Can Exaggerator cement a legacy at Belmont Park?
The third jewel of the Triple Crown is upon us but we no longer have a Triple Crown contender. Nyquist’s hopes for racing immortality were vanquished 2 weeks ago in Baltimore as Exaggerator pulled the upset and turned the tables on his rival in the slop. Exaggerator is back, but Nyquist is going to be sidelined for this one after spiking a fever just days after his first defeat. The Belmont Stakes is the most daunting of the three Triple Crown races, often called the Test of Champions because of its grueling distance at a mile and a half. For most horses in the field, this will be the longest race they ever run. That hasn’t deterred the connections of many three year-olds as we have 13 runners, the most we’ve had for several years. Many familiar faces returning from both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes respectively, even some new ones. Exaggerator is your rightful favorite after his showing in the first 2 legs, but can he get the distance here? Let’s analyze his competition:
#1 Governor Malibu (12-1) – I love this horse. Been a fan and following him for some time now. He is the son of Malibu Moon, which means he has bloodlines linked to A.P. Indy and then of course, Seattle Slew and Mr. Prospector. This guy should have no problem with the distance and can run all day. Never finishing out of the money in his career, Governor Malibu is coming off a very game 2nd place finish behind Unified in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at 1 1/8 mile. He sat near the back of the pack in that race and made a late charge to nearly knock off the undefeated horse. I expect him to do the same here as it seems to be his best running style. In a field full of deep closers though, he’ll need to get the jump on them but he should be closer to the pace than the obvious ones.
#2 Destin (6-1) – Destin was a darkhorse for many handicappers in the Kentucky Derby after he broke the track record in the Tampa Bay Derby. But many questioned the 8 week layoff between that race and the run for the roses and maybe it did come to hinder him. He finished 6th after being passed in the final strides by some closing horses. This time he won’t have to wait so long between races, and for that he’s been made the third favorite. He has maybe the best jockey in all of horse racing piloting him again in Javier Castellano. Destin is one of the few speed horses in the field and normally likes to sit just off the pace stalking the leader. I expect him to be forwardly placed and in a good spot around the far turn. Bettors will hope that this colt can get the distance.
#3 Cherry Wine (8-1) – I named Cherry Wine as a personal favorite in the Preakness due to the fact that he has the same sire as my racehorse. He then rewarded me with a 2nd place finish in the Preakness Stakes after a late run up the rail. This horse has proven himself to be one of the top closers in the field and has improved his result in each of the last 3 races. The one concern with him is that he’s yet to win anything better than an Allowance race. With his running style, it seems he has a habit of doing just enough to get in the money but never enough to win. Also, he was built for the slop at Pimlico. His sire Paddy O’Prado was a terrific turf horse so the pedigree suggested he would handle the conditions. Not sure how much stock to put into that 2nd place Preakness finish. He’s going to be sitting near the back with the other closers in this race and he’s already lost to several of them. Regardless, I believe the odds are too short on him if he stays at this price. I’d feel better if he was around 12-1.
#4 Suddenbreakingnews (10-1) – My Kentucky Derby pick is back after a 5th place finish in the run for the roses. Suddenbreakingnews is the definition of a closer. This horse bides his time to make one huge run in just about every race he’s ever been in. But the one thing about this guy is that he always fires. You can pretty much count on him to make that big run and be right there at the end. I was very happy with the way he finished in the Kentucky Derby but as I feared, he started his run too late and was too far back. Few things of note with him – First is that he gets Mike Smith, Hall of Fame jockey, for this one which is a big upgrade. Second is that Mike Smith has already confirmed he will be closer to the pace this time around so he won’t have to navigate through as much trouble. Three is that this horse, who was once considered a gelding, is now a ridgling after they determined he does in fact have testicles. Not sure what this means but I thought it was funny. He is going to be a strong play on many tickets and in exotics.
