All eyes figure to be on the outside posts when the gates open for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) June 8 at Belmont Park as they briefly will house Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will in post 9 and morning-line favorite Tacitus in post 10.
I'm in agreement with the morning line as this year's Belmont has some separation between the top two choices, War of Will at 2-1 and Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) winner Tacitus at 9-5. Trying to pick between those two is difficult, and in terms of wagers like the Pick 4, I suspect they'll be the only horses I play.
But in terms of picking the winner of this race, I'll give Tacitus the edge as he tries to become the fifth horse since 2012 to finish off the board in the Kentucky Derby, skip the Preakness, and then win the Belmont. In using this approach, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has provided Tacitus an opportunity to skip some racing and travel while settling into a routine at his Belmont barn.
The third-place Derby finisher has worked three times on the Belmont main track, completing a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 June 2 to signal his readiness.
Beyond that, Tacitus is the rare horse that suggests the 1 1/2-mile Belmont should be to his liking. He's a son of Tapit, who since 2014 has had three Belmont winners: Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), and Tapwrit (2017). With a fourth Belmont win, Tapit--who also will be represented by Bourbon War and Intrepid Heart Saturday--will tie Lexington for the most by a sire.
As if that wasn't enough of a breeding angle, Close Hatches--dam of Juddmonte Farms homebred Tacitus--earned two of her five grade 1 wins on the Belmont main track, the 2014 Ogden Phipps and 2013 Mother Goose stakes.
Tacitus put together a three-race win streak going into the Derby, starting with the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2). Despite a rough trip early, Tacitus was fourth under the wire at Churchill Downs and picked up a classic placing when he was moved up to third after the disqualification of Maximum Security.
War of Will also had a troubled trip in the Derby, where Maximum Security interfered with him in the far turn. He came back two weeks later to win the Preakness.
This week trainer Mark Casse summed up my feelings on War of Will when he noted the colt could move to another level with a victory Saturday--an outcome that would not surprise me after I picked War of Will to win the Preakness. Casse acknowledged three races in five weeks is difficult but noted that great horses find a way. He wasn't ready to say his horse is at that level, but he certainly believes War of Will deserves a chance to show his ability.
It'll be fun to see.
Underneath those two, I like Sir Winston, who likes the Belmont main track. Besides his runner-up finish in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) where he made up nearly nine lengths in the final three-eighths of a mile, the son of Awesome Again is thriving on the surface in the mornings.