Shortly after the 2019 Preakness Stakes, it became clear that the winner of the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, War of Will, would target the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 8 but neither Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Country House nor disqualified Derby first-place finisher Maximum Security would compete in the 1 ½-mile race.
So what does the competition for War of Will look like about two weeks before the Belmont Stakes?
Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Tacitus (third in the Kentucky Derby) and Preakness runner-up Everfast and third-place finisher Owendale are among the early Belmont Stakes probables. Tacitus’ trainer, Bill Mott, won the Belmont in 2010 with Drosselmeyer.
Another interesting contender is Japanese-based Master Fencer, who had an eventful trip in the Kentucky Derby when sixth after Maximum Security’s DQ. Katsumi Yoshizawa's homebred Just a Way colt took a right-hand turn out of the starting gate and trailed the 19-horse field early (23 lengths back after the first quarter-mile).
According to Trakus data, Master Fencer ran his final quarter-mile in 24.60 seconds, more than half a second faster than the next-fastest final split, and wound up only four lengths behind Maximum Security.
“Master Fencer was the first Japanese bred to run in the Kentucky Derby and we are continuing on that path of firsts. I needed to see how he'd run in the Derby before making any plans for his immediate future, but I'd always felt like the Belmont Stakes would be the logical next step for him if he proved himself worthy in the Derby first,” Yoshizawa said. “Ultimately, he performed better than we could have hoped, so I gave the trainer and staff the go ahead to prepare for the Belmont. I think he will have a better chance in the Belmont than he did in the Derby.”
Another probable runner for the Belmont Stakes is Wood Memorial runner-up Tax, who was a nonfactor in the Kentucky Derby in his first try on an off-track. He finished 14th on the sloppy track at Churchill and never improved to better than ninth in the 1 ¼-mile race. Prior to that, he had not finished outside the top three in five previous races.
The Belmont also is expected to draw Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby runner-up Spinoff (18th in the Kentucky Derby) and Long Branch Stakes winner Joevia as well as Peter Pan Stakes runner-up Sir Winston and third-place finisher Intrepid Heart.
Both Spinoff and Intrepid Heart are trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the Belmont Stakes three times (Tapwrit, 2017; Palace Malice, 2013; Rags to Riches, 2007).
Sir Winston is a stablemate of War of Will in trainer Mark Casse’s barn.
War of Will would become the first horse to finish unplaced in the Kentucky Derby and go on to win the Preakness and Belmont since Point Given in 2001 and the first non-Derby winner to win both races since Afleet Alex in 2005.
According to NYRA, Sir Winston, Tax, Spinoff, Intrepid Heart, and Tacitus are tentatively scheduled to work in preparation for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.