky Derby and then ran in the Preakness have not had much success in the Belmont, even when coming off a top-three finish in the Preakness. In the last five years, there have been six horses to use that race pattern into the Belmont Stakes, and all six of those horses finished off the board. Last year in the Belmont Stakes, Preakness runner-up Tenfold, who did not race in the Kentucky Derby, finished fifth in the Belmont. That is something to keep in mind when considering #5 Bourbon War and #2 Everfast, both coming into this race with that same pattern.
Using the same five-year sample, horses that ran in but did not win the Kentucky Derby and then went on to run well in the Preakness tend to take a step back in the Belmont Stakes. Exaggerator, the 2016 Preakness winner, finished second in the Kentucky Derby and then ran 11th as the betting favorite in the Belmont Stakes. The only horse in this field with that pattern is #9 War of Will.
Horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby and then skipped the Preakness tend to perform well in the Belmont Stakes — that was the pattern for recent Belmont winners Creator (2016) and Tapwrit (2017).
Looking at the new shooters and outsiders: unlike horses exiting the Federico Tesio Stakes, which has proved a weak prep for the Preakness, the local prep for the Belmont Stakes, the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes, has mixed results. In 2014, Tonalist won the Peter Pan and went on to win the Belmont Stakes in his next start. That same year, Commissioner finished second in the Peter Pan and ran second again in the Belmont Stakes. Both of those horses skipped the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
2. “Joevia can go as fast or as slow as he wants. Nobody is worried about him going wire to wire in the Belmont Stakes” -@ahickman2 (Adam H.)
As with most Triple Crown races, the pace of the race has been a major factor and played a role in the results of both the 2019 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Disqualification aside, Maximum Security was one of the “lone speed” types going into the race and with some pressure was able to control the pace. Unlike his rough trip in the Kentucky Derby, #9 War of Will was able to sit a great “pocket” type trip in the Preakness, smartly handled by jockey Tyler Gaffalione tracking behind the pacesetters. The pace was quite honest, and War of Will was able to save ground and lacked any trouble when using an opening on the inside to score the Grade 1 Preakness win. Certainly, #1 Joevia has early speed and his best chance will be for jockey Jose Lezcano to send him to the front, especially after drawing the rail. He does not have any options for his best, unlike others in this field that have some tactical speed but do not necessarily need the lead. With the likelihood of both #2 Everfast and #3 Master Fencer dropping back early to save ground from off the pace, both #4 Tax and #6 Spinoff very likely will assume the “presser” role, not far off Joevia early. That could make it difficult for War of Will to find early position from post-position 9 without losing a lot of ground in the process.
The question posed was about how fast a pace Joevia might set early. That might not have any bearing on his particular race. However, if he does set the pace and goes fast early, others very likely will join him. That pace scenario could hurt a horse like War of Will by draining his energy from using early speed for tactical position combined with expected ground loss.
3. “Blinkers off as Bourbon War joins the Belmont Stakes field.”—@FriendOfRacing
Unlucky when unable to draw into the Kentucky Derby, #5 Bourbon War had to miss the big race and instead took a shot in the Preakness Stakes. Trainer Mark Hennig decided to add the blinkers for the Preakness and it seemed a logical equipment change based on his 2019 races. In theory, adding blinkers should have helped him focus and get into the race earlier. Not all theories work according to plan, however, and while Bourbon War was positioned more in contact with the field early in the Preakness, he also looked completely uncomfortable in the race while running with his head turned. Based on those visuals, it makes sense that Hennig will remove the blinkers for the Belmont Stakes. In theory, that should help him be more comfortable, but based on his most recent workout and even his most recent gallop, he still showed the same behavior with his head cocked. It was not nearly as severe as it was in the Preakness, but it still is something worth noting. Also worth noting, he had not raced in almost two months leading into the Preakness and could appreciate that race from a conditioning standpoint. A similar “second-off” pattern seemed to help War of Will from a fitness standpoint, going from the slight layoff entering the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness.
4. With the 1 ½-mile distance, does that favor closers is the Belmont Stakes?
Watching the recent editions of the Belmont Stakes, a horse with any running style seems capable of winning, but more important are pace, class, and current form. Trip plays a major role, and it seems in this particular race more than any, saving ground at some point during the running is the key. There are a trio of horses in this race that look to have a closer-type running style based on their most recent races #2 Everfast, #3 Master Fencer, and #7 Sir Winston. Coming out of the Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer was one of the horses that “caught the eye” when closing late inside and between horses. It was a visually impressive and fast final quarter-mile, the fastest of the 19 Derby runners. He had shown some good final times in his previous races, though it did seem the racetrack “sloppy” conditions moved him up as well. Second longest shot on the board in the Preakness, Everfast rallied late to finish second. He, too, had a solid final time, though he was not as strong visually. His closing bid was somewhat aided by the fact not many horses were still running on late and many were starting to get tired in the stretch. Perhaps the preferred of the three, Sir Winston is coming out of a closing second in the Peter Pan Stakes here at Belmont Park. He has shown that closing ability on more than one occasion, one of those races showing an especially good closing kick in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, won by today’s rival #10 Tacitus.
5. “Who is your pick for the Belmont Stakes?”—@tmlam830 (Morning Line Sports Show)
My “pick” for the Belmont Stakes is more of a “pick against” as there looks to be enough to take a stand against #9 War of Will at a short price. He was in the right spot physically and from a trip perspective in the Preakness while also getting needed fitness coming out of the Kentucky Derby. He ran his career-best OptixFIG in the Preakness and will need similar here. From a trip and distance standpoint, that looks questionable in this race and makes him potentially vulnerable.
Todd Pletcher historically points to this race and that looks to be the case with #8 Intrepid Heart. He is one of the more lightly raced horses in this field and has shown legit ability in each start. He made his first career start a bit late at Oaklawn Park in February with an impressive debut effort. His second start at Keeneland in April is the race to key on. He gave a really gritty race to get that win, and the victory seemed to be a potentially taxing effort. He possibly regressed some out of that Keeneland allowance, and it did not help losing his footing at the start of the Grade 2 Peter Pan. That was a rough combination to overcome but despite the challenge he still showed run while finishing third. That allowance race seemed to play a role in his Grade 2 Peter Pan effort and is reason to suggest there is upside for him coming into the Belmont Stakes.
Given the strength of horses using the Kentucky Derby to Belmont Stakes race pattern, #10 Tacitus is one of the more likely winners in this race. He is no secret as the morning-line favorite and fits in this race both from a trip and class perspective. Tacitus also has not shown distance limitations in his races.
Pletcher will also enter #6 Spinoff and the same Kentucky Derby-to-Belmont angle can upgrade his chances. He has some quality to him, however distance might be an issue. There are similar concerns for #4 Tax regarding distance but he looks capable for an underneath share.
One final leg of the Triple Crown and tough to say this series has been anything but exciting so far. The “Five Questions” will be back this summer. In the meantime, check out all the information available at OptixEQ.com. Thanks for reading and, as always, good luck horseplayers!
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