Lack of Pace in Belmont Offers Intriguing Setup
Memorial Weekend of racing is coming to a close, and preparations and moving forward for the June 11 Belmont Stakes. As of May 29, a total of 10 horses are set to start. Others could still enter and join in their bid to win at Belmont, but with Nyquist’s potential pace-setting speed gone with his withdrawal due to illness, the race sets up with little front-end speed.
None of the 10 seems to fit the traditional definition of a front-runner. Brody’s Cause, Cherry Wine, Creator, Destin, Exaggerator, Governor Malibu, Lani, Stradivari, Suddenbreakingnews and Wild About Deb.
So who sets the pace and shows early speed? Only two of the 10 have managed to lead as early as the second call in any race in their past performances. Those two are surprisingly Suddenbreakingnews and Exaggeragor, who managed to do it just once each. Suddenbreakingnews is a dead one-run closer, but he was a head in front at the half-mile marker when he broke his maiden in his second-career start last September.
Most race observers see plenty of solid late runners and closers in Preakness winner Exaggerator along with Suddenbreakingnews, Brody’s Cause, Creator, and Cherry Wine set to challenge down the stretch.
But Destin and Stradivari could be one’s to watch up front in the Belmont Stakes.
Destin is trained by Todd Pletcher, who also trains super speed horse Stradivari. So we’re not likely to see a speed duel up front between those two, but rather a strategy to have one be the faster front-end leader with the other saving late speed. Stradivari won his two races prior to the Preakness in breath-taking front-end fashion by a total of 25 lengths, and posted an Equibase Speed Figure (ESF) of 112 which was even stronger than Nyquist’s ESF in the Kentucky Derby. Destin set a track record in the 1 1/16 mile Tampa Bay Derby.
Just two Belmont entrants have had the lead at the three-quarter mile marker in their races: Stradivari and Governor Malibu, with the latter’s being in just one race in his New York-bred maiden race at Aqueduct last November; a race he won by six lengths using first-time Lasix.
Many expect the late closers to be running down the lane in the Belmont. Plenty of favorite bettors will be parlaying their Preakness profits on Exaggerator and he’ll likely be stalking a little closer to the leaders in a race that seemingly lacks pace and pressure up front. Handicappers will try to separate the early and late pace and determine who will take advantage as the horse’s bunch together around the far turn heading for home. But if ‘pace makes the race’, then this year’s Belmont Stakes will be settled with a slow early pace that lacks a true front-runner.