The Belmont Stakes field this year just keeps growing and growing. Thankfully, with the addition of the latest prospective entrant we have some much-needed clarity. Any horse can win a race, but the connections for Gettysburg basically have no intention of winning the race with him. He is a classic rabbit - a horse entered just to ensure that there is a strong early pace set in the race. There was a decided lack of early pace in this race as it was setting up. That was bad news for the owners and trainers of the closers, who need a fast early pace in order to be able to close well later on. The connections of one of those closers, Creator, just happen to also own this horse - a pure speedball. By entering him they know they will get the race they need.
It's not a glamorous or particularly noble aspect of racing, but it is a totally legal one that is being taken advantage of here.
Last race: On May 26 Gettysburg was third in an allowance at a mile here at Belmont. He pressed a reasonably swift early pace and took a turn on the lead briefly at the quarter mile mark. When you watch the replay it was clear that he was fading late - and it was only an eight-furlong race compared to 12 here. You could pretend to be concerned about that, but that would require believing for a second that there was any intention for him to still be in contention late in this race. Incidentally, that race was won by Chad Brown's Gift Box, who was considered for the Belmont for a while but doesn't seem pointed to this race now.
Career highlights: Prior to that allowance outing, the horse had raced four times this year and six in total. You only need to look at the Arkansas Derby to understand what is going on here, though. In that key Kentucky Derby prep Gettysburg was entered along with stablemate Creator - just as is the case here. He broke from the outside gate in the field of 12 but made a mad dash to take the lead right away. His job was simple and had two intended effects - he was to run as fast as he possibly could for as long as he possibly could. That would make sure that Creator would have a pace to run at when he went to close, and that would tire out heavy favorite Cupid, who likes to press the early pace. Things went exactly to form. The fractions of 22.81 for the first quarter, 46.33 for the half mile, and 1:10.61 for three-quarters were very fast. Gettysburg then tired and faded to fifth. Cupid faded sooner than Gettysburg did and wound up a disastrous 10th, knocking him off the Derby trail. Creator closed like a freight train and was the best of the closers on the day, winning by a length and a quarter. That is exactly the scenario they will be looking to recreate here.
Jockey: John Velazquez has ridden this horse recently, but he is otherwise occupied in this race, so Paco Lopez is taking over. Normally I'd be concerned that that is a step down in the caliber of rider, that he doesn't have a lot of high level success, and that he has a fraction of the knowledge of this track that Velazquez does. None of that matters, of course. Lopez is fully capable of sitting on a horse, steering it to the front, and letting it run as fast as it can until it stops. Heck, a border collie would ride the race this horse needs if he were allowed to climb into the saddle.
Trainer: This is where you fully realize just what the purpose of this horse is. Up until this point Todd Pletcher has trained this horse. He also has Destin and Stradivari - the two horses that were likely to vie somewhat unwillingly for the early lead before Gettysburg was entered. Those two horses have different ownership than Gettysburg. The same owners, though, also own Creator, who is trained by Steve Asmussen - a horse that will benefit tremendously from having Gettysburg in the race. For the purpose of this race, then, Gettysburg has been transferred from Pletcher to Asmussen. Asmussen won't know much about the horse and won't have time to make any tweaks or adjustments he might want to, but again that is not relevant here. Incidentally, the same ownership group also owns the breeding rights to Preakness winner Exaggerator, another closer who will benefit tremendously from a fast early pace - remember, he won the Preakness after the fastest opening quarter in the history of the race was posted. That Exaggerator's breeding value would increase with a second Triple Crown win is not a coincidence.
Pedigree: Do I really need to go through the charade of looking at whether this horse can get the mile and a half distance. He can't - not when he is going to be going flat out for the first six furlongs, anyway. If we want to ignore that for a second, though, we can. His sire, Pioneerof the Nile, was second in the Kentucky Derby in 2009. He foaled some horse named American Pharoah in his second crop of foals, and apparently that horse was pretty good at racing or something. Gettysburg's damsire Pulpit was a strong fourth in the Kentucky Derby in what wound up being the final race of his career. He has gone on to an excellent career as a stallion. Notably, he was the grandsire of both 2014 Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, and that year's Belmont winner and Triple Crown spoiler Tonalist. So, there are all sorts of solid stamina influences in Gettysburg's pedigree - and almost no chance he will get to access them.
Running style: We've covered this enough already, haven't we? He's generally likes to be on or near the lead. This time around he is either going to be on the lead at a suicidal pace or pushing the leaders at a suicidal pace. The former is much more likely than the latter.
Belmont outlook: He is not going to win. He is not going to come close. He is not going to finish in the superfecta. He is going to lead the race for the first half mile or more. He is going to make it much more likely that a horse from the back will win. He is going to make it a much tougher race for Velazquez and Javier Castellano aboard the Todd Pletcher horses, because they are going to have to be much more careful about judging the pace and figuring out where to be relative to it. Frankly, he makes the race more fun - and more challenging. From a handicapping perspective, though, he would be a really terrible bet. Odds aren't out yet but he is sure to be the longest shot on the board.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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