The Belmont Stakes is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown of horse racing and for the 12th time in the last 34 years we will have a horse going looking to sweep all three races.
The 144th running of the Belmont Stakes is just three days away and the expectation builds as I'll Have Another will try to become the 12th Triple Crown in horse racing history.
Which 12th will I'll Have Another become? The 12th Triple Crown winner or the 12th horse in the last 34 years who fails to win it?
He will have to face very probably 10 contenders, of which he has already faced—and defeated—four of them; Dullahan, Union Rags, Optimizer and Paynter.
Five are new shooters that will face him for the first time, Atigun, Street Life, Five Sixteen, Guyana Star Dweej, Ravelo's Boy and Unstoppable U.
Dullahan and Union Rags may be his main contenders and both skipped the Preakness to be fresh for the Belmont.
Optimizer is the only other horse to have run with I'll Have Another in both the Derby and the Preakness, while the rest are just making their debut on the big races here.
Entries for the race are drawn later today, so let's take a quick look at all the possible participants for Saturday's big race and handicap their chances.
Jockey: Alex O. Solis
Trainer: Manuel J. Azpurua
Owner: Korina Stable
Best Beyer: 80
While his trainer is a top trainer in Florida and Solis is a proven jockey, I can't make a very good case for this horse winning this race.
He has been out for almost three months and has never run beyond 8.5 furlongs and both his wins have been against very inferior company to the one he is facing here.
While he seems to be working well at Calder for this race, that is a very different track than the one he will run on Saturday here at Belmont.
The other thing he has going against him is his middle distance pedigree, which he doesn't look like he can outrun. Don't waste a $2 betting ticket here.
Jockey: Kent J. Desormeaux
Trainer: Doodnauth Shivmangal
Owner: Shivmangal Racing Stable, LLC
Best Beyer: 84
This is another of the outclassed horses in the race.
Looking at what could help his cause here, we can see that he has one win and five second places in his nine lifetime starts, which says he is at least a tough contender on his races.
He has a pedigree that suggests he might get to the 12 furlong distance and has already run here at Belmont.
Kent Desormeaux will be the new jockey, but the horse has not been showing anything on his workout and should not show anything special on Saturday.
This is another horse that should not hit the board.
Jockey: Rosie Napravnik
Trainer: Dominick A. Schettino
Owner: MeB Racing Stables LLC
Best Beyer: 78
This is one of the four horses in this race that looks to be thoroughly outclassed here. But let's try to look at the positives and understand why we might bother to take a look at him.
His sire is Invasor, who won two of the world’s most prestigious (and richest) races, the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup—both at 10 furlongs.
Discarding his last where he lost the race acting up at the gate, he has shown some flashes of being able to go longer than the nine furlongs he has run three times already.
He also gets Rosie Napravnik aboard who has been red hot this year. But that's as far as I will go with him.
If he hits the board, you know I won't be cashing any tickets.
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
Owner: Magdalena Racing (Susan McPeek) and Mojallali Stables, Inc.
Best Beyer: 82
Unstoppable U, undefeated in two starts, is 50-50 as of this moment to run in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
As reported on Brisnet.com, trainer Ken McPeek said he is leaning toward running Unstoppable U in the Belmont, but he did note that the colt did a much better job changing leads in Tuesday's gallop than he did in Sunday's breeze.
Nonetheless, McPeek said he'll wait until Wednesday, the day entries are taken for the Belmont, to make a final decision.
While he has a win already here at Belmont, it was a one-turn one mile race and if the colt runs, I think it will be a daunting task to ask this horse to win the Belmont Stakes in just his third lifetime start.
He will definitely go for the lead as he seems to be the fastest horse in the race, and will be asked to go a full half-mile longer than he's ever run.
He is a very talented horse but very raw as he has shown on his workouts. McPeek would be better suited not entering him and getting him ready for another race. If he were to win here we would be witnessing a superstar in the making.
Jockey: Julien R. Leparoux
Trainer: Kenneth G. McPeek
Owner: Shortleaf Stable, Inc.
Best Beyer: 89
Ken McPeek's bid to shock the world for the second time in 10 years starts with Atigun.
Before his two disappointments at the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby this horse looked like he belonged with the top of the crop, so he still has a lot to prove.
He also has to prove he can outrun his middle distance pedigree. He has been working great and everything seems to be looking good for him.
Atigun has shown ability and promise and comes from winning on an impressive for an allowance race. But he still has to make up about 20 point in Beyer figures to contend here.
While his prep race and path resembles a lot to Sarava's in 2002, I believe his bet bet here would be for show.
Jockey: Jose Lezcano
Trainer: Chad C. Brown
Owner: Magnolia Racing Stable LLC and Hidden Brook Farm
Best Beyer: 93
After two very good wins on his second and third career starts, it looked like he was ready to take on the big boys at the Wood Memorial.
But he just flattened-out in the stretch and never got close to Gemologist or Alpha finishing in sixth-place more than seven lengths behind.
He seemed to have welcomed the addition of blinkers on his last race. He came back to finish a fast-closing third to Mark Valeski in the Peter Pan where he was mowing down the opposition in the stretch.
Can he get to the 12 furlongs? That is the question for all horses here, but his pedigree tends to suggest he might be best suited for up to 10 furlongs.
