Racing Roundtable: Belmont Stakes Festival
In this week's Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson look back on what transpired during the Belmont Stakes Festival and its long-term implications.
What are your impressions with how the Belmont Stakes played out?
James Scully: Mo Donegal notched a signature win, proving much the best in the final leg of the Triple Crown, and he confirmed himself as a major contender for three-year-old championship male. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt runs his best races in New York, perfect from three graded stakes attempts, and the stalker won't have to leave the Empire State until the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Mo Donegal has plenty going for him following an impressive performance.
Kellie Reilly: This was one of those rare occasions where the race unfolded mostly as I'd imagined it – We the People leading but ultimately surrendering, Skippylongstocking racing more forwardly, and Mo Donegal in a better spot to deliver his potent closing kick. I loved how Mo Donegal was gradually improving his position at every call, and rounding the far turn, there was no doubt that he was the winner. Nest also ran as well as hoped in a clear second, setting herself up for the marquee races in the three-year-old fillies' division at Saratoga. As far as Mo Donegal's divisional aspirations go, he's now beaten the winners of the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Kentucky Derby (G1) shocker Rich Strike found the Belmont less congenial in sixth, and Preakness (G1) winner Early Voting had been nailed by Mo Donegal previously in the Wood Memorial (G2). Still, the Belmont was teed up for Mo Donegal, and he needs to build on this versus a few smart rivals who passed on the third jewel.
Vance Hanson: With the arguable exception of Skippylongstocking sneaking into the tri, the Belmont was a formful affair. Mo Donegal stayed the trip and was the class of the field, as many expected, while Nest justified her connections' decision to take a shot against the boys. We the People needs shorter, Creative Minister's relative inexperience was found out, and Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike was undone by the more moderate pace and reverted to form that was more familiar. The top two continue to look like major contenders for their respective division championships, and it will be fascinating to see where they are in the pecking order by the end of August.
Do you have any concerns about Flightline going a distance of ground, if he has the opportunity?
JS: No major concerns. If he wasn't plagued with soundness issues, Flightline would have tried two turns a long time ago. He's bred and built for longer distances. However, the four-year-old can't stay healthy, requiring long stays on the sidelines between starts, and while everybody loves to speculate about the future, I'll believe it when I see it. His Metropolitan H. (G1) was brilliant, and John Sadler suggested Flightline could try two turns at Saratoga, and we'll need to keep our fingers crossed for no setbacks.
KR: At the risk of sounding trite, Flightline has the freakish ability to go fast while making it look deceptively easy. That leads me to believe that he can carry his high cruising speed around two turns, at least nine and possibly even 10 furlongs. Flightline might have hit the genetic lottery, inheriting both the brilliance of broodmare sire Indian Charlie and the stamina of sire Tapit.
VH: Flightline appears an exceptional talent who seemingly would not find longer distances a hindrance. However, there is talk of him making his next start in the Pacific Classic (G1), which is a full quarter-mile longer than he's ever raced before. Historically speaking, that would have been considered a significant ask. But in these current days of smaller and lopsided fields, it perhaps won't be the severe test that it would have been a decade or so ago.
Which of Chad Brown's has the best shot at earning an Eclipse Award this year: Early Voting, Jack Christopher, or Regal Glory?
JS: Regal Glory remained perfect this year, and notched her fourth straight win, with a convincing triumph in the Just a Game (G1), and she appears better positioned for an Eclipse Award than any three-year-old male. The latter is such a contentious division entering the second half of the season. Early Voting and Jack Christopher are principals, along with Epicenter, Mo Donegal, Taiba, and Zandon.
KR: Right now, Regal Glory appears to be in pole position for the Eclipse in the turf female division, but there's always the danger of an international superstar swooping in at the Breeders' Cup. Jack Christopher could have a greater chance to control his own destiny in the sophomore division, especially if he handles the stretch-out in the Haskell (G1) as forecast. That would give him plenty of options, including versus elders, and the opportunity to break away from the Triple Crown veterans who lack a clear standout. Among them is Early Voting, the least likely of the Brown trio to secure an Eclipse, at this writing. Not to underestimate his ability to move forward, but Early Voting had a dream trip in the Preakness, and sterner challenges lie ahead.
VH: As highly as I think of both Early Voting and Jack Christopher, the fact is they'll be chasing the same year-end prize. Regal Glory certainly has her own competition for champion turf female honors, but none she'll necessarily have to face during the course of the season as she's generally a miler, while two other candidates that come to mind, stablemate Bleecker Street and War Like Goddess, are more suitable to longer distances. Regal Glory has impressed us enough to think she wouldn't be out of place taking on the boys in some Grade 1 mile at some point. If she were to transcend her division by winning outside of it on her way to or at the Breeders' Cup, it would be a feather in her cap.