The final leg of the Triple Crown is always one of the highlights of the whole year and the G1 Belmont, the headline race on a spectacular Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park, is well up to scratch this time. Champion juvenile colt Forte reappears after missing the Kentucky Derby and takes on Derby third-fifth-seventh Angel Of Empire, Hit Show and Tapit Trice, as well as Preakness winner National Treasure, in the annual searching test of stamina and class. Find out here the latest 2023 Belmont Stakes Odds and more!
G1, $1,500,000, 1m 4f dirt, 3yo
It’s time for the ‘Test of Champions’, and although there’s no Triple Crown on the line the Belmont is still an enormously prestigious race, and this year’s edition – the stand-alone highlight on a remarkably stakes-heavy day at Belmont Park on Saturday – is stronger and more competitive than most recent runnings.
And the ‘Test of Champions’ already has a champion involved, with the return of last year’s Eclipse Award-winning two-year-old colt Forte giving the race its focus. Four-time G1 winner Forte was favorite for the Kentucky Derby before being scratched on the day with a bruised foot, then veterinary regulations kept him out of the Preakness, but now he’s back after a ten-week layoff, fresh and ready to go.
It’s impossible to crab his form. On his first start of 2023, he swept the opposition aside in the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park, then he dug in hard to win the G1 Florida Derby at the same track by a length from Mage, who of course went on to win the Kentucky Derby and run third in the Preakness, with Il Miracolo beaten 13 and a quarter lengths into sixth at boxcar odds.
Stamina is obviously the concern, but that applies to every horse in the field, as US horses aren’t bred to run this long anymore. Forte has never gone beyond a mile-eighth and he was no sure thing to get the ten furlongs of the Derby, and no matter how much class a horse has, if he’s empty at the top of the stretch he can’t win. Forte’s trainer Todd Pletcher has won four Belmont races and his three successful colts all ran in the Derby. Forte has questions to answer.
Three horses come on from the Derby, where they ran very different races. Angel Of Empire was made favorite after Forte’s scratch and was well back before coming with a strong rush from mid-stretch, closing hard into third, beaten a length and a half. His barnmate Hit Show was always closer to the speed but was going nowhere fast from the eighth-pole and came home a one-paced fifth, four and three-quarter lengths further back. Tapit Trice – barnmate of Forte – was second-choice but never figured, too far back early, not enough kick late, two lengths behind Hit Show in seventh.
Angel Of Empire would have been second in a few more jumps and the way he finished off suggests that he could be happy going further, a stance backed up by his earlier romping victory in the mile-eighth G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. He went past Hit Show, who looked as though the needle on the gas tank was pointing to zero like he wasn’t there at Churchill Downs and rates by some way the best of Brad Cox’s three contenders.
Much more was expected from G1 Blue Grass winner Tapit Trice, who tamely coughed up his four-streak, and it’s possible that his hard race in the Blue Grass took the edge off him. He’ll probably do better now and is bred for the Belmont – his sire Tapit has produced four winners of the race – but although his profile is right, that Derby run should make bettors a little cautious.
Pace scenario vital for Treasure
Triple Crown winners aside, it’s been 17 years since the Preakness winner took the Belmont too, and that’s the path being traveled by National Treasure, trained by three-time Belmont winner Bob Baffert.
National Treasure finally showed what he could do at Pimlico, making his stakes breakthrough after a frustrating string of near-misses at Graded level, but he lucked out by being allowed a very soft lead, dawdling along on the front end and conserving his energy for a sprint down the stretch.
He got the better of the generally disappointing Blazing Sevens by a head, with Derby winner Mage scuppered by the funereal pace back in third. It probably wasn’t a great Preakness but it certainly showed that speed was National Treasure’s strength. If they let him amble then he could do it again, but he makes little appeal as a 12-furlong horse.
Back in fourth, beaten five lengths, was Red Route One, who is not the quickest of horses and might well be suited by this stamina test. Class is his problem, as he owns a zero-for-seven count at Graded level and is prone to getting a long way behind in his races before rallying too late. That may not matter here, as not all these horses will be moving forward in the final quarter-mile.
In his Preakness prep, a mile-eighth stakes at Oaklawn, he played those buzzer-beating tactics perfectly, getting up on the line to beat the pace-pressing Tapit Shoes by a head, and there are worse options for exotics players to use underneath.
Tapit Shoes also has that staying Tapit gene and that wasn’t a bad effort at all on his stakes debut. However, this is clearly a huge class hike for Cox’s third-string and he’s hard to like unless he is somehow transformed by the demands of this marathon distance.
Arcangelo figures as a wise-guy horse, with his minor-league trainer and his recent surge into the limelight on his stakes debut, when he came out on top in a fierce duel to take down the G3 Peter Pan here over a mile-eighth last month. The exacta horses drew well clear and there’s no doubt Arcangelo is upgrading fast, and his pedigree is a positive, but he’ll need a whole lot more against these established G1 horses.
2023 Belmont Stakes Odds and Prediction
Horse Betting Prediction: Stamina is the key and it’s a huge unknown for all. ANGEL OF EMPIRE looked like he could go longer when a rallying third in the Kentucky Derby, and if he can he certainly has the required class.
|Horse||Jockey||Odds by Jazzsports|
|Tapit Shoes||Jose Ortiz||+2000|
|Tapit Trice||Luis Saez||+300|
|National Treasure||John Velazquez||+500|
|II Miracolo||Marcos Meneses||+3000|
|Forte||Irad Ortiz Jr.||+250|
|Hit Show||Manny Franco||+1000|
|Angel of Empire||Flavien Prat||+350|
|Red Route One||Joel Rosario||+1500|
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