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The third and final leg of racing’s Triple Crown looms this weekend in New York. The Belmont caps an equal-parts awkward and interesting series where longshot Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike basically said, “Nah, I’m good” to racing in The Preakness. That means there’s no chance of topping American Pharaoh’s most recent Triple Crown in 2015.
Still, lucky for us, there’s plenty to talk about.
It’s a Wide Open race
Rich Strike is striking back for the weekend race at Belmont Park, but if you’re looking for 80/1 tickets to grip onto this go-round you’re going to need a time machine, baby. “Richie” is currently pinned as the third favorite behind the democratically elected We The People and the horse named after an Irish barkeep, Mo Donegal. (Actually have no idea why he’s named that but that’s what I’m imagining in my head and I’m sticking with that).
The field consists of just eight horses as of publishing. However, if this year’s derby taught us anything, it’s that we should not assume the field is 100% set until it’s 110% set. The Belmont champ could indeed be a late addition just hours before the race. That’s always a fun complication to throw at any handicapper forecasting the biggest races of the year, right?
Reminder: It’s different at Belmont
What separates The Belmont from the other Triple Crown races is easy to comprehend: At 1.5 miles in length so it’s a half-mile longer than Churchill Downs or Pimlico. The length always presents lots of variables for the jockeys, horses, and trainers.
Picture an NFL football field lengthened to 180 yards, or a baseball stadium stretching to 600 feet to garner any home run hitters. It’s a whole ‘nother ball game.
While the first two Triple Crown races take on a more frenetic, sprint vibe, The Belmont requires a measured, patient, well-timed effort by the winning team. The 1.5 miles becomes quite the plod, and with wider-than-average turns to boot, it stretches out the length of the track even more.
Rain or Shine?
Weather conditions could certainly be a storyline as well, as no June day in New York is a guarantee. With about a 50/50 chance of rain and storms between Friday afternoon and race day, it’s worth considering that Big Sandy could turn become Big Sloppy for Saturday’s races, and that might yield much different outcomes than a dry and fast track.
One thing that will work in any better’s favor? That as-of-now previously-referenced smaller field size.
Speaking of which:
THE belmont FIELD
#1 – We the People
The adopted “speed” horse in the race, and absolutely a darling for betters this week. If you like a favorite with giddy up trust in the 1. (Oh and, co-owned by famous American chef Bobby Flay, this horse must have some sizzle!)
#2 – Skippylongstocking
Admittedly, this horse has a hilarious name — making good use of the 18 maximum characters allowed — but there’s not much shine beyond. A one-pace horse that could plod around Belmont nicely, just not at the speed to win in our estimatation. Finished in the middle of the pack at The Preakness. But again, you just never know.
#3 – Nest
First of two Todd Pletcher horses in the race, this horse comes from nice AKA winning lineage (Curlin). Pletcher has got it done here with his horses in 2013 and 2017 so maybe this is about time again.
#4 – Rich Strike
Hard not to root for the Cinderella story from the Derby, although pitted as the third favorite is far from an underdog mentality. Let’s see if Sonny Leon can deliver another impeccable run on a longer track.
#5 – Creative Minister
A trendy pick to say the least, this horse faired decently at The Preakness, seems to be okay in races that get ugly.
#6 – Mo Donegal
The second Pletcher horse is ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr, who is admittedly a favorite jockey of mine. Had a good run at The Preakness, this feels like a moment for Mo Donegal to thrive.
#7 – Golden Glider
A horse that has had a few chances slip away and doesn’t figure to grab this one. There is a Hall of Fame trainer in Mark Casse attached if you’re feeling lucky on a flyer.
#8 – Barber Road
This horse didn’t have the smoothest trip at the Derby, but with a history of being well-paced in slower races, there could be a room for a spot on the board.
Pickin’ Em’ Straight
Mo Donegal: 5-2
To Win: Mo Donegal, Nest
Second Place: Creative Minister
To Win: Mo Donegal
Second Place: Creative Minister, Nest
Third Place: Creative Minister, Nest
THE belmont DEETS
Where to watch: Coverage on CNBC and NBC Saturday afternoon
Why to watch: Derby Cinderella Rich Strike makes his return for the last leg of Horse Racing’s Triple Crown
Purse: $1.5 million