Belmont Stakes attracting late runners, pace scenario in limbo

Profile Picture: James Scully

May 24th, 2016

Preakness winner Exaggerator will proceed to the Belmont Stakes on June 11, attempting to become the 10th 3yo in the last 17 years to capture at least two legs of the Triple Crown, but his main rival, Kentucky Derby victor Nyquist, will bypass the race due to an elevated white blood cell count and fever.

Two other Preakness contestants, runner-up Cherry Wine and fifth-placer Lani, are also confirmed along with the fifth-through-eighth place finishers from the Kentucky Derby: Suddenbreakingnews, Destin, Brody’s Cause and Mo Tom.

Creator, rallying winner of the Arkansas Derby (G1) but a disappointing 13th in the Derby, is another that has been mentioned as a possibility along with the New York-bred Governor Malibu, who exits a pair of runner-up efforts in the Federico Tesio (placed second via disqualification) and Peter Pan (G2).

When looking at the above horses, a glaring lack of speed is readily apparent with confirmed closers dominating the list. And Destin could be the beneficiary.

Destin is more of a stalking type, but he raced up close to the pace when posting wins in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G2) earlier this season and figures to inherit pace-setting duties in the Belmont Stakes barring the addition of more speed.

The lack of front-runners in the prospective field could force a change in heart from the connections of other 3yos, with the talented Unified being the first that comes to mind. After reeling off impressive sprint victories in his first two starts, the James Jerkens-trained Unified stretched out to 1 1/8 miles to capture the May 14 Peter Pan, which often serves as local prep for the Belmont.

Unified dueled through wicked early splits before prevailing last time, with a daylight advantage dwindling to only three-quarters of a length in the latter stages, and connections recently announced plans to point toward the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus (G3) at Monmouth Park on June 19. However, that was before they were aware Belmont pace scenario. The 12-furlong distance still represents a tall task for the Candy Ride colt, but Unified is eligible to receive a dream trip on the front end of the Belmont.

The top contenders entering the 2000 Belmont were all closers, with Derby runner-up Aptitude the heavy favorite and Unshaded, Wheelaway and Impeachment the second-through fourth choices in the wagering. And the lack of speed wound up benefiting Commendable, a sprint/middle-distance specialist who didn’t even try nine furlongs before finishing 17th in the Derby.

Commendable opened up a clear lead down the backstretch through glacial opening fractions and wound up stealing the Belmont at 18-1 odds.