The 2017 edition of the Belmont Stakes will certainly not go down as the best in the history of that race. Not by a wide margin. The Derby and Preakness winners are both staying home, strong favorite Classic Empire has been scratched with an abscess, and now as I write this late on Wednesday night rumors have emerged that both Epicharis and Gormley have potential health issues that could impact their ability to shine as well. While this isn't likely to be a race that we tell our grandchildren about, we are still in for a serious treat on Saturday.
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The spring Belmont meet has always been strong. In recent years, though, the decision has been made to combine many of their best races onto one card. The Belmont Stakes undercard was always fairly solid, but now it's like a second Breeders' Cup in June. And that's not an exaggeration - this is the deepest and most interesting card of racing outside of the Super Bowl of racing every November. Aside from the Belmont Stakes, there are five other Grade 1 races, two Grade 2s, and a Grade 3. And the big card has drawn some big names, too. It's going to be a heck of a day. Here's a look at some of the highlights of the undercard that should be much better than the main event (odds are morning line odds):
Ogden Phipps: This isn't the richest race on the undercard - that's the Met Mile - but it's the most anticipated. Songbird (1/2), the great mare who is the best active horse on the continent not named Arrogate, is leaving her California home and making her seasonal debut here. There are six other horses in the field, and Carina Mia (6/1) and Paid Up Subscriber (8/1) are both nice horses, but no one cares. Money will be poured onto the back of Songbird, and everyone will be looking to see if she can rebound from her second-place finish last time out in the Breeders' Cup Distaff - a result that brings not an ounce of shame as it came in one of the great races in recent memory - and match the winning result in her other 11 outings.
Met Mile: This race is technically called the Metropolitan Handicap. However, whatever you want to call it, it's one of the great mile races in the country. It's not purely a race for milers and sprinters, though. Ghostzapper won this race in 2004 en route to his Breeders' Cup Classic title and Horse of the Year crown, and Palace Malice and Shackleford both won it the year after their Triple Crown race victories. It remains to be seen if this race produces any greats, but it is a very interesting field. Bob Baffert's Mor Spirit (5/2) has been spectacular in his last two wins and could easily be good enough again here if he can maintain his form. He's up against a very good one in Sharp Azteca (7/2), though, who was a strong second in the Godolphin Mile on the Dubai World Cup undercard last time out. Mohaymen, who was unbeaten and looked spectacular on the road to the Triple Crown last year before finishing a disappointing fourth in both the Florida and Kentucky Derby, is an interesting long shot at 20/1. He has not yet found his form again since last spring, but in his prime he was special and he's easy to cheer for - easier to cheer for than to bet on, unfortunately.
Woody Stephens: In some ways the Belmont Stakes is only the second most interesting race for three year old colts on this card. This race is at seven furlongs and often acts as a reset for horses that fell off the Derby trail sometime in the spring. That's the case for horses like 5/2 favorite American Anthem and 8/1 Petrov. The most intriguing horse here, though, is Wild Shot, who was very impressive on the Derby undercard and is back to do it again. At 4/1 he's worth a close look.
Brooklyn Invitational: The Belmont isn't the only marathon on this card. The Brooklyn is over the same mile and a half distance, but on the grass and for older horses. I love watching veteran warriors go to battle in plodding grass races, and this one should be an epic. There are eight horses entered, but it should be essentially a match race between two. Send It In (7/5) and Tu Brutus (2/1) had a battle for the ages in the Excelsior at Aqueduct in April. Send It In got the half-length win, and the third-place horse was way, way back - 14 lengths, in fact. If they are half as good again here then one of them will win, and the race will be a classic.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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