A Triple Crown winner may not be on the cards at Belmont Park on Saturday, but the Belmont Stakes is always a fascinating occasion for horse-racing fanatics.
Always Dreaming's defeat at the Preakness Stakes means the Kentucky Derby winner is set to skip this New York date. It means Classic Empire, fourth at Kentucky and second at Preakness, has been installed as the early favourite to clinch victory here.
Still, the field is set to be packed with quality, and the third leg of the Triple Crown races has a penchant for throwing up some unpredictable results.
Here's a look at some of the favourites for victory, the pedigree of the competitors and the jockeys in the saddle for this spectacle.
Classic Empire (7/4)
Lookin at Lee (9/2)
Senior Investment (7/1)
Irish War Cry (9/1)
Twisted Tom (12/1)
Numbers are courtesy of books monitored by OddsChecker and accurate as of 11 p.m. (BST) on Monday, June 5.
It's difficult to shake the feeling that 2017 could have been a very different year for Classic Empire had he got out of the gate smoothly at Churchill Downs.
A bump in the Kentucky Derby ended his chances of victory there, although the speed showcased to finish in fourth was impressive. It was pace that bode well for Preakness, where he was beaten narrowly by outsider Cloud Computing.
The man on board at Preakness was Julien Leparoux, and some criticised his ride of Classic Empire that day, as he made an early move to keep pace with Always Dreaming. Horse-racing expert Brian Monzo didn't think that was the case, though:
Brian Monzo @BMonzoWFAN
People getting on Julien Leparoux for his ride on Classic Empire is insanity. He rode to win. And put away Always Dreaming with ease.2017-5-21 00:26:39
Instead of sitting Belmont out, there seems to be determination in the camp to get one big win on the board for Classic Empire this year. Trainer Mark E. Casse has sought to put Classic Empire's campaign into some perspective despite the disappointments of Kentucky and Preakness.
"If we were fortunate enough to win the Belmont—and it's a tall task—but how many stallions out there can say they broke their maiden at four-and-a-half and also won the Belmont?" he said, per Horse Racing Nation. "I do know a little something about breeding, having been the general manager for Mockingbird when they were the leading breeder for years."
With no Always Dreaming in the field, Classic Empire's biggest challenge may come from Epicharis.
The colt from Japan has got a lot of punters excited, even though the last foreign winner of this race was in 1998, when Canadian horse Victory Gallop galloped to victory. As noted by the Belmont Stakes Twitter feed, the imperious Epicharis has tremendous pedigree:
Belmont Stakes @BelmontStakes
Epicharis arrives from Japan tomorrow at Belmont! Take a look at some of the #BelmontStakes contender's accomplishments 👀 https://t.co/629kCYGfbk2017-5-31 22:48:33
As captured by horse-racing journalist Karen M. Johnson, the colt is looking in strong shape after coming out of quarantine, too:
Karen M. Johnson @WriterHorses
Epicharis fresh out of quarantine stretches his legs during private session on training track today at Belmont. https://t.co/6WcXM1QZTw2017-6-3 16:01:19
The Kentucky Derby runner-up, Lookin At Lee, is another horse that's poised to feature in the shakeup for victory here.
As well as a creditable second-place finish at Churchill Downs, the colt was in fourth position in Preakness, turning in another strong run. While running hard in both of those races may have taken something out of Lookin At Lee, he's a horse that's showcased the durability needed to be competitive again.
Jockey Corey Lanerie has given him an excellent ride in both of the Triple Crown races, too, and you sense things will be no different here. As the Churchill Downs Twitter feed noted recently, the 42-year-old jockey has been very impressive as of late:
Churchill Downs @ChurchillDowns
Corey Lanerie had 🖐🏽this many wins today. https://t.co/AYWozUl0zw2017-6-3 22:47:12
Given favourites have rarely prospered at Belmont in recent years, there is certainly value to be had a little further down in the betting.
Tapwrit is definitely one to watch. Like Classic Empire, he didn't enjoy the best of starts in the Derby but showed the speed needed to recover for sixth. Competitors who have skipped Preakness after Kentucky, as he did, have often fared well around Belmont, too.
However, things look to be falling into place for Classic Empire to get over the line in one of the major races. Expect Leparoux to keep him out of trouble and nurse the colt home for an overdue victory.