By John Pricci

ELMONT—This season, for whatever reason, the concept of Triple Crown is giving off the vibe that Thoroughbred racing’s most popular foot forward is as fractured as the state of the game itself.

Think about it: Were it not for War of Will’s athleticism, no Thoroughbred would have made all three dances. And if not for his trainer and jockey, Wow might not have made the last two legs at all.

But, as Mark Casse explained, when he started following the game at age eight and in the footsteps of his larger-than-life horseman and father, Norman, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were the greatest American races of them all.

“There was no Breeders’ Cup, no Pegasus, there was only the Triple Crown. And I believe that if you can run in all three races, you should.”

And so here is Team WOW, drawn in post 9 of 10 and installed a 2-1 second choice behind 9-5 Tacitus, who breaks immediately to his right on the extreme outside. Linemaker David Aragona thinks it is a two-horse race and that the public will see it the same way.

Post positions really shouldn’t matter going a mile and a half, one complete circumference of this country’s largest racetrack. And with their smoothly aggressive partners Tyler Gaffalione and Jose Ortiz, respectively, on board, the pace could be an honestly contested one. We shall see.

But the potential dynamics makes Belmont 151 a better race for everyone, especially the fans. Perhaps the result will turn out to be indelibly etched, hopefully for the right reasons: No one in racing takes anything for granted anymore.

Here, then, a lightning-round look at the field, in post-position order with early line odds, followed by the jockey and trainer and the opinions of the HRI staff contributor:

1 [30/1] Joevia (Lezcano J, Sacco G) When it became clear that two serious horses, Game Winner and Owendale, would not compete, the connections of this speed type figured why not? The likely pacesetter from the rail assuming a clean break and aggressive tactics.

2 [12/1] Everfast (Saez L, Romans D) Everyone is still wondering where that shotgun-finish big-effort placing in the Preakness came from and whether they will see it again going farther and returning on short rest. They wondered the same thing about Owendale in Baltimore and he showed up just fine. No easy answer but may overachieve again.

3 [8/1] Master Fencer (Leparoux J R, Tsunoda K) Derby fans still talking about his herculean effort under adverse and diverse conditions, but he’s still a bit green and his preparation has not gone smoothly. Can’t know with any kind of certitude what to expect. Linemaker showing too much respect?

4 [15/1] Tax (Ortiz, Jr. I, Gargan D) The will-he or won’t-he question has been answered and it turns out that he will contest the Belmont. Tactical speedster is nicely drawn, his sloppy track Derby appears a throw-out and, since he’s entered, he must be good to go.

5 [12/1] Bourbon War (Smith M E, Hennig M) Talk about throw-outs, what was his Preakness all about? Many expected he would run well and he just never showed up. The blinkers that failed in Baltimore are gone. Mike Smith can take a horse out of its comfort zone and surprise a lot of people. A puzzler that cannot be taken too lightly.

6 [15/1] Spinoff (Castellano J, Pletcher T) The first of two Todd Pletcher trainees, a man who understands what it takes to not only run well in this race but to win, thrice, often with a career best performance. Yet another Derby throw-out that looks very live in this spot with Javier.

7 [12/1] Sir Winston (Rosario J, Casse M) Have been a Peter Pan prep fan since Coastal (aargh!) and Lemon Drop Kid (yeah!)--and love the way he finished up over the track going nine furlongs moving forward but with room to grow. May get the contested pace he would love.

8 [10/1] Intrepid Heart (Velazquez J R, Pletcher T) Had a stumbling start at the Peter Pan and still finished with interest while being forced out of best, albeit lightly-raced game. Working strongly since and looms another Pletcher runner that figures to run well enough and win if good enough.

9 [2/1] War of Will (Gaffalione T, Casse M) Big fan of this horse but he went from doing very little to a lot within 14 days and those efforts must have sapped some reserves as he has not had a timed workout since Baltimore. Have never seen a Belmont horse gallop successfully into this race. One might have; I’ve just not seen it.

10 [9/5] Tacitus (Ortiz J L, Mott W) Five weeks fresh and the added distance and promise of a fast track all augur well. He’s working strongly and is most likely to live up to the Belmont hype as the event’s most probable winner. Jose will have a perfect seat for whatever unfolds.

HRI On the Belmont Gold Cup-Belmont Stakes Double

TOM JICHA


Rae Atoll--This is Euro's game. Won 2-mile stakes in Germany last month

Amade--Distance no problem but his best have come on fake dirt

Red Knight--Best of U.S. entrants; Mott could have a big weekend

Mostasadir--Solid record over routes but another synthetic specialist

***
War of Will-- Will make people wonder what might have been

Tacitus--If it's not War of Will, it will be him

Spinoff--Someone has to be third, why not Todd?

Intrepid Heart--Same reasoning as Spinoff

MARK BERNER


Red Knight had trouble in last and won only prior try at this distance.

Arklow just missed in Man o' War and stretches out.

Ran Atoll won first start for new connections and is well-bred for the distance.

Amade drops weight and likes distance, first-time Lasix.

***

Tacitus finished well after bottled up behind horses for first mile of Derby

Tax can complete the exacta at a long price

War of Will comes off top effort and has to go 12F without a workout in 5 weeks

Bourbon War has shown promise and his last is a throwout.


INDULTO


Arklow – Faced toughest competition

Canessar – Barely beaten previous renewal

Red Knight – Has won at the distance

Hunter O’Reilly – Possible at a price

***

War of Will – Preakness winner one to beat

Everfast – Preakness placer should improve

Master Fencer – Made up 19 lengths in Derby

Tacitus – Wood winner has highest Derby finish

JOHN PRICCI

Red Knight has come of age as gelded 5-year-old; sharp works for Mott; won at trip.

Amade makes U.S. debut shedding top weights, wants firm U.S. soil; attracts patient Prat and gets this trip.

Raa Atoll won 4-year-old debut with style; returns quickly in Euro fashion and a marathon specialist.

Highland Sky prone to bad trips but a trier who keeps coming at you; super-exotics value.

***

Tacitus is the package: talent, athleticism, pedigree, connections and scheduling

Sir Winston would be no surprise given sharp run over track, good development pattern and attracts the oft-brilliant Rosario.

War of Will gives the impression that he may be over the top of condition, a question that’s clearly on his trainer’s mind as well.

Bourbon War, for various, asundry reasons has had excuses in his last four; finally ready for best now but, of course, it’s a question of ability at the route.

GOLD CUP CONSENSUS


Red Knight (12)
Raa Atoll (9)
Arklow (8)
Amade (7)

***

BELMONT STAKES CONSENSUS


Tacitus (14)
War of Will (14)
Everfast (3)
Sir Winston (3)
Tax (3)

©John Pricci, HorseRaceInsider.com, June 6, 2019, All Rights Reserved