Digging Deep Down the Stretch in a Wide Open and Depleted Belmont
The final leg of the Triple Crown is set for Saturday, June 10 and the field of 12 race horses are ready to run in the 149th Belmont Stakes. The sports books have posted the odds and Wednesday's post-position draw also included the morning line odds for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
Belmont Park's main dirt track has earned the nickname, "the Big Sandy". It is a 1 ½ mile oval with a deep, sandy compound that features wide, sweeping turns. The Belmont Stakes is dubbed the 'Test of the Champion', as the winner has to get through a grueling race and distance that he's never tried before. The long Belmont stretch is where heartbreak has often happened to many horses seeking to capture the Triple Crown. Belmont Park is also where experience and understanding of the race, pace and distance is more valuable. Thus a jockey's experience is important, and the Belmont distance makes this test more of a 'riders race', as the sweeping turns, stretch run and understanding of pace is paramount.
There is no Triple Crown on the line this year, and in fact both the Kentucky Derby winner (Always Dreaming) and Preakness winner (Cloud Computing) are not running in the Belmont Stakes. Neither is Preakness runner-up and Derby 4th place finisher Classic Empire, who was the race favorite but withdrew Wednesday due to an abscess in his front hoof.
That leaves Irish War Cry, a late addition to the Belmont field this week, as the race favorite at 7-2. This year's Belmont is clearly an open race, and we'll try to make another move down the stretch and forecast the Belmont winner and exacta payoff like we did in the Kentucky Derby.
Our Kentucky Derby preview and pick found the winners circle and a solid exacta payoff and trifecta followed when Always Dreaming won the Run for the Roses as the 9-2 favorite. The race proved that even when a favorite wins, there can be a huge payoff in the exotics with a larger field. Runner-up Lookin At Lee (33-1) produced a $1 exacta payoff of $168 and when 40-1 long shot Battle of Midway finished 3rd, the $1 trifecta hit for more than $8,000. We won't see near those payoffs in the Belmont, but betting the exotics with some mid-range odds finishers can still produce a rewarding payoff.
Here are some notes and comment with betting advice as we shoot for a score on a depleted bunch in the Belmont. Speculating on whether a horse can be his best or get the 1.5 mile Belmont distance is really anyone's guess. But I've added some sire and pedigree comments to assist in handicapping and analyzing the horses and the race. Note too that there are many other top graded stakes races and championship competition during this weekend's Belmont Stakes Racing Festival, which has become one of New York's "must-see" events, featuring several days of world class horse racing and entertainment. A total of 13 graded stakes races Friday and Saturday make betting at Belmont the place to be for Belmont Stakes weekend.
The Belmont Stakes – Exotic Bets
Keying #2 Tapwrit and #7 Irish War Cry. Will be watching status of #4 Epicharis.
$1 Exacta – 2,7,11/1,2,4,7,9,11,12 ($18)
.50 Trifecta – 2,7,11/1,2,4,7,9,11,12/1,2,4,7,9,11,12 ($45)
.50 Trifecta – 7/1,2,4,7,9,11,12/1,2,4,7,9,11,12 ($15)
.10 Superfecta (as able) – 7/1,2,4,7,9,11,12/1,2,4,7,9,11,12/1,2,4,7,9,11,12 ($12)
#11 Epicharis (4-1)
At least two things to be concerned about with Epicharis. The jockey, though talented, has no experience at Belmont. Of greater concern is that Epicharis did not go for his scheduled training over the Belmont track Thursday morning. The New York State Gaming Commissions veterinary report said he was treated for lameness in his right front foot Wednesday evening. The Japan-based colt received 2 grams of anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal medication phenylbutazone (bute) via an IV.
Epicharis was a horse to wager on to win, and certainly in my top-3 for the Belmont. However, concerns now as the race approaches so watch the updates from the trainer and hopefully the horse is sound enough to run. Epicharis enters the Belmont Stakes with four wins from five starts and nearly $1 million in earnings. His only loss came in his last start in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Derby in March where he led for nearly the entire race before yielding to Thunder Snow in the final yards. Epicharis qualified for the Kentucky Derby, but his connections chose to target the Belmont Stakes for his U.S. debut.
