The 2017 Belmont Stakes will be the most wide-open race in years since Classic Empire backed out due to a foot abscess. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners also will not be running the 1 ½ mile race this year. Six horses who did run in the Derby will be entered. Looking At Lee will be the only horse entered who ran in both the Derby and Preakness. Once again, I did not study the Kentucky Derby past performances for handicapping this race due to the track conditions at the Derby. Below are my top selections and a long shot.
#3 – Gormley (8/1). Four of the last eight Belmont winners have skipped the Preakness and came back to win the Belmont. This horse can win on or off the pace that is set. I think Jockey Victor Espinoza will rate Gormley off the pace and hope for a strong stretch run. Shipping him in last minute from California tells me the owners think they have a legitimate shot to win. We’ll find out Saturday if Gormley can get the 1 ½ miles.
#7 – Irish War Cry (7/2). Another horse who ran in the Derby and skipped the Preakness. I like the fact he has won in New York albeit at Aqueduct Race Track. I look for him to let the #9, Meantime, take a large lead but he will be sitting 2nd or 3rd throughout the race. Trainer, Graham Motion recently said “…he had a really good couple of weeks, he breezed well last weekend, and I felt he needed to be here, especially after the results of the Preakness.” Also keep in mind, Irish War Cry, has four wins on fast tracks at three different race tracks.
#11 – Epicharis (4/1). I am cautiously adding this horse in my selections but am not real high on him due to his poor workout on June 6th (14/14) and now the lameness in his right front foot. This import will mark the second year in a row a horse from Japan will be entered in the Belmont. After finishing 2nd in the UAE Derby on March 25th by a nose trainer Kiyoshi Hagiwara said Epicharis “…appeared to be notably fatigued after the race.” which is why I believe they have waited this long to run him back. Will he be fit enough to win the Belmont, we’ll find out on Saturday afternoon.
#12 – Patch (12/1). I love the breeding of this Todd Pletcher trained horse. He was sired by Union Rags (Belmont winner 2012) and his is dam, Windyindy, was out of A.P. Indy (Belmont winner 1992). The 1 ½ mile distance should not be a problem with Patch and I especially like the jockey change back to, John Velazquez, who been in the money in this race six out of the last 11 years, winning the Belmont twice.
What makes this race so difficult is the distance of 1 ½ miles. The pace will be the key and the jockeys will have to be very patient. I look for Meantime to be out in front early by a large margin and would be surprised if any other horse goes with him on the lead. This could be another great finish like last year when Creator won by a nose. I look for a handful of horses closing fast on the leaders in the last ¼ mile.
Other notes: The betting favorite has won 42% of the time. In the last 10 years four winners were making their Triple Crown debut. Only three of the last 31 winners have gone gate to wire.
The post positions with the most wins are #1, #3, and #5.