One of the biggest challenges facing any horse trying for the Triple Crown - as California Chrome's owner so tactlessly reminded us after the Belmont last year - is that they are tired horses after running in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and they are facing horses that are much fresher. It's always a challenge in these situations, but never more so than this year - American Pharoah is the only horse that has started in both previous Triple Crown races.
The rest of the field has taken different paths. Seven - a remarkably high number - ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and then headed to the Belmont. One took a long break before the Preakness, ran in that race, and then is back here. The other two potential runners are new to the Triple Crown trail, and though they have both run since the Derby they are still coming in with four weeks of rest. So, every single horse in the field is fresher than American Pharoah - a defining excuse if the horse can't claim his place in history.
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Here's a look at the 10 fresh horses, and their odds to win the Belmont, according to Bovada:
Rested since the Derby
Frosted (5/1): He was a strong fourth in the Kentucky Derby and made a very impressive move around the final turn to get up into that position. I'd really have liked to see him back for the Preakness - the distance would have suited him well. This is a tougher spot for him, though, because his breeding does not make the mile and a half of the Belmont a guaranteed success. He's classy, though.
Materiality (15/2): After just three races heading into the Derby he was very raw, and that showed early when he was slow out of the gate and wound up at the back of the large pack. He handled adversity very nicely, though, and moved up for sixth. If he can learn from that and mature he has the talent to be a factor here. I still think we'll see his best later in the summer, though.
Mubtaahij (14/1): He had a lot going against him in the Derby. He had just come over from Dubai and faced a challenging hurdle in the quarantine process that foreign horses have to go through. He also had a European jockey who was new to the Derby. Now, after prepping for the last month in the States, he has a Belmont-based jockey. He should be better, but his underwhelming Derby performance and pedigree have me wondering if he can handle the Belmont distance.
Carpe Diem (16/1): At this price he's a bargain. His Derby was a disaster, but I'm willing to just throw that out. He was the third choice going into the Derby, so he is better than this price. Most significantly, his pedigree is a good fit - he has the early speed to be a factor if he needs to be but the stamina to stay in the game until the end. Worth a close look.
Keen Ice (25/1): I don't like much of what he has done in his career. His breeding stands out, though - sire Curlin and damsire Awesome Again both could run forever at a very high level. He's also a closer. That's not usually a good thing in this race, but the early speed could be crazy, so that could set up well for the horse.
War Story (33/1): There was absolutely nothing to like about his Derby. His owner is enthusiastic, though - and delusional. Everything is changing - he's going to have a new jockey, and the plan is apparently to set the early pace. Seems doubtful that it will work, but stranger things have happened.
Frammento (50/1): This horse seems to have little chance on paper. Nick Zito trains him, though. After ending Triple Crown hopes in 2004 and 2008 with long shots Birdstone and Da' Tara, you can never overlook Zito. I think I'm willing to risk it, though - the horse just doesn't look like much.
From the Peter Pan Stakes
Madefromlucky (22/1): He was no match for American Pharoah twice in a row in the spring, but he came back and won the Peter Pan stakes last time out - a week after the Derby. That race is at Belmont, so he is proven on this track. His pedigree is strong, too. Tonalist pulled off the Peter Pan/Belmont double last year, but he was the first since A.P. Indy back in 1992, so that isn't a particularly powerful trend.
Conquest Curlinate (33/1): Another son of Curlin, so the distance should be manageable. He has dangerous early speed, so he could be a factor in the early pace scenario. He will need to be, though, because I'm not sure he is good enough to come from the back. He's an improving horse, and it's eye-opening that his connections are willing to spend $75,000 to nominate him to this race because he wasn't nominated as a foal, but he is at this price for a reason.
From the Preakness
Tale of Verve (28/1): I was intrigued by this horse heading into the Preakness, though I can't pretend that I knew he was positioned to finish a strong second. Watching that race again, though, I can't help but feel that he was helped dramatically by circumstances - the bizarre weather and lousy races by Dortmund and Firing Line. He earned respect last time, but I'm still going to rule him out.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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