On Track with Johnny D: 2017 Belmont Stakes Analysis

There’s no Triple Crown on the line. Neither Kentucky Derby nor Preakness winners are competing. Plus, Preakness runner-up and 2-year-old champ Classic Empire wasn’t entered at the last minute because of a hoof abscess. Why are we even discussing this race?

Well, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s still the Belmont Stakes—Test of a Champion—and some horse is going to win it and become part of the race’s glorious history. Second, 12 three-year-olds will line up to go a mile and one-half and the favorite’s likely to be around 3-1 odds! We don’t see any other races like that the entire year! Why not try and cash a ticket on one of the most wide-open Belmont Stakes in years?

To that end…here’s one man’s horse-by horse opinion of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes field, including post position, trainer, jockey and morning line odds, followed by a suggested $100 wagering strategy for the race.

Post     Horse                          Trainer/Jockey                     ML Odds

  1. Twisted Tom C. Brown/Castellano                        20-1

This is the same trainer/jockey combination responsible for Preakness upset winner Cloud Computing and more than a couple hundred other New York-based winners: 2017 Eclipse Award winners trainer Chad Brown and jockey Javier Castellano. Twisted Tom did not compete in either the Derby or Preakness, but will make his presence felt in the Belmont Stakes…at least in the early going. He is one of the few Belmont runners with early speed. Drawn on the rail, expect him to use that quickness to his advantage and to hold that position to save ground. How good is he, though, and how far can he effectively travel? Good questions. Based on past performances, he’ll need to step up his game quite a bit in here. He’s won a NY-bred maiden and allowance race, plus a pair of ungraded Laurel Stakes races—none in very fast time. Breeding suggests he might handle a mile and one-half trip. Still, he’s got to improve a lot.

  1. Tapwrit Pletcher/J. Ortiz                   6-1      

This guy, along with Irish War Cry, is the most logical win option. Tapwrit exploded to win the Tampa Bay Derby in March, but didn’t follow through on that promise in the Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby. It should be noted that Tapwrit ran better than it looked in the Kentucky Derby. He was bumped out of the gate, rallied in the middle of the track to move up down the backside, waited between horses briefly in the early stretch, dropped to the rail and finished reasonably well. He’ll have no trouble with a mile and one-half distance. He’s had plenty of time to recover since the Kentucky Derby and that’s historically been an effective pattern for Belmont winners. Trainer Todd Pletcher aims for his third Belmont Stakes win. Count this one ‘in’ whatever you do in the top position.

  1. Gormley Shirreffs/Espinoza               8-1

The Santa Anita Derby winner has had his moments in the Golden State. He raced wide in the Kentucky Derby to about split the field in ninth place, but really had no excuse. In fact, jockey Victor Espinoza was asking the colt to keep up around the final turn. That’s about the kind of runner he is… just OK against the best of his crop. He has shown speed on occasions, but connections were happiest when he was taken back off the pace in the Santa Anita Derby. Look for a similar type trip in the Belmont Stakes. His Kentucky Derby winning trainer John Sherriffs didn’t finally decide to send Gormley to New York until after a seven-furlong work at Santa Anita seven days before the big race. He’s a difficult call. He would surprise us with a win, but an in-the-money finish at decent odds isn’t outlandish.

  1. J Boys Echo Romans/Albarado                 15-1

A strong Grade 3 Gotham Stakes win that produced an impressive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure put this one on the map in early March. Unfortunately, he’s been missing from the headlines ever since. Fourth out of seven in the Blue Grass at Keeneland and 15th in the Kentucky Derby, J Boys Echo has been training at Churchill Downs with the Belmont Stakes on his schedule. He worked nicely at that track a week out from the race and trainer Dale Romans said it was the best the colt had ever worked. J Boys Echo has no early speed and ought to appreciate the mile and one-half Belmont distance. However, he’ll need to display more of that Gotham talent to threaten.

  1. Hollywood Handsome Stewart/Geroux 30-1

Trainer Dallas Stewart has a reputation for having longshots fire on big days. He hopes he lives up to that billing with Hollywood Handsome, although the colt doesn’t appear quite as ‘live’ going in as some of those other surprises. It took ‘Handsome five starts to break his maiden in the mud at Fair Grounds. Since then he has one win in four additional starts—an allowance score at Churchill. He finished a close fourth in the Louisiana Derby and fifth in the Illinois Derby. If he were to win the Belmont Stakes he would be the biggest upset in the career of a trainer that specializes in upsets.

  1. Lookin At Lee Asmussen/I. Ortiz, Jr.          5-1                  

We’ve been a fan of Lookin At Lee’s since he closed to finish fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. We backed him in the Arkansas Derby when he was third (we needed him to be second), less than two lengths behind injured prospective Belmont favorite Classic Empire. We backed him when he was second to Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby at 33-1 (we missed the exotics) and we backed him when he was fourth in the Preakness Stakes at 9.50-1 (we needed him to finish third). You think we’re going to give up on him now? No way. We’ll use Lookin At Lee again and probably miss cashing again. In case you haven’t noticed, sometimes this game can be incredibly frustrating. He rode a golden rail trip to be second in the Derby and made a huge early run in the Preakness before flattening out a bit late. Six days before the Belmont this guy eagerly worked an uncharacteristically fast four furlongs at Belmont in :48 1/5. Can he win? Yes. However, he hasn’t won a race since August, so a more likely outcome for him would be an in-the-superfecta finish.

