Tale of Verve is, for me, one of those lessons in hindsight. In the leadup to the Preakness I couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to the long shot than it appeared, and I wrote about him as an intriguing long shot more than once. When it came down to crunch time, though, I couldn't pull the trigger - not in a big way, at least. I only had him in a small exacta with American Pharoah, but it wasn't enough to save the race for me. So, now that he is back - and somewhat more respected as the sixth choice in the potential Belmont field at 20/1 at Bovada - the question remains whether the second-place finish was a fluke or if it was a result that can be replicated in this longer and hopefully drier race.
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Last race: The horse had the race of his life in the Preakness. He was slow at the start and found himself more than 17 lengths off the pace at the first call. By the final turn he was still well off the lead, but he just kept moving forward when others faltered. He was no match for American Pharoah but was clearly second-best on the day. Given the step up in class it was a huge day.
Career highlights: It wasn't hard for the Preakness to be the race of his career because he hadn't had much of a career up to that point. In fact, he had only ever run in maiden races before the Preakness - and far too many of them. He failed to break his maiden five times before finally getting his first win. The win he finally got, though, was more than solid. It was also in the longest race he had run in - at the same distance as the Preakness. Given that he obviously liked that extra distance, it isn't a complete stretch that he would be pointed to this race. The fact that the Preakness was his one and only stakes appearance, though, is… unique.
Jockey: Joel Rosario had been on the horse for his last two starts, but not surprisingly he chose to go with Frosted, who he was also the regular rider for, in this race instead of Tale of Verve. That doesn't reflect poorly on this horse at all - it's the logical move. Luckily, the horse will be just fine. In fact, he is in better hands - Gary Stevens has taken over the reins. He's the sixth rider in eight starts for this horse, so the change will have no negative effect on the horse. Stevens is one of the great big-race riders of all time and has three victories in this race to his credit. He is a master of pace and of getting a horse to relax - two things that will be key for a relatively raw horse like this one. It's a very good fit.
Trainer: Dallas Stewart, like fellow trainers Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin in this race, and countless others in the profession, started off as an assistant for D. Wayne Lukas. During that time he first built the connection with Gary Stevens. Among other horses, Stewart was responsible for the care of Thunder Gulch, and Stevens rode him to wins in the Derby and Belmont. Stewart has been on his own for a long time, primarily sticking around Louisiana but branching out to the national scene with some success over the years. Lately he has made a habit of being the bridesmaid in Triple Crown races - besides the Preakness he was also second in the Derby in both 2013 and 2014.
Pedigree: Tale of Verve is a homebred son of Tale of Ekati. That horse was second in the Derby and sixth in the Belmont in 2008. Tale of Ekati's damsire was Sunday Silence, who won the Derby and Preakness but was crushed by Easy Goer in the Belmont. Tale of Ekati is also a grandson of the great Storm Cat, though that doesn't help out too much with stamina. Tale of Verve's damsire is Unbridled, who won the Derby and was second in the Preakness and fourth in the Belmont. Add it all up and there is some stamina there, but it wouldn't be any more surprising if he struggled with the Belmont distance than it would be if he was fine with it.
Running style: He's not an out-of-the-clouds style closer, but he does like to run from well behind early on. In a race that is likely to be congested and hotly-contended up front early on, that is not a bad thing to be - it will keep him out of trouble and should give him room to move. The problem, though, is that the Belmont is traditionally not a race that treats horses from off the pace well.
Belmont outlook: There is more to this horse than the first five races of his career suggests. I don't think we'll see a repeat of his last race, though. The circumstances there suited him well, and he took advantage of a big opportunity - one that isn't likely to present itself again. He can't rely on the top contenders falling flat like Dortmund and Firing Line did last time. He'll have a strong career, but this won't be a highlight of it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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