#5 Stradivari (5-1) – My Preakness Stakes pick is returning for the longer distance after running 4th at Pimlico. Stradivari was a huge unknown going into that one and though everyone agreed he had talent, many people questioned his resume. He had never raced in anything greater than an Allowance and was now making the jump to a Grade I. Well, he silenced some of those critics with his showing as he was rank most of the trip and was still right there in the stretch at the end with a chance to win. He came up empty, and I have to say I’m one of those who was very disappointed in his race. It seemed like he never settled down the backstretch even though he was in good position and then when it came time to challenge the leaders, he had nothing left in the tank. I’m willing to give him a pass because of the weather conditions. Maybe he just didn’t take to it. One thing he did show me is that the talent is real and this guy has a bright future. He is another one of the speed horses in the race and I expect him to be right up near the front, maybe even setting the pace. I just hope he’s not the pacesetter because that probably means he isn’t settling like he should. I still consider Stradivari a huge wildcard. Maybe he runs 4th or worse again and isn’t ready to be in this class, or maybe he comes out and just completely dominates the field. One thing I know is that he’ll be on my ticket.
#6 Gettysburg (30-1) – Gettysburg trained by Steve Asmussen gets the middle post and we have arrived at our potential pacesetter. This horse has a knack for either being on the lead or being right up on the lead in all of his races. Few things to like about him but even more to be concerned about. The good is that he isn’t going to have a ton of resistance up front I would assume so he might be able to carve out some sensible and comfortable fractions if he does go to the lead. The bad is that front-runners rarely get it done at this grueling distance and this horse is jumping from a 1 1/16 mile prep race to now 1 1/2 miles. He’s also never finished better than 5th a graded stakes race. I give Gettysburg little to no chance in this race but I do like him going forward in races at a mile or less.
#7 Seeking the Soul (30-1) – Seeking the Soul enters the Belmont fresh off the first win of his career. He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last month on his third try. I was surprised to see this horse here to be honest, but I suppose Dallas Stewart knows best. The distance is going to be tough as he’s never gone over a mile. His pedigree does suggest he COULD get the distance but I also don’t like his running style. He might be mid-pack or up near the pace and he just has better horses that are going to out-position him. He might be the longest shot on the board come post-time and I predict that this horse will finish dead last.
#8 Forever d’Oro (30-1) – The second Dallas Stewart horse in this field and he happens to be just to the outside of the first one. Like his stablemate, Forever d’Oro is also coming off his maiden win and he also got it on his third try. This guy though posted a better speed figure than his stablemate and unlike Seeking the Soul, he actually raced and won over a mile. His running style is better suited for this race and he is projected to sit mid-pack. There’s no need to overthink this though, he also poses little threat here and the deep closers are going to come and pass him when the time comes. He will finish near the back of the pack and there’s no need to include him on any tickets.
#9 Trojan Nation (30-1) – Adventist err…Trojan Nation comes to Belmont Park after finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby. This horse has yet to break his maiden and it’s quite remarkable that a horse who has never won a race despite 5 tries in Maiden Special Weights is now running in his THIRD Grade I stakes race. After running a very game 2nd in the Wood Memorial for a photo finish, I think the connections for this horse have set their goals a little high. This horse has no chance to win, but the distance may suit him well. He is one of the many closers in this race who will sit back and charge late. At best you can include him on your tickets in superfecta and super-hi 5’s.
#10 Lani (20-1) – My favorite 3-year-old is back for the Belmont after running a nice 5th in the Preakness Stakes. As I mentioned in my Preakness preview, this horse is infamous for his “off the track” behavior. Many people have written him off the entire Triple Crown series but he continues to exceed people’s expectations in each race. I think 2o to 1 is a little disrespectful. He surged late at Pimlico and was full of run at the wire, nearly passing Stradivari in the final strides. Also he is the son of Tapit and Tapit horses are always to be taken seriously, especially at this distance. He can get the distance. What we can expect from Lani is another bad start, falling way to the back of the pack, maybe even dead last, and another late run in the stretch. I think he’s going to give himself too much to do to be able to win, but we might be able to get a good price on him to get into the super’s. An outside post helps because he can steer clear of trouble early on. I’m looking forward to seeing Lani waiting around by the starting gate long before the race starts because he can’t handle himself around these other horses.
