The following piece was part of John Cherwa’s daily racing column in the Los Angeles Times. Advance Belmont wagering is available Friday June 7th at Colonial Downs Rosie’s locations in New Kent and Vinton, at VA-Horseplay OTBs at Breakers Sports Grille, Ponies & Pints, Buckets Bar & Grill and The Windmill OTB Sports Grill, and on line at TVG.com, XpressBet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com. The big race itself will go to post Saturday June 8th at 6:37 PM. Good Luck!
Jon White’s Belmont rankings
The Belmont Stakes is here and we’ve got Jon White ready to share his insights. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita, he’s a licensed steward, and he’s the pre-eminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here it is, the final rankings of the final leg of the Triple Crown, courtesy of Xpressbet.com. Jon, the floor is yours.
“1. War of Will (2-1 morning line). Only Curlin (1:53.46) in 2007 has registered a faster final time in the Preakness than War of Will (1:54.34) this year since Louis Quatorze (1:53.40) in 1996. Sure, the track for this year’s Preakness was faster than usual. But even when taking that into consideration, I don’t think War of Will is getting the credit he probably deserves for his Preakness performance. His final time was faster than such other Preakness winners in the last 20 years as California Chrome (1:54.84), Big Brown (1:54.86), Afleet Alex (1:55.04), Rachel Alexandra (1:55.08), Point Given (1:55.40), Lookin At Lucky (1:55.47) and Smarty Jones (1:55.59).
“Daily Racing Form’s Matt Bernier wrote: ‘Most handicappers would immediately downgrade War of Will’s effort because of the excellent trip he earned in Baltimore, but I think his effort may be better than it appears at face value.’ Bernier pointed out that in the Preakness, War of Will was relatively close to a hot pace, yet still ended up with the fourth-fastest come home time in the race.
“Meanwhile, do you realize that when War of Will had a wide trip and finished fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs last Nov. 2, he managed to beat none other than the future winner of the historic Epsom Derby? That’s right. At last year’s Breeders’ Cup, 15-1 War of Will outran 3-1 favorite Anthony Van Dyke, who finished ninth. That very same Anthony Van Dyke won the 240th running of the original Derby of them all at Epsom Downs last Saturday.
“War of Will has the distinction of being the only one of the 10 entrants in Saturday’s 151st running of the Belmont to start in all three Triple Crown events this year. Of course, running in those three races at three different distances at three different tracks within the period of five weeks is a grind. Sweeping all three is difficult and rare. There have been just 13 Triple Crown winners, the most recent being Justify last year.
“Because War of Will is being asked to endure the entire Triple Crown grind, his task to win the 1 1/2-mile Belmont is made more difficult by having to face rivals–most notably Tacitus–who are fresher for not having run in the Preakness. This definitely is a concern when it comes to War of Will.
“But keep in mind the Preakness really was only War of Will’s second meaningful race since he won the Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 16. He certainly did not get much out of the March 23 Louisiana Derby. War of Will took an awkward start shortly after the start of the Louisiana Derby and finished ninth. He emerged from that race with a strained patellar ligament, according to trainer Mark Casse. Inasmuch as the May 4 Kentucky Derby (in which he was impeded approaching the five-sixteenths marker) and May 18 Preakness have been War of Will’s only real meaningful races since Feb. 16, he might have more gas in his tank for the Belmont than a lot of people think.
“2. Tacitus (9-5 morning-line favorite). I wrote last week that in terms of Belmont Stakes betting, I expect Tacitus to be the favorite, but not by a lot over War of Will. Belmont Park oddsmaker David Aragona obviously sees it the same way as he has pegged Tacitus as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, with War of Will a close second choice at 2-1.
“It’s not difficult to understand why so many people are picking Tacitus to win the Belmont. He has a lot going for him.
“By not running in the Preakness, Tacitus has the advantage of being fresher for the Belmont than War of Will.
“Tacitus’ trainer, jockey, owner and breeding also add to the colt’s appeal. His trainer is Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who sent out Drosselmeyer to win the 2010 Belmont. Tacitus’ jockey is Jose Ortiz, who won the 2017 Belmont aboard Tapwrit. Juddmonte Farms owns Tacitus. Juddmonte Farms won the 2003 Belmont with Empire Maker. Tacitus is a son of Tapit and 2014 Eclipse Award champion older female Close Hatches. Tapit has sired three of the last five Belmont Stakes winners (Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016 and Tapwrit in 2017).
“After winning the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial when he overcame a troubled trip, Tacitus exhibited good late energy in the Kentucky Derby. As far back as 16th early in the Run for the Roses, Tacitus finished fourth on the sloppy track and was elevated to third through the disqualification of Maximum Security. Maximum Security finished first but was DQ’d to 17th for causing interference to War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy approaching the five-sixteenth pole.
“All in all, Tacitus has an excellent chance to be posing for pictures after Saturday’s Belmont.
