Keep an eye on Tacitus
There’s no Triple Crown on the line in this year’s Belmont Stakes slated for Saturday. But the race still promises to be a competitive showdown among some of the top 3-year-olds in the country, headed by Preakness Stakes winner War of Will.
I know that you’re all anxious for my prediction, but first allow me to share five interesting facts relating the race known as “The Test of Champions”.
The Belmont Stakes is traditionally the final and longest of the three Triple Crown races as well as being the oldest. It’s contested at a distance of 1 ½ miles and was first held in 1867. This year is the 151st running, compared with this year’s 145th Kentucky Derby and 144th Preakness Stakes.
Historically, the betting favorite has won the Belmont Stakes 42 percent of the time (63 of 150 runnings) but just three of the last 15 editions featured winning favorites: Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015) and Afleet Alex (2005).
It was two Triple Crown winners that produced the most dominant performances in the Belmont. Secretariat won by 31 lengths in 1973 and Count Fleet won by 25 lengths 30 years prior.
The first Belmont Stakes featured a total purse of $2,500, with the filly Ruthless taking home the $1,850 winner’s share. This year’s race is worth $1.5 million including $800,000 for the winner.
Todd Pletcher has more wins in the Belmont than any other trainer in this year’s race, with three: filly Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013), and Tapwrit (2017). This year he will have two horses, Intrepid Heart and Spinoff, entered in the race.
That ends my history lesson. Now I will endeavor to predict the future.
I really like Tacitus, as I did in the Derby, where he ended up third after the disqualification of Maximum Security. And, due to his pedigree, I believe he will run well again and definitely think he’ll finish among the first three. The Mott trainee has three wins in five career starts and will certainly be included in all my exactas and my trifecta box. As a son of Tapit — as was the 2017 Belmont winner Tapwrit — Tacitus should thrive at the 1.5-mile marathon distance of the race.
However in his two most impressive victories — the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial — Tacitus rallied from behind and benefitted from fast early paces. With longshot Joevia the only potential speed horse entered, he is not guaranteed to get the fast early pace he needs to set up his late kick. And, currently at 11-8 in the early odds, he doesn't provide a lot, if any, value.
I will tell you that I’m high on Intrepid Heart, a double-digit long shot at 14-1. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Intrepid Heart has just three starts (all this year), but has won two of them. In his last race, the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, he stumbled at the start but still rallied to finish third.
Intrepid Heart certainly has the breeding to win the Belmont. This colt is also sired by Tapit who seems to specialize in producing Belmont winners with two of the last three being his offspring: Creator in 2016 and Tapwrit in 2017. And his dam sire, Touch Gold, won the 1997 Belmont Stakes.
To complete my trifectas, I’m going to use Everfast and Sir Winston, currently offered at 10-1 and 16-1, respectively. And, for those of you already familiar with the entries, that means I’m not using either Preakness winner War of Will or the Japanese horse Master Fencer.
I feel any good handicapper must include a longshot or two in his exotic wagers especially in this race. Picking the favorite to win the Derby and Preakness has proven in recent years to not be a bad move, as they’ve often win those races. But that has not been the case in this third and final leg. In fact, the odds-on favorite has won this event just seven times in the last 39 years.
From what I’ve observed, the other big key to winning this race is rest. There have only been five horses that have run at Pimlico and won here in the last 18 years. Three weeks is a quick return, especially for inexperienced three-year-olds, which is one of the main reasons I’m discounting War of Will’s chances.
There you have it. My handicapping shows that the first four across the finish line will be Tacitus, Intrepid Heart, Sir Winston and Everfast, although by boxing my exactas and trifectas with those four, I’ll be happy with any combination with them finishing in the money.