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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, June 8, 2017 at 2:26 PM

Volume 15 - Number 5
June 8, 2017


(NOTE) - By now you likely know that Classic Empire will not run in the Belmont Stakes. A foot abscess has knocked the 2-year old champion and Preakness runner-up out of the race.


Any long time Triple Crown player, whether they voice it or not, has to know that the one thing the third leg of the Triple Crown can claim as its own distinction, is that it brings with it a past complete with far more stories than either the Kentucky derby or Preakness.

Of course it is easy to acknowledge that the Kentucky derby is by far the most compelling. You can't have hope for that elusive Triple Crown without first having the derby winner. The long prep season culminates with the Derby winner. The long history measures the emerging contenders against all the legendary winners of the past.

We have of course had many terrific Preakness's, but at the risk of political incorrectness and condemnation from what is the feminist umbrage of the times it is not totally inaccurate to call the Preakness as the step-sister of the Derby because the story line begins and too often ends with the success and/or failure of the derby winner's net step quest for the Triple Crown.

Then we have the Belmont Stakes. First off is the "Test Of A Champion" aspect of the mile and a half distance. But more than that, the Belmont Stakes, year in and year out has horses who ran and for the most part failed in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness before returning to run in the Belmont. Just last year Creator and Destin, who ran 14th and 6th respectively in the Derby returned to run 1-2 in the Belmont while Exaggerator, who was second in the Derby and won the Preakness finished off the board and Lani, who also ran in all three legs was off the board in the first two legs and finally showed in the Belmont Stakes

In 2015 you had the 37 year wait fulfilled with American Pharoah winning the race and the Triple Crown while Frosted, Keen Ice, Mubtahij and Frammento, who ran 4th, 7th, 8th and 11th in the Kentucky derby and skipped the Preakness ran 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th behind American Pharoah.

In the 2014 Belmont Stakes we had an entirely different story. Tonalist and Commissioner skipped both the Kentucky derby and Preakness, ran 1-2 in the Peter Pan (the local final Belmont Stakes prep) and 4 weeks later ran 1-2 in the Belmont. Medal Count, who was off the board in the Derby, skipped the Preakness and ran third while California Chrome had his Triple Crown attempt dashed when he dead-heated for 4th with Wicked Strong, who ran 4th in the derby and skipped the Preakness.

In 2013 there was yet another combo story all its own. Palace Malice, was up the track in the derby, skipped the Preakness and pulled the $29.60 Belmont Stakes upset. Then there were Oxbow and Orb who ran 2nd and 3rd. The former was off the board in the Derby and upset the Preakness while the latter was the Derby winner, ran 4th in the Preakness and completed the Belmont Trifecta.

These different scenarios and other stories have repeated themselves for many years in the Belmont Stakes. In 2012 Union Rags disappointed in the Derby, skipped the Preakness and was the Belmont Winner.

In 2011, Ruler On Ice not only skipped the Derby and Preakness but was not a winner of either the Barbaro Stakes at Pimlico or the Sunland derby in his prior two races.

In 2010 Drosselmeyer, Fly Down, First Dude and Game On Dude ran 1,2,3,4 in the Belmont Stakes although not one of the four ran in either the Derby or Preakness and the top two finishers ran an inverted 1-2 in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont 4 weeks earlier.

I guess you get the picture. These and even more stories are likely the reason that the Belmont Stakes is not only an intriguing horse race but also a race which almost every year, lights up the tote board.

Just look at these average payouts...
Win - $29.10...Exacta - $286.15...Trifecta $2,236.85...Superfecta $18,490.20...Daily Double - $199.95...Pick 3 - $1,685.45...Pick 4 - $34,077.30


If you listen to the incessant cackling of what can at best be called the "borderline punditry," you've been relentlessly harangued with how sub-par this group is, how ill-defined the prep season heading into the Kentucky Derby was and how lacking in compulsion the 2017 Belmont Stakes is because neither the Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming or the Preakness winner Cloud Computing has entered the race.

Don't fall into the trap. Because given the scenarios (above) created in recent Belmont Stakes, there are any number of stories, old or new that could be written this year.


