A collection of the most talented three-year-olds and jockeys will gather in Elmont, New York, on Saturday as the race for the 2017 Belmont Stakes title reaches fever pitch.
The last leg of this year's Triple Crown will single out a new champion from the surviving field of 12 runners, and Irish War Cry is saddled in the middle of the order as he looks to live up to his favourite tag.
The field has also recently opened up to new contenders after trainer Mark Casse confirmed former favourite Classic Empire will not take part in the Race for the Carnations, via Alicia Wincze Hughes of Blood Horse:
Alicia Wincze Hughes @BH_AHughes
Champion Classic Empire will not run in Belmont Stakes due to abscess in right front, Mark Casse says. (Cont)2017-6-7 12:11:30
The roster of jockeys also includes a decorated who's who of the riding world, including 2015 Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza and 23-year-old rising star Jose Ortiz.
Read on for a preview of Saturday's race and a more in-depth look at which stars—horse and human—are likely to play their own parts in who wins the 2017 Belmont Stakes.
It would be difficult to find a more experienced figure in the jockeys' changing room than Espinoza ahead of this year's Belmont Stakes. But one who can hold a torch to his flame is Venezuelan Javier Castellano.
The 39-year-old will be riding 20-1 shot Twisted Tom in Saturday's New York spectacular, and Mary Rampellini of Daily Racing Form showed evidence he's already warming up exactly how he'd want at Belmont Park:
Mary Rampellini @DRFRampellini
#VIDEO of New Money Honey winning the Grade 3 Wonder Again on Thursday at Belmont Park: https://t.co/F9VfphmNYl2017-6-8 19:08:00
Castellano also happens to boast the benefit of having already won a race in this year's Triple Crown, having ridden Cloud Computing to victory at the Preakness last month, his second career win in that race (2006, 2017).
Despite his age, Castellano has also displayed some very active form on the American circuit so far in 2017, per Racing Stats and Info, not to mention possessing more wins than any other jockey in graded races this year:
Racing Stats & Info @GaryDougherty
JOCKEYS GR STAKES '17 A total of 15 up for grabs this week with two today at Belmont. Javier Castellano one better than Mike Smith 18-17. https://t.co/BKnrPlBfXF2017-6-8 16:42:28
Twisted Tom's post position of No. 1 promises to be a big advantage if he can get out ahead early on, but Irish War Cry's placement at seventh may not be as weak as some suggest it could be.
With little to hem the colt in at the rail or push him out too wide, he could even come to see his midway post as a boon, and Rajiv Maragh could have a simpler-than-imagined run to the finish:
Belmont Stakes @BelmontStakes
Spotted the Belmont Stakes favorite, Irish War Cry, feeling fresh this morning! https://t.co/mPC0H1n3am2017-6-8 15:39:25
There are signs to suggest this could be Espinoza's year once again, though. He rides Gormley for trainer John Shirreffs, who scored a shocking win in the Kentucky Derby in 2005 but wouldn't be as big a surprise this time around.
In Espinoza, Gormley has one of the most proven jockeys in the business, and horse racing writer Frances Karon shared not-too-distant memories of the Mexican star's 2015 Triple Crown triumph:
Fran o' War @francesjkaron
American Pharoah & @EspinozasVictor's Triple Crown anniversary...I've never experienced anything quite like that day at Belmont. #chills https://t.co/eZUyq9ND9F2017-6-6 21:35:43
Gormley is fruitfully positioned at third post and comes to the Belmont Stakes with four wins from seven career starts, including a victory at the Grade 1 Santa Anita Stakes.
The old adage insists old dogs can't learn new tricks, but having walked this path before, Espinoza may not have to aboard 8-1 sleeper Gormley.
All odds mentioned come courtesy of OddsShark.com and are correct as of Thursday, June 8 at 5 p.m. ET.