Assuming he can get to the 12 furlongs, based on his improvement with the blinkers on the Peter Pan and the 4F - 47.8 workout for the races puts him on the live longshot category.
He might be worth a look on the exotics.
Jockey: Corey S. Nakatani
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Owner: Bluegrass Hall LLC
Best Beyer: 91
Optimizer's best race is still the eye-catching fast-closing second place finish to Secret Circle at the Rebel Stakes. But this year that has been the only bright spot in six starts.
He hasn't been in the money on any of the other five races, including the Derby (11th) and Preakness (6th) where he finished more than 12 lengths behind.
One thing working against him is that this is his seventh race of the year and third grueling one in five weeks.
I can only picture him hitting the board if he does honor his pedigree. If there is one horse in this race bred to win this race is Optimizer.
His sire, English Channel, was a turf champion who won at 12 furlongs and ran the distance five times in his career. His dam, Indy Pick, was an allowance winner at nine furlongs and his dam's sire is 1992 Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic winner A.P. Indy.
So if you are looking for the horse that can bring the big upset, look no further than this horse trained by four-time Belmont Stakes winner D. Wayne Lukas.
Jockey: Mike E. Smith
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Owner: Zayat Stables, LLC
Best Beyer: 106
Since 1978, 11 horses have failed to win the Triple Crown. Three of them, Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) were trained by Bob Baffert.
Baffert and jockey Mike Smith were on the painful losing end to I'll Have Another with Bodemeister in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year.
If there is someone that would love to be on the other end has to be Baffert. And he brings a live and very improving colt, Paynter to the Belmont Stakes.
He is lightly raced as well as he has only four career starts—all this year. So while he has been improving in giant leaps his Beyer Figures, for a horse that never ran as a two-year-old winning here looks like a daunting task.
His pedigree suggests he should make it to the 12 furlongs and his 106 Beyer on his last race and his work after that race (5F - :59.20) tells you he is bound to improve once again.
The question would be which strategy to follow here. And it will all depend on whether Unstoppable U runs or not, and if he does which post position will he draw.
If Unstoppable U doesn't run or Paynter gets an inside post, Paynter should go for the lead and try to wire the field. But I think the 12 furlongs will be too much to ask for this colt.
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
Trainer: Doug F. O'Neill
Owner: J. Paul Reddam
Best Beyer: 109
The Derby and Preakness winner should finally be the favorite on a race and deservedly so.
He has answered the call on every challenge he has seen this year and has been the one with the best Beyer Figure (109) in the group so far.
What's even more scarier is that he might still improve on Saturday. I know he is the fan favorite and that fans everywhere crave to see a Triple Crown winner.
This has a lot of chance to happen on Saturday, but my view is that I had two horses ahead of him in the Derby that didn't get the clean trip he had, and those two are Dullahan and Union Rags.
They have just had a much better two weeks prep and while I know I might get burned on the bets, I stand by my previous choices and think I'll Have Another will place third on Saturday.
Jockey: John R. Velazquez
Trainer: Michael R. Matz
Owner: Chadds Ford Stable
Best Beyer: 95
I have heard everything about Union Rags. A lot of fans and experts are down on Union Rags, and think he has no shot at winning on Saturday, or that he is overrated, or that he has lost a step.
It all might be because a lot of people still look at the eye-catching win over this very same track at the Champagne Stakes last year.
He got a terrible trip in the Florida Derby where he was boxed-in until the final furlong, and a horrendous trip in the Derby where he was squeezed back to 18th early and had to check a couple of times along the rail in the first six furlongs.
All trainer Michael Matz asks is for Union Rags to get a clean trip, so he can show what he can do. And he should be able to get one on Saturday.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez is another top jockey in this circuit and knows Belmont very well. I think he will give Union Rags a trip like he gave Rags to Riches to win here in 2007, keeping his main rival at bay and up close all the time.
The only true question regarding Union Rags, like for everybody else is the handling of the distance. We don't have a good idea since we never got to see his best run on his last two races.
His pedigree suggests up to 10 furlongs, but this is a long stride horse which is a good sign that he can handle the added furlongs and his ability is not in question. I see him at least finishing second and wouldn't be surprised if he wins it.
Breeder: Javier J. Castellano
Trainer: Dale L. Romans
Owner: Donegal Racing
Best Beyer: 98
This is the horse that will most likely close as the second betting choice come post time.
On my preview article before the Blue Grass Stakes, I picked Dullahan to upset Hansen based two factors: 1) The bullet work (5F - :57.40) he did the Sunday prior to the race, and 2) The fact that he was excellent on synthetic.
Last Sunday, Dullahan worked another bullet (4F - :45.97) under new jockey Javier Castellano and seems to be loving the Belmont track.
Castellano is the nation's top rider and is always among the top of the stats in the New York circuit. With all due respect to the Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, the rider change is a bonus.
I'll Have Another has two very dangerous opponents in Dullahan and Union Rags who both seem to be sitting on a big race.
Trainer Dale Romans stole the show today at the Belmont Stakes media luncheon at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, when he said:
"I'd like to have 120,000 people booing me on the way back to my barn. I can handle it,"
Dale, be careful what you wish for, call security early because it seems like Dullahan will grant you your wish and that is a huge mob that will be following you.