by New York Racing Association Press Release
June 3, 2019
ELMONT, N.Y. - Todd Pletcher may not have the precise formula for winning the "Test of the Champion," but with a 3-5-3 record since his first starter in 2000 (Impeachment finished fifth), he appears to have a line on some of the elements that lead to a successful performance in the Belmont Stakes, which will be run for the 151st time on Saturday.
That is why Pletcher, who won the 1 ½-mile race in 2007 with the filly Rags to Riches, in 2012 with Palace Malice and in 2017 with Tapwrit, will be saddling both Intrepid Heart, third in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 11 at Belmont Park, and Spinoff, second-to-last in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, in the 1 ½-mile race.
"In Intrepid Heart's case, literally, since the day he was purchased [for $750,000], the thought was in our minds that this horse is really bred for the Belmont Stakes," he said of Robert and Lowana Low's Tapit colt. "Tapit has had tremendous success as a stallion in the Belmont, and this horse is out of a Touch Gold mare, and Touch Gold won the Belmont.
"He's also a half-brother to Commissioner, who lost [by a head to Tonalist] in the  Belmont," he added. "There's a strong pedigree indication he'll handle the mile-and-a-half."
Intrepid Heart has only started three times, breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park by 7 ¾ lengths in February, taking an optional claimer at Keeneland in April and finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan after stumbling at the start. On Saturday, he will be sporting blinkers for the first time in a race.
"John [Velazquez] has always thought he might need them, especially in his last race," said Pletcher. "His last two works have been with blinkers, and he's seemed a little more focused and a little less distracted by his workmate but not at all overzealous. And hopefully, his little lack of experience will be offset by the one-and-a-half miles."
Spinoff, a Wertheimer et Frere homebred, was 2-1-1 in four starts heading into the Derby, in which he was wide throughout and faded to finish 18 lengths behind Maximum Security.
"He did not like the sloppy track in the Derby, and he's come back from Churchill Downs and done well since," said Pletcher, whose Tapwrit and Palace Malice both came off off-the-board finishes in the Derby to win the Belmont on five weeks rest. "His penultimate breeze [five furlongs in 59.91 seconds on May 25], I got him galloping out a mile in 1:37 3/5, which again is kind of consistent with the other breezes in other years with horses like Commissioner, Destin [second in 2016], Palace Malice, Rags to Riches and Tapwrit."
Third in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in his second start as a 2-year-old, the Hard Spun colt posted a front-running win in his 2019 debut at Tampa Bay Downs and then finished second after gaining the lead in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.
"We've had very high hopes for him," said Pletcher. "He ran well in the Saratoga Special, and in the Louisiana Derby he got the lead and idled a little bit. In retrospect, the Louisiana Derby is a pretty strong race."