Our top longshots for the 2016 Belmont Stakes
Since Lani is both my top pick and a longshot play all in one, I’m tabbing Cherry Wine (#3, 8-1) as my second choice for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (G1). The Paddy o’Prado colt continues to improve is placing with each start and could jump up one more spot to the winner’s circle this time. He started off dominating the maiden and allowance/optional claiming ranks, then proceeded to be fourth in the Rebel (G2), third in the Blue Grass (G1) and rallied for second behind Exaggerator in the Preakness Stakes (G1) last out. Cherry Wine got the best of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist by a nose on that day despite a rough beginning to the race. The gray colt hit the gate, found himself in the rear of the pack early, then put in a ferocious rally to take the runner-up spot. Cherry Wine also has trainer Dale Romans in his corner, and that conditioner should never be discounted on big race days.
Suddenbreakingnews (#4, 10-1) ran a terrific race in the Kentucky Derby (G1), finishing within a neck of third despite early trouble, and easily exceeded my expectations of him in that race. Despite that effort, he doesn't seem to be getting as much pub as some of the others in this field. Despite the demanding 12-furlong distance, not possessing any sort of tactical foot is usually not the way to the Belmont winner's circle. However, this son of Mineshaft and grandson of Afleet Alex hasn't run a bad race in his life, stopped only by a couple troubled trips. The addition of jockey Mike Smith, a Belmont pro, is another positive sign that he can outrun his odds once again.
Since the 10-1 Suddenbreakingnews is my top selection, I’ll go further out on a limb for a bigger longshot in Lani (#10, 20-1). Japan’s flagbearer has been a work in progress, but he is in fact making progress, improving from a ninth in the Derby to a fifth in the Preakness. The Belmont figures to suit him best of any of the Triple Crown races, which is probably why trainer Mikio Matsunaga just said it was his main American objective all along. Like Exaggerator, Lani is trying the old-school route of tackling all three jewels, but he’ll also be about 10 times the price.
Christophe Clement knows something about orchestrating a Belmont upset, derailing California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in 2014 with Tonalist, and the trainer will be seeking his second Belmont title in three years with outsider Governor Malibu (#1, 12-1). A New York-bred son of Malibu Moon, the chestnut finished first when making his initial attempt against open company in the Federico Tesio two starts (placed second via a controversial disqualification). The colt carried his improving form to the Peter Pan (G2), rallying boldly late to miss by a less than a length in second to the unbeaten Unified, and Governor Malibu has registered excellent BRIS Late Pace ratings in his last three outings (101-111-105). Clement has really come on at Belmont the last two weeks, recording five wins entering Friday’s program, and Governor Malibu appears to be thriving for a hot stable. He’s eligible to outrun his long odds with a strong showing from just off the pace.