This Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Day card not only resembles a Breeders’ Cup Day, it is the richest day in American racing history other than the 32 previous Breeders’ Cups since 1984. Saturday’s card has 10 stakes worth a combined $7.5 million, including six Grade-I’s, and there promises to be numerous wagering opportunities for horseplayers around the world.
Closer to home, at 6 p.m., Friday evening, I will be joined at the Sunset Station Casino racebook by Rich Eng of the Las Vegas Review Journal and Brian Blessing of Sportsbook Radio, where we will go through the most promising plays on that card, concluding of course with the 148th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
At 1-1/2 miles, the Belmont is the final event in racing’s vaunted Triple Crown series, and in the absence of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, it is logical to expect Preakness winner Exaggerator will be a solid betting favorite.
Nyquist, of course, is out of the Belmont after running a 102 degree temperature and developing an elevated white blood cell count after foolishly pressing a red-hot pace only to fade late to third in the 1-3/16 mile Preakness on a sloppy track at Pimlico.
That was Nyquist’s first career defeat after eight straight victories, but trainer Doug O’Neill says, “he’s coming along nicely and will be back in action during the summer.” My guess is Nyquist will show up in a late-July prep race for the $1 million Travers’ at Saratoga on Aug. 27.
As previously documented, Exaggerator is proving to be a good horse in his own right; but, when it rains, the son of Curlin instantly turns into a muddy track Hall of Famer. In addition, Exaggerator’s stretch-running style tends to be most effective – even on a fast track – whenever he gets a red-hot, testing pace that saps the strength of the horses vying for the early lead.
Should it rain in New York on Friday and/or Saturday, Exaggerator would be difficult to bet against; but assuming no rain, the absence of a red hot pace could turn this Belmont into a mad scramble.
Here in alphabetical order are my profiles for the 13 horses considered probable starters in the Belmont on Saturday. As you will see, very few have anything approaching genuine early speed.
BRODY’S CAUSE: Winner of a Grade-I as a 2 year old and the Grade-I Blue Grass stakes on April 9, he finished seventh of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. Bred for long races, this colt has trained forwardly for the longest race he might ever run. As with so many in this field, Brody’s Cause tends to come from way back.
CHERRY WINE: This stretch-runner finished second to Exaggerator in the Preakness beaten 3-1/2 lengths, about 1/2 length in front of Nyquist. He also loves wet tracks and comes from way, way back.
CREATOR: As stated, many in this Belmont are slow-breaking, stretch-runners. All could use a contested pace to be most effective and this one is no exception. Yet, he was third in the Rebel stakes and he did win the Arkansas Derby, before finishing 13th in the Derby at Churchill Downs after a very rough trip.
DESTIN: Winner of two Graded stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, this Todd Pletcher trainee was a respectable sixth in the Kentucky Derby after racing wide and having to steady a bit. May have more natural speed than he showed in the Derby.
EXAGGERATOR: Packs a very good late punch on any racing surface, but tends to need more early pace than he might get here. Yet, should it rain, he inevitably will move up several lengths.
FOREVER d’ORO: Scored a narrow stretch running victory in a 1-1/16 mile maiden race on May 29 and seems ambitiously placed.
GETTYSBURG: A winner of just one race in seven career starts, this Steve Asmussen trainee has the most early speed of any horse in the race. He might not win, but his presence could help the stretch runners.
GOVERNOR MALIBU: Has never run poorly in seven career starts, including two wins in minor stakes before finishing a good second in the Grade-II Peter Pan over the Belmont surface, May 14. Is one of very few in here with some natural speed.
LANI: I watched this Japanese-based colt win the UAE Derby in March and saw him improve from ninth in the Kentucky Derby to fifth in the Preakness. Believe he is a legit Grade-I colt getting acclimated to our racing, but his lack of early speed is hard to ignore.
SEEKING THE SOUL: Graduated at Churchill Downs in third lifetime start, May 29. As with his Dallas Stewart-trained stable-mate (Forever d’Oro), this is quite ambitious; but he did get 6 furlongs in his mile win in 1:09 flat and he may be the key to the early pace.
STRADIVARI: Pletcher trainee was very impressive winning two races by several lengths, before he finished a respectable fourth in the Preakness. Has G-1 talent along with versatile speed and could win this with only slight improvement.
SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS: Another deep closer who rallied for two stakes wins, including the Grade-III Southwest at Oaklawn. Also was second to Creator in the Arkansas Derby before his fifth in the Kentucky Derby, when he had his share of traffic issues.
TROJAN NATION: Finished a sharp second in the Wood Memorial at 81-1 before he was far back throughout in the Kentucky Derby after a rough start. Hard to see him contending here.
Added Note: Had my own remembrances of Muhammad Ali on Saturday, having shared seats and a remarkable conversation with the great champion and beloved humanitarian on a flight from New York to Louisville, 30 odd years ago. Strangely, I needed my son Brad to remind me of that experience. I am 74, the same number of years Ali had on this Earth, and as Ali surely noticed, sometimes the memories do not come so quickly to mind as they should.
Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas and has just completed a new book – “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Should you wish to purchase a personally autographed copy, please send Steve a note for details:[email protected]