Trying to dissect a wide-open Belmont Stakes
The 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park Saturday won't feature Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming or Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing. Even so, 12 horses have entered the race and there are a lot of interesting and potentially difficult components to assessing the chances of the dozen entrants. Five horses ran poorly when last seen five weeks ago in the Derby and hope to turn their form around significantly. That quintet is led by Derby sixth-place finisher Tapwrit, who won the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March. Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley ended up ninth in the Derby. Irish War Cry won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial before a 10th-place Derby finish. J Boys Echo took the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in March then two races later came in 15th in the Derby. Patch finished second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby then placed 14th in the Kentucky Derby.
Then there is a trio coming out of the Preakness. Multiplier finished sixth in that race following a win in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby. Senior Investment skipped the Derby following a win in the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes and rallied for third in the Preakness, while Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee finishing a half-length further back in fourth. Twisted Tom won a pair of minor stakes in Maryland recently, the Private Terms and the Federico Tesio, and attempts a graded stakes for the first time. Hollywood Handsome finished a non-threatening fifth in the Illinois Derby before a win last month in allowance company. Last but certainly not least, Meantime enters the Belmont Stakes following a solid runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes over the track. The newest shooter is Epicharis, who was undefeated in four races in Japan before a nose defeat in the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby near the end of March.
Main win contenders:
Epicharis showed excellent tactical speed in his five starts to date, racing on the lead or just off the pace. Contrary to some opinions, horses with a deep closing style don't do very well in the Belmont but horses that can run about the same pace throughout while leading or stalking have good success. Epicharis stalked the pace in the U.A.E. Derby in the early stages, took over about mid-race, fought hard with eventual winner Thunder Snow before coming up a nose short at the wire. Rested since the end of March, Epicharis enters the Belmont Stakes fresh and fit and in a field in which many are hoping to rebound off very poor recent efforts. Therefore he gets top billing to pull off the win, opening as the second betting choice at 4-to-1 odds.
Note: As of Thursday morning (June 8) it is being reported Epicharis was treated for lameness in his right front leg on Wednesday night, but his trainer is hopeful he will go to the track for regular training on Friday morning and run in the Belmont Stakes.
Meantime is an improving type who earned a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure when second in the Peter Pan Stakes last month at Belmont. Experience over the track can be a positive factor in the Belmont and the Peter Pan served as a prep for 2014 Belmont winner Tonalist. Never worse than third in four career starts, Meantime also has never been worse than second in the early stages of his races and should be in a good position from the start once again. Meantime also benefits from the services of North American leading rider Mike Smith in the saddle for the first time and so I expect him to run a lot better than his 15-to-1 starting odds suggest.
Senior Investment (12-1 morning-line odds) had some traffic trouble during the running of the Preakness but managed to rally swiftly when clear, going from eighth at the top of the stretch to third at the wire. Prior to that, Senior Investment earned a career best 107 E figure when victorious in the Lexington Stakes. The only concern I have regarding his chances are that he usually runs near the back of the field in the early and middle portions of a race. That's not a running style that is conducive to this mile and one-half trip, maybe more so than usual this year with only Epicharis and Meantime likely to want the early lead. However, with both the Preakness winner (Cloud Computing) and runner-up (Classic Empire) not running in the Belmont, Senior Investment inherits the role of the horse with the best finish in the most recent Triple Crown race and should be running on past many of the other Belmont runners in the last quarter mile.
Lookin At Lee could not duplicate his fast finish for second in the Derby (with a career-best 101 E) when fourth in the Preakness, but on the other he hand was just three-quarters of a length behind Senior Investment. As such, I will consider him for the second and third position on exacta and trifecta tickets played. I will also consider Hollywood Handsome (30-1 morning-line odds) for those wagers, as he got his confidence back a bit with an off-the-pace win in an allowance race (with a 98 figure) following a fifth-place finish in the Illinois Derby. Another reason to consider Hollywood Handsome is due to his trainer, Dallas Steward, having had a number of horses run well at high odds in Triple Crown races over the past few years: Commanding Curve, Golden Soul and Tale of Verve.
Horses I am not considering as win contenders include the quintet who ran poorly in the Derby: Irish War Cry (82 figure when 10th), Gormley (85 figure when ninth), J Boys Echo (74 figure when 15th), Patch (76 figure when 14th) and Tapwrit (91 figure when sixth) as I just can't expect a rebound to competitive form off those efforts. Twisted Tom earned 93 and 85 figures, respectively, in his two recent stakes wins that aren't anywhere near fast enough to compete with the main contenders. Although Multiplier earned a competitive 103 figure winning the Illinois Derby in April, his non-threatening sixth in the Preakness with a 95 figure puts him in the same league with the five horses that ran poorly in the Derby.
My win contender selections:
For second and third on exotic wagering tickets:
Lookin At Lee