Coming into the Kentucky Derby, there were, depending on who you asked, either a Big 2 or Big 3 at the top of the equine heap. Bob Baffert's pair of American Pharoah and Dortmund were consistently praised, but in the eyes of many Carpe Diem was right there with them. While the other two had good days, though, Carpe Diem was just plain lousy. And without a real excuse. Now he comes into this race as a bit of an afterthought. So, was he overhyped back then? Or can he bounce back here?
Last race: The horse was underwhelming in the Derby, and there was really no reason for it. He just wasn't good enough on that day. He was positioned fine early on, sitting just off the pace and out of trouble. The further the race went along, though, the less impressive he was. He basically stayed in the same place while other horses moved around him. There was no spark or seeming interest in the race, and in the end he wound up a non-threatening 10th. He didn't get bumped or encounter traffic troubles. There are no reports that he bled or was otherwise injured. He just wasn't good enough on the day. We have to figure out if it was a symptom of bigger issues or just a day to forget.
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Career highlights: There had been plenty before the Derby. He had three wins in graded stakes, most recently a very solid win in the Blue Grass Stakes, which is one of the major Derby prep races. His lone second-place finish came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The pace was haywire that day, though, and he was the only one of the top horses in the field that overcame the adversity to have a good day.
Jockey: We don't know yet. Todd Pletcher has not made his jockey assignments for his three entrants as I write this. He has said that John Velazquez will have one, Javier Castellano another, and a third jockey will get the leftover mount. Velazquez has been on board of this horse for every start and chose him over Materiality in the Derby, so he is a reasonable bet to wind up here. Velazquez has won this race twice, and Castellano was named top jockey in the country the last two years, so the horse will be in good hands no matter what.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher is much better in the Belmont Stakes than the Kentucky Derby. Thankfully. He has won this race twice - with filly Rags to Riches and Palace Malice - and finished second four times, including last year with Commissioner. He has also won enough Belmont and New York training titles that it would take a day to count them all. He's capable in this race and very comfortable with the track.
Pedigree: There is a lot to like here. Sire Giant's Causeway was the European Horse of the Year in 2000. He's a great grandson of both Northern Dancer and Secretariat, so stamina isn't an issue in his offspring. Carpe Diem's damsire is Unbridled's Song. He was a high-level sire as well. His son Dunkirk was second in the Belmont, which is as close as he has come in the race so far. Carpe Diem should be fine with the distance here. He has the stamina he needs and also a fair bit of tactical speed, which should help him avoid getting left behind if things get crazy early on in this race - which could happen.
Running style: He won his debut on the lead but is much more likely to be sitting just off that early pace. He will very likely be in contact with the leaders, though. He wasn't just once - in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile when the early fractions were just insane. In all four of his wins he has been in the lead at the top of the stretch, so you can look for his move around the final turn - though it might come a bit later with the endless stretch at Belmont.
Belmont outlook: I like this horse in this spot quite a lot. I think he is being overlooked by the public because of the lousy Derby showing - though his futures odds have sadly fallen from 16/1 to 12/1 in recent days, so he's not as ignored as he was. He fired a bullet in training a couple of days ago, and I'm willing to just give him a mulligan for that last ugly race. He's the horse who has the best shot to beat American Pharoah if all horses were at their best. He could represent value.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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