They call the Belmont Stakes the “Test of the Champion.” The distance, a-mile-and-a-half, is the longest that any of the horses have ever run and it comes at the end of a grueling five-week Triple Crown schedule. This year, just two horses that entered the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are slated to run: Preakness-winner Exaggerator and the well-traveled Lani. Can either cap off this year’s Triple Crown with a win.
Let’s look at the odds.
The runner-up at the Derby and winner at Pimlico is the deserving favorite, though the price is outrageous. Exaggerator has won five times in 11 tries, finishing behind Nyquist in half of his losses. With the weather calling for rain, Exaggerator may again benefit from a soft surface, just like he did in the Preakness. He is three-for-four on off tracks, in total.
On the flip side, he has done a lot of running this year and is up against several well-rested foes. More importantly, he got the perfect pace scenario in each of the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but a slower tempo is expected on Saturday.
He very well may win, but I see his chances closer to 30-percent versus the 62.5-percent indicated by his 3/5 odds.
He experienced a troubled trip at the Kentucky Derby, getting jammed at the start, but still showed a burst of speed down the stretch to finish fifth. He would have hit the board with an extra quarter of a mile, which is what the Belmont offers.
Despite going six wide, he rallied to finish second behind Creator in April’s Arkansas Derby. Bad weather shouldn’t hurt him, and he won’t be nearly as far behind at the Belmont as he was in Louisville. Jockey Mike Smith has won this race twice in the last six years.
Trainer Todd Pletcher didn’t debut him until November and his first win came in December. His only two victories are against maidens and restricted-allowance horses. So why is he third in the odds? He looked competitive with the big boys in Baltimore, finishing fourth after taking time during the start of the race to get comfortable. In a Belmont field that lacks a lot of speed, he should be close to the front and get the first opportunity to run free down the stretch.
Cherry Wine (9/1)
Let’s give credit where credit is due: he ran his best race at the Preakness, finishing second, proving he belongs with this caliber of horse. But he’s only ever won a maiden race and optional claimer. I’m not sure he will like the slower pace at the Belmont, but if it rains, that is certainly good news for trainer Dale Romans.
Another Pletcher entrant, Destin had a little trouble during the start of the Kentucky Derby but flashed a mild bid down the stretch to finish a respectable sixth. He entered the Run for the Roses after a long layoff, having won the Tampa Bay Derby in mid-March by a length over Outwork. Like Stradivari, he should be forwardly placed and ready to pounce as they come off the second turn.
Brody’s Cause (17/1)
Nobody thought his win in the Blue Grass Stakes was all that great until Cherry Wine, whom he beat handily in Lexington, ran well at the Preakness. Unfortunately, Brody’s Cause doesn’t always run his best race. In fact, after running third to Nyquist at the Breeders Cup in October, he was trounced by Destin at the Tampa Bay Derby.
He returned to run well at the Blue Grass, but finished a well-beaten seventh at the Kentucky Derby, mounting little charge despite sitting off a hot pace and having the chance to finish in the top-five.
His owners, WinStar Farm, entered Gettysburg in the Belmont in an effort to set a quick tempo that will benefit Creator. He likes to come from way behind and did so successfully at the Arkansas Derby, beating Suddenbreakingnews by over a length. He had a troubled trip during the Kentucky Derby, but it still would have been nice to see him finish better than 13th. At least jockey Irad Ortiz regularly rides at Belmont Park.
Exaggerator is the most likely winner, but at 3/5, he is a crazy bet. Stradivari and Destin should benefit from a slow pace and get the first run down the stretch. I suspect Destin, who is well rested, will beat his stablemate, both of whom are lightly raced.
(Photo credit: Mike Lizzi (American Pharoah – 2015 Belmont Stakes) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)