Excluding the Triple Crown sweeps of American Pharoah and Justify, it’s been nearly 20 years since Afleet Alex in 2005 was the last horse to win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
This year, National Treasure – who won this year’s Preakness Stakes in wire-to-wire style – stands a solid chance at pulling off the same feat in the Belmont Stakes and taking two-thirds of the Triple Crown.
It would mark a stunning turnaround for the Bob Baffert-trained colt, who was a well-beaten fourth in the Santa Anita Derby two starts back. In the Preakness Stakes, while wearing blinkers for the first time, National Treasure got every break — a small field with a lack of quality besides Kentucky Derby winner Mage, with zero front-running speed — and took advantage of it under jockey John Velazquez.
But things figure to be a lot tougher in the Belmont Stakes on June 10. The field looks loaded, with potential runners including juvenile champion Forte, Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Angel of Empire and an impressive, fast-developing colt named Arcangelo, who won a gutsy Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park coming off a maiden victory.
That may not, however, matter much to National Treasure. He’s training strong in preparation for the Belmont; on May 30, NYRA reported, he galloped out a half-mile in 50.62 with Velazquez in the irons for the workout.
“I wanted to jog him to the mile pole and start him galloping nice and easy. He got pretty strong on the bridle, so I kept him on the outside and Bob told me when I get to the four and a half, just drop him in and try to go 49,” Velazquez said in a NYRA press release. “He picked it up pretty quick. I slowed him down as best I could and down the lane I just held him together. Going past the sixteenth pole, I gave him his head and let him gallop out.”
Meanwhile, Baffert — who returns to the NYRA circuit after a year-long suspension for the Medina Spirit Kentucky Derby drug disqualification — will seek to return to the Belmont Stakes winner circle for the first time since he trained Justify to a Triple Crown sweep in 2018.
In that race, just as American Pharoah did in his 2015 Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown triumph, Justify went to the lead the second the gates opened, set comfortable early fractions, resisted all challenges and had plenty left in the tank to reach the wire first.
And if National Treasure gets away in the Belmont Stakes with the same “pedestrian” pace, as NBC Sports announcer Larry Collmus described, in the Preakness (the first quarter- and half-miles in 23.95 and 48.92 seconds, respectively), the Belmont will truly be his race to lose.
Post parade notes
- The racing world was stunned Friday by the announcement that Churchill Downs would move its ongoing race meet to Ellis Park starting next week to further investigate the rash of equine deaths that have cast a pall over the twin spires this spring. Churchill Downs management says it cannot pinpoint any specific reasons as to why 12 thoroughbreds have died in racing and training at the Louisville racetrack this season. The relocation is being done out of an abundance of caution so the track and turf course can be completely examined and analyzed for safety. All of this happens less than two years removed from Churchill Downs’ turf course renovation, and a year after Churchill temporarily shut down the newly renovated course following fatal breakdowns. Shocking as this closure is, if its results in boosting overall equine safety at Churchill Downs for years to come, so be it.
- As far as Belmont Park’s safety goes, the track has seen four fatalities in racing and training since the spring/summer racing meet began on May 5, according to the New York State Gaming Commission, which tracks equine deaths at racetracks across the Empire State. The latest fatality occurred on Friday when 6-year-old Chasenbryn, trained by Rudy Rodriguez, suffered a serious leg injury in the third race, and had to be euthanized. Three other Rodriguez-trained horses have died this year under his care, the Associated Press reported. NYRA is said to have one of the most stringent equine safety policies in the nation — including strict restrictions on the use of Lasix 48 hours ahead of a horse’s scheduled race; regular and frequent track and course safety testing; pre-race examinations and inspections by the track veterinarians; and workout regulations.
- If you’re planning to attend the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival on June 8-10, take the train. The Long Island Rail Road is providing regular service to the new Elmont-UBS Arena station, where fans can pick up shuttle buses to and from Belmont. Belmont Stakes Day, June 10, is also the only day when direct LIRR service to the Belmont Park spur station will be available during this year’s meet. Visit mta.info/lirr for schedule details.
- The Belmont Stakes undercard on June 10 will feature one of the great classic races on the calendar, the $1 million Metropolitan Mile. Last year’s race saw the phenom Flightline speed his way to victory en route to becoming Horse of the Year. This year’s running figures to be special as Cody’s Wish – last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile champion – is being pointed to the race. Cody’s Wish figures to be both an odds-on and sentimental favorite because of the special bond the colt has with his namesake, Cody Dorman, a Kentucky boy battling a rare disabling condition known as Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. The colt, while still a yearling in 2018, encountered Dorman during a Make-a-Wish Foundation visit to the Godolphin Stables’ Kentucky farm. Godolphin named the horse in his honor, and has won every time Dorman has attended his races.