Ten Set To Close Out Triple Crown 2019 In Belmont Stakes
Tacitus Favored In Final Jewel
By Margaret Ransom
Juddmonte Farms’ Tacitus has been labeled the 9-5 favorite for Saturday’s 151st Belmont Stakes (GI) in what will be the colt’s first start since a fourth-place finish (third after the DQ) in the Kentucky Derby (GI) five weeks ago. Should the handsome gray son of Tapit win the third leg of the Triple Crown, he would provide his owner/breeder with a second win in the Test of the Champion, joining 2003 winner Empire Maker, and a second Belmont score for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who sent out Drosselmeyer to victory in 2010.
Also, should Tacitus win, Mott would have saddled two classic winners in the same year with different horses and become the first conditioner to do so since fellow Hall o Famer D. Wayne Lukas in 1996 and 1995. Mott also saddled Country House to win the Run for the Roses.
“Had Tacitus won the Kentucky Derby, I suppose we would have taken a chance at the Preakness, but we didn’t feel like we wanted to run him back in two weeks,” Mott said of his decision to skip the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Tacitus ran a much better race in the Derby than the chart indicates. After a clean break, he was rank under Jose Ortiz the first run past the grandstand, weaving in and out of traffic and never really settling before dropping way back where he stayed in front of just three rivals for three-quarters of a mile. He got a ton of mud in his face for more than a mile, finally got clear running room when a hole opened up after the great commotion at the quarter pole involving the two Derby winners and the Preakness winner, and then rallied wide into the stretch and down the lane to hit the board.
Mott says that all the colt may need to be a Belmont winner is a better trip.
“He got back quite a ways, back in the pack (in the Derby),” Mott said. “The way the track was and traffic, he didn’t get stopped but he had to keep looking for room. With the big field, he had to keep changing direction and changing course – go inside, go outside – so it wasn’t smooth, he had to alter course. That being said, he came running and finished well at the end.
“Generally, going a mile and a half (in the Belmont) they won’t be further back. If anything, we will be closer. We hope he goes a good mile and a half.”
Jose Ortiz will be back aboard the Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) and Tampa Bay Derby (GII) winner and they will break from the far outside post of 10.
Gary Barber’s Preakness Stakes winner War of Will is the lone runner who will have started in all three legs of the Triple Crown, but he will be Mark Casse’s first Belmont Stakes starter in his 30-plus training career. The son of War Front was also the multiple Sovereign Award winner’s first classic winner, though he came close previously with champion Classic Empire in 2017, who was fourth in the Derby and second in the Preakness.
Casse is pleased with how War of Will came out of his Preakness victory, deciding against a published workout for the handsome colt, and said he even gained some weight.
“I think he’s put on 40-50 pounds and that’s what we’ve been looking for,” Casse said. “We kind of know everyone in the field by now. I tend to just worry about my horses and not anybody else’s. If the pace is slow, he’ll probably be on the lead. If it’s quick, hopefully he’ll sit behind the pacesetters.”
Should War of Will win the Belmont, he will become the first Preakness-Belmont winner since Afleet Alex in 2005 and join a list of 16 others, including Man O’War, Native Dancer, Nashua, Damascus, Risen Star and Point Given.
“I learned a long time ago to not think about that kind of stuff,” Casse said. “Right now, the only thing I’m focusing on is getting there. There are so many variables and so many things that can happen, that I just focus on the future.”
War of Will’s regular rider Tyler Gaffalione will be back aboard and they will break from post position 9.
Casse will also tighten the girth on Tracy Farmer’s homebred Sir Winston, who was second in the Peter Pan Stakes (GIII) over this track a month ago. The son of Awesome Again and the Afleet Alex mare La Grand Bailadora certainly has a distance pedigree and is a stakes winner on the all-weather track at Woodbine, but has mostly struggled a lot on the dirt in his four American starts, with the exception of the Peter Pan where he raced wide but closed strongly for the runner-up spot.
“I thought (the Peter Pan) was extremely encouraging,” Casse said. “If the pace were to get pretty hot, it’s going to help Sir Winston, because he’s truly a mile-and-a-half horse. One thing about it; the pace won’t likely be as fast, so he probably won’t come as far out of it. But we’re not going to take him out of his way. (Jockey) Joel (Rosario) will let him be comfortable, and he’ll come running.”
Sir Winston drew post position seven and is 12-1 on the morning line.
Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has saddled three Belmont winners so far in his highly decorated career, will saddle two runners who will attempt to give him his fourth career win in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Pletcher’s Belmont wins came with the filly Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2012 and Tapwrit in 2017 and this year he sends out the lightly raced Intrepid Heart and Kentucky Derby veteran Spinoff.
Robert and Lawana Low’s Intrepid Heart, a $750,000 son of Tapit, enters the Belmont off a somewhat troubled third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes (GIII) last out. He is a grandson of 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold (dam is the stakes-placed Flaming Heart) so distance should not be a question, and he’s lightly raced and should be fresh with just three career starts to his credit. Pletcher’s go-to jockey, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, will be aboard Intrepid Heart from post position 8.
