This year's Triple Crown season has been a rollercoaster. The Derby featured its first-ever disqualification of a first-place finisher for interference in the race, after Maximum Security drifted out to interfere with War of Will, Bodexpress, and Long Range Toddy. Two weeks later, in the Preakness, War of Will found his redemption. Bodexpress, on the other hand, lost his jockey and gained superstardom.
We're not clairvoyant enough to let you know what this year's bizarre Belmont storyline is going to be...but in this horse-by-horse look at the race we are going to try our hand at figuring out who is going to get a mile and a half, who is going to get the right trip, and who is going to win. In addition, we have full selections and longshots for each of Saturday's stakes races in a table below our look at the Belmont.
Selections for the Just a Game S., Jaipur Invitational, and Manhattan S. are for turf only.
Belmont Park: Saturday, June 8
Race 11: Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), three-year-olds, one and a half miles on the dirt, post time 6:37pm
- JOEVIA (30/1) - There's always going to be that horse who is just taking a shot in the Belmont; this is that horse. Sure, he looked good winning last out...but that was a sloppy edition of the Long Branch, a minor stakes at Monmouth. The pedigree reads more miler to me than Belmont. He'll set the pace from the fence, but it's hard to see him being all that threatening as the field sweeps around toward home.
- EVERFAST (12/1) - What I said about him leading into the Preakness still holds. You're a smarter person than me if you can figure out where his Holy Bull came from, and you're a smarter person than me if you can figure out where his Preakness came from. EVERFAST looks like a midpack to closing type who occasionally fires when he feels like it. The last time Dale Romans had an ambitiously-spotted horse hit the board in the Preakness -- Cherry Wine, in 2016 -- he didn't do much in the Belmont, or at all after that race. Especially since EVERFAST is by Take Charge Indy, a sire whose babies so often run into distance limitations, we're happy to risk him.
- MASTER FENCER (8/1) - This Japanese Derby Prep underneath type punched his ticket to the Derby by being the horse with the most Japanese points who actually wanted to go. I wanted him nowhere in that race, but he closed up a ton of ground late to cross the wire seventh. It speaks well of his form, and was a good enough effort to admit MASTER FENCER belongs in this group. The pedigree has some bright spots; sire Just a Way may have been best up to a mile and a quarter, but it's hard to tell what he would have done at a mile and a half if he weren't chasing around monsters like Epiphaneia and Treve. And, his dam has also produced a listed-placed horse at 2500m (about 12.5f). However? He is a confirmed closer in a Belmont that does not stand to fall apart. I'm not seeing him win the Belmont, but an unrelenting rally from the clouds that gets him up for a share underneath? That looks within the realm of possibility for MASTER FENCER.
- TAX (15/1) - It was disappointing to see TAX be a no-show in the Kentucky Derby, given how excited I was to see him try a mile and a quarter. However? He had to handle the slop, and he never got as close to the pace as he typically likes to be. In a smaller field over a fast track, we may be able to see the real TAX again, nice and forwardly placed, and he'll be a price off the disappointing Derby effort. There's also the story that broke last week about trainer Gargan vacillating over whether he was going to send TAX to the Belmont, after his final drill? It turns out, he did come out with a minor foot bruise. I don't love that, but it's also something I'd be harsher on if the horse were going to be 3/1 and not 12/1 or 15/1. I've been crowing about wanting to see TAX stretch out all season, being by Arch out of a hardy Claiborne family, and now he gets the dry track and the kind of field where the real TAX ought to stand up.
- BOURBON WAR (12/1) - The blinkers didn't do much for this one in the Preakness, so he straps them off. As keen as I was on him leading into the Preakness, I'm souring just a bit; he didn't have an excuse. He got a fine trip for where he was sitting, but just didn't have it when the real running began. Maybe taking the blinkers back off will help. His pedigree doesn't raise major red flags; he is one of three in the field by Tapit, so well proven in this race, out of a mare who was herself a two-turn turf type, with other two-turn grass form in the family. Even so, it's hard to get so jazzed about BOURBON WAR off that Preakness effort, especially thinking that against this class of horse, he's looking like a true closer. Maybe he'll round out a superfecta, but I'm not seeing much better than that.
- SPINOFF (15/1) - We get to the first of the Pletcher brigade. He has been freshened since never getting involved in the Kentucky Derby. The good news is, he won't have to be hung so wide this time as he was that day. He also has a decent running style for the Belmont; in his better races, he tracks in range and keeps on going. The pedigree? He's by Hard Spun, a perfectly good route sire. I don't love the fact that his dam Zaftig was a sprinter/miler during her career. But, a short career it was, and there's enough in the family to look more kindly on him than the average "oh, his mom was a sprinter". Even so? You can't use them all, and there are horses -- including [spoiler alert] one down his own shedrow -- this space likes better.
