By Kevin Martin
A few hours after the conclusion of this year’s Preakness Stakes, it seemed likely that we’d see a re-match in the Belmont Stakes between Exaggerator, the Preakness winner, and the Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Both trainers announced their intent to send their runners to New York for the Belmont. Unfortunately, Nyquist was pulled from the race a few days later when he came down with a temperature. The connections decided to skip the Belmont and ship him back to California to prepare for a summer campaign. That leaves Exaggerator as the clear and undisputed favorite to win this Saturday’s Belmont Stakes in New York.
Exaggerator has strung together three impressive performances starting with a win in the Santa Anita Derby back in March. He ran second in the Kentucky Derby and followed that with a win in the Preakness where he finally beat the undefeated Nyquist. He’ll attempt to become the first horse to capture the Preakness and Belmont since Afleet Alex completed the unique double in 2005. His sire, Curlin, won the Preakness before finishing second in the Belmont in 2007. He has the pedigree for the Belmont’s grueling mile and a half distance and is clearly in the best form of his eleven race career. Exaggerator will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux who, according to his agent, recently checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation program. His brother Keith, Exaggerator’s trainer, confirmed to the Daily Racing Form that he still expects Kent to ride his horse in the Belmont.
The projected field of thirteen will include seven horses exiting the Kentucky Derby as well as the second, fourth, and fifth place finishers from the Preakness. While the Belmont won’t have the excitement of a re-match between Nyquist and Exaggerator, it will include a field of talented colts to challenge the Preakness winner. More than half the field has a legitimate chance to win, making it a compelling betting race.
Here are the three contenders that will be the main threat to Exaggerator:
Suddenbreakingnews finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby but he was moving as fast as any colt in the field when they hit the finish line. A few steps beyond the wire he passed the third and fourth place finishers. Had the Derby been a few strides further he would have cashed a third place check. He tends to run far off the pace early and is at his best late in races. The early speed of the Belmont will likely be slower than Suddenbreakingnews has seen all year which means he won’t need to make-up twenty-lengths and pass thirteen horses as he did in the Derby. He will have Hall of Fame trainer Mike Smith in the saddle for the first time. Smith has won the Belmont twice since 2010. His grand sire and grand dam – A.P. Indy and Afleet Alex – both won the Belmont Stakes. He has the pedigree, talent, and pilot to score the upset against Exaggerator on Saturday.
Brody’s Cause has two Grade 1 wins in seven career races. Like Suddenbreakingnews, he is a late runner but his trainer, Dale Romans, told the Daily Racing Form that he has been training him with the intent to keep him closer to the pace in the Belmont. In the Kentucky Derby, he raced mid-pack throughout but never had a clear path to run until it was too late. He finished seventh beaten by nine lengths. His sire, Giant’s Causeway, won at the classic distances – 1 1/4 mile and beyond – multiple times against high class competition in Europe and the United States. If he can stay within striking distance he will be passing tired horses late and has a shot to pass them all by the time they complete the mile and a half.
Another son of Giant’s Causeway, Destin, had a decent run in the Kentucky Derby to finish sixth. He has won three times in six starts including two graded stakes this year at Tampa Bay Downs. His trainer Todd Pletcher has had more luck in the Belmont than the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He has one Derby win and no Preakness wins but has two winners in the Belmont since 2007. Destin will also have the services of jockey Javier Castellano who is a regular rider at Belmont Park and understands how to navigate the track’s unique layout. Unlike Suddenbreakingnews and Brody’s Cause, he tends to run close to the pace and could be on or near the lead which could be an advantageous position with only one confirmed pace setter in the field.
The Belmont Stakes will headline a huge day of racing at the historic track in Elmont, New York with a packed undercard that includes nine stakes races. Postime for the 2016 Belmont Stakes is 6:32 p.m. EST.
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