This year had what some called “Triple Crown Hangover.” And with a supposed superstar in Nyquist showing that he is a horse after all with his first career defeat in the Preakness Stakes, some have commented that, even with that, the Belmont Stakes in three weeks promises to be a big one for racing.
Will this be another year in which a horse loses the Kentucky Derby and then dominates the last two races, like Point Given did in 2001? That particular horse went on to win the Haskell and the Travers before early retirement.
This year, while we are still waiting to see if that happens with Exaggerator, it promises to be a good year, and a particularly good Belmont Stakes. There are already ten potential entrants in a race where fourteen is the maximum number.
Let’s take a look at who is targeting the Test of the Champions:
Brody’s Cause – Brody’s Cause was not entered in the Preakness in favor of the longer option that the Belmont Stakes offers. It is one of the few 12-furlong races still running on the dirt and Brody’s Cause is bred to run this distance easily. However, his style is not exactly favorable in the race, as closers usually don’t get a strong pace to run into.
Cherry Wine – Cherry Wine did not make the Kentucky Derby field and instead went to the Preakness, where he actually defeated Nyquist and finished second. He should not have an issue with the distance, but once again, his late running style is not favorable. I would pass on him to win.
Destin – Off eight weeks rest, he was able to manage a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, which is quite impressive. He had also never been further than 8 ½ furlongs going into the Louisville Classic. The Belmont Stakes caters more to his running style as a stalker, and he should easily get a good jump on the competition coming into that long homestretch.
Exaggerator – After another win in the slop, Exaggerator ended a potential Triple Crown run for Nyquist and instead birthed a rivalry between the two. Keith Desormeaux said his Preakness winner exited the race in good order and will be waiting for Nyquist in New York. Can Exaggerator sit a bit closer in the Belmont and gather another Grade I win?
Gun Runner – This horse is likely to not show up again until Saratoga, but if Gun Runner were to go in the Belmont Stakes, I would likely play him. His stalking style and his pedigree are reasons enough to do so. However, he also always seems to work out a trip for himself, which I absolutely love about him. If he shows up, he is likely my pick.
Lani – One has to wonder why Lani has contested the entire Triple Crown series. He has not been focused since he got to the States. I think he is bred for the Belmont Stakes, but the horses around him are not the only ones beating Lani. Lani is beating Lani.
Mor Spirit – Baffert has a good horse here, but he was out of his depth in the Kentucky Derby. The horse might appreciate a smaller field, like the ones he was running against in California. If Mor Spirit were to run in the Belmont Stakes, he could get a good trip stalking the pace, and make his grinding run in the stretch. He is a considerable contender.
Nyquist – I was one to say Nyquist wanted no part of 10 furlongs in the Kentucky Derby and he proved us all wrong, or right, depending on the stance you took on the colt. However, Nyquist could not hold up after the fastest opening quarter in Preakness history and it was downhill from there for the Uncle Mo colt. Nyquist, if he wins the Belmont Stakes, could be this generation’s Thunder Gulch, winning the first and third legs of the Triple Crown and finishing third in the middle jewel.
Stradivari – Stradivari performed quite well in his first try against stakes competition on a very muddy track. He should come out of the race well and perform well in New York… if Pletcher sends the colt. He is certainly bred for the race. His running style also looks to be nearly ideal for the Belmont Stakes, but his true competition is Nyquist when it comes to pace making the race.
Suddenbreakingnews – For now, Suddenbreakingnews looks to be the deep closer he has been running as. He was good enough run fifth in the Kentucky Derby but was third a jump passed the wire. The Belmont looks to truly suit him, but the pace will be much slower. He may need to kick himself into gear out of the gate and sit closer to the front like he has done before in the early stages of his career.
The Belmont Stakes is always an exciting race, with or without a Triple Crown on the line. This year marks the first year since 2013 that the Triple Crown has not been on the line. This year, it seems to come down to a rivalry and the quest by a champion 2-year-old to continue to be a top contender and prove his one defeat was a fluke.