Before the Preakness Stakes, most people hoped that the storyline for the Belmont Stakes would be a pursuit of another Triple Crown by Nyquist a year after American Pharoah's - just as Affirmed followed Seattle Slew in 1977 and 1978 the last time we had a Triple Crown winner. After Exaggerator pulled off the slight upset we were left with a story only slightly less compelling - the prospect of a grudge match between the two classic winners. But then Nyquist headed to the sidelines - slowed down by an elevated white blood cell count.
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Now, I'm as optimistic as anyone when it comes to finding the bright side of any race, but I'll be working very hard to find the thrill in this Belmont. It's not that it isn't a compelling race - there are some interesting horses here, and anything can happen at Belmont. It just doesn't have the edge-of-the-seat excitement that we always hope for in this race.
The race isn't taking shape as quickly as we might expect - likely because owners and trainers weren't interested in messing with Nyquist and Exaggerator, so they are taking their time reshaping their plans. It will likely be a while before we know for sure what this race will look like, but we do have some clues about who will be running (futures odds, when available, are from Bovada ):
Exaggerator (+110): With Nyquist gone, and without a major star waiting in the wings, the Preakness winner is poised to be a very heavy favorite here. There is a lot to like - his breeding is solid, and his talent is immense. There are a couple of concerns, though. For starters, he is likely one of just two horses to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, so fatigue will be a concern. Perhaps more concerning, there isn't a whole lot of early speed in the field so far, which could make it tough for him to get the race he needs as a closer. Still, he'll be the horse to beat - and a very tough horse to bet on given what will be a very low price.
Suddenbreakingnews (+700): After a solid fifth in the Derby and time to recharge, Suddenbreakingnews is back for more. He also runs from well off the pace, so the concerns about early pace apply to him, too.
Cherry Wine (+800): His second-place showing in the Preakness was legitimate - he had the early pace he needed, and he did a fine job of taking advantage of it. Impressive. Can he replicate it over a longer distance, and without suicidal early fractions, though? Do you notice a recurring theme developing in this race yet?
Stradivari (+900): He was a respectable fourth in the Preakness but was far from the wonder horse that he had looked like against lesser competition. Now will Todd Pletcher bring him back for a second Triple Crown race in a row - something he rarely does? With another horse in the field for Pletcher, I have my doubts. He's not a closer like the first three, but he likes to follow behind the early pace. Without natural leaders he could be forced to go faster early than he would like to.
Destin (+900): This is the Pletcher horse we are very likely to see, as he looks to build on his sixth-place finish in the Derby. Like Stradivari, he would prefer to sit behind the early pace.
Brody's Cause (+1400): He was seventh in the Derby, and he's back for more. He's a better horse than he was that day. He has a very familiar problem, though - he's a deep closer that could find himself without a pace to close on. He won the Blue Grass, though, and Cherry Wine was only third in that race, so there are reasons to think he could be solid here.
Lani (+1400): They do things differently in Japan, I guess. This horse has underwhelmed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and hasn't shown a lot to make us think he can suddenly improve, yet his connections seem set on running him here. I'm far from optimistic.
The Peter Pan survivors: Unified won the Peter Pan at Belmont the week before the Preakness but isn't expected back in this race. Second-place finisher Governor Malibu, who was disqualified after winning the Federico Tesio, the key Maryland Preakness prep, before the Peter Pan, is expected to be in the field. He runs for Christophe Clement, who won the Belmont two years ago with Tonalist after winning the Peter Pan. At this point you will be shocked to hear that Governor Malibu prefers to ride well off the pace early on. Third-place Peter Pan finisher Wild About Deb is also possible for this race, but he's another one who takes time to get rolling.
Mo Tom (+1600): Another deep closer who didn't have his best day at the Derby - he was eighth. He's better than that, but will have pace issues here - I could just cut and paste this whole article.
Creator (+2200): See what I said about Mo Tom and repeat - except Creator was 12th in that race.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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