J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Saturday, Belmont Park will host a spectacular day of racing highlighted by the
$1.5 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I), the third and final leg of the Triple
last-minute defection of champion Classic
Empire due a foot abscess has left the Belmont Stakes without a clear
favorite, and has also removed one of the most prominent speed horses from the
race. In fact, among the twelve horses that remain in the race, only a handful
have shown a desire to race on or near the early lead. Since the twelve-furlong
distance of the Belmont Stakes already has a tendency to result in a modest
pace that favors speed, it appears that closers could be at a disadvantage in
this year's edition of the race.
this in mind, let's take a look at the entries!
Twisted Tom: A
winner of three straight races for trainer Chad Brown, Twisted Tom has a strong
pedigree and was clearly best in the nine-furlong Federico Tesio Stakes at
Laurel on April 22nd, but his speed figures are on the slow side and
this is a major class test. While you have to respect any colt that is winning
with regularity, I'll side against Twisted Tom in the Belmont Stakes.
though Tapwrit has been beaten by double-digit lengths in his last two starts,
I view him as one of the primary contenders to win the Belmont. After flashing
excellent form in Florida during the winter, including a 4 ½-length romp in the
Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II), Tapwrit finished fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr.
II) without an obvious excuse, but his rebound in the Kentucky Derby was
impressive, though a bit unnoticed. After a troubled start, Tapwrit found
himself 14 lengths off the early lead (much farther back than usual), but gradually
threaded his way through the field and rallied up the rail to finish a solid
sixth, a little more than a length behind Classic Empire.
form is very similar to that of Destin, another Todd Pletcher-trained runner
that ran second by a nose in the 2016 Belmont Stakes after winning the Tampa
Bay Derby and finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby. Since the Derby, Tapwrit
has been training steadily at Belmont Park, where he worked five furlongs in
1:01 2/5 in company with Patch, easily besting his workmate and galloping-out
another quarter-mile in about :26 flat. This was a solid breeze from a horse
not typically known for being impressive in the mornings, and from all
appearances Tapwrit is coming into the Belmont ready for another big run.
also hard to ignore Pletcher's overall record in the Belmont Stakes, which
includes two winners (Rags to Riches and Palace Malice) plus five seconds
(Bluegrass Cat, Dunkirk, Stay Thirsty, Commissioner, and Destin) and two thirds
(Ready's Echo and Sunriver), all since 2006. Drawing post two will give Tapwrit
an opportunity to save ground on the turns, which could be a big advantage. Is
this the year that Pletcher picks up a third Belmont victory?
his ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby isn't impressive at first glance,
I thought Gormley actually ran a huge race. Breaking from post eighteen,
Gormley was caught very wide throughout the Derby and seemed to react to the
muddy kick-back early in the race, causing him to drop back early on before
making a sustained mid-race move to rally into fourth place around the far
turn. Considering that he was under pressure to advance from a long, long way
out, I was surprised that Gormley stayed on well enough to finish ninth despite
some bumping in the homestretch.
best efforts have come when he's been able to settle into a rhythm and stay out
of trouble, so the longer distance (and presumably modest pace) of the Belmont
Stakes should help him achieve that comfortable rhythm. His pedigree is strong,
and his 8-1 morning line odds are solid for a two-time Grade 1 winner. I view
him as an intriguing contender to win or hit the board at a big price.
J Boys Echo: After
defeating future Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing by 3 ½ lengths in the
Gotham Stakes (gr. III), J Boys Echo seemed like a major contender for the
Kentucky Derby. However, he faltered when fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr.
II) and was subsequently beaten 23 lengths in the Derby, failing to contend at
any point following a troubled start. Perhaps he didn't care for the wet track,
but while his pedigree holds promise for the Belmont distance and he's training
well, his overall form suggests that this level of competition might be a
little too steep for him. I view him as a contender to round out the trifecta
Dallas Stewart has achieved a reputation in recent years for finishing second
in Triple Crown races with major longshots like Macho Again, Golden Soul,
Commanding Curve, and Tale of Verve. You can make a case that Hollywood
Handsome could be Stewart's latest live longshot, for the son of Tapizar
recently won an 8.5-furlong allowance race at Churchill Downs with an
impressive late run, closing into slow fractions to win by a neck while running
the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a quick :30.16 according to Trakus.
as a closer without much early speed, Hollywood Handsome's running style might
not be ideal for the generally speed-favoring Belmont Stakes, and his pedigree
appears geared toward shorter distances than a mile and a half. While I think Hollywood
Handsome is one to consider at a big price for the trifecta or superfecta, I'll
look at others for the top couple of spots.
Lookin at Lee: He's
been a picture of consistency since last summer, peaking with a runner-up
effort in the Kentucky Derby, but he rode the rail with a perfect trip that day
and is still 0-for-8 in graded stakes company and in route races. He'll pick up
the services of top jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won the Belmont last year with
a perfect ride aboard Creator, but Lookin at Lee's deep-closing style probably
isn't well-suited to a race like the Belmont.
Irish War Cry: Thus
far, the career of Irish War Cry has been comprised of explosive victories and
disappointing defeats, with nothing in between. On his best day, Irish War Cry
is a force to reckon with-he won the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) by 3 ¾ lengths
and the Wood Memorial (gr. I) by 3 ½ lengths, earning a pair of 101 Beyer speed
figures while defeating the likes of Classic Empire, Cloud Computing, and
Gunnevera. In between those two victories he finished seventh in the Fountain
of Youth Stakes (gr. II), beaten 21 lengths, and tenth in the Kentucky Derby,
beaten 16 lengths.
I believe that Irish War Cry's Derby effort was considerably better than it
appears at first glance. Racing over a wet track that seemed to be favoring the
inside paths, Irish War Cry was caught wide every step of the way while
tracking a solid early pace. Rounding the final turn, he moved up to challenge
for the lead and appeared to have a lot left in the tank-jockey Rajiv Maragh
even looked over his shoulder, a sign of confidence, and later said he thought
Irish War Cry was going to put in a big run. Instead, Irish War Cry faltered
turning for home and faded in the stretch, though he was eased up a bit late
and might have finished a bit closer if urged.
you forgive Irish War Cry's Derby finish, then it's not hard to make a case
that he can win the Belmont Stakes. As a son of Curlin, who sired 2013 Belmont
Stakes winner Palace Malice, the twelve-furlong distance should be within Irish
War Cry's reach. In terms of peak speed figures, he's one of the fastest horses
in the race, and his ability to win while on the lead or tracking the pace is
perfect for the Belmont Stakes.
also encouraged by the fact that trainer Graham Motion elected to run Irish War
Cry in the Belmont after seemingly removing him from further Triple Crown
consideration following the Kentucky Derby. I have the feeling that Irish War
Cry is sitting on a big rebound, especially in a race that lacks any serious
speed on paper.
Senior Investment: Having
crossed the wire first in four of his last six starts, Senior Investment
certainly knows how to win. Following a narrow victory in the Lexington Stakes
(gr. III) at Keeneland, Senior Investment tackled the Preakness Stakes and
unleashed a big rally to finish third. However, in both of those races Senior
Investment benefited from fast pace fractions that enhanced his late run; he
might not get such an ideal setup in the Belmont. The time to play him was
probably the Preakness, where he was 31-1-while he warrants respect, the value
may be gone this time around.
breaking his maiden third time out by 7 ½ lengths over a sealed track at
Keeneland, Meantime caught another sealed track in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr.
III) at Belmont Park, in which he set the pace but was passed in the stretch to
finish second, beaten 3 ½ lengths in a strung-out field. He figures to be a
prominent pace factor, but if the track is dry, he might be at a disadvantage
while facing a field of this caliber.
rallying to win the Illinois Derby (gr. III) by a nose, Multiplier was sent off
as a longshot in the Preakness Stakes, where he dropped thirteen lengths back
early on before rallying mildly to finish sixth, though beaten only a length
for third place. But as a deep closer, Multiplier is another that could be at a
disadvantage in the Belmont Stakes, especially since his pedigree seems geared
toward shorter distances.
Japanese shipper will attempt to improve on the solid form of his compatriot
Lani, who finished third in last year's Belmont Stakes. In a general sense I
believe Epicharis is a much stronger contender than Lani, as he went 4-for-4 in
Japan (winning by an average of nearly 6 ½ lengths) before finishing second by
a head to the talented Group 1 winner Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby on March
25th. However, whereas Lani ran in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness prior
to his Belmont effort (improving each time he ran), Epicharis has not run since
the UAE Derby and will be making his U.S. debut this Saturday. While it would
come as no surprise if Epicharis runs well, this looks like a tough task and
the value might not be enough to warrant a wager.
had his fair share of trouble in the Kentucky Derby, breaking from post twenty
and receiving a rough trip en route to finishing fourteenth, beaten 21 lengths.
I would draw a line through that performance and judge him off his previous
form, which includes a late-running second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby
(gr. II), in which he capitalized on a quick pace and a ground-saving trip. His
pedigree suggests that the Belmont distance won't be an issue (his sire and dam
sire both won the Belmont), but Patch was clearly out-worked by stablemate
Tapwrit in a five-furlong breeze on June 2nd at Belmont, and since
Tapwrit's form overall has been superior, it's hard to side with Patch over his
condense this all into something shorter, I view Gormley, Irish War Cry,
and Tapwrit as the main contenders
in the Belmont Stakes. If I had to pick one horse to win regardless of odds, I
would side with Irish War Cry,
though in a wide-open race where it's difficult to predict how the odds will
unfold, I would keep an eye on the tote board to determine which horses offers
the best value. Judging strictly from the morning line odds, I am drawn to Tapwrit at 6-1, though I wouldn't be
surprised if he goes off at a shorter price. For the bottom of the trifecta and
superfecta, Epicharis, Hollywood Handsome, and J Boys Echo are the three that interest
me most, with the latter two being of particular interest since their morning
line odds (30-1 and 15-1) are significantly higher than the odds assigned to Epicharis
it's your turn! Who do you like in 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 www.theturfboard.com.