Nine Probable For Belmont Stakes
Four Derby Runners Remain For Last Jewel Of The Triple Crown
By Margaret Ransom
With the two winners of the Kentucky Derby – the disqualified Maximum Security and elevated Country House – sidelined and waiting for the big summer races for sophomores, a wide open field of eight – possibly nine — is expected for the June 8 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Preakness Stakes winner War of Will represents the star power expected for the 1 ½-mile Test of the Champion, though the connections of a few up and coming runners have set their sights on the blanket of carnations.
Leading the assault on New York’s Triple Crown jewel is Preakness Stakes (GI) winner War of Will, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby. Gary Barber’s son of War Front, as most know, was involved in the incident at the Churchill Downs quarter pole in the Derby that resulted in Maximum Security’s disqualification and had a lot to prove in the Preakness. His 1 ¼-length score in the second Jewel of the Triple Crown did a lot to silence his critics and now he heads to Belmont as the one to beat.
Trainer Mark Casse said that War of Will is certainly fit after his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes performances and will train into the Kentucky Derby.
“He’s not going to breeze, “Casse said “We kind of feel like he’s in a very happy place and relaxed right now and we want him to be that way going 1 ½ miles so I don’t really see any reason to. We know his Preakness was good and I didn’t breeze him into that. We are going to do it our way. So he is not going to breeze.”
Everfast, who was a surprise second in the Preakness Stakes at odds of nearly 30-1, will head to New York for the Belmont for trainer Dale Romans. Apparently Romans was the only one not surprised by the colt’s Preakness performance and now the son of Take Charge Indy owns some solid credentials (and a pedigree to match) to be competitive in the Belmont Stakes. He had a nice workout, four furlongs in :50.20, at Churchill on May 29 with his last one set for next week.
Japanese-bred Master Fencer surprised a lot of people when sixth in the Kentucky Derby and soon after his connections set their sights on the Belmont Stakes. The son of Just A Way had been training at Keeneland since the Derby, but shipped in to Belmont Park for his final preparations a few days ago. On Wednesday he had what can only be considered an eventful workout under regular exercise rider Yosuke Kono, logging five furlongs in 1:01.48 after bouncing off the rail briefly and losing his action, causing many eyewitnesses to think he might have been injured.
“Up until the eighth pole, he was breezing really well and I was so satisfied,” Kono said through an interpreter. “All of a sudden, he stumbled, and gradually shifted to the left by the rail. I switched my whip to make him aware and focus to the end of the breeze. We then recovered but it was feeling a little weird so I tried to stop him as soon as possible.
“After the work he had a light jog and there were no problems. I don’t think it’s something that will cause a major issue.”
Kono said Master Fencer’s connections are very much looking forward to the Belmont Stakes and believe the 12-furlong distance to be will within his wheelhouse.
“He has a big heart and big lungs and is better suited to the longer distance,” Kono said. “He is not the type to make crazy speed. He has a long, strong late kick. For him, the mile and a half will be a lot better.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher will send out a pair in Spinoff and Intrepid Heart. Spinoff was last seen finishing 18th of 19 in the Kentucky Derby and Intrepid Heart was third in the Peter Pan Stakes (GIII) on May 11.
“They each continued to show good energy heading into the race,” Pletcher’s assistant, Byron Hughes, said. “The plan was to gallop them this morning and they both returned well out of it and continue to eat well and show good energy.”
“They’ll each look to have their last major works for the Belmont on Friday.”
Others expected for the Belmont are Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) winner and runner-up Tacitus and Tax, third and fourth in the Derby last out respectively, Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston and possibly Long Branch Stakes winner Joevia.
The draw for the 151st Belmont Stakes will take place next Tuesday.