2015 Belmont Stakes Horses: Ranking Every Contender in New York
History is on the line Saturday at Belmont Park, with American Pharoah seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He takes on seven foes in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1).
We have been here before, as recently as last year when California Chrome came up short as the betting favorite. He was the 13th horse since 1979 to show up seeking the Triple Crown, only to miss out.
Will it be deja vu all over again? Or will we finally witness history for the first time in nearly four decades?
In this piece, I rank all eight contenders based on past performances, trainer, jockey history and history of the third jewel of the Triple Crown. The latest odds are courtesy of Odds Shark.
Notable wins: None
Trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, who has won the Belmont Stakes twice, Frammento figures to be the biggest price in the field. The colt was not a threat in the Kentucky Derby (G1) in an 11th-place finish and has now lost six races in a row.
His most competitive effort came in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park in February when he checked in third.
He does have Zito calling the shots. The trainer's two wins were both huge upsets. Birdstone derailed the Triple Crown bid of Smarty Jones in 2004, returning his backers $74.00 for a $2 wager. And in 2008, Da' Tara ended the Triple Crown bid of Big Brown. That colt went gate to wire and returned $79.00 to win.
“I think we’re a live long shot,” Zito said, per Jim Dunleavy of the Daily Racing Form. “He’s coming up to this race the right way. He’s holding good flesh, and that’s what you need to win the Belmont—a nice, strong horse.”
7. Keen Ice
Notable wins: None
Sent off at odds of 45-1 in the Kentucky Derby, Keen Ice was near the back of the pack early and passed a few tired foes late to finish seventh, losing by 8 ¾ lengths for the top spot.
The colt has lost six starts in a row, as his lone win was his maiden score at Churchill Downs last September. His best showing was third in the Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds back in February.
Purchased for $120,000, the colt has one of the more long-winded pedigrees in the field. He is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of an Awesome Again mare. The pedigree could come in handy in the final furlong, but he will need to run a career best to pick up a major share.
Notable wins: UAE Derby (G2)
Mubtaahij shipped all the way from Dubai to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby and was sent off at 14-1, but he was never much of a threat in an eighth-place finish, getting beaten by 9 ½ lengths.
Instead of heading back across the pound, he stayed in the U.S. to prepare for the Belmont Stakes for Michael De Kock, who is regarded as one of the top trainers in the world.
Although he did not beat a tough field, his victory in the UAE Derby in Dubai was impressive. With five weeks off, he seems likely to improve over his U.S. debut, and the horse picks up one of New York’s leading riders in Irad Ortiz Jr.
5. Tale of Verve
Notable wins: None
It took Tale of Verve six tries to break his maiden, and his connections thought enough of him to start him in the Preakness Stakes (G1), where he outran his odds to finish second at 28-1.
His trainer, Dallas Stewart, knows how to pull off the surprise in a Triple Crown race, running second in the Kentucky Derby in back-to-back years with Commanding Curve in 2014 and Golden Soul in 2013.
Stewart is confident the colt can get the distance. "I think he's a horse that's really bred for the distance," he said, per Sean Morris of NYRA.com. "He can take it. He's got the stamina, he's got the pedigree. I think he's got the ability, so it's going to be a real good race for him. I'm feeling real good about it."
His late running style does not fit the recent race shape of the Belmont Stakes. Over the past 29 years just two winners have come from far off the pace, and this year's pace figures to be moderate at best.
Notable wins: Peter Pan Stakes (G2)
Analysis: After coming up short in the Rebel (G2) (second) and Arkansas Derby (G1) (fourth), Madefromlucky did not make it to Louisville. Instead, trainer Todd Pletcher saddled him in the Peter Pan (G2), where the colt was an impressive winner.
While he was no match for American Pharoah in his two starts at Oaklawn Park, he is coming in off a career-best effort for a barn that has won this race twice. Last year's Peter Pan winner, Tonalist, returned to win the Belmont Stakes, ending the Triple Crown bid of California Chrome.
The Todd Pletcher trainee will need to run another career best to pull off the upset Saturday.
Notable wins: Florida Derby (G1)
With three of the last six Belmont winners having raced in the Kentucky Derby and then skipping the Preakness, this colt should get a long look. Materiality put in one of the most impressive prep races for the Run for the Roses when he won the Florida Derby in just his third career start. His 110 Beyer Speed Figure was higher than any number American Pharoah has earned in his career.
However, the colt was off a beat slow and had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby, checking in sixth and losing by 7 ¾ lengths. With the five-week break, can he turn the tables on American Pharoah?
He gets jockey John Velazquez back. The Hall of Fame jockey was aboard him for his first three career starts but then elected to ride Carpe Diem in the Kentucky Derby.
The colt is sired by Afleet Alex, who won the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Notable wins: Wood Memorial (G1)
Frosted figures to be the biggest threat to end American Pharoah's Triple Crown bid. The colt won the Wood Memorial in his final prep and then made a good late run to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby; he was the lone runner in the 18-horse field who was making up any significant ground in the stretch.
His late running style is not perfect for the Belmont, as horses closer to the lead tend to have a better chance of winning, but jockey Joel Rosario is an aggressive rider and may end up closer to the pace than many anticipate.
His trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, won the 2006 Belmont Stakes with Jazil.
If competing in three races in five weeks ends up taking its toll on American Pharoah in the Belmont Park stretch, this colt may be the one coming.
1. American Pharoah
Notable wins: Preakness Stakes (G1), Kentucky Derby (G1), Arkansas Derby (G1), Rebel (G2), Frontrunner (G1) and Del Mar Futurity (G1)
For the 14th time since 1978, a horse lands in New York with a shot of the Triple Crown, and in the previous 13 times, they came up short.
Many of those have been at short prices, including Smarty Jones at 2-5 in 2004, Big Brown at 1-5 in 2008 and California Chrome at 4-5 last year.
There is no question American Pharoah is the best horse of his generation, and his seven-length victory in the Preakness Stakes was one of his most impressive efforts.
Four of his six career wins have been in gate-to-wire fashion, and he figures to be on the lead again. Over the past 29 runnings of the race, only two have managed to take the field gate to wire.
Bob Baffert has been relaxed and confident this week. "The main thing is that the horse is doing well," he told Jeremy Balan of Blood-Horse. "I think that's the most important thing. He's doing great, but we still have to get around there."
It will obviously take a special horse to win the Triple Crown, and this colt seems to have all the attributes, along with a Hall of Fame trainer calling the shots.
There is a good chance we could witness history Saturday afternoon.
Follow Michael Dempsey on twitter @turfnsport