Epicharis will be the pacesetter or pressing the pace in the Belmont, but his fluid stride and natural cruising speed combined with his tactical speed and ability to rate should be a valuable asset in the Belmont. Epicharis also has strong breeding and stamina which make him one to watch going the grueling 1.5 mile distance. He's a proven marathoner and can clearly go 12 furlongs. Epicharis' sire, Gold Allure, is a son of 1989 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Sunday Silence, who went on to become the most accomplished sire in Japanese breeding. Hopefully Epicharis takes a liking to the Belmont surface.
#7 Irish War Cry (7-2)
Irish War Cry won 4-of-6 starts going into the Kentucky Derby, and was the only horse in the field with three 100+ Brisnet Speed Figures. He's was sitting 3rd at the top of the lane in the Derby, but didn't respond and weakened. Trainer Graham Motion has great instincts and listens to what his horses are telling him. Irish War Cry was entered into the Belmont less than a week before the big race, so he's telling his trainer he's ready to run. Motion likes how Irish War Cry has been responding, and says he's been training well and is a very relaxed colt. He will instruct jockey Rajiv Maragh to settle Irish War Cry off the pacesetters as he did in the Wood Memorial before kicking away in the stretch to win by 3 ½ lengths without having to give his best in the final furlong with no closers coming. Irish War Cry is a son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, who finished 2nd in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Irish War Cry has the ability to wear down his opponents with a steady and powerful grind, which is often what it takes to win down the long stretch at Belmont.
#2 Tapwrit (6-1) has a stalking style and is conditioned by Derby-winning trainer and Belmont-based Todd Pletcher. In the Kentucky Derby, Tapwrit was bumped in a bad break from the gate and was steadied off heels in the opening furlong. He managed to close from 15th place at the three quarter pole to finish with interest and make up ground for 6th place. The Belmont will be Tapwrit's fifth-straight graded stakes start. Pletcher has won the Belmont Stakes twice and also has five runner-up finishes including last year when Destin was nosed-out by Creator. Pletcher got three solid maintenance works out of Tapwrit leading into the Belmont, and regular rider Jose Ortiz should get the high-priced, striking gray colt to settle into a comfortable stride while conserving his best for the big sweeping far turn and long stretch run. Tapwrit has the pedigree to get the 1.5 mile distance as a son of Tapit, who produced recent Belmont winners Tonalist (2014) and Creator (2016).
#1 Twisted Tom (20-1) – New shooter and wild card making his graded stakes debut in the Belmont. Has won 4-of-6 starts including two minor stakes, but a huge class test here. Twisted Tom is a son of Creative Cause, who finished 5th in the Kentucky Derby and 3rd in the Preakness; his final race. His grandsire Giant's Causeway was 2nd in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic. Trainer Chad Brown has him rested and ready and he's strung together four strong works and Brown believes he's sitting on top of his game. Improvement still needed with a top Equibase Speed Figure of 93. Jockey Javier Castellano, who won the 2017 Preakness Stakes aboard Cloud Computing, has been one of the best on the New York racing circuit and won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Jockey each of the last four years. He'll enter the Racing Hall of Fame in August. Twisted Tom is a big longshot to win, but could provide a very profitable exotic payoff.
#4 J Boys Echo (15-1) – Training very well at Churchill Downs for Dale Romans, and regular rider Robby Albarado will be back aboard after missing the Derby trip with a broken leg. J Boys Echo finished 15th in the Derby after falling way back at the start. He won the Gotham Stakes with one of the fastest runs by a 3-year-old this year on a soft but fast track at Aqueduct – a 3 ½ length victory over Preakness winner Cloud Computing.
