By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The 2022 Triple Crown winds
down on Saturday with the 154th running of the historic $1.5 million Belmont S.
(G1) at Belmont Park.
Held over the testing
distance of 1 1/2 miles, the Belmont has attracted a small but competitive
field of eight horses for its 2022 edition. Four of the entrants are proven
graded stakes winners, while the remaining four have placed at the graded
stakes level. You can make a case for anyone to finish in the top three, so
there are a lot of handicapping possibilities to consider.
The biggest challenge might
be deciding what to do with morning line favorite #1 We the People (2-1). If you excuse a troubled seventh-place
finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1), the son of Constitution is unbeaten and
unchallenged in three starts. He was especially impressive in the 1 1/8-mile
Peter Pan S. (G3) at Belmont Park last month, leading all the way and drawing
off down the homestretch to dominate by 10 1/4 lengths.
We the People finished fast
in the Peter Pan (sprinting the final three furlongs in :37.02) and has the
pedigree to stretch out over 1 1/2 miles. He also looms as the only clear speed
horse in the Belmont field, so what's to stop We the People from parading along
on an easy lead and winning the Belmont in gate-to-wire fashion?
Well, if we want to nitpick,
there might be a chink or two in We the People's armor. His three victories
haven't come against the toughest competition (there weren't any graded stakes
winners in the fields), and We the People's Peter Pan romp came over a sealed
track that may have aided his pacesetting style.
We the People clearly has
talent, and the fact he's likely to secure an uncontested lead means he's a
must-use runner in multi-race wagers. But he's not necessarily the most likely
Who can defeat We the
People? Kentucky Derby (G1) hero #4 Rich
Strike (7-2) is bound to be draw support after winning the Run for the
Roses at odds of 80-1. Rich Strike's upset arguably wasn't quite as shocking as
his odds indicate; he'd previously broken his maiden in dominant fashion at
Churchill Downs, and improvement over the winter may have been hidden by the
fact Rich Strike was competing over the synthetic Tapeta track at Turfway Park.
Rich Strike was full of run
down the homestretch of the Kentucky Derby, gaining four lengths through the
final furlong to beat Louisiana Derby (G2) winner Epicenter by three-quarters
of a length. But it's worth noting the early pace of the Derby was historically
fast, so Rich Strike benefited from a pace meltdown that saw late runners
occupy the majority of the top finishing positions. With a slower pace expected
for the Belmont, Rich Strike figures to find himself at a tactical
Rather than support Rich
Strike on top, I'm going to throw my support behind #6 Mo Donegal (5-2), who overcame a slow start and an extremely
wide run into the homestretch to finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 3
3/4 lengths. Obviously the fast pace was beneficial to Mo Donegal as well, but
he's shown more tactical speed in the past than Rich Strike, and I'm optimistic
Mo Donegal can stay reasonably close to the expected slow pace on Saturday.
Overall, Mo Donegal's form
is rock-solid. Unlike We the People, he's repeatedly proven himself against
tough competition. In the 1 1/8-mile Remsen S. (G2) at Aqueduct last fall, Mo
Donegal settled a couple lengths behind pedestrian fractions before rallying to
defeat future Blue Grass S. (G1) winner Zandon by a nose. And in the 1 1/8-mile
Wood Memorial (G2) two months ago, Mo Donegal rocketed the final three furlongs
in a blazing :35.61 to get up and beat next-out Preakness S. (G1) winner Early
Voting by a neck.
Facing only seven rivals in
the Belmont should suit Mo Donegal just fine, since he's almost certain to get
a better trip than he did in the Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the
Belmont three times (including twice with Kentucky Derby starters who skipped
the Preakness), so I'm optimistic the stage is set for Mo Donegal to deliver a
I'm also keen to support Mo
Donegal's Pletcher-trained stablemate #3
Nest (8-1), runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) after waiting in traffic at
a key moment around the far turn. Nest was gaining ground late against the
victorious Secret Oath, who enjoyed an unencumbered outside rally around the
far turn, so it's fair to wonder if Nest could have challenged for victory with
a clear run.
Nest previously dominated
the Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland by 8 1/4 lengths, so we know she has serious
talent. As a daughter of two-time Horse of the Year and elite sire Curlin out
of the A.P. Indy mare Marion Ravenwood, Nest is a full-sister to Santa Anita
Handicap (G1) winner Idol and figures to relish racing 1 1/2 miles. She also
has the tactical speed to enjoy a forwardly placed trip in Saturday's largely paceless
field. Throw in the fact Pletcher won the 2007 Belmont with Kentucky Oaks
winners Rags to Riches, and there's no reason to think Nest can't challenge at
a fair price in the Triple Crown's final leg.
1st: Mo Donegal
3rd: We the People
4th: Rich Strike
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Belmont Stakes?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.