This year marks the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of the Triple Crown and the oldest of the three races. This race is known for a lot of things — from being the crowning glory of a grueling five-week race series to being a crushing spoiler for runners and their connections attempting to earn racing immortality. But of all the things the Belmont Stakes is known for, it is probably the sheer number of amazing horses who’ve won the 1 ½-mile race since it was first contested in 1867.
In addition to the 12 Triple Crown winners, the most recent member of the club being American Pharoah two years ago, a host of historic names have graced the Belmont Park winner’s circle draped in a blanket of carnations. Sometimes the term “legends of the turf” is used too loosely, but not when it comes to the Belmont Stakes. It has been the stop for all of the great racing legends, from Belair Stud, Sam Riddle and Greentree Stable to “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons and Woody Stephens. Back in the day, winning the Belmont was as important — if not more so — than any other race on the calendar.
Some names even the casual racing fan will recognize as third-jewel winners. In addition to the 12 Triple Crown winners, the roster of Belmont Stakes champions includes Spendthrift, Peter Pan, Colin, Native Dancer, Nashua, Needles, Gallant Man, Sword Dancer, Riva Ridge, Conquistador Cielo, Swale, Bet Twice, Risen Star, Easy Goer, A.P. Indy, Colonial Affair, Point Given and Empire Maker. Fillies have won three times, with Rags to Riches being the last in 2007; and nine foreign-bred horses have taken to the track known as “Big Sandy” on the Saturday three weeks after the Preakness Stakes.
This year, a field of 12 will race the 1 ½-mile distance with their hopeful connections looking to add their names to the annals of Triple Crown race history.
The weather in the New York area on Saturday is expected to be on the warmer side, with highs in the mid-80s. There isn’t expected to be a rain cloud in sight, so a fast track and firm turf is on tap for the 13-race card.
The early favorite this year is Isabelle de Tomaso’s Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) winner Irish War Cry, who returns to action following a somewhat flat 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The Graham Motion-trained son of Curlin has had a bit of a hit-then-miss record in stakes company thus far. So after his Derby miss, he’s due a hit in the Belmont. He’s been training well at his home base of Fair Hill in Maryland for the past five weeks, including a pair of good works. He’s bred for the distance, being by a horse that just missed winning this race, and is out of a Polish Numbers mare. Plus, there may not be more capable hands than his trainer’s in getting a horse ready, though he seeks his first Belmont win, and regular jock Rajiv Maragh will be back aboard. His figures overall are strong, especially in the pace department, and the speed figure he earned in the Wood is as good as any of his rivals have earned so far in their careers. Post seven is good for the early type, who will probably be up near the pace and running hard down the lane toward the wire, his connections hoping his nose (at least) will be the one to get there first.
Lookin at Lee is the most seasoned of the bunch and will be making his 12th start in the Belmont. He hasn’t won a race since taking the Ellis Park Juvenile 10 months ago, but he’s been consistent in picking up big checks, including a second in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Lookin at Lucky (who didn’t run in the Belmont after winning the Preakness), has something to prove after earning his reputation as the game’s richest also-ran, but if he can put it all together on Saturday under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. he will be tough. A late runner, he needs a decent pace to run at and it appears he will get it. The hard part will be catching his frontrunning rivals in deep stretch.
Despite finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, Tapwrit’s performance in the first classic was better than it looked. He had a bit of trouble earlier in the race and closed strongly in the lane, just running out of ground. An extra two furlongs, like he’ll get at Belmont Park, would have been helpful for a better placing that day. The Todd Pletcher-trained Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner has the talent to win this and room to improve off his last two and has a pedigree to support 12 furlongs being as he’s by Tapit. Jose Ortiz returns to ride and it’s a good bet we’ll see the pair on or near the lead after they break from post position two. A clean trip may be all he needs.
Santa Anita Derby (GI) winner Gormley also ran well in the Derby despite the fact his running lines say he finished ninth. The John Sherriffs-trained son of Malibu Moon was moving well in the lane in the Derby, but was bumped hard inside the final furlong and lost all momentum and a chance for a placing under the Twin Spires. He returned to Santa Anita in good shape and worked three times since, including a nice five furlongs in 1:00 a week ago. Victor Espinoza returns on the Jerry and Ann Moss color-bearer and it’s a good bet he will be sent to the front to set the pace or sit just off it, hoping any speed in front of them retreats and leaves him the last man standing at the wire. Espinoza has famously been here before, so winning this race is not a new concept for him. If Gormley repeats his Sham Stakes (GIII) performance from earlier this year — as far as figures go — he’s going to be a tough customer.
J Boys Echo, who celebrity chef Bobby Flay purchased an interest in this past week after a similar move with Creator last year, was pretty consistent before his 15th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby last out. If he runs to his Gotham Stakes-winning form, he should be dangerous for a larger portion of this purse. The Dale Romans trainee is another hoping for a quick pace and regular jockey Robby Albarado will be back aboard after recovering from a broken ankle that kept him out of the Derby.
Senior Investment is a bit of a “wise guy” horse heading into this race. Not exactly sure why — maybe it’s the distance or maybe it’s that the race didn’t come up as tough as a classic normally does — but the Lexington Stakes (GIII) winner is getting a lot of early attention from the public nonetheless. His Preakness third was a bit rough, so a clean trip is necessary and he has room to improve.
Multiplier never really got into his groove in the Preakness and finished sixth after never having finished worse than third in four previous starts. The Illinois Derby winner has posted some decent figures and may be improving at just the right time.
Japanese superstar Epicharis finished second to the rodeo star Thunder Snow in the March 25 UAE Derby (GI) in his only career defeat but has faced some issues with a foot and is a question to start at all. His best, however, makes him a dangerous threat to become the tenth foreign-bred horse to win the Belmont. Cristophe Lemaire is in town to accept the mount again for trainer Kiyohsi Hagiwara.
Patch drew the far outside in the Derby and draws the far outside again here. The one-eyed wonder, who was second in the Louisiana Derby (GII) before finishing 14th in Kentucky, will likely be sent by trainer Todd Pletcher’s go-to rider John Velazquez to get position early and if he repeats his maiden win, numbers-wise, is a good use on any exotics ticket.
Meantime earned a huge speed figure when he finished second in the Peter Pan Stakes (GIII) last time out and while the Bryan Lynch-trained son of Shackleford is in tougher here, hitting the board is not out of the realm of possibility.
Twisted Tom rides a three-race win streak, including two stakes, and makes his graded debut in deep.
Hollywood Handsome returns to graded company after winning a first-level allowance last out.