“3. Sir Winston (12-1). Casse trains Sir Winston in addition to War of Will. Sir Winston rallied to finish second in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes on May 11 at odds of 14-1, an effort that could set him up nicely for the longer Belmont Stakes.
“Not one of the 10 entrants in this year’s Belmont Stakes has won on the Belmont Park main track. Sir Winston is the only one of the 10 to have finished at least second. His pedigree suggests he might relish long-distance races. His sire is Awesome Again, who won the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1998. Sir Winston’s maternal grandsire is 2005 Belmont winner Afleet Alex.
“Sir Winston’s jockey is Joel Rosario, who won the 2014 Belmont on Tonalist.
“4. Spinoff (15-1). He seemed to detest running on the sloppy surface in the Kentucky Derby and wound up 18th. Spinoff finished second in the Louisiana Derby on March 23, a particularly good effort considering it was only his second race since last Aug. 12. In his 2019 debut, Spinoff raised eyebrows when he won by nearly 12 lengths at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 22.
“Spinoff’s trainer is Todd Pletcher, who has won the Belmont three times (Rags to Riches in 2007, Palace Malice in 2013 and Tapwrit in 2017). Spinoff’s jockey is Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who has finished second in the Belmont three times (Stay Thirsty in 2011, Commissioner in 2014 and Destin in 2016).
“5. Intrepid Heart (10-1). He’s trained by Pletcher. As mentioned, Pletcher has three Belmont Stakes victories to his credit. The Belmont Stakes has been a longtime goal for Intrepid Heart.
“Unraced as a 2-year-old, Intrepid Heart crushed maidens when unveiled at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 18. He then won a race at Keeneland by a half-length on April 5. Sent off as the favorite at a little under 6-5 in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, Intrepid Heart stumbled at the start and finished third, 4 3/4 lengths behind runner-up Sir Winston. Global Campaign won the Peter Pan by 1 1/4 lengths.
“It’s certainly understandable why the Belmont Stakes seems a good fit for Intrepid Heart because he’s by Tapit (sire of three Belmont winners) and a half-brother to Commissioner, who at odds of 28-1 finished second, a head behind Tonalist, in the 2014 Belmont.
“Intrepid Heart’s jockey is Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has won the Belmont twice (Rags to Riches in 2007 and Union Rags in 2012).
“My main concern regarding Intrepid Heart is he’s running in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont with just three races under his belt. But at least all three races have been at a mile or longer.
“6. Everfast (12-1). When he finished second in the Preakness at odds of 29-1, he spoiled a great many exacta, trifecta and superfecta wagers. That wasn’t the first time he’s finished second at big odds. He ran second in Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull Stakes last Feb. 2 when dismissed at 128-1. Between the Holy Bull and Preakness, Everfast lost three races by 18 1/2, 15 and 10 1/4 lengths.
“Everfast races for Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm. For Kelley, Oxbow finished second in the 2013 Belmont. Calumet Farm (long before Kelley assumed overship) won the Belmont twice, both times with a Triple Crown winner (Whirlaway in 1941 and Citation in 1948).
“7. Tax (15-1). Runner-up in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6, Tax was no factor in the Kentucky Derby when he finished 15th and was moved up to 14th through the disqualification of Maximum Security. Other than the Kentucky Derby, he has never finished worse than third.
“Irad Ortiz Jr. will pilot Tax in the Belmont. Ortiz won the 2016 Belmont with Creator.
“8. Bourbon War (12-1). He certainly had his share of supporters in the Preakness. Indeed, Bourbon War’s 5-1 odds in that race were shorter than War of Will’s 6-1. Bourbon War lacked early speed in the Preakness, never menaced and finished eighth.
“Bourbon War is another this year who could possibly give Tapit a fourth Belmont victory as a sire.
“In the Preakness, Bourbon War raced with blinkers for the first time. Trainer Mark Hennig is removing Bourbon War’s blinkers for the Belmont.
“Mike Smith is Bourbon War’s jockey. Hall of Famer Smith and Justify collaborated to take the 2018 Belmont when that colt became this country’s 13th Triple Crown winner. Smith also won the Belmont in 2010 aboard Drosselmeyer and in 2013 on Palace Malice.
9. Master Fencer (8-1). After winning two of six starts in his native Japan, Master Fencer exceeded the expectations of many in the Kentucky Derby. Virtually ignored by bettors, he lost by only four lengths at odds of 58-1 after being as far back as 23 lengths early. He finished seventh and was elevated to sixth via the DQ of Maximum Security. In light of Master Fencer’s Kentucky Derby rally, perhaps he will have a big say in the longer Belmont. But at morning line odds of 8-1, I just can’t get enthused.
“10. Joevia (30-1). He is expected to show early speed, as he did when he splashed his way to a 2 3/4-length triumph on a sloppy track May 12 in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park. When Tacitus and Tax finished first and second, respectively, in the April 6 Wood Memorial at the Big A, Joevia ended up seventh and was disqualified to 11th for causing interference early.
“In a nutshell, it will be a gigantic upset if Joevia wins the 2019 Belmont Stakes.”