For the second straight Belmont Stakes after American Pharaoh lifted us so high, we’re left with yet another dozen relatively drama-less furlongs.
The New York Racing Association has the titanic feat of making people care about the Belmont Stakes given that Always Dreaming, our incumbent Kentucky Derby winner, sits this 1 ½ miles out.
Slathered onto that piece of bread is the absence of Cloud Computing, the Preakness Stakes winner.
And, if you weren’t already snoring, Classic Empire, the presumptive favorite, scratched with a foot abscess the day of the post draw.
This Belmont has a Jazil-ian stink to it. That was back in 2006 when the Derby winner (Barbaro) and the Preakness winner (Bernardini) skipped the Belmont. Jazil won, but it was one of the more forgettable races, with all due respect to trainer Keiran McLaughlan. It didn’t feel Triple Crowny. It felt like the feature race on a nice Saturday in June, not the Test of the Champion. Follow me?
This year’s Belmont will need Lasix to stop the television ratings from bleeding.
What we need is a guide to enjoying this race without the Derby or Preakness winners, horses that will, presumably aim for Travers Stakes prep races in the Garden and Empire States respectively.
So let’s look at a few tasty storylines that will make the Belmont Stakes the best 2 minutes and 30 seconds of your Saturday.
These Horses Will Never Run This Long Again
For stamina and distance nerds, the Belmont Stakes is a bit of a middle finger to the modern-day trend of breeding for precocity over stamina.
The only horses that will ever run this long again might be the one or two who try grass as older horses. But you could also say this about the Derby: These horses will never run that long again. And it’s mostly true.
The great ones will run 10 furlongs again, and there are a few good horses running Saturday. Maybe they’ll be great.
Take Irish War Cry, the Wood Memorial winner. He’s 4-0-0 from six starts and trained by the sure-handed Graham Motion. IWC is a son of Curlin, the colt who nearly won this race in 2007.
Irish War Cry also defeated Cloud Computing by five lengths in the Grade II Wood. CC’s win in the Preakness makes Irish War Cry a favorable pick. And maybe he’ll prove to be a great horse in 2017.
“Watching him train and seeing how well he’s doing being back at Fair Hill and then seeing the result of the Preakness, obviously he’s run well with those horses before,” Motion said in a release. “It made me think more about it. It’s a Classic, it only comes around once in a horse’s lifetime and I think he deserves another chance.”
Todd Pletcher Could Win a Third Belmont Stakes
Nobody uses the Kentucky Derby as a Belmont Stakes prep race better than Pletcher.
He won this race 10 years ago—his first Triple Crown race win—with the filly Rags to Riches in one of the most scintillating stretch drives of the decade.
Pletcher added a second Belmont Stakes when Palace Malice won in 2013. That was one of his most brilliant training moves to date. PM wore blinkers during the Derby and set a pace that historically great sprinters Fabulous Strike, More Than Ready and Midnight Lute would consider suicidal and say, “Mmmm, I don’t know about that.”
Pletcher took the blinkers off the son of Curlin, and Palace Malice went on to win in wobbly fashion, as they all do, by and large, at this distance, in this race.
Pletcher brings Tapwrit and the heart-tugging Patch to Big Sandy.
Patch, the one-eyed son of Union Rags, will be the wise-guy horse of the race. His pedigree screams Belmont Stakes. He was practically born on white carnations. His sire won the race in 2012 and his dam-side grand-sire won the 1992 Belmont Stakes. You’ll recognize the name: A.P. Indy.
“There’s a lot of pedigree there to suggest that he’s bred to get the mile and a half, and I think his style should fit the race well,” Pletcher told The Blood-Horse.
Who is This Japanese Invader?
Nine years ago, that fateful year when Rick Dutrow said Big Brown’s bid for a Triple Crown was a “foregone conclusion,” Casino Drive, another Japanese invader, was considered a big threat. He would scratch with an injury.
He had won the Peter Pan Stakes, the same race Tonalist used as a prep to springboard past California Chrome in the 2014 Belmont Stakes.
Epicharis, a horse presumable named after the ill-fated Roman woman who died by suicide amid the controversial plot to assassinate Emperor Nero, is an accomplished colt who finished second behind Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby, Epicharis’ only loss.
Why Carrot Farm named him after a woman who was tortured for information she would not divulge and died by suicide is a mystery. Then again, maybe not.
So that’s about it.
For five straight Triple Crown races we’ve seen five different winners. Parity, in this case, is like a kick to the nethers. Few things in sports, let alone horse racing, compare to the hype and circus around a horse vying for the Triple Crown.
No matter. The race will stand on its own for what it is: the Test of the Champion, the final jewel and final chapter on the long road to and through the Triple Crown.