By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The 2023 Triple Crown wraps up
on Saturday with a stellar renewal of the $1.5 million Belmont S. (G1) at
You can make a case that the
third and final leg of this year's Triple Crown is shaping up as the strongest.
A bevy of scratches took some sparkle out of the Kentucky Derby (G1), while the
Preakness S. (G1) came up with a small field. The Belmont, on the other hand,
has drawn four Grade 1 winners led by champion two-year-old male #6 Forte (5-2) and Preakness hero #5 National Treasure (5-1). It's a deep
race from top to bottom.
Forte is the morning line favorite
for obvious reasons. Conditioned by four-time Belmont-winning trainer Todd
Pletcher, Forte has crossed the wire first in six of his seven starts,
including such prestigious prizes as the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and
Florida Derby (G1). In the latter race, Forte rallied gamely down the
homestretch to defeat Mage, who came back to win the Kentucky Derby. And in the
Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Forte counted National Treasure among his beaten
But Forte isn't without
chinks in his armor. He scratched from the Kentucky Derby with a foot bruise
and enters the Belmont off an unplanned 10-week layoff. Furthermore, it's fair
to question if the son of CashCall Futurity (G1) winner Violence has the pedigree
to shine over 1 1/2 miles; the progeny of Violence win at a modest average
distance of 6.7 furlongs per Brisnet stats, and he's yet to sire a U.S. Grade 1
winner over a distance longer than 1 1/8 miles.
National Treasure is bound
to be a popular alternative to Forte after leading from start to finish to win
the Preakness by a head over Champagne (G1) winner Blazing Sevens, with Mage
finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind in third place. But it's worth noting National
Treasure enjoyed a dream trip in the Preakness, securing an uncontested lead through
slow fractions of :23.95, :48.92, and 1:13.49.
It's possible National
Treasure will escape with another slow pace in the Belmont, since the only other
obvious speed horse on paper is the longshot #5 Il Miracolo (30-1), who has scored both of his victories in
gate-to-wire fashion. But National Treasure is in a tough spot, because even
though a slow pace would help his chances, it would also put #2 Tapit Trice (3-1) in the perfect
position to win.
Purchased for $1.3 million
as a yearling, Tapit Trice is a stoutly bred son of Tapit out of the Dunkirk
mare Danzatrice. Tapit has sired Belmont winners Tonalist (2014), Creator
(2016), Tapwrit (2017), and Essential Quality (2021), while Danzatrice won
multiple stakes running long and Dunkirk placed second in the 2009 Belmont. In
other words, Tapit Trice is bred top and bottom to shine racing 1 1/2 miles.
Tapit Trice was in hot form
during the winter and spring, rallying to victory in four straight races. In
the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby (G3), the pace was swift and Tapit Trice fell
far behind the leaders, but in the final furlong he gained 4 1/4 lengths to win
going away. In the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass (G1), a modest pace unfolded and Tapit
Trice got involved much sooner, eventually wearing down the multiple Grade
1-placed Verifying to win by a neck.
Tapit Trice started among
the favorites in the Kentucky Derby, but he couldn't keep up with a hot early pace
and fell back to last place. Normally such a pace would be beneficial to late
runners, but in Tapit Trice's case it left him with far too much to do, and he
could only rally belatedly to finish seventh.
I'm confident the Belmont is
a much better fit for Tapit Trice than the Kentucky Derby. He's a long-striding
colt who is tough to hold off once he gets going, so the smaller field and
(presumably) slower pace of the Belmont should play to Tapit Trice's strengths,
allowing him to reach contention before the halfway point like in the Blue
Grass. From there, I believe Tapit Trice will be difficult to hold off down the
For the minor awards, I'm
keen to support #3 Arcangelo (8-1),
who overcame a slow pace to rally and win the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan (G3) at
Belmont last month. The son of Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Arrogate was
produced by the Tapit mare Modeling, whose dam-Teeming-is a half-sister to
Belmont winners Jazil and Rags to Riches. Stretching out over 1 1/2 miles can
trigger another step forward from Arcangelo, placing him in the hunt for a
#8 Angel of Empire (7-2)
is going to draw support after rallying to finish third in the Kentucky Derby
(G1), but the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner is a pure deep closer who is adding
blinkers for the first time. His talent puts him in contention here, but I
wonder if the addition of blinkers will sharpen his early speed and weaken his
closing kick, a concern since Angel of Empire is running a quarter-mile farther
than ever before.
Angel of Empire's stablemate #7
Hit Show (10-1) is a much larger price on the morning line, but he wasn't
disgraced in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth after racing closer to the hot
pace than many of the other top finishers. Hit Show previously won the Withers S.
(G3) and finished second by a nose in the Wood Memorial (G2) racing 1 1/8 miles,
and his pedigree suggests 1 1/2 miles is within reach. A spot in the superfecta
isn't out of the question for this capable colt.
1st: Tapit Trice
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.