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The Triple Crown series comes to a close today with the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes (G1). The race often referred to as the “Test of Champions” has drawn a field of 10 horses this year, who all must travel the grueling one-and-half mile distance over a deep and tiring Belmont Park surface. The race is one of an eye-popping ten stakes race one this star-studded card, which will be aired on NBC and NBC Sports.
Headlining this year’s field will be Preakness Stakes (G1) winner War of Will. This War Front colt started the season hot at Fair Grounds with wins in the LeComte Stakes (G3) and Risen Star Stakes (G2), before a small injury in the Louisiana Derby (G2) caused him to run off the board. Of course, we all know his story in the Kentucky Derby (G1), with him and Maximum Security being involved in what ended in a disqualification. Jockey Tyler Gaffalione will have the mount once again today, after riding the horse perfectly in the Preakness.
Trainer Bill Mott will be looking to win two of the three legs of the Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Country House. Today, he sends out Tacitus for Juddmonte Farms. The gray colt by Tapit won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2), before finishing a solid closing third in the Kentucky Derby. Jose Ortiz will once again have the mount on Tacitus, with the duo breaking from post 10.
The horse looking for redemption in this spot will be Bourbon War, who was off the board last time out in the Preakness Stakes. Today, they will remove the blinkers from Bourbon War, while Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith takes over the riding duties. His connections are hoping the change in equipment and rider will get him back to the form he showed when finishing a close second in the Fountain or Youth Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
The full field from the rail out includes: Joevia, Everfast, Master Fencer, Tax, Bourbon War, Spinoff, Sir Winston, Intrepid Heart, War of Will, and Tacitus.
#10 Tacitus – Right after the Kentucky Derby (G1) ended I thought Tacitus or Game Winner would win the Belmont Stakes. Game Winner isn’t here, but Tacitus is, and I will not back off of that stance now. You have to love the breeding when it comes to him and this mile and a half distance, while the horse is simply getting better with each start. He also has five weeks between races, which is the major advantage he has over War of Will, who is his main rival in this event. The key for him will be his positioning up the back stretch. He cannot find himself too far out of it in this spot like he has in a few of his other races. The dynamics of this race should be different, which should see him in mid-pack. If he can secure that spot he will be hard to hold off down the lane.
#8 Intrepid Heart – From the very beginning the Belmont Stakes has been the goal for Intrepid Heart. After breaking his maiden at Oaklawn Park, he then went on to win a first level allowance race at Keeneland, before finishing third in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park. In that race he seemed a bit lazy, only running in spots, which is why trainer Todd Pletcher will put the blinkers on him today. Those should help him tremendously, while there is no doubt he has the pedigree to win the Belmont. Look for him to rebound from a lack-luster effort in the Peter Pan with a stronger performance today.
#9 War of Will – It was an amazing story to see him win the Preakness Stakes (G1) after what happened with him and Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Regardless of what transpired in this race, there is no doubt those two horses have created a rivalry with each other, and the world is ready to watch the rematch between the two. Today, War of Will looks to have a tactical advantage over several of his rivals, which might make him tough to run down at this grueling distance. His pedigree is going to help him out as well as he should be able to run all day long. The only question mark will be how much he has left in the tank, with this race being his third start in five weeks.
#7 Sir Winston – Trainer Mark Casse has always been high on Sir Winston; however, the colt has failed to put it all together up to this point. He struggled to off the board finishes in three straight Kentucky Derby prep races, before finding a little bit of form with a nice effort last time out in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3), where he finished a closing second. That race makes him an interesting long shot, while he has a pedigree that should be able to handle the distance. With two heavy favorites in the field you have to look at playing a couple of long shots. This horse fits the bill as being playable.
#5 Bourbon War – He was the biggest disappointment in the Preakness Stakes (G1). The pace set up perfectly for his late closing running style; however, he made no run whatsoever down the lane. The addition of blinkers looked to have the horse confused, which could explain the poor effort. A race like the Belmont suits his pedigree well, while the pace should find him closer to the front than normal. He also picks up jockey Mike Smith for this race. There are enough positives with him to think he will rebound from his poor Preakness effort.
#2 Everfast – Was his performance in the Preakness Stakes (G1) a complete fluke? After doing very little running this year, he woke up in a big way, closing strongly to finish second at Pimlico. The competition in this race is similar, which tells you that if he can repeat that performance he has a shot. There is still work to be done for him, though, as that performance could have been the result of a hot pace that saw several horses come up empty down the stretch. Still, he is interesting enough to put in the underneath spots for this one.
#6 Spinoff – This seems to be an odd entry for trainer Todd Pletcher. After a poor effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1) many thought Spinoff might get a drop in class. However, he shows up here, which is at least a good sign that his trainer believes he belongs in the race. There is no reason to push him to this spot, so Pletcher has to be feeling at least decent about his chances, while his workouts suggest he’s progressing nicely. This Triple Crown season has been anything but normal, which makes a few long shots interesting, including this guy.
#3 Master Fencer – There was a lot of hype around this horse after he closed swiftly in the Kentucky Derby (G1) to an off the board, yet respectable, finish. Now, he heads to this spot with a bit more hope. His workouts leading up to this event have not been good, though, which is a cause for concern. He’ll need to prove his form one more time in the United States before he is trustworthy in spot like this one.
#4 Tax – I’ve never been a fan of this horse, and I’m not going to start now, especially after his last workout was just average heading into this race. There is no doubt this horse is a great story, coming from the claiming ranks to this type of competition. He will give you an honest effort, which is admiral, but he might just be a cut below the Grade 1 level.
#1 Joevia – A victory in the Long Brach Stakes at Monmouth Park has earned him the right to run in this spot. However, in his one start against graded stakes company it didn’t go well, finishing eleventh in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2). There will have to be significant improvement made for him to have a shot in an event like what he’ll see today.
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