The 2017 Belmont Stakes certainly doesn't offer the star power of its last few runs.
Sport-redefining colts have spoiled the event over the past few years thanks to epic performances by names such as California Chrome and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Going into this year's Triple Crown pursuit, Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing, eventual winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, respectively, looked like candidates to enter Elmont Field on the hunt for a Triple Crown.
Now neither will partake in the event.
According to Alicia Wincze Hughes of BloodHorse, neither will the favorite who took their place, Classic Empire.
None of this means the event is a lost cause. The field has an air of unpredictability to it now, so let's take a look at Saturday's event, which touts a post time of 6:37 p.m. ET on NBC.
2017 Belmont Stakes
No. 1: Twisted Tom (20-1) - 10th
No. 2: Tapwrit (6-1) - 3rd
No. 3: Gormley (8-1) - 6th
No. 4: J Boys Echo (15-1) - 7th
No. 5: Hollywood Handsome (30-1) - 12th
No. 6: Lookin At Lee (5-1) - 1st
No. 7: Irish War Cry (7-2) - 2nd
No. 8: Senior Investment (12-1) - 11th
No. 9: Meantime (15-1) - 9th
No. 10: Multiplier (15-1) - 8th
No. 11: Epicharis (4-1) - 4th
No. 12: Patch (12-1) - 5th
Three major contenders bowing out leaves Lookin At Lee as one of the top names to know going into the event.
The Steven M. Asmussen-trained colt has put together an impressive resume this season, going for second in the Kentucky Derby before falling to fourth in the quicker sprint at the Preakness Stakes.
Lookin At Lee's ability to even endure the Triple Crown stretch has Asmussen confident.
"He's a unique horse in how strong he is, how he takes things, how he comes out of his races, how gritty he is, how durable he is," Asmussen said, according to Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman (via ESPN.com). "We realize how fortunate we are."
Bettors on the hunt for another sure bet can look at a familiar name such as Irish War Cry. A humbling 10th-place finish at the Kentucky Derby caused trainer H. Graham Motion to sit the colt in Baltimore, but the hiccup doesn't change the fact Irish War Cry had cobbled together four wins in five races before it.
Epicharis isn't a household name like the other two, but based on the line thrown out by Las Vegas, it's certainly one bettors should know. The Kiyoshi Hagiwara-trained horse is a bit of a mystery with only two races to its name—a win at the Hyacinth Stakes in February followed by a runner-up finish at the Grade 2 UAE Derby in March. That said, it went undefeated as a two-year-old.
Oddsmakers liked the idea, but a recent injury development makes the line riskier than anticipated. As a writeup by the Associated Press (via USA Today) noted, the colt needed treatment for lameness in a hoof.
"He looked a little different favoring his right front yesterday afternoon, so we treated his hoof and gave him bute," Hagiwara said, according to the AP. "It looks like it's getting better and I think there is no problem running him in the race. We still have time, so we will give him the best care we can."
As the writeup notes, the New York Racing Association has put a $1 million bonus up for grabs if Epicharis pulls in the win as a way to further recruit Japanese colts to the event.
Speaking of payouts, here's a look at the numbers for those involved:
- 1st Place: $800,000
- 2nd Place: $280,000
- 3rd Place: $150,000
- 4th Place: $100,000
- 5th Place: $60,000
- 6th Place: $45,000
- 7th Place: $35,000
- 8th Place: $30,000
Given the lack of star power, though, this feels like a race any participant can win. Other notables bettors should watch include Tapwrit and Gormley.
Tapwrit seems like a familiar name not only because Todd Pletcher acts as trainer, but because of a sixth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby and a Grade 2 triumph on the resume. Similar story for Gormley, trained by John A. Shirreffs and a participant in the Kentucky Derby, not to mention a win at the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
Clearly, depth isn't an issue for the field Saturday evening, where one of the sport's best tests of endurance will crown a worthwhile champion able to endure. Given the post positions and quality of the competition, bettors should feel comfortable rolling with some of the familiar names.
Picks: 1. Lookin At Lee 2. Irish War Cry 3. Tapwrit