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.
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.