Pletcher’s longshots can’t be ignored in Belmont Stakes

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              From left, Intrepid Heart and Spinoff trainer Todd Pletcher, left, sits beside War of Will trainer Mark Casse, center, and Tacitus trainer Bill Mott during a press conference following a draw ceremony for the 2019 Belmont Stakes race, Tuesday, June 4, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Trainer Todd Pletcher, always dangerous in the Belmont Stakes, sends out a pair of long shots Saturday in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

The focus of attention will fall on two other horses — Tacitus, the 9-5 favorite, and War of Will, the Preakness winner and the close second choice at 2-1.

Bettors who ignore Pletcher do so at their peril.

Pletcher’s duo this year includes Spinoff, 15-1 after finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby, and the lightly-raced Intrepid Heart at 10-1.

Pletcher owns three Belmont wins: the filly Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017).

None were favored in the wagering, ranging in price from 4-1 on Rags to Riches up to 13-1 for Palace Malice’s upset.

Even when he doesn’t win, Pletcher often lands a piece of the action. Since sending out his first Belmont runner in 2000, Pletcher has been second five times and three times finished third in the 1½ mile race.

Belmont Park is Pletcher’s base of operation, and he targets this race.

Like most trainers who develop 3-year-olds, Pletcher takes aim first at the Kentucky Derby. When that doesn’t pan out, Pletcher immediately turns his attention to the Belmont.

“It’s a race we really cherish,” Pletcher said. “It’s home for us. I think one of the advantages is most of our horses have trained five weeks at Belmont after the Derby. It helps, and it’s a race we really enjoy.”

Pletcher’s best Belmont hope this time probably rests with Intrepid Heart, running for only the fourth time. The gray colt stumbled at the start of his most recent outing, the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, and ran third as the even-money favorite in his first career loss.

“We were disappointed in the outcome of the race for sure because going in he had a big chance to win,” Pletcher said.

He will make an equipment change, adding blinkers to narrow Intrepid Heart’s field of vision. Blinkers often help improve focus by screening distractions.

Intrepid Heart should be acclimated, having worn the blinkers in his last two workouts.

As for Spinoff, Pletcher blames the poor effort on the sloppy track on Derby Day.

“The horse has trained, to me, consistently with some of the horses we’ve run in the Belmont over the years that have performed well,” Pletcher said. “I’m hoping he catches a fast track and gets to prove how good he is, or is not.”

In the end, it comes to down to hoping the home-field advantage again comes into play for the seven-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer.

“I think you can make that argument from the standpoint of training on a mile and a half track,” Pletcher said. “Getting accustomed to that can be helpful.”

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