Wertheimer and Frere’s homebred Spinoff is Pletcher’s other runner and makes his first start since beating just one in the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago. The son of grade 1 winner Hard Spun, who was fourth in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, is well-traveled and will be making his sixth start at his sixth track, and with the exception of the Derby has been a consistent runner. While disappointed in Spinoff’s Derby performance, Pletcher said he wasn’t entirely all that surprised.
“Yeah, with Spinoff, he actually got a really good trip, and he was not impacted by the incident at the quarter pole at all,” Pletcher said. “He was already unfortunately backing up at that point.
“But we shipped in late. We got (to Churchill Downs) on Tuesday. Wednesday I thought he trained pretty well. Thursday, we had a sloppy track and it was like, I don’t think he likes this. I’m hoping that was the case, because the horse has trained — to me — consistently with some of the horses that we’ve run in the Belmont over the years that have performed well, and I’m hoping he catches a fast track and gets to prove how good he is or is not.”
Spinoff will carry Hall of Famer Javier Castellano from post position 6.
Calumet Farm’s Preakness runner-up Everfast has a bad habit of running a good race and then throwing in a clunker or two, so it’s hard to know what to expect in this race after his strong performance at Pimlico three weeks ago. He hasn’t won in a while, but he has earned some decent finishes in big races, including the Preakness.
“He’s been an odd horse for me,” trainer Dale Romans said. “He’s like the little engine that could. He’s never had a problem, never had a bad day, but thrown a couple really big races.
“But I will say after the race on Derby Day (fifth in the Pat Day Mile), he started training a little more arrogant and acting a little more like a good horse. Even though he finished fifth, I thought it was a solid race for him. That’s what made us take him to the Preakness. It just seems like his attitude changed, and it’s continued coming into the Belmont.”
Everfast drew post position 2 and Luis Saez will be aboard.
Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable’s Bourbon War didn’t earn enough points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby and waited instead for the Preakness, but considering his lackluster eighth in the second jewel it was probably better he didn’t make the Derby. Now back at trainer Mark Hennig’s Belmont base, the son of Tapit will be trying to turn things around at a distance and as a son of Take Charge Indy and the grade 1-winning Artie Shiller mare My Conquestadory, he is more than bred for routing over this surface, which he has trained quite a bit over.
“He was not tired at all after the (Preakness),” Hennig said. “I don’t know how much running he actually did. I held him for a bath after the race and he bit me in the stomach and tore my shirt. He was actually angry after the Preakness.”
Bourbon War will receive the first-time services of Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who has three Belmont wins to his credit, including aboard Triple Crown winner Justify a year ago, and will break from post 5. Hennig has also removed the colt’s blinkers, which he added after his fourth-place finish in the March 30 Florida Derby.
Katsumi Yoshizawa’s homebred Master Fencer, sixth in the Derby after the DQ but seventh across the Churchill Downs wire, had been training at Keeneland since the Kentucky Derby and shipped into Belmont Park last week and subsequently underwent a strange workout, where he bounced off the rail moving away from the rider’s right-handed whip and stumbled awkwardly. A post-workout vet exam revealed no issues for the Koichi Tsunoda trainee and he will make the gate as the lone foreigner in the field. Should he win, he’d be the first Japanese-bred runner to win an American Triple Crown event and also collect a $1 million bonus offered by NYRA for a winning Japanese-based runner.
Julien Leparoux will ride Master Fencer from post position 3.
Jeff and Michael Fazio’s Joevia starts in the Belmont stakes for trainer Greg Sacco off a wire-to-wire score in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park last out. The Shanghai Bobby colt previously was seventh in the Wood Memorial Stakes back in April, but was disqualified to last for causing trouble soon after the break. He’s an outsider, but has the right running style to be competitive and though his pedigree suggests some distance questions, he has been training well at Monmouth for the past couple of months. Jose Lezcano will be aboard for the first time and they will breaking from the innermost post position.
Wood Memorial Stakes runner-up Tax, who was 14th in the Kentucky Derby, is back at Danny Gargan’s home base of Belmont Park and the gelding will try to become the first gelded Belmont winner since Funny Cide in 2003 and the third overall (Crème Fraiche won in 1985). To be fair, geldings were actually banned from running in the Belmont at all from 1918 to 1957 and not a lot have tried the Test of the Champion. Irad Ortiz Jr. will be the son of Arch’s jockey for the first time and they will start out of post position 4.
The 151st Belmont Stakes has been carded as the 11th race of 13 with a post time of 6:37 p.m. ET. NBCSN will provide live coverage of racing from New York from 2:30 to 4:00 p.m. ET before switching over to NBC, who will be broadcasting live from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., which includes the Belmont.