US racing expert Peter Fornatale previews Saturday night’s Belmont Stakes – live on Sky Sports Racing – where Kentucky Derby hero Rich Strike returns.
The Belmont Stakes is here, the third jewel in American racing’s Triple Crown. While no horses will compete in all three legs this year, there are some excellent storylines as Rich Strike attempts to prove his 80/1 win in the Kentucky Derby was not a fluke, and Nest attempts to become just the fourth filly in the history of the race to get to the winners’ circle.
Who will wear the blanket of carnations? Let’s look at the field from the rail out…
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1 – We The People
Trainer: Rodolphe Brisset
We The People bounced back from a wretched run in the Arkansas Derby to become an impressive winner last time out in the Peter Pan, historically a good prep for this. On his breeding, the 12-furlong distance should be within his grasp and critically, he looks to be the only one signed on here with any proper early speed. Any moisture in the ground will be his friend, as he romped in both his off-track races.
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Image: We the People, ridden by trainer Rodolphe Brisset, prepares for the Belmont Stakes
2 – Skippylongstocking
Skippylongstocking was an interesting longshot in the Preakness and while he experienced some trouble, he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in defeat either. He’s looking a bit exposed, and the distance is a big question mark. It looks like the race shape will be unlikely to suit him as well.
3 – Nest
Nest is worthy of consideration at what figures to be a solid price, possibly even low double-digits. She looked so good in the Grade One Ashland, winning in imperious fashion, and the Oaks run was probably better than it looked as well. She was held up for run as the winner got a clear go to her outside.
I love her pedigree for this distance and if stamina comes into play, perhaps she can make up the gap in speed figures between her and the fastest ones. The issue is stamina may not come into play at all. Still, at the right place, she’s a backable each-way type.
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4 – Rich Strike
Rich Strike is a runner who provokes strong feelings. His Derby win is an amazing story, but from a form analyst’s point of view, it was, frankly, annoying. The controversial decision to skip the Preakness did not endear him to many serious horseplayers thereafter either.
Here is where the rubber meets the road: will he back up the Derby win with another impressive effort, leaving me with egg on my face again? Or will he be too far back, make a middle move and then flatten out running mid-pack?
I’m betting on the latter. If he kicks sand in my face again, so be it. It would be an amazing story. As an analyst and punter, being surprised is usually a terrible feeling; as a fan, it’s kind of nice.
Image: Rich Strike shocked the Kentucky Derby field with victory at 80/1
5 – Creative Minister
Creative Minister would likely have been my top pick had there been any pace at all signed on outside of We the People. He was good in the Preakness, and he’s bred for this. Interestingly, he’s the closest thing we have to a horse running in all three Triple Crown races this year (he won an allowance on the Derby undercard) and part of me would like a horse to have three good races in five weeks just to show it’s not THAT hard in the modern game.
6 – Mo Donegal
Mo Donegal was my Derby pick and he did not get a smooth run through that day with the winner getting the trip many of us thought he would get: if you told me the Derby would be won by a deep closer making an inside run, I would have been it all on the rail-drawn Mo Donegal.
Todd Pletcher has a great record in this race, you know he will handle the distance, and perhaps he can get more of a grinding clean trip stalking wide from the back of the first flight. I like his chances, but his price looks a little too short to be exciting at 5/2.
Image: Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr rides Mo Donegal onto the track at the Kentucky Derby
7 – Golden Glider
Golden Glider is the one runner in this race where I had to look up the form. When I did, I was underwhelmed. He was handled easily by We the People in the Peter Pan and has never run a race fast enough to make the frame. He’s a useful sort who just likely needs easier.
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8 – Barber Road
Barber Road is one of the coolest horses on the Triple Crown trail this year. He’s a real fighter, and his tenacity is an attribute that makes him easy for a real racing fan to appreciate. There’s also a cool hometown angle here, with his young trainer, John Ortiz, having graduated from high school just a few miles from the Belmont Park finish line.
The issue is that he does not look fast enough, and his deep closing style does him no favors here. On his toughness alone, maybe he comes barreling down the land for third or fourth, but I don’t see him finishing better than that.
Image: Barber Road trains before the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes
Peter Fornatale’s big-race verdict
Circumstances have conspired to make We The People look very tough in this spot. Current best odds of 7/2 are attractive. He’s backable down to 2/1 I think, maybe even lower than that on a wet track.
I will likely key him in reverse forecasts with the two Pletcher runners, Nest and Mo Donegal. Rich Strike should make the market for us. Let’s take advantage.