Though there’s no chance of a Triple Crown winner striking for a second straight year, this year’s edition of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) has no shortage of storylines, beginning with the outside draws of the two morning-line favorites #10 Tacitus (9/5) and #9 War of Will (2/1).
Most recently third in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Tacitus will try to give trainer Bill Mott his second win on the Triple Crown trail after his stablemate, Country House, was named the victor at Churchill Downs after Maximum Security’s disqualification. If breeding is any indication, Tacitus will be a tough foe to topple on Saturday: his sire, Tapit, fathered three of the past five Belmont Stakes winners, and his dam, Close Hatches, won the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) here in 2014.
After rallying from as far back as 16th in the Derby, Mott wants a better trip when jockey Jose Ortiz hops aboard the multiple graded stakes winner.
“He got back quite a ways, back in the pack,” Mott said of Tacitus’ Derby effort. “The way the track was and traffic, he didn’t get stopped, but he had to keep looking for room. With the big field, he had to keep changing direction and changing course – go inside, go outside – so it wasn’t smooth; he had to alter course. That being said, he came running and finished well at the end. Generally, going a mile and 1/2, they won’t be further back. If anything, we will be closer. We hope he goes a good mile and 1/2.”
As the only horse to run in all three legs of the 2019 Triple Crown, the Gary Barber-owned War of Will won’t just be fighting nine other horses; he’ll also be fighting history. After falling victim to Maximum Security’s interference in the Kentucky Derby, War of Will was bumped up to seventh following the disqualification. He returned just two weeks later and proved no worse for wear, winning the Preakness Stakes (G1) and giving trainer Mark Casse his first career Triple Crown victory.
Now, he will attempt to become the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 (and just the 12th horse ever) to win the second two jewels of the Triple Crown after not winning the Derby. His connections, however, are unphased by the tall task ahead.
“Over the years, one of the things that’s made Belmont so tough is when the Derby and Preakness winners are here and get beat, it’s usually by a Belmont-based horse,” Casse said. “There’s an advantage to it. But, I’ve had this since the beginning, that great horses can win when things aren’t perfect. Is it ideal? No. Can he win? Absolutely.”
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One horse looking to pull the upset will be his own stablemate, #7 Sir Winston (12/1), who retains the services of jockey Joel Rosario. Most recently the runner-up in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3), the local prep for the Belmont Stakes, Tracy Farmer’s homebred son of Awesome Again failed to hit the board in three Triple Crown prep race attempts, but his effort last out convinced Casse that it was worth taking a shot.
“I thought it was extremely encouraging,” Casse said. “If the pace were to get pretty hot, it’s going to help Sir Winston, because he’s truly a mile and 1/2 horse. One thing about it; the pace won’t likely be as fast, so he probably won’t come as far out of it, but we’re not going to take him out of his way. Joel will let him be comfortable, and he’ll come running.”
Tacitus isn’t the only colt representing the hallowed Tapit’s bloodline. #8 Intrepid Heart (10/1) will look to rebound as the beaten favorite last out in the Peter Pan for trainer Todd Pletcher and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, while another Hall of Fame rider, Mike Smith, will jump aboard trainer Mark Hennig’s Bourbon War for the first time.
|PP #||HORSE||JOCKEY||TRAINER||ML ODDS|
|1||Joevia||Jose Lezcano||Greg Sacco||30/1|
|2||Everfast||Luis Saez||Dale Romans||12/1|
|3||Master Fencer (JPN)||Julien Leparoux||Koichi Tsunoda||8/1|
|4||Tax||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Danny Gargan||15/1|
|5||Bourbon War||Mike Smith||Mark Hennig||12/1|
|6||Spinoff||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||15/1|
|7||Sir Winston||Joel Rosario||Mark Casse||12/1|
|8||Intrepid Heart||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher||10/1|
|9||War of Will||Tyler Gaffalione||Mark Casse||2/1|
|10||Tacitus||Jose Ortiz||Bill Mott||9/5|
After winning his first two career starts (both in 2019), Robert and Lawana Low’s Intrepid Heart made the leap to graded company in the Peter Pan, but his chances against the short five-horse field were lost after he stumbled out of the gate. However, Pletcher saw enough from his pupil’s most recent work over the local track to trust that he can return to form in a race that his trainer has won three times, including most recently with Tapwrit in 2017.
“We were pleased by the work and his gallop-out,” said Pletcher, who will also saddle the Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up #6 Spinoff (15/1), a son of Hard Spun. “He appears to be moving very well.”
After narrowly missing the Kentucky Derby gate by just nine points, Bourbon War was the “Wise Guy” horse in the Preakness. After being bet down from his 12/1 morning line to 5/1 the second favorite, the Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable-colt never found his best footing before finishing eighth. Hennig hopes that his last race was an anomaly and that removing blinkers and adding Smith, who rode Justify to the Triple Crown last year, will prove to be the winning combination.
“Put a line through the Preakness?” Hennig wished aloud. “Hopefully, that’s the right thing to do.”