- SIR WINSTON (12/1) - SIR WINSTON ran on well late for second in the Peter Pan (G3) last time out. He has a bit more seasoning going longer than the American workaday distances than some of his foes have, with three tries at a mile and an eighth, and his most recent attempt the best one yet. His pedigree is serviceable for the distance, being by Awesome Again out of an Afleet Alex mare who was a graded winner at 1 1/16 miles and graded-placed as far as a 1 1/8 miles. But, even if he is someone who is getting good at the right time? This race isn't going to fall apart. He could round out a trifecta or superfecta, but others are more convincing on top.
- INTREPID HEART (10/1) - It seems like only yesterday when Paul Mazur and I were sitting on a couch at the Wormhole coffee shop in Wicker Park, bantering about the 2014 Belmont. I couldn't have been less excited about Commissioner, despite admitting that he had some distance breeding on the dam side, but Paul talked me onto him, something I was grateful for a few days later when my WPS ladder on him paid off handsomely. We both couldn't have been less excited about Tonalist, both being convinced that there was no way a Tapit could get a mile and a half without calling AAA, even with Pleasant Colony on the bottom. Of course, we looked silly a few days later, when Tonalist caught Commissioner at the wire to win. The more time passed, the sillier we looked. Two years later, Creator won the Belmont. The next year, Tapwrit did. In short, we were dead wrong about Tapit, and he has become the Belmont sire. Where is this all going? Well, if you're like me, and you're looking for a Belmont Stakes Pedigree™, this is it. INTREPID HEART is by Tapit out of Flaming Heart (Touch Gold). This makes him...we'll say, a bit more than half to Commissioner, since Commissioner is by A. P. Indy out of Flaming Heart, and Tapit is an A. P. Indy grandson. Flaming Heart also produced Mythical Bride (Street Cry), the dam of Vino Rosso, who ran 4th in the Belmont last year and recently became a Grade 1 winner at a mile and a quarter. Of course, INTREPID HEART has some proving to do on the track, especially after running third as the chalk in a less-than-great edition of the Peter Pan (G2) on May 11. However, that was only his third career start, so he still has room to improve. And, as long as the shiny new blinkers don't make INTREPID HEART pull a Palace Malice? He showed in his allowance win at Keeneland that he can stalk the pace and make a run; stalkers tend to do well in the Belmont, and he's not getting the lead with JOEVIA on the fence. In short? There are a couple of clear chalks, who we'll get to shortly. They are the horses to beat in this race. But, if you're going to go elsewhere, why not go to a horse with the right running style, a pedigree that has Belmont written all over it, and a barn that has won three Belmonts already?
- WAR OF WILL (2/1) - Wronged in the Derby, redeemed in the Preakness...what about the Belmont? Sure, WAR OF WILL is not by the Belmont Sire du jour, Tapit...but, looking at the underside of the pedigree, it's not a stretch to think he'll be fine at twelve furlongs. He's half to Tacticus (A. P. Indy)...sadly, we never got to see Tacticus reach his full potential, but in his final two starts, he won the fourteen-furlong Birdstone Stakes and the thirteen-furlong Temperence Hill Invitational. He was coming into his own as a dirt marathoner, specifically. WAR OF WILL has the stalking style that suits the Belmont so well, and even though he drew outside this time, he has proven that he is as draw-agnostic a horse as there is. He won't be the amazing price he was in the Preakness, of course, but he looks a rock-solid contender.
- TACITUS (9/5) - Not to be confused with WAR OF WILL's half brother, of course, but also one with a quality distance pedigree. He is the third of the Tapit babies in the Belmont field. He has plenty of dirt route class underneath him as well, being by Close Hatches (First Defence), a G1 winner as far as a mile and an eighth. He finished off the board in his only try at Belmont -- but we can't be too nitpicky about that, since it was his debut. He is thriving as the distances go longer, and he has freshened since a good run in the Kentucky Derby. TACITUS and WAR OF WILL are kind of a 1/1A -- deserving co-favourites. But? WAR OF WILL gets the slight nod over TACITUS just because it's the Belmont, and horses who typically sit a bit closer can get a slightly better trip. Still, it would not be folly to cover TACITUS on top on at least a few tickets, and underneath, he belongs as prominently as anyone.
#8 INTREPID HEART (10/1)
#9 WAR OF WILL (2/1)
#10 TACITUS (9/5)
Longshot: #4 TAX (15/1)
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's stakes selections for Saturday at Belmont Park. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card; full picks will be up by Friday morning. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!
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