Heading into the holiday weekend without a Triple Crown attempt looming for the first time in three years may have shuffled our sport back a few pages, but the Belmont Stakes is still shaping up to be a decent race, even with the defection of Nyquist.
As announced earlier in the week, the Derby winner will pass on the Belmont due to a high white blood cell count to recuperate; hopefully we’ll see him during the summer racing circuit.
The current Belmont probables are Preakness winner Exaggerator, and in no particular order, Arkansas Derby winner Creator, Cherry Wine, Lani, Destin, Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause and Mo Tom.
Based on those, it sure doesn’t appear to have much pace, which would favor a horse like Destin as lone speed. It’s likely that additional entrants will surface over the next two weeks leading up to the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes.
I still love Suddenbreakingnews and have watched his late run in the Derby several times. His final quarter time was 23.79, more than a half-second faster than the visually fast-closing Exaggerator who logged a 24.37 to finish second.
I definitely missed the mark on Collected, swayed mainly by his dueling victories at Sunland and Keeneland, both on fast tracks. Not to say, Collected won’t be a factor at a track that is more speed-favoring, say like Monmouth. Jockey Javier Castellano was much more forgiving than trainer Bob Baffert who said he struggled with the distance. “We had a good trip. My horse was right there early with the speed. We didn’t get the best of trips the rest of the way,” said Castellano.
I discounted Cherry Wine’s sloppy track win at Churchill because it was a maiden effort. Researching your mistakes is part of the game. Cherry Wine’s final 3/16-miles was the fastest of the Preakness group at 44.95, equaled only by Lani who ran well late and a full second faster than Exaggerator. He’s a mudder and was coming in third off the layoff. Doh.
In Stradivari’s first graded stakes effort, he didn’t embarrass himself with the fourth-place finish at Pimlico. Hopefully we’ll see more of the son of Medaglia d’Oro in the future.
With only eight horses (at this point) pointing towards the final jewel of the Triple Crown, one has to think that Mo Tom will finally get a clean trip, no?
NYRA head Chris Kay noted at Wednesday’s Board meeting that attendance will once again be capped at 90,000 for the Belmont. He said that 89 percent of dining and 99 percent of reserved seats have been sold for the June 11 race.
Not sure Mr. Kay will have to worry about a cap on Belmont day, the last year it was a non-Triple Crown potential was 2013, when Palace Malice’s victory drew 47,562. Ruler On Ice’s win in 2011 drew 55,779 on a soggy day.
Total handle will likely take a hit also, the past two year’s were huge numbers with nearly $135 million in 2015 (American Pharoah’s TC effort) and $151 million (California Chrome’s TC attempt) versus $89 million in 2013 and $81 million in 2011, the last two non-TC attempts, excluding the 2012 I’ll Have Another scratch.
Fort Erie opens its 119th season on Tuesday May 31 at the historic border oval at their popular 4:15 p.m. post time. This year's season opener giveaway is an "Alive and Kicking" tote bag, free with the purchase of a program. The 81st running of the Prince of Wales Stakes, the middle jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, is scheduled for Tuesday, July 26.
It’s eight weeks until Saratoga opening day. Let’s hope we get to see Songbird, Cathryn Sophia, Go Maggie Go and Land Over Sea battle in the filly division and the two or potentially three classic winners meet up in the Travers.
A guy can dream, right?
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.