amNY at the Track | Belmont Stakes shaping up to be an epic without a Triple Crown on the line

National Treasure wins 2023 Preakness Stakes, may be heading to Belmont Stakes
National Treasure, with jockey John Velazquez, edges out Blazing Sevens, with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., to win the148th running of the Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Even though there won’t be a Triple Crown up for grabs, this year’s running of the Belmont Stakes on June 10 figures to be an exceptional race.

National Treasure, who put an end to Mage’s Triple Crown bid with a wire-to-wire score in the Preakness Stakes on May 20, could be heading to Belmont for a chance to get two-thirds of the coveted triple, according to trainer Bob Baffert in post-race remarks.

Mage, however, won’t be part of the festivities and will get a break before returning for the summer stakes season, according to his connections. It’ll be the third straight year in which no horse will have competed in all three legs of the Triple Crown, according to the Daily Racing Form.

It’s yet another sign not only of changing times in the industry — with better horses running less often — but also the need to alter the Triple Crown’s current three races-in-five weeks format, which hasn’t changed in more than 50 years.

Nevertheless, the Belmont Stakes field is setting up to be far stronger than the Preakness, which lacked all other Kentucky Derby runners but Mage and had the fewest participants in 37 years. 

National Treasure would mark Baffert’s first Belmont runner since his nearly two-year suspension from the Triple Crown series for the performance enhancing drug violation from the disqualified 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. The episode also earned Baffert a year-long ban from the New York Racing Association racetracks, which ended in January.

The Preakness victory marked National Treasure’s first win since his two-year-old campaign, and under jockey John Velazquez, he had the race his own way — going to the front, setting soft early fractions and holding off the charging Blazing Sevens at the wire. 

Front-runners have been victorious in the Belmont Stakes before, so if National Treasure runs, he stands a solid chance of getting all 12 furlongs and coming out as the champion. But the competition he figures to face will be much tougher.

Forte, possible Belmont Stakes runner
Kentucky Derby hopeful Forte works out at Churchill Downs Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Louisville, Ky.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Leading the field of probable Belmont runners is Forte, the juvenile champion and one-time Kentucky Derby favorite scratched the morning of the race due to a hoof injury. 

Forte had bruised his hoof earlier in the week ahead of the Derby, but despite trainer Todd Pletcher’s insistence that Forte was good to go, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission thought otherwise amid a week of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs, leading to the scratch.

Now off the 14-day vet’s list, Forte is back in training and figures to be a huge threat in the Belmont Stakes coming off what will be a two-month layoff following his Florida Derby win on April 1. 

Another Pletcher trainee — Blue Grass Stakes winner Tapit Trice, who had a disastrous Kentucky Derby and finished a disappointing 14th — is also being pointed to the Belmont, according to the Daily Racing Form.

Other probable Belmont runners, the DRF reports, include two Brad Cox horses: Arkansas Derby winner Angel of Empire and Withers Stakes winner Hit Show, who finished third and fifth in the Kentucky Derby, respectively; Red Route One, the Steve Asmussen trainee who was fourth in the Preakness Stakes; and Raise Cain, the Gotham Stakes winner for trainer Ben Colebrook, who was eighth. 

Another potential threat comes from Arcangelo, who valiantly won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont back on May 13 off a maiden victory for trainer Jena Antonucci. 

Horse Racing Nation also lists among potential Belmont runners Sun Thunder, 11th in the Kentucky Derby; Reincarnate, 13th in the Derby; Arabian Lion, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico but could be heading to the Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day instead; and Prove Worthy, another Pletcher horse who last finished second in a maiden race at Tampa Bay Downs back in March.