All eyes are on Classic Empire as we approach the 2017 Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, on Saturday, but the race favourite faces a test to see if he can live up to the front-runner status attached to his name on Vegas betting lines.
Neither Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming nor Preakness Stakes victor Cloud Computing will compete in the third leg of the Triple Crown, leaving the field somewhat open as to who might emerge in their stead.
Among the three-year-olds likely to challenge for top spot are Tapwrit and Epicharis, although in a field this small, it may be hard to see past the most tipped horse for top spot.
Anything can happen come race day, though, and with the post positions set to be drawn on Wednesday, it's then that we'll have a better idea of who to back in this year's edition of the Run for the Carnations.
Read on for a breakdown of the latest odds heading into the 2017 Belmont Stakes, provided courtesy of OddsShark.
2017 Belmont Stakes Field (Odds)
- Classic Empire (+200)
- Epicharis (+500)
- Lookin At Lee (+500)
- Senior Investment (+800)
- Irish War Cry (+900)
- Tapwrit (+1000)
- Twisted Tom (+1400)
- Gormley (+1600)
- Irap (+1600)
- Patch (+1800)
- J Boys Echo (+2000)
- Multiplier (+2500)
- Meantime (+2500)
Most bettors like to favour an underdog, but Classic Empire appears to be building towards something remarkable and will compete for the Belmont Stakes' $1.5 million prize pot as leader in the odds.
The colt can clinch the fourth Grade 1 of his career if he manages to do what he couldn't in Kentucky and Baltimore, and trainer Mark Casse's son, Norman, is anticipating a stiff challenge for top spot, per TwinSpires.com:
.@casseracingnc says the #TripleCrown is "physically taxing and obviously mentally taxing" but champion #ClassicEmpire is a happy tourist https://t.co/DX8evvU15J2017-6-4 01:04:15
Although not among the podium finishers, Classic Empire impressed en route to a fourth-placed finish at this year's Kentucky Derby and ran out of steam late on at Preakness to be beaten by Cloud Computing by a small margin.
With some of his biggest competition out of view, Classic Empire can make up for those near misses with victory on Saturday, and OddsShark's Brian Zipse and Matt Shifman recently previewed his chances:
As far as underdogs are concerned, Japanese runner Epicharis could finish at either end of the field considering he's only got two races to his name, although he's yet to finish outside the top-two finishers.
Daily Racing Form editor Marcus Hersh recently hinted at that unpredictability after seeing the colt in action, remarking on Epicharis' abundance of energy in particular:
Marcus Hersh @DRFHersh
Of course we have no idea if he's good enough but Epicharis even after training is full of life and energy. https://t.co/9QKiZkhNpj2017-6-5 11:37:59
Another contender hoping to make up for recent errors is Tapwrit, the lurking outsider found at odds of +1000, who could launch a surprise attack after slumping to sixth in the 2017 Kentucky Derby.
At least the Todd Pletcher-trained horse appears to have confidence in his ability after Tapwrit's official Twitter account provided some context as to why his family's blood runs strong at Belmont:
If I win Saturday, @Gainesway stallion Tapit will have sired 3 of the last 4 @BelmontStakes winners. Other 2 were @Tonalist and Creator. https://t.co/3C18EUnyel2017-6-5 19:28:14
Any horse mentored by American training icon Pletcher will fancy its chances in a race of this magnitude, but it may not be of Tapwrit's choosing whether he wins if Classic Empire finds his stride.