The field for the 138th running of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) has been drawn, and now it is time for the strategies to be finalized and for a new star to emerge on the 3-year-old scene. Despite the absence of Barbaro and Bernardini, this is no pushover race, and racing's newest classic winner will have to earn the title.
At least that's what we all hope.
Will High Finance burst on the scene as a potential superstar the way Bernardini did in the Preakness (gr. I)? Will Bluegrass Cat re-establish himself as one of the divisional leaders following a classy 2-year-old campaign? Will Sunriver show that he is an improving, classy colt who is now ready to battle for 3-year-old supremacy? Is Steppenwolfer's spectacular work last week an indication that the colt is through playing bridesmaid and is now a major force to reckon with? Can Bob and John land a Wood Memorial (gr. I) – Belmont double and crown himself king of New York? Can little Jazil, with his exciting running style, become a fan favorite and prove a stone closer can win the Belmont?
These are just some of the questions that should be answered on Saturday. So, who says this year's Belmont lacks interest and star quality? If the general public chooses to ignore the race because of what it lacks, and not focus on what it has to offer, then that is their loss.
Wednesday's post draw did not produce any stunning new twists to the race. The likely pacesetter, High Finance, will break from post 5 with Eibar Coa aboard, which is a perfect post for the son of Talk is Money
. What he has going for him is that no one really knows how good he is. With Bob and John and Garrett Gomez just inside of him in post 4, it will give Gomez something to think about. He doesn't want to get shuffled back the way he did in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). But going 1 ½-mile, there is plenty of time for him to make a long, sustained move, which he has proven he is more than capable of doing.
The only major contender who may need to make an adjustment is Steppenwolfer, who drew post 11. Although there was talk about the son of Aptitude
being closer to the pace going 12 furlongs, jockey Robby Albarado will now have to take a hold of him coming out of the gate and let the speed clear him before trying to get to the inside.
His best strategy going this far is to save as much ground as possible and then ease toward the outside for a clear run in order to use his stamina. He is the type who can steadily pick off horses and keep going. He cannot afford to get caught wide on the first turn. He could break sharply and hope to catch the others napping early and then ease in, but if that fails he may very well get hung out to dry. So, the safest strategy is to let the others go, and if the pace is too slow, let him ease himself back into contention. He has plenty of time to do that.
Bluegrass Cat will break from post 9, which could hurt him if things don't fall into place for him. John Velazquez likely will put the colt right off Deputy Glitters' flank and hope Edgar Prado can find a way to the inside and just follow him. Velazquez really doesn't want to do too much with him early. He is a smooth-striding colt and needs to settle into that stride without too much exertion.
Sunriver is in great shape breaking from post 2. Rafael Bejarano will be able to save ground, which is so important in the Belmont, and then be able to pick his spots and get into a good striking position. That's all you want to do with this colt – get him in striking position by the five-sixteenths pole, and let him take it from there. He's proven on several occasions that he's relentless in the stretch and has the determination to wear down anyone.
Oh so Awesome is the wild card in here. Although no one, not even his connections, know if he's good enough to handle these horses, he must be respected, based on his pedigree, his trainer, and the past record in the Belmont of his owner, Team Valor. He looked sharp in his half-mile work in company on Wednesday and galloped out very strong. His U. S. debut, although against much lesser competition, was encouraging in that he handled the turns beautifully and accelerated turning for home. The final sixteenth in :06 1/5 was simply too fast for him going 1 1/16-mile. He will appreciate the longer distance for sure.
And don't forget that in his last start in France, in which he was fifth, the horse that finished second, Darsi, came back and won the French Derby (Fr-I) this past weekend.
Another early pace factor could be Double Galore, but he has not shown anything to suggest he's in this class, and if he has to be used breaking from post 10, there is a question how long he will be a factor.
Jazil is, well, Jazil, and there isn't much strategy you can plan with him other than to try to keep in touch with the field and then come a runnin'.
Hemingway's Key will break from post 3 and likely will run the same kind of race as Sunriver, who would be a good horse for jockey Jeremy Rose to follow.
Sacred Light drew the far outside, which means he, like Steppenwolfer, will have to take far farther than normal early. This colt is a steady grinder, who can come home, but he has never finished first, so it's hard to gauge just where he fits with these horses.