Analysis: Belmont pick is Tacitus, aided by bloodlines
This is a Triple Crown season that will be remembered, though probably should be forgotten.
Maximum Security was the winner of the Kentucky Derby for about 20 minutes, then got taken down over a claim of foul that will be debated forever. The Preakness was probably most notable for Bodexpress throwing jockey John Velazquez to the ground as they lurched from the starting gate and then running the race anyway.
And now, the Belmont Stakes gets its turn. If form holds, something peculiar will happen.
A field of 10 horses will be in the gate on Saturday for the mile-and-a-half race, which is racing's equivalent of a marathon. The Preakness winner, War of Will, is in there. So is Tacitus, who was placed third in the Kentucky Derby and is set as the morning-line favorite for the Belmont at 9-5 — slightly better than War of Will, at 2-1.
They are, far and away, the best horses in the field on paper.
Thing is, this race — like every other race — isn't run on paper.
There are horses that can beat Tacitus and War of Will in this race, including Bourbon War, who was inexplicably a non-factor in the Preakness. If basing solely off that race, there would really be no reason to take a shot with him in the Belmont. But there is a big reason to take a look at him, and Intrepid Heart, and Tacitus.
They were all sired by Tapit.
There may not be a race where bloodlines matter more than the Belmont. Not every horse can go 12 furlongs. Those sired by Tapit have shown they're more than capable of handling the distance; he was the winning sire in three of the last five Belmonts.
Bourbon War also gets Mike Smith to ride in this one, which is always a plus. His morning line of 12-1 is going to get bet down considerably simply because of the Smith factor, which is especially noteworthy in New York.
Intrepid Heart's record — two wins and a third in three starts, with $140,400 in earnings — doesn't look like much. But his last start, at Belmont four weeks ago in the Peter Pan, was actually very impressive considering he stumbled at the start and seemed to burn through his gas tank trying to make up ground.
Tacitus was placed third in the Kentucky Derby after Maximum Security was taken down and smartly skipped the Preakness. He's a closer and he'll be fresh for this race, always a good Belmont combination, plus keeps Jose Ortiz in the irons. This will be Tacitus' sixth start; he's had the same rider every time.
Everfast has raced 11 times; he won his first start and hasn't won since, yet got up for second in the Preakness and he's officially puzzling. Joevia needs a perfect trip and some luck to be a factor. Tax and Spinoff both never fired in the Kentucky Derby, though that may have been more about the slop in each case than anything else. Sir Winston ran huge at the end of the Peter Pan and looks like he'll be a hard-charger at the end, if he doesn't steal the whole thing.
War of Will was fantastic to win the Preakness, another horse with the closing style that one needs at the Belmont. As always, though, the question remains about how a horse can handle the daunting task of competing in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont in a five-week window. Some get through it with ease. Others are gassed before they get to New York.
Master Fencer is racing for more than anyone else. He's a Japanese-bred and would get a $1 million bonus from the New York Racing Association if he wins the Belmont. He had a big finish in the slop at the Kentucky Derby and showed big-time closing speed. So he could be there at the end, and there will be value with him since New York bettors aren't likely to bet down a horse they've rarely seen. He had a misstep in a workout last week, which may scare some potential backers off.
Plenty of good options. But a wacky Triple Crown season should end on a fairly predictable note.
Tacitus is the best horse of the 10. If he gets the right trip, even coming from the outside in a marathon, he wins.
The pick is Tacitus, with Bourbon War second and Master Fencer third, with Sir Winston rounding out the superfecta.