TAPWRIT - One of two Todd Pletcher trainees who did not factor in the Derby and run back. The conditioner has a history of getting reversals from bad Derby performances but this guy will need to be much better than his bad start in the Blue Grass and troubled trip in Louisville.

PATCH - Pletcher Derby-to-Belmont Stakes entrant. He was a bit of a wise-guy idea in the Derby at 14-1 following a sharp second in the Louisiana derby but was one of a number who suffered significantly negating trips in the Derby. Velazquez for Gafflione is huge.

GORMLEY - The Santa Anita Derby winner was bumped slightly at the eighth pole in the Derby but had a good trip otherwise and could not sustain his bid. Question about how slow the SA Derby was still linger. But works back home have been numerous and solid.

J BOYS ECHO - Is he as good as his Gotham victory (beat Preakness winner Cloud Computing) indicates? Is he excused by notably rough trips in both the Blue Grass and Derby? If the answer is yes to both questions...he could be an interesting longshot.

IRISH WAR CRY - After a huge Wood memorial showing and despite the Wood's failure as a significant prep since the last winner in 2003, he was sent off as the 4.8-1 second favorite. He took a sharp left out of the gate and eliminated himself and a number of others. Turned in a pair of sharp drills at Fair Hill for trainer Motion and inherits 7-2 ML favorite's role.


LOOKIN AT LEE - There is no question that he fires every time. His longshot second in the Derby and strong 4th in the Preakness speak to his heart. But there is one conundrum. Last year, Lani, who ran in all three Triple Crown races managed to finish 3rd in the Belmont Stakes. He was the first horse since Medaglia D'Oro in 2002 to run in all three Triple Crown races and hit the board in the Belmont Stakes after not winning at least one of the first two legs. Of course winning the race is one thing, completing the exotic, another.


TWISTED TOM - The Chad Brown trained Creative Cause colt did not make it to the Derby or Preakness, particularly the latter despite having won the two key Maryland preps, The Private Terms and Federico Tesio. Maybe Brown didn't want to run against Cloud Computing. Did the conditioner know something? Does he know another thing?

HOLLYWOOD HANDSOME - The Dallas Stewart trainee was off the board behind Patch in the La. Derby and off the board behind Multiplier in the Illinois Derby before getting his first allowance winner at CD 4 weeks ago. Followers of trainer Dallas Stewart will be looking for the kind of longshot results the conditioner got in back-to-back Derby years with Commanding Curve and Golden Soul (each at 37-1.)

MEANTIME - With a 21% success rate in Graded Stakes races from a sizable sample of 114 races, trainer Brian Lynch has to be one of the most underrated conditioners in the game. Furthermore, this son of Preakness winner Shackleford exits a local prep pattern (was a sharp second in the Peter Pan) that has provided the Belmont Stakes with Tonalist in 2014 ($2014) and Drosselmeyer in 2010 ($28.00), neither of whom raced in Louisville or Baltimore.

EPICHARIS - As is the case with so many first in North America starters there is little to go on. With the recent failures he might be a toss for many. He was second behind Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby in his last. Using that one as a guide is tricky because Thunder Snow went dancing instead of running in the Kentucky Derby but then ran second in the Irish 2000 Guineas behind Churchill, who many argue is second in the world behind Arrogate. A crap shoot.


SENIOR INVESTMENT - The most salient observation is that this son of Discreetly Mine has completely outrun a both sides pedigree that says a mile should be his waterloo. He had no significant numbers until he regrouped in the lesser Lexington Stakes after a 6th in the LA Derby. His third in the Preakness was definitely a step forward, so let's see it again.

MULTIPLIER - What keeps this son of The Factor on the radar despite a disappointing 6th in the Preakness after a solid coming out party in the Grade 3 Illinois Derby is the fact that he was making his move in the lane and regathered enough after being steadied in the lane when he came off the rail. Also of interest was his very sharp final 3 furlongs of the Illinois Derby in :35 3/5. Plus, Joel Rosario saw enough to stick.

When Classic Empire was declared out, Irish War Cry was established as the 7-2 ML favorite. With such a non-committal number staring at us, the only conclusion we can draw is that we are about to experience yet another unique and wide-open Belmont Stakes which will by Saturday evening provide us with yet another great story.     

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