The 154th Belmont Stakes this Saturday will either prove to the racing world that Rich Strike was an overlooked star in the Kentucky Derby, or a fluke who got a lucky break in America’s most famous horse race.
The Derby champ, trained by Eric Reed and ridden by Sonny Leon, was kept out of the Preakness Stakes, forgoing a chance at Triple Crown history in order to be freshened up for the June 11 “Test of the Champion” at Belmont Park.
To pass that test, Rich Strike will have to defeat a lively field of seven challengers, led by the new kid on the block, We The People. A winner in three of four starts, including Belmont’s Peter Pan Stakes, We The People is the 2-1 morning line favorite for trainer Rodolphe Brisset and jockey Flavien Prat.
Other potential challengers include Mo Donegal, the fifth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr.; and Creative Minister, who finished third in the Preakness for trainer Ken McPeek and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.
A sentimental favorite might emerge in Nest, the lone filly in the Belmont field, who finished second in the Kentucky Oaks behind Secret Oath. Jose Lopez, Irad Jr.’s brother, will ride Nest for trainer Pletcher.
The 154th Belmont Stakes
Saturday, June 11
Belmont Park, Elmont, NY
Distance: 1 ½ Miles
Purse: $1.5 million
Post time: 6:44 p.m.
Tactical speed and stamina mean more in the Belmont Stakes than in any other classic race, given that it is a full quarter-mile longer than the Kentucky Derby.
There’s not a lot of early speed in this field, with We The People the only runner with a past history of running from on or near the lead.
Expect Prat to hustle We The People to the front in the Belmont, just as he did in the Peter Pan Stakes, and set a very modest opening tempo without many challengers on his tail. It would be surprising to see We The People run the first half-mile in under 47 seconds.
If We The People sets that moderate tempo, it will be difficult for any horse to catch him. In the Peter Pan, he was well clear of the field early, and drew off with plenty left in the tank in the final quarter mile of that race. With his front-running and pedigree for distance, We The People is a genuine threat to take the field wire-to-wire.
Barring some unforeseen speed duel, Rich Strike won’t get that torrid pace he ran at in the Kentucky Derby coming from well behind the 20-horse field early on. Leon will have to position Rich Strike much closer to the front this time around, probably mid-pack, to have a chance of winning. If he’s within 10 lengths of the frontrunners at the halfway point (6 furlongs), he would be in good shape to make a winning run.
The good news is that Rich Strike may have certainly benefited from skipping the Preakness. His workout numbers at Churchill Downs leading up to the Belmont have been incredibly strong – a 47.1 second 4-furlong breeze on May 21, followed by a 59 second 5-furlong breeze on May 30.
Those performances suggest that Rich Strike not only recovered from his career-best Kentucky Derby win, but that he might be sitting on an even bigger showing in the Belmont Stakes. Not bad for an 81-1 also-eligible horse who wasn’t even in the Kentucky Derby up to 36 hours before he won it.
While We The People figures to get favoritism, you can get a nice price on Rich Strike in the Belmont Stakes of at least his 7-2 morning line odds. And if Rich Strike wins the Belmont, chances are he’ll be the favorite in any race he runs for the rest of his life.
If you’re looking for an upset in the Belmont, you might want to consider Creative Minister, who ran a strong third in the Preakness, posting a 100 Beyer speed figure for the effort. His workouts for the Belmont have also been strong, and his trainer knows a thing about upsetting the Belmont Stakes; in 2002, McPeek trained 70-1 Sarava to a shocking win in War Emblem’s failed quest for the Triple Crown.
The $100 bet
$20 to win on Rich Strike and We The People ($40 total)
$10 exacta box on Rich Strike and We The People ($20 total)
$5 exacta of Rich Strike and We The People over Creative Minister, Nest, Mo Donegal and Skippylongstocking ($40 total)