By US Racing Team
Will Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes mark a return to glory for Forte? A vindication for Angel of Empire? Another bounty for Baffert?
Forte, who missed both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, will face eight rivals in the final jewel of the Triple Crown, notably Angel of Empire, who finished third in Kentucky as the favorite in Forte’s absence, and the Baffert-trained Preakness winner National Treasure.
While Forte is coming off a 10-week layoff, having been scratched on Derby Day with a foot bruise, Angel of Empire also has had a bit of a rest. Trainer Brad Cox skipped the Preakness and has added blinkers in the hopes jockey Flavian Prat will put him a lot closer to the pace than at Churchill Downs. With only eight rivals, there certainly will not be as much traffic as there was in the Derby.
With the most accomplished resume amongst 3-year-olds (including the Hopeful, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Fountain of Youth, Forte was the logical favorite for the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago, only to be scratched the morning of the race with a foot bruise. That injury landed him on the veterinarian’s list, which required a 14-day rest period. That eliminated Forte from the Preakness two weeks later.
He is certainly the freshest horse in the race. The Florida Derby, a gut-wrenching victory over eventual Derby winner Mage, was 10 weeks ago. Forte has been on the sideline since.
“It wasn’t the ideal way we got here, but it’s how it unfolded,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.
The layoff is a nagging concern. Successful returns from lengthy vacations are commonplace among turf horses. Not so much on the main track. Dirt horses usually need races to stay sharp.
Forte might be the exception who can handle a layoff. From a value perspective, 5-2 is a short price to take on a horse who might be short on race fitness.
So, we return once again to Angel of Empire, who was our top pick in the Derby. There, he rallied from 16th to finish third as the 4-1 favorite. We can build a strong case for banking on his Belmont prospects.
He is 7-2 on the morning line, a very reasonable price for a beaten Derby favorite looking to make amends in the Belmont.
We’ll round out our trifecta ticket with Preakness winner National Treasure.
The Professor’s Picks: Angel of Empire, Forte, National Treasure
Picks from our other US Racing Team Handicappers:
Mr. WPS: Tapit Trice, Hit Show, Forte
A clear run, and the added distance gives Tapit Trice a winning edge.
Louslip Lenny: Angel of Empire, Forte, Tapit Trice
Could be sitting on a huge race after closing strongly for third in the Derby.
Harriet ‘Capper: National Treasure, Forte, Angel of Empire
Baffert is back with a vengeance
Triexfecta: Forte, National Treasure, Red Route Run
Derby scratch rebounds and runs to victory for Pletcher
|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|
The writing team at US Racing is comprised of both full-time and part-time contributors with expertise in various aspects of the Sport of Kings.