2016 Belmont Stakes Preview

The Belmont Stakes.  The Test of a Champion.  The third and final jewel of the American Triple Crown.

This time around, there is no Triple Crown on the line after EXAGGERATOR turned the tables on Nyquist in the Preakness Stakes.  While Nyquist had an elevated white blood cell count and is passing this race, EXAGGERATOR will look for two jewels of the Triple Crown.

Picks & Ponderings is happy to present the return of Point/Counterpoint.  For this year's Belmont, and joining us as they have through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, will be Nicolle Neulist.  The two of us will go back-and-forth, combing through the Belmont Stakes field.

While the Belmont Stakes - this year scheduled for June 11 -  is a seminal American race, it's also part of a festival of stakes.  Nicolle also provides a thorough analysis of Friday's G2 New York Stakes and Saturday's G1 Met Mile.  Both Nicolle and Paul provide selections for Picks & Ponderings (see the aforementioned links) and to Hello Race Fans! for the stakes-laden weekend.  In addition, Paul stays close to home this weekend as he takes a look at the Addison Cammack Handicap and the Isaac Murphy Handicap, a pair of stakes for Illinois-bred sprinters at Arlington.

The NBC family of networks provides television coverage for Saturday at Belmont.  From 3:00 PM ET to 5:00 PM ET coverage of the stakes-rich undercard airs on NBC Sports Network.  At 5:00 PM ET, the coverage continues uninterrupted but flips networks, to NBC. NBC will air the Belmont Stakes live, in a program airing from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET.  The television coverage goes back to NBC Sports Network at 7:00 PM ET for a post-race wrap-up show that airs from 7:00 PM ET to 7:30 PM ET. Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) will provide live radio coverage of the stakes-rich undercard in a program airing from 2:00 PM ET to 7:00 PM ET airing on Sirius 92, XM 92, and its website.  The HRRN radio coverage from 5:00 PM onward includes the Belmont Stakes and is done in partnership with Westwood One.  As with all races at Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct, the audio is available for free on the NYRA website, and they offer high definition video of the races for users who have created an account on the NYRA site.  Creating an account is free, and does not require New York residency.

Let's meet the field.

Belmont Park -- Race 11 -- G1 Belmont Stakes -- One and one-half miles on Dirt -- post time 6:37 PM ET, to air live on NBC.

#1 GOVERNOR MALIBU (12/1)

NN: Even if Unified were coming for the Belmont, GOVERNOR MALIBU was the Peter Pan horse I wanted three weeks later.  It was encouraging to see him run so well even though he was farther off the pace than he typically likes to be.  Expect him a bit closer to the early going here, which should suit him even better than his Peter Pan trip.  His ability to handle Big Sandy is no question: he's got form over the Belmont oval with three starts and three trifecta finishes.  Is he Tonalist 2.0 for Christophe Clement? Maybe...though, it's hard to say with any certainty that he'll be the same kind of monster. Can he stretch out and handle the twelve panels? Maybe -- he is an improving horse, and has gotten better as he has stretched out. There is a lot to like about the Governor, and he'll be a great price.

PM: He has the right running style for this race but his maternal side of the pedigree doesn't do him any favors.  There are humans you can know and trust here: Rosario and Clement are the same team that pulled the upset two years back on Tonalist.  While he showed he can be closer to a slower pace in the Tesio, he did pull back nicely in the G2 Peter Pan.  If he was bred better for the distance I'd take him in a flash. In the here-and-now I'll let him beat me.

#2 DESTIN (6/1)

PM: The common theme is to think that the Belmont favors closers because of the extra distance. Closers can win at twelve furlongs but the Belmont Stakes more often goes to those who can #plodsohard. Who can relax and carry their speed?  He may have been a short horse in the Kentucky Derby and he was able to adjust his position yet still be forward over the workmanlike Tampa surface.  He didn't falter too badly in the Derby without an April prep. As a full to Creative Cause he's got the breeding to go all day. He's got the forward but steady style needed to win.

NN: I really can't knock anything you said about him. I like him second off that layoff leading into the Kentucky Derby. Todd Pletcher tends to send live ones in the Belmont, and even though STRADIVARI did have a better-than-expected Preakness, DESTIN is the one from his barn I would rather have.  And he did graduate at first asking over this course.  He's got a huge chance.

#3 CHERRY WINE (8/1)

NN: Blech. I can't get excited about him. Yes, I know I was afraid to toss Dale Romans trainee at odds in the Preakness...and he clowned me.  But his running style is a liability: he comes from the clouds and that's not a good fit. He won't even be "Romans at a price here", since he stands to be overbet off his Preakness second.  CHERRY WINE's gorgeous grey face and his bright pink #CuteNoseAlert will be all over my Twitter feed, but he will be nowhere on my tickets.

