Belmont Stakes: Derby winner can Strike again

Profile Picture: Alastair Bull

June 9th, 2022

Three factors usually come into play when trying to handicap the Belmont Stakes (G1): pace, class, and stamina.

It’s these that make #4 Rich Strike (7-2) and #6 Mo Donegal (5-2) appeal as the best prospects for the third leg of the U.S. Triple Crown.

At 1 1/2 miles, the Belmont harks back to a day when the American Thoroughbred was much more oriented towards stamina. But with fewer horses bred to stay 1 1/2 miles on dirt, predicting which runners have the ability to stay the trip is an even more important part of handicapping the race.

Perhaps the most notable stamina pedigree among the eight runners in 2022 belongs to #3 Nest (8-1). Being by Curlin out of an A.P. Indy mare, you’d think that the trip would suit her perfectly. However, there is a doubt over her class at this level.

Clearly, Nest is one of the best three-year-old fillies in training. But the fact that her Kentucky Oaks (G1) conqueror Secret Oath wasn’t able to get especially close to the males in either the Arkansas Derby (G1) or the Preakness (G1) doesn’t bode well. I see her as more likely to fill a minor place.

Class is a clear problem for #7 Golden Glider (20-1), given he wasn’t close in either the Blue Grass (G1) or the Peter Pan (G3), and for #2 Skippylongstocking (20-1), who needs to improve on his efforts in the Wood Memorial (G2) and Preakness (G1) to win this.

Class is also a question mark for the morning line favorite #1 We The People (2-1). He was impressive in the Peter Pan on a sloppy track, but it wasn’t a strong field, and he had failed in the Arkansas Derby the start before, though it’s possible the Oaklawn feature was a blip.

Where We The People may be suited is when considering pace, as he’s the most obvious leader. If he can get away with soft fractions without fighting his rider, he could steal it, but if he’s close to his 2-1 morning line odds, then it’s hard to consider him to be good value.

#8 Barber Road (10-1) also has some questions about his class. He has the ability to rally from a strong pace, as shown when second in the Arkansas Derby and sixth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Whether he’s quite good enough to win is a serious question, and though he should have the required stamina for the Belmont, he may need a fast pace to have a chance to win.

Stamina, on the other hand, is my biggest worry about #5 Creative Minister (6-1). He followed up an excellent allowance victory at Churchill Downs with a solid effort for third in the Preakness, but though his damsire, Tapit, is a stamina influence, his sire Creative Cause is not to the same degree. He’s also running for the third time in five weeks, and thus may not have the edge that his opponents do.

That leaves Mo Donegal and Rich Strike. Both race in a style that suggests they should relish 1 1/2 miles, and both have pedigrees to back this up. Mo Donegal’s sire, Uncle Mo, and broodmare sire, Pulpit, can get horses with stamina, while Rich Strike’s sire, Keen Ice, didn’t really get warm until he hit 1 1/4 miles at least.

One could argue they ran similar races in the Kentucky Derby. Both came from well back, but Sonny Leon’s ground-saving ride gave Rich Strike a much shorter path home than Mo Donegal had when forced wide. In an eight-horse field with Belmont’s much longer stretch run, they should receive similar paths this time.

Mo Donegal has a longer résumé of high-class performances in his favor, including success in the New York area in the Remsen (G2) and Wood Memorial. Rich Strike, on the other hand, has not shown the same ability away from the Twin Spires as he has underneath them.

However, it’s worth noting that Rich Strike’s Derby run was his first on dirt since December 26. It’s entirely possible his real dirt ability was hidden prior to the Derby by the fact he had all his three-year-old leadups on the Turfway Park Tapeta. And a look at the overhead footage of the Derby shows he quickened better than Mo Donegal, even allowing for his shorter path home.

I’m also mindful that the last longshot Derby winner to continue racing through the Triple Crown, Mine That Bird, was more than competitive for the rest of the series, so I’m not going to write off Rich Strike’s Derby victory as a fluke. Given that he’s likely to be at longer odds than Mo Donegal, I’m going to give him a chance.

  • $20 win/place: #4 Rich Strike
  • $2 trifecta: 4, 6 with 1, 4, 6 with 1, 3, 4, 6, 8