#9 Meantime (15-1) – A pacesetter with 2-time Belmont winner Mike Smith aboard. Meantime finished 2nd to Patch in his maiden debut Feb. 18 at 53-1 odds. He broke his maiden two races later on a muddy Keeneland course. Meantime finished 2nd on a sloppy Belmont track in his stakes debut May 13 and earned a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure in the Peter Pan. He's the only Belmont runner to run a race over the track, and Meantime is clearly improving. But can he get this distance going wire-to-wire? His sire is Shackleford, who won the 2011 Preakness and was 4th in the Kentucky Derby and 5th in the Belmont Stakes after leading the first 1 ¼ miles. Less than two months removed from his maiden win, Meantime is looking to make a big splash in the Belmont but will have to sustain his position, get some softer splits and carry the necessary stamina to outlast stronger contenders.
#12 Patch (12-1) - Patch is a pace-presser who was unable to get towards the front in the Kentucky Derby breaking from the far outside No. 20 post. He finished 14th with a troubled trip, but Patch placed 2nd in the Louisiana Derby following his maiden win at Gulfstream. Patch will break from the far outside again in the Belmont. He's trained by Belmont-based Todd Pletcher, and he's teamed up again with Derby-winning jockey John Velazquez to ride Patch. The Pedigree for Patch suggests he's one of the best-suited colts in the race to get the 1.5 mile distance. Along with his sire Union Rags, who Velazquez rode to victory in the 2012 Belmont Stakes as the favorite, his dam's sire is A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 Belmont. Patch lost his left eye due to an infection, but he'll see down the long Belmont stretch clearly after making a move on the big sweeping second turn. Patch has more than just potential to produce a big payoff.
#3 Gormley – (8-1) He won the Santa Anita Derby winner despite a slow closing 3/8 mile. Tank was empty at top of lane in Kentucky Derby where he finished in 9th place. Cross country travel for an over-rated runner that lacks necessary speed and stamina to win a Classic race.
#6 Lookin At Lee (5-1) – The only horse in the field to run in all three Triple Crown races. Lookin At Lee is a deep closer who will take action following his strong 2nd place finish in the Derby. He won't get ours, as we're leaving Lookin At Lee out as a potential winner and betting he's a bit tired on the Triple Crown trail. Note that Lookin At Lee has never won a graded stakes race in eight tries. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. ran his first race at Belmont Park in 2011, and he guided long shot Creator to a victory in the 2016 Belmont Stakes. No repeat this year.
#5 Hollywood Handsome (30-1) - Deep closer with just 2 stakes starts and a best 4th in Louisiana Derby. He'll be well off the pace, and with 1-mile his best distance, don't expect him to be moving past horses down the long stretch.
#8 Senior Investment (12-1) – First Belmont Stakes start for jockey Channing Hill. Senior Investment beat no Belmont runners in his lone stakes win in the Lexington. He finished 6th in the Louisiana Derby behind Patch (2nd) and Hollywood Handsome (4th), and then surprised everyone with a 3rd place finish in the Preakness at 31-1 odds closing from 8th in the stretch. Improving yes, but his sire was more of a sprinter. He may appear to be asking for more distance from his Preakness performance, but 12 furlongs may be too much to ask for a colt that was also just treated with acupuncture for a slight muscle spasm.
#10 Multiplier (20-1) – Began racing as a 3-year old and broke his maiden over the deep Fair Grounds track. A solid closing response to win the 1 1/8 mile Illinois Derby was impressive with a career-best 107 Equibase Speed Rating. New owners then assigned trainer Brendan Walsh to condition him, and he failed to fire when entered in the Preakness but did make up two lengths in the stretch to finish in 6th place. Joel Rosario rides him for the second time, and he's one of the top riders in New York's loaded colony. Rosario won the Belmont with Tonalist in 2014 and was runner-up with Frosted in 2015 behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Unfortunately, not even Rosario can ride a lesser horse a much greater distance than asked. Multiplier comes from a pedigree of sprinters, and he won't be able to catch the stronger contenders with more speed and stamina.
Check out all the sports books and the bonuses offered for betting on the Belmont Stakes. Watch the race live or stream online as NBC will provide live coverage beginning at 3:00 pm ET on NBCSN. Coverage switches to NBC at 5 pm, and scheduled post time for the Belmont is 6:37 pm.
FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay