An Early Look at the Belmont Stakes

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

With just over two weeks remaining until the Belmont Stakes, I thought now might be a good time to take an early look at the third leg of the Triple Crown to see how the race might unfold, and try to identify which horses will have the best chance of winning.

Although the twelve-furlong distance of the Belmont seems perfect for late-running horses that charge from the back of the pack, this actually isn't the case-somewhat surprisingly, the Belmont plays strongly in favor of front-running/pace-pressing colts that can take advantage of the frequently slow pace. But even a fast pace isn't the worst thing for speed horses, as Palace Malice and Oxbow were both close to a blazing pace in the 2013 Belmont before going on to finish 1-2.

Following the defection of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Nyquist, at least nine horses are currently under consideration for the Belmont, including Preakness winner Exaggerator. Like his sire Curlin, Exaggerator strikes me as a colt that is getting better with experience and maturity, and while he did get a perfect setup in the Preakness-saving ground behind a fast pace while racing over a muddy track, which he loves-he's fairly versatile and could be just as effective racing close to a slower pace in the Belmont.

But although Exaggerator has proven himself to be adaptable, the majority of the other Belmont contenders are deep closers that haven't shown much early speed. Brody's Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Lani, and Mo Tom have never really shown a desire to race close to the pace. Suddenbreakingnews showed a bit of early speed as a two-year-old, setting the pace when breaking his maiden going a mile at Remington Park, but the modest fractions of :24.83, :49.47, and 1:14.42 helped his chances, and with the exception of that race, he's never been closer than sixth (of seven horses) in any race.

This leaves only Destin and Governor Malibu as potential pacesetters in the Belmont Stakes, and I think they will be very tough to catch. Destin has shown lots of talent and respectable speed this year, winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) and Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) with pace-tracking trips, although the half-mile fractions of those races (:48.16 flat and :47.88) weren't all that fast. But in the Kentucky Derby, while coming off an eight-week layoff, he spent most of the race in the top half in the field and was just five lengths off a six-furlong fraction of 1:10.40 before staying on well to finish sixth.

Destin might not be a true front-runner gifted with blazing early speed, but in a race full of deep closers, he figures to be on or near the early lead. His pedigree-by Giant's Causeway out of the Siberian Summer mare Dream of Summer, making him a full brother to the talented Creative Cause-should be perfectly suited to the distance of the Belmont. Furthermore, trainer Todd Pletcher has enjoyed remarkable success in the Belmont over the last ten years, finishing second and third in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver, first in 2007 with Rags to Riches, third in 2008 with Ready's Echo, second in 2009 with Dunkirk, second in 2011 with Stay Thirsty, first in 2013 with Palace Malice, and second in 2014 with Commissioner, a colt that progressed in much the same way as Destin and showed more speed than expected in the Belmont to be beaten just a nose.

From what I've seen, a lot of people will be supporting Destin in the Belmont Stakes, so I don't expect him to be a major longshot in the sense of Palace Malice or Commissioner. But I do think that he's a perfect fit for the race, and if he trains well during the next two weeks-I'd love to see him breeze five furlongs with a strong three-furlong gallop-out about a week before the race-I think he will give a terrific account of himself in the Belmont and quite possibly win the race.

As for Governor Malibu, he has been very consistent so far, finishing third or better in all seven of his races. He's shown speed in several of them, albeit when tracking slow fractions, and last time out, he turned in a strong effort to finish second in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont. That performance was particularly noteworthy because Governor Malibu was finishing with impressive speed-according to Trakus, he ran the final three furlongs in about :36 1/5, a stellar fraction. Trained by Christophe Clement, who sent out Tonalist to win the 2014 Belmont off a win in the Peter Pan, Governor Malibu seems to be improving at the right time and has a pedigree that suggests twelve furlongs won't be an issue. I think he's another colt that is sitting on a big run two weeks from now.

Now it's your turn! Do you have any early opinions on the Belmont Stakes?


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

Recent Posts

More Blogs