Why the Belmont Stakes will be the best Triple Crown race of the year

National Treasure, with jockey John Velazquez, edges Blazing Sevens to win the Preakness Stakes.
National Treasure, with jockey John Velazquez, edges Blazing Sevens to win the Preakness Stakes on May 20. National Treasure will run in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

It’s not often that the best of the Triple Crown races is the last one but that’s how it is this year with 155th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. It has arguably the best 3-year-old in Forte, the winner of the Preakness Stakes in National Treasure and eight other horses who should be fresh enough to handle the always tricky 1½-mile course.

This year’s Kentucky Derby was clouded in a series of horse deaths and late scratches that watered down the field to 18 horses in the 20-gate field. Forte was scratched the morning of the Derby because of a bruise on his hoof. The two best horses from California, Practical Move and Skinner, were scratched before race day when both developed a temperature. Saffie Joseph Jr. had to scratch his horse, Lord Miles, after the trainer was suspended after two of his horses had sudden death incidents in the week before the Derby.

The Preakness field was lacking appeal with only one horse that ran in the Kentucky Derby, the winner Mage. The field was scratched down to seven, including two horses who were automatic qualifiers despite less than impressive past performances.


The legendary home of the Kentucky Derby moves the remainder of its meet to Ellis Park after 12 horses die on the track since April 27.

June 2, 2023

And now we have the race that immodestly calls itself “The Test of Champions” because of its length. It might be the only time in a horse’s career that they run that far on a dirt surface.

Forte will be the presumptive favorite having last raced in the Florida Derby on April 1. He was the Kentucky Derby favorite but took an awkward step late in the week and rumors swirled about him going on the growing list of scratched horses. The state veterinarians ordered him to jog on the track the morning of the race and, after a heated exchange with owner Mike Repole, he was scratched from the race.

Since he was scratched by the state, he was placed on a “veterinarian’s list,” which made him ineligible for 14 days, plus he had to pass a blood test. That kept him from running in the Preakness and he was pointed toward the Belmont. His presence alone makes this a very interesting race.

Here are some other storylines to watch for this week.


Haven’t horses been dying at an alarming rate?

Horses gallop during the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 6.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)


Racing has its biggest safety issue since 30 horses died at Santa Anita in 2019. Since April 27, 12 horses have perished at Churchill Downs, causing the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) to recommend that racing be suspended there. The track announced it was doing so because “of an abundance of caution.” The caution included running full cards on Saturday and Sunday while allowing training to continue at the track. Meanwhile, starting Saturday, racing will be moved to Churchill-owned Ellis Park, some 130 miles away. Pimlico Race Course had one racing fatality in its short meeting surrounding the Preakness.

Now, it’s Belmont’s turn to be in the spotlight. Since May 13, it has had four racing or training fatalities, the latest on Thursday. For comparison, Santa Anita had its last racing or training fatality on March 18. So, the scrutiny couldn’t be higher on Belmont and the longtime survival of the sport could hang in the balance.

Bob Baffert wins the Hollywood Gold Cup for a record ninth time with Defunded, but a spike in horse racing deaths remains a problem for the sport.

May 29, 2023


Which tactics work in 1½-mile race?

The start of the 154th running of the Belmont Stakes on June 11, 2022.
(Vera Nieuwenhuis / Associated Press)

You would think the longer the race the better late runners do in it because they have the best finishing kick. That’s not the case. The last two winners of the Triple Crown, Justify and American Pharoah, led the entire race. The same goes for Secretariat, who never looked back after taking the lead early in the race.


To find out how to win the race, it was asked of Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah, how to come out on top.

“It’s a little challenging,” Espinzoa said. “It’s easier to ride the front-runner because you can slow down and control the pace, but not too much. If you can go slow enough, it will be tough for the other horses to catch you. I find you make a mistake if you spend too much time thinking about a mile-and-a-half.

“The horse will run 1½ miles like 1⅛ miles. You have to get the horse running out of the gate and get to the first turn. That’s when you set your pace. Then the only difference is knowing when to let your horse run. You need to show patience and not ask too early.”


Which Southern California horses should I watch for?

Arabian Lion, with jockey John Velazquez, wins The Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 20.
(Julia Nikhinson / Associated Press)

There are seven Southern California-based horses at Belmont Park this weekend but only one in the big race. National Treasure, winner of the Preakness, will go for trainer Bob Baffert and be ridden by John Velazquez. On Friday, Amy C, winner of three of her last four, including the Las Cienegas Stakes, will go seven furlongs on the turf for trainer Phil D’Amato. Baffert will have Arabian Lion, winner of the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico two weeks ago, and Fort Bragg, second in the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day, going in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes for 3-year-olds. Trainer Doug O’Neill has Anarchist, winner of the Jacques Cartier Stakes at Woodbine, set for the 6½-furlong True North.


The best undercard race might be the Metropolitan Handicap, otherwise known as the Met Mile, with the O’Neill-trained Slow Down Andy, winner of the Del Mar and Sunland Derbies last year, and Mark Glatt-trained Dr. Schivel, winner of the Santa Anita Sprint Championship last year. Yet all eye’s will be on Cody’s Wish, winner of eight of his last nine races, including the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Hours after having to euthanize a horse following an on-track injury, trainer Bob Baffert earned his record eighth Preakness win with National Treasure.

May 20, 2023


What’s the best under-the-radar angle?

Kentucky Derby entrant Tapit Trice works out at Churchill Downs on May 2.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

With a race as long as the Belmont, one factor to consider is horses whose sire have excelled at producing distance-loving runners. One dominant name comes up — Tapit. The now 22-year-old has sired four Belmont Stakes winners in eight years. It started in 2014 with Tonalist and was followed by Creator (2016), Tapwrit (2017) and Essential Quality (2021). Of the 12 Belmont starters sired by Tapit, in addition to the four wins, there have been two seconds and two thirds.

Website did the added research and found that seven of those horses ran in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness. All of those horses hit the board finishing with three wins, two seconds and two thirds.


So, how does it play this year? There is Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness. The Todd Pletcher trainee will get an added look because of his name, as will Tapit Shoes, who runs for Brad Cox. Tapit Shoes has never run in a graded stakes. If you are looking for a little second-generation Tapit, the mares of Arcangelo, Hit Show and Red Route One were all sired by Tapit.