By Richard Rosenblatt
At first glance, it sounds like a fantastic matchup: the first three finishers from the 2019 Belmont Stakes go at each other a year later in Saturday’s storied Suburban Handicap (G2) at Belmont Park.
A little more than a year ago, Sir Winston, Tacitus and Joevia ran 1-2-3 in the final leg of the Triple Crown, the winner a 10-1 long shot, the runner-up the 9-5 favorite and the third-place finisher at 21-1.
The race may not have the same draw as a classic, but it could be a handicapping challenge to try to put the pieces together in the eight-horse field where the 2019 Belmont winner is the 7-2 third choice on the morning-line.
Of course, the 1 ¼-mile Suburban is not the feature attraction on Met Mile Day at Belmont, where the $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap (G1) features Grade 1 winners McKinzie and Code of Honor in a topnotch eight-horse field.
The other stakes on the card are the $400,000 Manhattan (G1), $150,000 Poker (G3), and the $100,000 Victory Ride (G3).
The Suburban has showcased dozens of champions since its first running 134 years ago. Among the winners are Assault, Nashua, Bold Ruler, Kelso, Buckpasser, Dr. Fager, Forego, Foolish Pleasure, Easy Goer, Skipaway and Invasor.
And now, this unlikely Belmont trio returns with not-so-impressive resumes since the final leg of the Triple Crown trying to earn a little more respect. Sir Winston, Tacitus and Joevia bring a combined record of two wins in 11 starts since the Belmont into Suburban, which has a reduced purse of $200,000, down from $700,000 last year.
Lost racing dates in New York due to the coronavirus pandemic saw purses cut for many races after tracks were given the OK to reopen and reschedule events.
Back to the Suburban, where Tacitus (0-for-his-last-5) is the 9-5 favorite. The son of Tapit has come close to that breakthrough win, but just can’t finish the job. His 3-year-old season, though, brought in more than $1.6 million in earnings with a record of 2-3-2 in seven starts.
After winning the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2), he placed third in the Kentucky Derby (G1), second in the Belmont (G1), Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1) and third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). In 2020, he was fifth in the Saudi Cup and fourth the Oaklawn Handicap.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Tacitus will be ridden by John Velazquez and leave from the No. 1 post.
Sir Winston, trained by Hall of Famer Mark Casse, was sidelined for six months after the Belmont, and came back and is 1-for-2 this year, winning an allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct in January and running second (to Suburban opponent Moretti) in the Flat Out Stakes at Belmont last month over a sloppy track.
“I think he got a lot out of it,” Casse told the NYRA press office, referring to the Flat Out. “My biggest concern is that he got too much out of it. He came back and worked well. He’s a happy horse and he loves Belmont.
Sir Winston, with Joel Rosario aboard, leaves from the No. 6 post.
Joevia is just 3-for-10 lifetime, and is 20-1 on Saturday for trainer Greg Sacco. The 4-year-old is 1-for-4 this year, the lone win in an allowance optional claimer at Aqueduct in January. He ran 11th in the Razorback Handicap (G3), seventh in the Stymie and fourth in the Westchester (G3) in his previous three starts.
Moretti, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Flat Out with a front-running performance under Javier Castellano, who will be aboard again leaving from the outside No. 8 post.
Mr. Buff, a 6-year-old gelding is 2-1 for trainer John Kimmel. He won three in a row from December to February, capped off by a 20-length win in the Haynesfield. In his previous start, the Commentator at Belmont, Mr. Buff could not hold off the late charge of Funny Guy.
Also entered are Parsimony, Forewarned and Just Whistle
Whenever late-running Sadler’s Joy is in the field, the question is always does he have enough at the end to get past the leader for a victory?
Twice before, Sadler’s Joy finished on the board in the Manhattan, but the 7-year-old has just one win in his previous 14 starts dating back to march, 2018.
This doesn’t mean he can’t pull off a win here. Lifetime, the Tom Albertrani-trainee for Woodslane Farm has bankrolled more than $2.5 million
In the 2018 Manhattan, Sadler’s Joy finished a neck behind winner Spring Quality, and in 2017, he was second by 1 ½ lengths to Ascend.
“I like the way he’s coming into this race and he’s run well in this race twice before, so with him, it’s all about getting the right trip and hopefully he’s up to it this year,” said Albertrani said. “We feel pretty confident he should do pretty well.”
Sadler’s Joy is the 7-2 second choice behind 2-1 favorite Instilled Regard, one of three entries from trainer Chad Brown. The others are Rockemperor at 5-1 and Devamani at 9-2.
Sadler’s Joy ended 2019 with a victory in the Red Smith (G3) and opened 2020 with a sixth-place finish in the Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). He then ran third in the Mac Diarmida (G2) in February and third in the Tiller at Belmont last month.
“He’s always right there. We’ve had a couple of troubled trips in the past, but he’s a tough horse on the day and hopefully everything works out this weekend,” said Albertrani. “We always felt he’d rather have firm turf, but he has run well of softer ground. We might get some rain, but I don’t think it will make much of a difference.”
Javier Castellano has the mount, leaving from post No. 4.
Also in the field is two-time Grade 1 Channel Maker, looking for his first win since taking the Man o’War at Belmont in 2019. In last year’s Manhattan, Channel Maker ran fourth behind the Brown trio of Bricks and Mortar, Robert Bruce and Raging Bull.
Brown has won the Manhattan four of the last six years. Instilled Regard is a graded stakes winner on dirt and turf, taking the Fort Marcy (G2) over stablemate Devamani at Belmont on June 6. Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the ride and leaves from the rail.
Also entered are Spooky Channel, Dot Matrix, and Cross Border.
Got Stormy takes on the boys again. Last August, as a 4-year-old, she became the first filly to win the Grade 1 Fourstardave (one mile on firm turf) in a Spa track record of 1:32
Trained by Mark Casse, Got Stormy is 0-for-3 in 2020, her best finish second by a neck to River Boyne in the Frank R. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita on March 7. Last out, she was fourth in the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont on June 3.
“The California race was very good. Her last race was disappointing, but we took her out of her element,’’ said Casse. “There was no speed in the race and we tried to keep her closer and that was to her demise. We won’t do that again, we’ll let her settle.”
Got Stormy was scratched from last Saturday’s Grade 1 Just a Game after persistent rainstorms soaked the turf course.
Chad Brown has a pair in the field, Grade 1 winner Valid Point and Value Proposition.
Also entered are Social Paranoia, Seismic Wave, Dream Friend, Hawkish, Eons, and Its All Relevant (main track only).
Reagan’s Edge makes her stakes debut against four other 3-year-old fillies.
Trained by Cherie DeVaux, Reagan’s Edge was a runaway nine-length debut winner going 6 furlongs on Sept. 24 at Indiana Grand. She was third in her first start this year, before a last-to-first rally in a first-level Churchill Downs allowance race on May 16.
Also in the field: Frank’s Rockette, Up in Smoke, Center Aisle, Miss Peppina.
America’s Day at the Races will have live coverage of Belmont Park stakes action Saturday from 1-5 p.m. ET, and 6-7 p.m. ET on FS1. NBC has coverage of the Met Mile from 5-6 p.m. ET. For more information: https://www.nyra.com/belmont/racing/tv-schedule.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.