The Belmont Stakes is the test of champions.
All the elements needed to win in horse racing come into play in the June 8 race, and the most important has to be stamina.
No event will test three-year-old thoroughbreds like the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, and many very good horses have seen their hopes fade on the Belmont Park homestretch.
The task of winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in a five-week period seems remote, but American Pharoah did it in 2015 and Justify followed up last year.
Since Country House did not run in the Preakness because of illness after being awarded first place following the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Derby, there is no opportunity for a Triple Crown winner in 2019.
War of Will won the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on Saturday, and trainer Mark Casse said he would confer with owner Gary Barber before a decision would be made on participating in the race. Casse, interviewed by NBC following the race, later categorized the likelihood as "probable."
Here are some early contenders for the race in Elmont, New York, courtesy of a list by Stephen Edelson and Steven Falk of Asbury Park Press (odds my own):
Tacitus (5-2)—It was interesting to see that trainer Bill Mott gave Tacitus two full weeks off following the Kentucky Derby. While he was near the back of the pack in the Derby, he staged a major rally and closed to a fourth-place finish in that race. He was actually fifth under the wire and was awarded fourth place.
Tacitus is the son of distance horse Tapit, so he has the bloodlines to run in the 1 1/2-mile race on paper. The longer race and the bigger, wider track at Belmont Park mean it is likely he won't get caught up in traffic.
Tacitus galloped five furlongs Saturday in 1:01 2/5, and Mott was happy with his colt's work. "It all went smoothly. It was his first breeze back and exactly what we wanted," Mott said, per BloodHorse. "It's what I expected. They look like a good team together."
Game Winner (4-1)—Game Winner was one of trainer Bob Baffert's three starters in the Kentucky Derby, but he did not go to Baltimore for the Preakness. He is not a definite starter in the Belmont, but the New York race is a strong possibility.
He won all four of his 2018 starts and finished second in three straight 2019 starts before his fifth-place (awarded) finish in the Derby.
War of Will (5-1)—He ran a hard race before he had to check in the Derby following Maximum Security's abrupt lane change that led to the latter's disqualification. War of Will bounced back to win the Preakness in impressive fashion, as jockey Tyler Gaffalione took advantage of his inside position and charged up the rail to win the race.
Trainer Mark Casse may bring his horse back for the Belmont, but he says he will talk to the horse's owners before a final decision is made. When he was interviewed on NBC following the Preakness win, he said his colt would "probably" compete in the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
Global Campaign (5-1)—He won the Peter Pan stakes, and that May 11 race gives him four weeks to get ready for the Belmont Stakes. The win was at Belmont Park, so the track clearly agrees with him. Trainer Stanley Hough is considering the Belmont Stakes, the June 22 Ohio Derby or the July 6 Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes for his next race.
Tax (8-1)—He has been in the money in all five of his career races, with a win in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes and a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial in his two most recent starts.
Master Fencer (9-1)—This Japanese import was quite impressive in the Derby, and that was a shocker considering his status before the race. Three other horses from Japan had rejected opportunities to come to Churchill Downs, and that's how Master Fencer gained his opportunity.
Sir Winston (12-1)—Trained by Casse, Sir Winston had a solid run in second in the Peter Pan. He rallied in the final eighth of a mile to finish impressively. This horse does not have a lot of speed, but he will not slow down when other horses start to tire.
Intrepid Heart (14-1)—He also started in the Peter Pan and finished third. That followed a first-place finish in an allowance race at Keeneland. This son of Tapit has the bloodlines to handle the distance and is considered probable for the Belmont Stakes.
1. Tacitus is "bred to love the 1 1/2-mile distance," as Edelson and Falk noted, and has the explosiveness to get to the front and put the competition away.
2. Global Campaign also has the stamina to finish with power but is not quite as fast as Tacitus.
3. Master Fencer was moving fastest of all in the Derby stretch, and the long Belmont Park homestretch may be to his liking.