By US Racing Team
Bob Baffert is back. So is Forte. And so is Tom Durkin.
Champion trainer, champion horse, and champion race-caller are all probables for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 10, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Hall of Famer Baffert, winner of a record 17 Triple Crown races including a record-setting eighth Preakness (G1) with National Treasure on May 20, could have as many as three Belmont runners – National Treasure, Arabian Lion, and Reincarnate. He’d be running a horse in the Belmont for the first time since 2018, when Justify completed his Triple Crown sweep.
Forte, the 2-year-old champion and morning-line Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite before a last-minute scratch, is training well in what would be his first race since winning the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1. He worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.44 at Belmont on Saturday (May 27) and Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher gave a “thumbs up” for the Belmont.
And then there’s Durkin, among the best race-callers in history. The longtime voice of the Breeders’ Cup, Triple Crown, and the New York Racing Association, Durkin is taking a break from retirement to call his 25th Belmont for FOX Sports (which now has the rights to race). He retired in 2014.
“The Belmont Stakes has been an iconic part of sports culture for more than 150 years,” Durkin said recently. “There is nothing like the energy and enthusiasm around Belmont Park with a Triple Crown on the line. It is the apotheosis of excitement.”
There won’t be a Triple Crown on the line this time around. At this point (May 27) a best-case lineup would match Forte – scratched hours before the Derby with a bruised foot – against Preakness winner National Treasure, Derby third-place finisher Angel of Empire, and four Derby also-rans.
The early Belmont list: Angel of Empire, Forte, Hit Show, Il Miracolo, National Treasure, Raise Cain, Red Route One, and Tapit Trice are probables. Arabian Lion, Arcangelo, Prove Worthy, and Reincarnate are possibles.
Other than National Treasure, Baffert’s other possibles are Arabian Lion, winner of the Sir Barton at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard; and Reincarnate, who ran 13th in the Derby for Tim Yakteen, who temporarily replaced Baffert as the colt’s trainer while Baffert was serving a two-year suspension from Churchill Downs.
National Treasure arrived in New York and was taken for a light jog around the track Thursday (May 25).
“He’s going well. We’re going to get him up there, train him and see how he’s doing,” Baffert said, adding the colt would have one workout before a final decision is made on the Belmont. “When he breezes, he’s going to have to show me he’s up for it.”
Forte is one of three Belmont contenders for Pletcher, seeking a fifth Belmont victory. The others are Tapit Trice and Prove Worthy.
Forte has now put in two works since his Derby scratch, both with regular rider Irad Ortiz, Jr aboard.
“I was really, really happy. I thought he was moving great. He got into a good rhythm, finished up great and galloped out nice and well,” Pletcher said. It seems like everything is in good order.”
Since Forte was placed on the 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby, his workout came with a regulatory vet present and blood samples taken. The results will come in a few days, but Pletcher said the vet, Dr. Sarah Hinchliffe, NYRA’s senior examining vet, was pleased.
“It went very well. She examined him before he breezed, watched him on the track during the breeze and after the breeze and then came back to the barn and examined him again,” Pletcher said. “She said she was happy.”
Pletcher believes Forte will be comfortable with the longer distance. He’s won 6-of-7 races, including his career debut at Belmont on May 27, 2022 – winning by 7 ¾ lengths in a 5-furlong race.
Tapit Trice ran seventh in the Derby and Prove Worthy broke his maiden at third asking on May 2 at Churchill).
Angel of Empire, winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1), is one of two Brad Cox-trained contenders. Hit Show (fifth in the Derby) is the other. Angel of Empire finished 1 ½ lengths behind Derby winner Mage (Two Phil’s was second), and Cox says the longer distance of the Belmont is a good fit.
Angel of Empire worked 5 furlongs in 59.80 seconds on Saturday (May 27) at Churchill Downs, and Hit Show covered the same distance in 1:00.20.
“Angel of Empire and Hit Show worked really well,” Cox said. “Both horses have exited the Derby in good shape and have been able to get back to regular training.”
The only other Preakness runner scheduled for the Belmont is fourth-place finisher Red Route One, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
“He’s kept very good company his whole career and was probably beaten [4 ¾] lengths in the Preakness in a race I don’t think set up ideally for him,’’ Asmussen said. “Does he beat them under different circumstances? Who knows? But I do like the opportunity to run him a mile and a half.”
Mage and Two Phil’s, the top two finishers in the Derby, have been declared out of the Belmont.
|1||Tapit Shoes||3-1||Brad H. Cox||Jose Ortiz|
|2||Tapit Trice||3-1||Todd A. Pletcher||Luis Saez|
|3||Arcangelo||8-1||Jena M. Antonucci||Javier Castellano|
|4||National Treasure||5-1||Bob Baffert||John R. Velazquez|
|5||Il Miracolo||30-1||Antonio Sano||Marcos Meneses|
|6||Forte||5-2||Todd A. Pletcher||Irad Ortiz, Jr.|
|7||Hit Show||10-1||Brad H. Cox||Manuel Franco|
|8||Angel of Empire||7-2||Brad H. Cox||Flavien Prat|
|9||Red Route One||15-1||Steve M. Asmussen||Joel Rosario|