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amNY at the Track: Belmont Stakes picks – Will Forte win a classic, or can National Treasure take two jewels of Triple Crown?

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Belmont Stakes Contender
Forte (outside) trains on June 3, 2023 at Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes.
NYRA/Susie Raisher

The 155th Belmont Stakes shapes up to be one of the best races in America, on paper, as this Saturday’s showdown on Long Island features plenty of entrants with a great chance to succeed.

Forte, last year’s juvenile champion, is the morning line favorite at 5-2, despite the fact that he didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes. A bruised hoof sidelined him from the Kentucky Derby the morning of the big race, to the protestations of trainer Todd Pletcher and co-owner Mike Repole. Then Forte was placed on the vet’s list, which prohibited him from running in the Preakness.

Now fully healthy and training strong in the run up to the Belmont, Forte — with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle — looks poised to finally win a classic race. But he’s got plenty of strong challengers including Preakness Stakes winner National Treasure, the Bob Baffert trainee looking to take two jewels of the Triple Crown; Angel of Empire, a hard-charging third in the Kentucky Derby; and Arcangelo, the fast-developing colt who won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park in convincing fashion last out.

The 155th Belmont Stakes
Saturday, June 10
Belmont Park, Elmont, NY
Distance: 1 1/2 Miles
Purse: $1.5 million 
Post time: 7:01 p.m. (Coverage on FOX begins at 4:30 p.m.)

The field

2023 Belmont Stakes field
Odds via New York Racing Association

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Analysis

Belmont Stakes contender Tapit Trice
Tapit Trice, one of six Belmont Stakes entrants descended from champion sire Tapit, trains at Belmont Park on June 3, 2023.NYRA/Susie Raisher

Tapit didn’t make to the Belmont Stakes as a three-year-old in 2004, but six of his babies or grandbabies (Tapit Shoes, Tapit Trice, Arcangelo, Il Miracolo, Hit Show, Red Route One) are represented in this year’s nine-horse field. It’s not a surprise considering that Tapit has sired three Belmont winners in the last seven years — a reflection of his stamina coursing through the veins of his descendants. 

If you played any of the six Tapit descendants in this race, you’re making a decent wager by itself. But in our opinion, the class of the Tapit horses here are Tapit Trice, who ran into all sorts of traffic problems in the Kentucky Derby; and Arcangelo, who impressed in the Peter Pan Stakes after having only a maiden win to his credit previously.

But don’t expect Tapit Trice or Arcangelo to go for the lead when the Belmont Stakes gates open this Saturday. Il Miracolo, who won his last race at Gulfstream Park in wire-to-wire fashion, will likely make the charge out of the gate along with National Treasure; we can’t imagine Velazquez will not want to contest the lead early and try to control the pace, considering that’s how he won the Preakness.

Tapit Trice should sit a little closer to the pace, while Arcangelo, Angel of Empire and Forte will likely sit in the middle of the pack.

The first half-mile in the Belmont Stakes often tells the entire story. If a horse is on the lead in a half-mile of 49 seconds or slower is likely going to be there at the end. A faster pace, of course, bodes well for a late closer.

Should National Treasure be allowed to dawdle on the lead, game over. He’ll have plenty in the tank to go all the way around the 1 1/2 mile Belmont oval to victory under that scenario. But it’s unlikely that will happen should Il Miracolo contest the lead early.

Forte is the class of the field, and the race sets up well for him to finally win. Is he worth a win bet? If you get anything better than his morning line odds, yes. But figure that he’ll likely be even money or less by post time.

That leads me to go with one of the Tapits to win. Tapit Trice has 3-1 morning line odds, but I can’t imagine he’ll go off that low. His Kentucky Derby trip was brutal, but with half the number of horses in this field, he’ll have zero excuses not to run his best race. 

Arcangelo, at 8-1, is an even more intriguing pick. He flashed guts in the Peter Pan Stakes by winning a stretch duel, and he seems to be coming into form at the right time for trainer Jena Antonucci. If you’re looking for a long shot, he’s your choice.

Our picks: Tapit Trice, Forte, National Treasure, Arcangelo

Post parade notes

  • FOX will cover the Belmont Stakes this year for the first time in the network’s history, as it enters the first of its eight-year deal with the New York Racing Association for exclusive rights to cover the big race. Rather than going with NBC’s track announcer, Larry Collmus, FOX is instead turning to Tom Durkin, the former voice of the Triple Crown and NYRA tracks, who retired back in 2014. Durkin is arguably the greatest track announcer in American thoroughbred racing history, and it’ll be interesting to hear what he’ll be like calling races off a nine-year layoff.  It’ll be hard, of course, for him to top two of his most memorable calls, both of which came in denied Triple Crown bids in the Belmont Stakes: In 1998, which saw a “too close to call” finish in which Victory Gallop caught Real Quiet on the wire; and in 2004, when the then-undefeated Smarty Jones took the only defeat in his career to Birdstone, and Durkin perfectly captured the heartbreak of the record 120,000 fans who witnessed it.
  • Friday marked the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s incredible, almost other-worldly triumph in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Facing a field of five challengers, Secretariat — the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner — charged out of the gate with his rival Sham battling for the lead through the fastest first three-quarters mile in the history of the race (1:09.4). The last three-quarters of a mile became the stuff of legend; as Sham faded, Secretariat began “moving like a tremendous machine,” as CBS announcer Chick Anderson exclaimed while the big red colt expanded his lead to historic lengths on the sweeping Belmont far turn. Over 70,000 fans cheered Secretariat home as the ninth Triple Crown winner of all time — his 31 length margin of victory and track record time of 2:24 for the 1 1/2 mile race unequaled ever since.