With Classic Empire Out Of The Belmont Stakes, Who's the Favorite?

Classic Empire

David Schwab

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 7:50 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jun. 7, 2017 7:50 PM UTC

Horse racing’s 2017 Triple Crown racing series comes to a close this Saturday at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York with the running of the 149th Belmont Stakes as the longest and most grueling test for some of this year’s top three-year old thoroughbreds. This is the featured race as part of Belmont Park’s three-day Racing Festival.

A full field of 12 entries are expected to vie for this year's Belmont Stakes title and the only thing we know for sure is that there will be three different winners in the three Triple Crown races with both Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing opting out of this race. This should set the stage for a wide open battle for the final jewel in this season’s crown.


2017 Belmont Stakes

The Belmont is a Grade 1 stakes race open to three-year old thoroughbreds and it is contested on the dirt over an extended distance a 1 ½ miles as the longest race in the Triple Crown series. The total prize purse for this year’s event is set at $1.5 million.

My top choice for this year’s Belmont Stakes would be Irish War Cry. This New Jersey-bred colt was my pick to win the Kentucky Derby and he went off at 9/2 odds along with Always Dreaming as the favorite to win. Things did not go as planned with jockey Rajiv Maragh getting the ride in what resulted in a disappointing 10th-place finish at Churchill. Trainer Graham Motion held him out of the Preakness to train for this race and I believe that the extra time off should serve him well following a busy prep race season.

This son of Curlin has already proven it can compete at horse racing’s highest level starting with his stunning victory in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream over both Gunnevera and Classic Empire in early February. He proved this was not a fluke by winning the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in early April in a race where Cloud Computing finished third.

Classic Empire was a late scratch with a foot issue leaving Lookin At Lee as the only entry in this race that also competed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. The Kentucky-bred colt drew the dreaded No. 1 post for the Kentucky Derby and by time post time rolled around his odds to win rose to 33/1. With veteran jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. getting the ride, he suddenly found himself in a two horse race against Always Dreaming headed down the stretch, but he gave way to finish 2 ¾ lengths behind the winner. A slower than expected start out of the gate at Pimlico resulted in a fourth-place finish the Preakness two week later.

Sired by Lookin At Lucky, this colt has yet to win a major graded stakes as a three-year old. However, he also showed some speed and durability by taking third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in mid-April behind Classic Empire and Conquest Mo Money. Given his performance in all three of these high-profile races, I have him listed as my second choice for the Belmont Stakes.

Rounding out my trifecta play for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes is trainer Todd Pletcher’s Tapwrit. He started the Kentucky Derby from the No. 6 post at 27/1 odds and turned in a highly respectable sixth-place finish in a crowded field of 20 horses. Pletcher also trains Always Dreaming and you get the feeling that he has put in some added effort the past few weeks to pick up a second victory in a Triple Crown event with Tapwrit as his top prospect this time around. Look for jockey Jose Ortiz to once again get the ride.

This son of Tapit caught everyone’s eye with his victory in this year’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby back on March 11th before fading to a disappointing fifth-place finish the following month at Keeneland in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes. I still think he can handle the added distance of this race to finish in the money for the fifth time in his last seven races.

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