Bourbon War Odds to Win the 2019 Belmont Stakes with Picks and Predictions
The middle week of the gap between the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes is usually a little dull, and this year is no exception. Just not much goes on. The field is typically mostly set, but horses heading to the race aren't working out seriously, many of them aren't in New York yet, and all we can do is wait.
But the last couple of days of this week have brought a real surprise - and an interesting one at that. Bourbon War was a well-liked horse heading into the Preakness, going off as the second betting choice. But the race went really badly for him. It was pretty ugly. He quickly dropped out of Belmont consideration, and that wasn't surprising. But suddenly on Thursday, he had a workout that was solid enough, and Friday morning he was announced to be a Belmont definite starter, with Mike Smith booked to ride him. The Belmont doesn't set up as a hugely deep race this year, so this addition is an intriguing one - one worthy of writing a preview after I thought I was done with them.
Last race: The Preakness was just a mess. He was wide on the backstretch, very wide on the stretch, and was never a factor. He was eighth through the first half mile, dropped back as far as 11th, and wound up eighth again at the wire. It was a non-effort. His jockey in that race, Irad Ortiz Jr., says he picked up the bridle. That's code for saying that the horse just didn't care, and there was nothing the rider could do about it. Basically, it's a jockey throwing a horse under the bus - typically after the rider has been fired. He did show a little bit of a spark in the stretch, but not much. The best thing to take from the race is that it wasn't particularly draining for the horse, so he should be fresh enough here.
Career highlights: This is a horse that has teased us with his promise without yet truly delivering. He broke his maiden in November at Aqueduct in his first try, running impressively to overcome a lousy start. That earned him a shot in the Remsen, a December Derby prep race that featured a decent field, but he was a disappointingly flat fourth. He headed down to Florida for the winter and dropped down into an allowance race in January. Again, he won impressively. And again, he got into a Derby prep - the Fountain of Youth this time. And it went well - but not quite well enough. He finished second behind Code of Honor, who we saw in the Derby. It was definitely something to build on, so he was entered in the Florida Derby. That was one of the oddest prep races I remember. Maximum Security and Bodexpress took the lead early and were able to set very lethargic fractions. Glacial. And when you let speed horses run up front without speed, they are left with a lot in the tank in the stretch. So, they ran away with it. Bourbon War, typically a closer, understandably struggled to gain ground. He did as well as he could, finishing fourth, but he had an excuse. That left him short of the points needed to make the Derby, so the Preakness was the inevitable target.
Jockey: Mike Smith is on board for the first time here after Irad Ortiz Jr. has been aboard for every race the colt has had up to this point. Surely, we don't need to spend much time pumping up Smith. He's as good as there is. He's the defending Belmont champ, having wrapped up the Triple Crown aboard Justify. He's won this race two other times and has taken the first two legs of the Triple Crown twice each. He's as good as it gets. Ortiz is a very good rider, too - especially in New York - but on this stage I still think of him as an upgrade.
Trainer: Mark Hennig is a second-generation trainer, and he earned his chops in the same spot as so many of our top trainers do now - as an assistant for D. Wayne Lukas. He has been a very solid trainer, with almost 1,400 career wins. But he has played at this level only rarely. His only Triple Crown breakthrough was a third in the Preakness in 2004.
Pedigree: This is the biggest reason that the colt probably got back into the mix in this race. Like likely Belmont favorite Tacitus and Intrepid Heart, Bourbon War is a son of Tapit. I feel like we have covered why sons of Tapit are so well suited to this race, so I'll spare you. Just know that he is basically perfectly bred for this race, and it has shown out - he has sired three winners of this race since 2014. Being a son of Tapit means that there is a better chance that he can handle the brutal challenge of this race than there would be with sons of other horses. Bourbon War's damsire is Artie Schiller, who won the 2005 Breeders' Cup Mile. That adds an interesting mix of speed to the stamina of Tapit.
Running style: He's mostly a closer, but not a deep one. He should set up in the back third of the field early and look to make his move forward as the race progresses. That style is a potential concern here because there isn't a ton of natural speed in this race.
Belmont outlook: He's a tough horse to judge. There is so much to like, and he seems so promising. And add in the breeding and the jockey and he is tempting. But he has yet to deliver on this stage. I want to say that he is the third-best horse in this race - and that's impressive. But I still am not sure how accurate that actually is. He'll be a solid part of my exotics, and I hope I don't regret it.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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