Even though history tells us otherwise, American Pharoah remains the odds-on favorite two weeks ahead of the 2015 Belmont Stakes. Winning three races in a six-week span against some of the premier thoroughbreds in the world is a nearly impossible task, and placing the longest leg of the Triple Crown last only exacerbates the fatigue factor for horses entered into all three races.
The last three horses to arrive in New York with an opportunity at the historic trifecta haven't even sniffed the win. Injuries prevented Big Brown and I'll Have Another from finishing the race (the latter withdrew), while California Chrome faltered down the stretch last June and ended in fourth. In each case, the workload clearly placed an untenable strain on the horse.
A fully rested Pharoah has proved himself as the best three-year-old in the world, but that won't be the case on June 6. Taking a look at the full-field odds from Odds Shark, these horses stand out as the best bets to take down the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner should he falter.
|2015 Belmont Stakes Odds|
|Tale of Verve||28-1|
|Source: Odds Shark|
The Derby's fourth-place finisher skipped Pimlico Race Course and will come in with five weeks' rest after a blazing finish at Churchill Downs. Subsequently, Kiaran McLaughlin's horse has separated himself as the fairly clear second favorite behind Pharoah among the rest of the field and could conceivably even pass Bob Baffert's contender before race day.
Frosted is one of the most experienced horses in the field, having entered in five graded stakes races and three maiden special weight races in his career. His win at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes represented a huge turning point in his career, as it validated the adjustments McLaughlin made after Frosted's disappointing fourth-place showing at Gulfstream Park in his previous start, per BelmontStakes.com:
Following Frosted's confounding fourth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, where he stopped at the head of the stretch, McLaughlin changed practically everything about the colt except his color. He sent Frosted from Florida back to Aqueduct, where he had broken his maiden and finished second in the Grade 2 Remsen; changed riders from Irad Ortiz, Jr. to Joel Rosario; adjusted his blinkers; had a minor procedure done on his throat to eliminate any risk of a breathing problem, and worked him three-quarters of a mile behind two horses.
The introduction of Joel Rosario as Frosted's new jockey was particularly momentous, as the horse's two most impressive showings have come with the Dominican jockey in the saddle. McLaughlin has suggested that Rosario might allow his horse to set the pace early and place subsequent pressure on the rest of the field:
Rosario won this race last year on Tonalist, derailing Chrome's hopes. We could have deja vu again in 2015, as Frosted looks like a strong bet to play the spoiler 12 months later.
If Frosted is not the best bet to topple Pharoah, then Todd Pletcher's top horse likely holds that honor. The son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, Materiality certainly possesses the premier pedigree to make him a dangerous threat. Though his sixth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby was the worst start of his career, there's reason to believe that he could rebound.
For one, he was undefeated in three previous career races entering Churchill Downs. That's admittedly a small sample and only includes one graded stakes race, but his Florida Derby win was one of the more impressive victories by any Derby contender leading up to the Run for the Roses. Consequently, multiple Daily Racing Form analysts actually see Materiality as the second favorite instead of Frosted:
Like Frosted, Materiality enjoys the advantage of having worked at Belmont while Pharoah toiled away in the Baltimore downpour. According to Bloodhorse.com, Pletcher is thankful that he decided to pull Materiality from Pimlico at the last moment, especially after the form he's shown in training:
...the Besilu Stables Florida Derby (gr. I) winner worked for the first time since the Kentucky Derby, breezing four furlongs in :49.03 over the Belmont main track. The time ranked fifth of 24 moves at the distance."With those kinds of decisions, you just never know, but with the downpour and everything (at the Preakness), I was happy we were safely at home and got a good work into him," Pletcher said. "He went well, :49 with a good gallop out. We were very happy with it."
Pletcher has captured the Belmont twice, with Palace Malice in 2013 and Rags to Riches in 2007. Materiality is not the Texan's only entry—he'll also enter Carpe Diem and Madefromlucky—but he's the likeliest ticket to end up in the winner's circle.
The international horse of mystery, Mubtaahij was a fascinating Kentucky Derby entry who received plenty of coverage before a relatively deflating eighth-place finish at Churchill Downs. However, renowned trainer Michael de Kock will give his horse another Triple Crown start in a much more manageable field size, as the 18-horse Derby field appeared to overwhelm the horse in May.
Mubtaahij first broke onto the scene by capturing the United Arab Emirates Derby by an astounding eight lengths in March. De Kok's horse had won four of five starts before the Derby, with his lone loss coming by a nose. Perhaps realizing that Mubtaahij needs different guidance in his second American start, de Kok made an important change in the saddle recently:
Like the horse he'll be riding, Irad Ortiz is a bit of a mystery compared to the more decorated jockeys in the field, but he does have a Breeders' Cup win under his belt, having captured the Juvenile Fillies Turf race in 2014 on Lady Eli.
The Belmont field will not be as deep as the impressive Derby field, and Mubtaahij has a history of success in long distances. He still shouldn't be a considered a top favorite due to the lack of a U.S. track record, but it would be surprising if he slumped to a similarly low finish at this race track.