The $1.5 million Belmont Stakes is a “Test of Champions” as often as it is a playground for upsets.
While the race will not be testing any champion this year following Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist’s defeat at Pimlico, the race still offers a chance at further glory for Preakness winner Exaggerator and a number of aspiring also-rans. However, unlike the Preakness, the opportunity for a Triple Crown newcomer to strike gold in the Belmont is very legitimate, with the Derby and Preakness taking their toll on runners in the past five weeks.
The king of the new shooters is almost certainly Governor Malibu, who shares the same jockey and trainer as 2014 winner Tonalist.
Among the freshest of contenders, the chestnut colt was most recently a sharp second in the Peter Pan Stakes (GII) to undefeated multiple graded stakes winner Unified. While he typically runs closer to the pace, Governor Malibu was as much as eight lengths behind front-running Unified, who led the field through strong early fractions of :23 1/5 and :46 1/5 for the nine-furlong race. No one made inches on the winner in the stretch save for the Governor, who advanced along the rail before switching to the outside of Unified and coming up less than a length short. The narrow loss put his highest Equibase speed figure at 108 — one point higher than Exaggerator and the same as Nyquist — and on the short list of horses who should love the 1 ½-mile distance of the Belmont.
The race was the colt’s second time running nine furlongs; previously, he ran a winning race against multiple stakes winner Awesome Speed in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. It was a race in which he prevailed by a nose, but was disqualified to second due to interference in the final sixteenth. A gallant defeat, it was his first time racing outside of restricted, state-bred company, where he never finished worse than third in seven career starts.
Unlike other contenders in the race that have likely already shown their best and are possibly beyond their peak form, the Governor will enter on a sharp improving streak with a couple of past excuses that will only increase his betting odds. Historically, he shares many advantageous points with some of the past ten Belmont winners (Jazil through American Pharoah):
- Extended rest: Nine of the last ten Belmont winners had at least four weeks rest between the Belmont and their last race. This automatically puts Derby/Preakness runners like Exaggerator and Lani at a disadvantage, as well as Preakness-only contenders like Stradivari.
- Stalking is key: Seven of the last ten Belmont champs sat behind a pacesetter for the majority of the race within two lengths of the lead and/or stayed among the leading quartet of runners.
- No graded stakes wins: Six of the last ten winners of the Belmont had never won a graded stakes prior to capturing the Test of Champions.
- Belmont experience: Six of the last ten Belmont winners had previously raced at the Elmont, NY racetrack.
- Northern Dancer: Six of the last ten Belmont victors were linebred to Northern Dancer.
By Malibu Moon, Governor Malibu seeks to continue the A.P. Indy line dominance in the Belmont Stakes while becoming the fourth New York-bred to win the longest jewel of the Triple Crown. A true New Yorker, Governor Malibu is out of the New York-bred mare Akilina, a daughter of Canadian champion sprinter Langfuhr, who won two stakes on the turf in her career.
With US Racing pegging him at odds of 25-1, Governor Malibu is one horse that can’t be eliminated by the ambitious horseplayer.
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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily state or reflect those of US Racing.