by Brian Nadeau
May 31, 2017
While next Saturday’s Belmont Stakes may lack the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing, there’s little doubt the race is shaping up as a bettor’s bonanza, for many different reasons. And while Classic Empire, who ran a “too good to lose” 2nd in the Preakness, will no doubt be a solid favorite, there’s a lot of different ways to go when you’re talking 1 ½ miles over Big Sandy. With 13 or so shaping up to try the “Test of the Champion,” let’s take a brief look at each of them, and their prospective winning chances.
Classic Empire: There’s little doubt he’s the horse to beat, and most likely winner, but geesh, they sure do like to go to the well, don’t they? He’s tough to toss, and his Preakness 2nd was out of this world, but at this point in a season that has gotten very demanding, very fast, regression seems as likely as a move forward.
Conquest Mo Money: A potential pace player, he bombed in the Preakness after skipping the Derby, and that wasn’t supposed to happen, as a lot of wiseguys liked his chances in Baltimore. The plus side is that he wasn’t beaten by much when 2nd to Classic Empire in the GI Arkansas Derby, but you’re also allowed to wonder if he’s been exposed a bit and is going the wrong way.
Epicharis: The true wildcard from Japan seems to have some class to him and wants to beat you, as his 4-for-5 record suggests, but the fact remains we know nothing about him, especially since Thunder Snow, who beat him in the GI UAE Derby, ran only ran about 27 feet in the Derby before being pulled up. The other worry is that you know he’ll be a big underlay, because the public loves to bet the unknowns, especially when they come from halfway across the world and have gotten a lot of buzz.
Gormley: Tactical runner was in contention in the Derby before flattening out but has the running style to win the Belmont, as he’s going to be close throughout and wants to grind you into the ground. Still, his class remains a question mark, as he’s blinked more often than not in a big spot, plus he’s never done anything outside of his home at Santa Anita.
Irish War Cry: If you needed him in the Derby, like this handicapper, you were counting your money on the far turn, when he looked about 4-5, especially after Rajiv Maragh kept peeking under his arm for the competition. So, to see him end up 10th is a worry, and whether he was on the wrong part of the track of not, he caved so badly that you have to wonder about his ability to get 12 furlongs. On the face of it, he’s arguably the most talented horse in the race, and who wants to go against Graham Motion going 1 ½ miles, but the gut says this is a bit too far.
J Boys Echo: Stretch runner has one huge win and figure in the GIII Gotham, but hasn’t done anything remotely close to that before or since, so it’s tough to think he can make a dent here. It’s also a bit worrisome that he wasn’t originally even going to run here after skipping the Derby, yet has now been rerouted, which is a plan that rarely works.
Lookin At Lee: Derby runner-up didn’t really fire when 4th in the Preakness, which lends a lot of momentum to the thinking he simply rode the inside bias in Louisville to a big run. Yes, his grinding style will make him a player here, and Asmussen won this race last year with his clone Creator, but the gut says this guy is second-tier and will be an underlay worth playing against.
Meantime: Game runner-up in the local prep, the GII Peter Pan, and he may have won it if he didn’t drift out off the far turn, but wiring the Belmont is never easy, and that’s likely the path he’s taking to the winner’s circle. Still, he’s come a long way in a short period of time, and that was his first start against winners, so he can build off it for sure.
Multiplier: Finished a non-threatening 6th in the Preakness and seems out of his element, and he’s not bred for this either, as dad The Factor was best as a sprinter/miler, as was his damsire, Trippi.
Patch: A great story, and a lightly-raced, talented runner too, but he really doesn’t belong in here and needs far lesser to threaten. And you know the one eye angle will get played up again, and you’ll have to take another short price, even after the bomb-job in the Derby.
Senior Investment: That closing 3rd in the Preakness wasn’t bad at all, though he did get a dream setup to help accomplish it, and it’s doubtful he’ll get the crazy splits he needs in the Belmont to get there first. Still, you know he should like the 1 ½ miles, and will be passing horses late, which is more than you can say for a lot of these.
Tapwrit: Stakes winner outran his odds to be 6th in the Derby, with a lot of trouble too, but he’s done nothing but beat up on second tier horses all year and has never really broken through with a big effort on the stopwatch either. If nothing else, Pletcher has had success in this race, but he’ll be an underlay and doesn’t seem as good as the Louisville runs suggests.
True Timber: Deserved longshot has never come close to winning a graded stakes race, let alone one like this, so it’s tough to think he can make a dent here, regardless of how modest the field might be.
Twisted Tom: Streaking New York-bred won a pair of Laurel stakes and steps way up here, but it’s Chad Brown, so you know he’ll have him primed for the 1 ½ miles, and he’s improving by the day too. And he has to be some sort of a decent price, even though this is a barn that always gets bet hard, so you could do worse than giving him a look in a race where a lot of things will be thrown at the wall, but very few will stick.