PM: His second in the Preakness is going to attract money, but I didn't go to the wedding on him at 17-1 last out.  I certainly don't plan to be at the funeral.  I'm not keen on a Paddy O' Prado going twelve furlongs, I'm not keen on him getting money of his Preakness second, and he's one of many closers in the field.  I like other closers better than this one.

#4 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS (10/1)

PM: You don't need the Daily Racing Form or Springfield Shopper to learn that certain horses have certain running styles.  SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS is a one-run swing-wide closer.  And at this point in the three-year-old season, we start to see some of the three-year-olds become WYSIWYG types whose pace styles become apparent.  SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS falls into that case as a one-run closer.  But he ran fine to get fifth in the Kentucky Derby and with Afleet Alex on the bottom he has a chance to make the best run of the closers.  Can't endorse him to win, certainly worth using underneath.

NN: He's a dead closer, but he's a good one.  His pedigree is about as good as a modern American Thorughbred's will be for a mile and half.  He gets a rider switch, but it's to Mike Smith.  Smith is one I can trust to ride Belmont well -- he knows the track, and he has won the Belmont Stakes a couple of times already.  I don't love him to win, mainly due to his running style, but he will be all over my exotics.

#5 STRADIVARI (5/1)

NN: I went back and forth on STRADIVARI. I have questions over how well he can get a mile and a half.  But whereas he was a toss in the Preakness, here I can't discard him so quickly.  His Preakness was surprisingly good: he did not get as close to the front as he had preferred to, but he stayed on well to be fourth.  STRADIVARI could step forward.  But, he might still have steam off his allowance win two back, and so does the morning line writer.  There's a horse in the Todd Pletcher barn who I'm interested in...but it's the other one.  As for STRADIVARI, he's an underlay that I'll let beat me.

PM: For being marooned out in post eleven, he didn't run a bad race in the Preakness to be fourth.  He still has his dazzling win two back at nine panels and there might still be some luster on that effort.  With Velazquez in the irons and speed to his inside he might get a garden spot.  But I see this more as a Jim Dandy/Haskell horse of tomorrow than a horse for today.

#6 GETTYSBURG (30/1)

PM: He may have been acquired to be a rabbit and help CREATOR, his stablemate.  But he helps EXAGGERATOR (and Winstar is a part owner of him while a full owner of GETTYSBURG), he helps SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, and so forth.  He needs the lead for his best effort: his only win came when on the lead, going nine furlongs from an inside draw at Gulfstream.  Yawn.  If he gets the lead he can take them around for as long as he can.  If not he'll chase and try and falter.  He won't be 30/1 given he has American Pharoah's sire line.  He may win the battle to get to the front end but won't win the twelve furlong war.

NN: Little Bunny Foo-Foo, hopping down Big Sandy, gets about a mile, and then gets left behind.

GETTYSBURG, the rabbit for fellow WinStar interests EXAGGERATOR and CREATOR, likely sets the early fractions.  But, it won't be a free lunch thanks to STRADIVARI, and a few others like DESTIN, GOVERNOR MALIBU, and SEEKING THE SOUL should be right in striking range.  He won't get to just walk the dog going a mile and a half, and I don't want such a need-the-lead type in here with others who could be forward.

#7 SEEKING THE SOUL (30/1)

NN: I see him closer to the front end action than the other Dallas Stewart trained entrant, FOREVER D'ORO.  I also like that Florent Geroux has a return call.  But, it's really hard for me to get excited over what he beat in his maiden last out at Churchill.  I will give him a hug and a peppermint, I won't give him a chance here.

PM: I guess Dallas Stewart felt two would do in his chances to find another three-year-old race to blow up the toteboard with.  He might be closer to the pace based on the stretchout and first time two turns.  I can't fault him for getting dusted by Jazzy Times on Derby Day. I can fault him for having to work to graduate.  He's got the same sire line as owners as another longshot - Golden Soul. Still, I'd rather have the local rider and a slightly better pedigree for my longshot and I'll pass.

#8 FOREVER d'ORO (30/1)

NN: He has a local rider and a win over the course, so his questions about handling Belmont are moot.  But, I don't like closers a lot in the Belmont in the first place, and there are other closers I would rather take than this one.

PM: When Dallas Stewart sends out his squillion-to-one longshots, they are horses with closer's profiles (Commanding Curve, Tom's Ready, Tale of Verve).  I know I disparaged closers winning the Belmont, but there are things to like with FOREVER d'ORO.  He gets a local rider as opposed to Geroux, he's got a Belmont winner for a broodmare sire, and he won last time over the surface.  He'll be rallying from the parking lot, but his price will never be higher respective to his chances.