#11 Exaggerator (9-5) – The favorite. Exaggerator has really impressed over the last few months because I was not a believer in him. I thought he was destined to play second fiddle to Nyquist his entire career and was being overhyped in the Preakness. I underestimated his ability in the slop and he really got the perfect trip from a great jockey in Kent Desormeaux. Now, Desormeaux had to enter rehab early last week so you have to wonder if that affects this race at all. I’m going to guess no, but Kent also doesn’t have a great track record in the Belmont Stakes. Compared to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, which he won three times in both, he only has one Belmont victory back in 2009 with Summer Bird. His notable failures were with Big Brown in which he lost as a 1-5 favorite…and of course with Real Quiet in 1998 in which he lost the Triple Crown by a nose. Many thought he moved Real Quiet too early and cost him the race. I trust that he has figured it out by now and Exaggerator surely has the distance. He’s going to have great position above the deep closers and expect him to make a big move near the top of the backstretch to give himself a great chance to win.
#12 Brody’s Cause (20-1) – The Bluegrass Derby winner makes his return after finishing in 7th place in the Kentucky Derby. This was the horse that caught my eye at the price he is at. I cannot believe he is 20 to 1. Many people liked him in the Kentucky Derby and this race suits his running style even more than that race. I can’t understand why he’d be a longer shot than horses like Cherry Wine (who he’s beaten). Brody’s Cause has won 3 of 7 career races including two Grade I wins. I also like that he has an outside post position because he doesn’t really need to save ground early. He is going to be near the back for most of the race. The only concern would be if he gets hung out wide on the turn. Also worried about his pedigree because Giant’s Causeway isn’t necessarily known for the distance. He’s a nice horse, so keep an eye on the price. If he goes off anywhere near these odds I think he is a must bet and must include on all tickets.
#13 Creator (10-1) – Creator rounds out the Belmont field and is another Kentucky Derby returnee. He finished 13th in that race but he had a really rough trip and found himself in constant trouble. He should have an easier time now in the smaller field and the outside post ensures that he can stay clear of all the early trouble. He gets a big jockey upgrade from Ricardo Santana Jr. to Irad Ortiz Jr. I really like the pairing of Ortiz Jr. and this horse. Creator was seen as another darkhorse for the Derby after winning the Arkansas Derby. It took him 6 tries to break his maiden but he was running second in many of those races. Many people felt Creator was hitting his stride at the right time. He’s already out-finished several horses that are in this field which I think explains why he is the 5th favorite in the ML odds. He is definitely one to watch, especially at the right price. Creator is the last of the deep closers so just like many of the horses we already talked about, he will be near the back of the pack and looking to surge late. Should be strongly considered on most tickets.
Pick: #4 Suddenbreakingnews 10/1 ML odds
I’ve been circling this race for this horse for a while now and I’m not about to change now. Suddenbreakingnews is the kind of thoroughbred you love as a bettor. As I mentioned earlier, this horse always shows up on race day. You don’t have to worry about him falling flat on his face, he’s going to be right there at the end making a big run with a chance to win it. I’m a huge fan of the switch to Mike Smith. Mike is a veteran and Hall of Fame jockey and will have this horse in good position. I like Luis Quinones, who was Suddenbreakingnews’ regular jockey, but I feel like he’s cost him in his most recent races by getting him going too late and letting horses that eventually finish in front of him pass him. The fact Mike Smith has already stated he will have him closer is a good sign. Another thing to love about this horse is his pedigree. Sired by the great Mineshaft and a mare by Afleet Alex, this horse can run for days. The final thing to like is the amount of horses in the field. If you rewatch the Derby, Suddenbreakingnews had a challenging trip and had to weave in and out of horses to finish 5th. With just 13 opponents instead of 20, he should be able to get himself a clear lane to run. I picture a modest pace being set in the race by Gettysburg with Stradivari and Destin off his flank, and Suddenbreakingnews will be closer than he has been. I see the 4 horse with a huge run in the stretch on the outside to take the Belmont Stakes.
- #4 Suddenbreakingnews
- #11 Exaggerator
- #5 Stradivari
- #1 Governor Malibu
- #12 Brody’s Cause
4-11-1-5-12 Trifecta, Superfecta, Super Hi-5 Box