  1. Irish War Cry Motion/Maragh                     7/2

When this colt won the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Feb. 4 yours truly believed he had found his Derby horse. Unfortunately, Irish War Cry laid a huge egg in his next start the Fountain of Youth. Rested for four weeks, Irish War Cry returned to win the Wood Memorial in a romp. Four weeks later he was dispatched at 4.80-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby, raced wide just off the early pace, loomed off the turn for home in second and then faded to finish tenth. Now, with five weeks rest since Louisville, he’s the morning-line favorite to win the Belmont Stakes. The major question horseplayers must answer is: Which Irish War Cry will show up? The one that dominated the Holy Bull at Gulfstream and Wood at Aqueduct, or the one that threw in the towel in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and faded from a fight in the Kentucky Derby? The Belmont Stakes was not on trainer Graham Motion’s original plan for this horse, but the colt was training so well that the trainer thought the horse, “needed to be here.” Can’t love him. Can’t ignore him, either.

  1. Senior Investment McPeek/C. Hill                     12-1

He’s an experienced performer with nine lifetime starts. That’s both positive and negative. First, the good news: His last race—third in the Preakness Stakes—was the best of his career. He rallied from off the pace in Baltimore and that suggests he’ll have no issue with the extra Belmont distance. Amazingly, he has increased or paired Beyer Speed Figures in each of his nine races. Is there more improvement in the tank? Now, the bad news: In nine career races, only one figure approaches what will be needed to even threaten in the Belmont Stakes. That last big figure move came in the Preakness and this is quick back off such a big improvement. He might hit the super, but we don’t feel as strongly about him as we do about another improving colt in Multiplier.

  1. Meantime Lynch/M. Smith                    15-1

He has speed and should lead the way for about a mile in the Belmont Stakes. After that he should find the water pretty deep. Pass on him in here.

  1. Multiplier Walsh/Rosario                       15-1

Look out, folks! This guy’s got some positives and he’s going to be about 20-1 odds! Here we go: He’s only run five times, so he’s got upside. His Beyer Speed Figures and Thoro-Graph numbers have improved or paired in each race! He’s won two of five starts–losing first out by two lengths going a mile and seventy yards in the mud as a nearly 3-1 favorite. The winner that day was Hollywood Handsome, who finished fifth to Multiplier last out in the Illinois Derby and is back in the Belmont. The second time out Multiplier lost by a neck before, in his next two starts, breaking his maiden and winning the Illinois Derby. In the Preakness he moved late along with Lookin At Lee (5-1 ML odds in Belmont Stakes) and closed enough ground to finish sixth, less than five lengths back. He has no speed out of the gate, but will add blinkers for the Belmont Stakes and that might keep him closer early. Also, jockey Joel Rosario got to know him last time and that also will help. He’s a bit slower than the best in here on figs, so we don’t know if this one can actually win the Belmont, but he’s got enough positives to be used in exotics. Look out, folks!

  1. Epicharis (Jpn) Hagiwara/Lemaire                4-1

An invader from Japan is Sunday Silence’s grandson Epicharis. He’s got Triple Crown royalty in his blood. Second to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby in Dubai, this one has been pointed toward the Belmont Stakes for months. His connections, no doubt, covet a $1 million bonus should he win the race. Is he good enough? Probably not. He’s won four of five, all in Japan—three wins at two and one at three–at distances from one mile to a mile and one-eighth. His lone defeat came to a weaving Thunder Snow in the final strides of the mile and three-sixteenths UAE Derby. Thunder Snow returned to be pulled up when unruly out of the gate in the Kentucky Derby and then was runner-up on turf in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at one mile in Ireland. Exiting US quarantine about one week before the Belmont and facing the best US-based 3-year-olds at a distance further than he’s ever gone are enough challenges facing Epicharis for us to toss this runner. One positive for him is that he has speed in a race that lacks much of that quality.

  1. Patch Pletcher/Velazquez              12-1

The one-eyed wonder attracted significant wagering support in the Kentucky Derby, starting at incredibly low 14-1 odds. Consensus suggests that most of that money came from ‘event players’ attracted to Patch because of his backstory. He finished 14th in the Derby and will need to run better than he ever has to hit the board in here. Note: His trainer/jockey combination was responsible for this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming. So, he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

Bottom Line

One to Beat

  1. Tapwrit (6-1)

Also Must Use

  1. Irish War Cry (7/2)

Don’t Ignore

  1. Lookin At Lee (5-1)

Exotic Upset Special

  1. Multiplier (15-1)

For Tri/Super Lovers

  1. Gormley (8-1)
  2. Senior Investment (12-1)
  3. J Boys Echo (15-1)

Suggested Wager Strategy ($104)

10-cent Superfecta ($24)

First: 2,7

Second: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10

Third: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10

Fourth: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10

$.50 Cent Trifecta Box ($30)

2, 3, 6, 7, 10

$1 Trifecta ($50)

2

3, 4, 6, 7, 10

All (12 runners)

 

Race On!

 

On Track with Johnny D: 2017 Belmont Stakes Analysis

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