#9 TROJAN NATION (30/1)

NN: Yet another dead closer type, and this one hasn't even found the wire first.  There's a maiden special weight with his name on it, but it's not the Belmont Stakes. Then again, even if his nose did beat Outwork's to the wire in the Wood, it would change nothing.  There are better off-pace types in here in a field loaded with them.

PM: He ran evenly in the Kentucky Derby given the fast pace, but he was twenty lengths behind at every call.  That said his wasn't all that bad: he had the death post, didn't break cleanly, and may have been conserved from the back after his bad break.  It's hard to get excited about a maiden in a stakes race, let alone who is also a closer.

#10 LANI (20/1)

PM: Lani train! Lani run around in mornings! Lani SMASH!

He may have a bottom side of the pedigree ideal, but is he at risk of putting his race on the track with all the work they're doing in the mornings with him.   If the connections think the Belmont was the plan, why go through all the Triple Crown races? The Japanese would rather win the Queen Anne at Ascot than a Belmont Stakes without a Triple Crown on the line.  While LANI is the only one not named EXAGGERATOR to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown, he's going to take play off his female family.  He interests me if he his 20/1 morning line quote holds, but you can't take them all.

NN: For better or worse I gave him a shot in the Preakness.  I hoped he would be closer to the early going, but he didn't get a clean break and then he dropped a bajillion lengths off the front pace.  LANI rallied well for fifth.  I maintain that he has the ability to run closer to the pace -- his race in Dubai was more tactical than anything he has shown in the states so far, and if he finds that again, he should have the stamina to get home.  If he actually goes off at his 20/1 morning line, those odds appeal.

#11 EXAGGERATOR (9/5)

NN: By any measure, EXAGGERATOR is the class of the field. Second in the Derby, winner of the Preakness, and only one clunker all year, the San Felipe.  He has shown some versatility, too: he was close to the pace in the Delta Jackpot, and he made an early move in the Preakness as Kent Desormeaux carved out a brilliant trip for him.  I won't be shocked if he wins, but I can't get excited about him at low odds.

PM: His bad days (the San Felipe) are better than some horse's best days.  EXAGGERATOR gets helped by someone doing the pacesetting in GETTYSBURG and perhaps SEEKING THE SOUL.  But he needs someone to set up his rally.  He might be a little pace-dependent, but at least he can get the twelve furlongs.  With Desormeaux in alcohol rehab, one wonders what quality of ride there may be.  He's gotta be on your tickets to avoid you looking stupid, but he's a horrible win bet and screams a defensive use.

#12 BRODY'S CAUSE (20/1)

NN: He was my second choice in the Derby, but he disappointed on the First Saturday of the May. You know what you're going to get with BRODY'S CAUSE: he's yet another closer.  He is your "Dale Romans at odds" here, always a bit scary to toss -- read, CHERRY WINE in the Preakness.  His sire doesn't hurt, either, but there's another Giant's Causeway baby whose style suits this race far better.  As excited as I was about BRODY'S CAUSE's chances going into the Derby, I am unenthusiastic about his prospects here.

PM: As said with SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, by now some three-year-olds become WYSIWYG types.  BRODY'S CAUSE has evolved into a closer, but he's also evolved into someone that might have plateaued.  He didn't move forward much in start three off the layoff in the Derby and he had a favorable pace scenario.  He may be odds and chucking Romans at them is not the best move,.

#13 CREATOR (10/1)

PM: He will get a setup with newly acquired stablemate GETTYSBURG.  But while he gets help, so do other closers.  He's not the only closer in the field, and he's not the only gray Tapit on the field.  While he gets a pass for his Derby trip, his odds don't justify taking a chance on him with better options around.  I'd rather have LANI at double the price, for one.  I can't get behind CREATOR in this spot.

NN: I can't get behind CREATOR either.  He's been consistent enough to win twice and hit the board seven times in nine outs.  Sure, his Derby trip wasn't that good, and he gets some pace target with GETTYSBURG.   But, I don't think that's enough to get him into the exotics, let alone to the winner's circle.  There are better closers, not to mention the even more attractive candidates who won't be coming from the clouds.

Nicolle's Selections:

#1 GOVERNOR MALIBU

#2 DESTIN

#4 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS

Longshot:

#10 LANI

Paul's Selections:

#2 DESTIN

#4 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS

#11 EXAGGERATOR

Longshot:

#8 FOREVER D'ORO

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