Anything might happen in Belmont lacking Derby and/or Preakness winner

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

May 24th, 2017

While neither horse has been officially withdrawn from consideration for the June 10 Belmont S. (G1), it's all but expected Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming and Preakness (G1) hero Cloud Computing will both take a pass on the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion."

A grueling lap around "Big Sandy" is not something Always Dreaming might necessarily be up to at the moment following an eighth-place finish at Pimlico last weekend, while the three-week spacing between the Preakness and Belmont might not be considered ideal for Cloud Computing in trainer Chad Brown's estimation. Instead, clarity in the championship race might have to wait for the major summer and fall events.

If those two colts do indeed pass on the Belmont, it will be the fifth time since 2000 that the longest Triple Crown event will be without either the Derby or Preakness winner. What was once a historical rarity has become more common.

Before 2000, you had to go back to 1970 to find a Belmont without the winner of either of the first two classics (Preakness winner Personality was a late scratch). The four previous occurrences before that were 1954, 1945 (when the three Triple Crown races were compressed into a 15-day span following the lifting of the racing ban after VE-Day), 1936, and 1933.

The most recent was 2012, when Derby-Preakness winner I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the Belmont, leaving 5-2 second choice Union Rags to edge 4-1 chance Paynter in a thrilling finish. Aside from Union Rags, the other three Belmonts without classic winners this century have proven ripe for mild-to-significant upsets.

Despite not having hit the board in six starts since his debut victory, Commendable (2000) pulled off an 18-1 stunner over Derby runner-up and favorite Aptitude. Jazil (2006), also winless since his maiden victory, scored at 6-1 in a contentious betting affair, while Drosselmeyer (2010) won at 13-1 over Fly Down, who had beaten an odds-on Drosselmeyer by six lengths in the Dwyer (G2) in their previous start.

There are no significant trends to be gleaned from any of these four recent examples other than the betting favorites, some of whom were only narrowly the public choice, all faltered. Indeed, all but Aptitude failed to hit the board.

If the current list of Belmont probables stand, then Classic Empire is sure to be a solid favorite off a troubled fourth in the Derby and a second in the Preakness. Even in a prospective field of 13 or more, bettors could be looking at 2-1 or slightly less on a horse that can arguably claim to having run the best race, under the circumstances, in both the Derby and Preakness without winning either.

Classic Empire's time might finally arrive on June 10, but his price figures to be the lowest it's been during this series. With potentially a gate load of rivals (mostly fresh) and traveling an unfamiliar distance, bettors might have ample reason to take a stand against the class of the field despite his apparent strengths.

BAR TRIVIA: Who was the last horse to win the Belmont as the favorite after losing both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness?

ANSWER: Sword Dancer (1959).