by Brian Nadeau of Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB TV.
Belmont Park: The GI, $1.5 million Belmont at 1 1/2 miles
#1 Governor Malibu (12-1): New York-bred gave odds-on favorite Unified a scare when second in the local prep, the GII Peter Pan last month, and is certainly on the rise for Clement, who won this race two years ago with Tonalist. Tactical sort won’t be too far back and drew perfectly, but as a son of Malibu Moon and out of a Langfuhr mare, he’s not exactly bred to relish this demanding 1 1/2 miles. Plus, that last was so far above and beyond his lifetime best that you have to think the only way he has to go is down; making him prove it.
#2 Destin (6-1): The first of two from Pletcher was a very commendable sixth in the Derby after having no chance, based on an eight-week layoff that was much more his owner’s doing than his trainer’s. Tactical son of Giant’s Causeway is eligible to trip out beautifully here, and he showed in his GII Tampa Bay Derby win in March that he can run a fast figure, which is something most of these have yet to prove they can do. And don’t forget, for as much of a struggle the Derby and Preakness have been for this barn, the Belmont has been quite a bright spot, not to mention that he’s got the best marathon jockey in the country in Castellano aboard; upset special.
#3 Cherry Wine (8-1): Deep, deep closer took advantage of two things that he needs to run his best when second in the Preakness–a hot pace and a muddy track–but there’s a good chance he gets neither on Saturday, which makes him very suspect. Plus, he doesn’t even get by Derby hero Nyquist late in Baltimore, as winner and fellow rival Exaggerator cut the former off in midstretch and certainly cost him the inch that he was beaten by. Romans has done a nice job picking his spots for this son of Paddy O’Prado, and he gives the impression he’ll get the 1 1/2 miles, but he also gives the impression that he’ll get it about fifth or sixth fastest in this field; playing against in all the slots.
#4 Suddenbreakingnews (10-1): Yet another deep closer who will hope for a pace meltdown, and he did run big to be fifth in the Derby, though it’s not like he was scaring anyone in the lane. Son of Mineshaft is out of an Afleet Alex (who won this in 2005) mare, so you know he’s bred to relish this trip, and Von Hemel was wise to skip the Preakness and aim for this spot, which is much more to his liking than that race would have been. But again, when you have no speed and have to pass the entire field, not to mention not get stopped and hit every hole, it’s asking an awful lot; underneath, if at all.
#5 Stradivari (5-1): Tricky read made a lot of friends in the Preakness, when he was fourth in what was his stakes debut, but it’s not like he did a lot of running that day, and someone had to be fourth, so tread lightly before you go too overboard on this likely underlay. The good news is that he’s trained by Pletcher and has a ton of upside, and as a son of Medaglia d’Oro, who was second in this race, he’s bred to handle the added ground, not to mention he’s tactical enough to get a nice trip just off the rabbit to his outside. The question is, however, if 5-1 or so is fair value on a horse who is a lot more reputation than actual substance at this point, and that’s what creates quite a conundrum; limiting his use to underneath only.
#6 Gettysburg (30-1): The aforementioned rabbit for both Exaggerator and Creator (WinStar owns pieces or all of all three horses) will go as fast as he can for as far as he can in the hopes of ensuring a hot pace and setting things up for his two buddies. Former Pletcher trainee is now with Asmussen and there is some talent here, but obviously it won’t have a chance to come out today. Son of Pioneerof the Nile is stakes placed and will do his job well, like he did when dueling with odds-on favorite Cupid in the GI Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in April and setting up Creator’s win, but after that it’s “get home safely” time; pop and stop.
#7 Seeking the Soul (30-1): Lightly raced runner stretches out to two turns for the first time and makes his stakes debut, too, and was just up by a neck in an MSW at Churchill Downs after chasing hot splits, so expect him to be closest to Gettysburg early. Stewart has had a history of running second at giant prices in Triple Crown races, but this son of Perfect Soul (IRE) seems way out of his element here, on both class and pedigree, so it’s tough to see the trend continuing today. If nothing else, he seems to have a bright future, but he needs a lot easier and a lot shorter to see it through; easy toss.
#8 Forever d’Oro (30-1): At the risk of taking the easy way out, “see Seeking the Soul:” could easily be used here, as this is a Fipke homebred trained by Stewart who just broke his maiden by a nose in his third lifetime start at CD. On the plus side, he did do it at two turns and is by Medaglia d’Oro, so you know this trip will be a lot more to his liking than to his stablemate’s. Of course, that’s not that big of a deal when you do it in slow time and now face some legitimate GI horses in a Triple Crown race, which brings us full circle; easy toss.
#9 Trojan Nation (30-1): So if you want to talk good 30-1 shots and bad 30-1 shots, then this maiden is clearly a good one, as he was beaten just a head in the GI Wood Memorial in April at Aqueduct, albeit over a muddy track in a very suspect race. Of course, he bombed when 16th in the Derby, but at least you know he’s played with some solid runners before, and as a son of Street Cry (IRE), he’s supposed to appreciate this added ground. Gallagher hasn’t shied from a fight with this colt, and he has the benefit of skipping the Derby and freshening up, but still, it’s a mighty big ask to break through in a race like this; maybe for just a sliver.
#10 Lani (20-1): The problem child of this year’s Triple Crown joins Exaggerator as the only horse to dance in all three, but he’s been doing the waltz while the Preakness winner has been doing the tango, so before you get too excited that he made up 22 lengths in Baltimore when fifth, don’t forget he has no speed at all and was 27 lengths back before making his run. Well-bred son of Tapit has improved in each U.S. start, after running ninth in the Derby, and Matsunaga said all along he’d be better with ground and experience, so today could be the day when he puts it all together. But still, he has yet to do any real running in either race and is another who will be at the mercy of the pace and way behind when they turn for home; tri kicker at best.
#11 Exaggerator (9-5): Preakness hero got all the best of it in Baltimore, when he got the sloppy track he loves and a suicidal pace that cost Nyquist in a big way, but give him credit, too, as he was much the best and reported home an easy winner to back up that fine second in the Derby. Son of Curlin has enough tactical speed so that he doesn’t need to drop out the back, which will give him a leg up on all the closers in here, and he’s trained beautifully for this for Keith Desormeaux, so it doesn’t appear that he’s coming up to a bounce or any regression after a long campaign. On paper he’s the best in here and either of his last two win this, probably for fun, but just maybe he stubs his toe after running two absolute smashers in a row; taking a deep breath and trying to beat on top.
#12 Brody’s Cause (20-1): Romans’ second runner is a lot like his first, in that he’s yet another horse in here without a speck of early speed who will need a pace meltdown to have a shot. And that’s before we mention he’s yet to do an inch of running away from his beloved Keeneland, where he’s won a pair of GI’s, including the Blue Grass in April, as he was a dreadful seventh in the Tampa Bay Derby and ran in that same position in Louisville, too. So sure, while he’s by Giant’s Causeway and bred for this trip, the fact of the matter is that he’s never run remotely fast enough even at Keeneland to win this, let alone anywhere else; no thanks.
#13 Creator (10-1): Aforementioned Arkansas Derby winner has a big stretch kick, even though it didn’t get a chance in Louisville, as he was knocked around and checked a few times, too, when 13th, so he’ll need a clean trip if he’s to have any chance. Asmussen charge really came to hand in Hot Springs, and you could make a case he’s the Brody’s Cause of Oaklawn Park, as his two wins came there, and he was a solid third in their GII Rebel in March, too. On paper he’s one of the few to have a figure to stack up with the big guns, but again, and not to be a broken record, but when you can see them all entering the far turn, it’s not really a recipe for success; tough to tout on top.