The absence of Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness Stakes conqueror Cloud Computing forces bettors to find a new horse to win the 2017 Belmont Stakes.
Along with both first-place finishers not participating in the Triple Crown's third leg, Saturday's race also lost another favorite. On Wednesday, BloodHorse's Alicia Wincze Hughes reported trainer Mark Casse's decision to pull Preakness runner-up Classic Empire due to an abscess in his right foot.
These developments have created a wide-open field headed into Belmont Park's 1½-mile race. According to OddsShark, Irish War Cry enters the favorite despite a disappointing Kentucky Derby showing.
Here are the full odds, last updated on Thursday:
Belmont Stakes Odds
Irish War Cry: 3-1
Epicharis: 7-2 (OUT)
Lookin At Lee: 11-2
Senior Investment: 13-2
J Boys Echo: 16-1
Twisted Tom: 20-1
Hollywood Handsome: 33-1
In his last race, Irish War Cry finished 10th. Now he's the favorite.
Belmont, however, is not the Kentucky Derby, where the son of Curlin succumbed to a traffic jam out of the starting gate. The New Jersey-bred colt opened the Run for the Roses in the 17th post position, the only spot that has never yielded a winner.
With the field whittled down from 20 to 12, he's now the trendy pick to triumph in more spacious terrain. Jockey Rajiv Maragh, who regularly rides on Belmont Park's course, told Sports Illustrated's Tim Balk that the track should work to his horse's advantage.
"It suits him, it [has] big wide turns," Maragh said. "He should be able to get into a nice rhythm, which I think that's how he runs his best race—to get into a nice flow."
In other circumstances, perhaps Irish War Cry is the sleeper pick. He's instead a cautious favorite above Epicharis, who is not certain to compete.
According to Associated Press' Beth Harris, via ABC.com, Epicharis has missed three days of practice with a right-foot ailment. Yet New York Racing Association senior vice president Martin Panza said he is still scheduled to race.
"They feel confident they can make the race tomorrow, but they're still going to monitor the horse," Panza said of the colt's crew. "Obviously the horse comes first, and if there are any problems, they'll re-evaluate."
Clouded by uncertainty even at 100 percent, Epicharis is now especially a dangerous proposition unless the odds drastically change before Saturday night. [Update: On Saturday morning, BloodHorse's Claire Novak and Jeremy Balan reported that Epicharis is out.]
After placing second at Churchill Downs and fourth at Pimlico Park, Lookin At Lee represents the safest trifecta pick. Yet despite three second- and two third-place finishes, the colt hasn't landed the top spot since last August.
Besides, a crop without any standout contenders should motivate bettors to pursuit a champion against the grain. The Triple Crown's final leg rarely bodes well for the favorites anyway. As noted by the Washington Post's Neil Greenberg, only two top favorites have won over the last 20 years.
Meantime and J Boys Echo are intriguing fliers but risky choices. Hardly a huge underdog, Senior Investment resides in the perfect middle ground between unexciting favorites and shot-in-the-dark long shots.
The Lexington Stakes winner streaked from behind to steal a third-place finish at the Preakness. Another strong close would get the job done in a race lacking any breakaway speedsters.
Predictions: Win: Senior Investment; Place: Lookin At Lee; Show: Irish War Cry