A field of 10 is slated to contest the final leg of the Triple Crown in tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes.
I’d be very surprised if anyone other than Preakness winner War of Will or Tactitus will win.
War of Will looks to notch his second Classic win in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. The Preakness winner is trained by Mark Casse and will be ridden again by Tyler Gaffalione.
In the aftermath of what Casse now refers as "the incident", where War of Will was impeded by Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby - resulting in the latter's disqualification - he found himself at the center of reality show-type drama complete with accusations and finger pointing.
Casse has kept his composure throughout the grind of the Triple Crown. It appears, his horse has too.
"I think he's put on 40-50 pounds and that's what we've been looking for," Casse said about his post-Preakness weight gain. "We kind of know everyone in the field by now. I tend to just worry about my horses and not anybody else's. If the pace is slow, he'll probably be on the lead. If it's quick, hopefully he'll sit behind the pacesetters."
Casse waited more than 30 years to earn his first victory in an American Classic. After Gary Barber's War of Will won the Preakness, the veteran trainer will have a chance to notch his second in three weeks as the War Front colt highlights an accomplished 10-horse field in the Belmont.
"He's a handful in the morning, you have to be careful. He's not as sweet as he used to be," Casse grinned. "He's no longer the young, innocent boy. He's acting more like a college kid. We are making our third start in five weeks but all that being said, I think he's as good as he can get. We're ready."
Casse, a six-time Sovereign Award winner for Outstanding Trainer in Canada who won his first race in 1979, has two contenders for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, with Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston joining War of Will in the starting gate.
"I learned a long time ago to not think about that kind of stuff," Casse said about his bid to make history. "Right now, the only thing I'm focusing on is getting there. "There's so many variables and so many things that can happen, that I just focus on the future.”
War of Will earned a personal-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure, rallying in the final furlong for a 1 ¼-length score in the Preakness. Looking to become the 100th all-time Belmont winner bred in Kentucky, War of Will enters with wins in four of his last six starts, including back-to-back victories in the Grade 3 LeComte and Grade 2 Risen Star this winter at Fair Grounds that set him up for a Kentucky Derby start, where he placed seventh.
The 2-1 second choice, War of Will, the only horse to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, retains the services of jockey Gaffalione, who won his first Triple Crown race with the Preakness victory. The duo will break from post 9.
War of Will can become the first horse since Afleet Alex in 2005 to complete the Preakness-Belmont double, a feat accomplished by just 12 horses, starting with Cloverbrook in 1877 [excluding the 13 Triple Crown winners]. Among that dozen includes all-time greats Man o' War in 1920, Native Dancer in 1953, Nashua in 1955 and Damascus in 1967.
Casse will also saddle Belmont Stakes contender Sir Winston. The runner-up in the May 11 Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes will be at the mercy of the pace Saturday but does have the advantage of having raced and trained regularly over the track known as Big Sandy.
"Sir Winston is a sleeper. It would not shock me at all if he's right there at the finish, especially if they give him a little pace," Casse said. "One he loves Belmont. Two, he is going to thrive at a mile and a half. There are a lot of people overlooking him, but better to do the interviews after then before."
Juddmonte Farms' Tacitus will look to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott a chance to accomplish a rare feat and win two legs of the Triple Crown with different horses. The Mott-trained Country House was placed first in the Kentucky Derby following Maximum Security's disqualification, which also moved Tacitus up from fourth to third to give Mott two-thirds of the trifecta.
Tacitus, who won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets in April at Aqueduct Racetrack, skipped the Preakness to ready for the grueling Belmont Stakes distance. The well-rested Kentucky homebred will attempt to make Mott the first trainer since fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas to win two Classics with multiple horses. Lukas won the 1996 Kentucky Derby with Grindstone and the Belmont with Editor's Note, which came a year after Lukas trained Derby and Belmont-winner Thunder Gulch and Preakness winner Timber Country.
"Had Tacitus won the Kentucky Derby, I suppose we would have taken a chance at the Preakness, but we didn't feel like we wanted to run him back in two weeks," Mott said.
"I'm pretty excited about Tacitus," Mott said. "He overcame trouble in the Wood Memorial. He was very strong finishing up that day and made up a lot of ground in the latter part of that race. He's a big, strapping horse and he's going to be running at a distance that he'll relish. I expect him to make a big account for himself."
Instilled as the 9-5 morning-line favorite, Tacitus is one of three Tapit colts in the Belmont field, along with Bourbon War and Intrepid Heart. Tapit has sired three of the last five Belmont winners.
Tacitus, who rallied from 16th at the half-mile mark in the Derby, will look for a smoother trip in the Belmont.
"He got back quite a ways, back in the pack," Mott said of the trip at Churchill Downs. "The way the track was and traffic, he didn't get stopped but he had to keep looking for room. With the big field, he had to keep changing direction and changing course - go inside, go outside - so it wasn't smooth, he had to alter course. That being said, he came running and finished well at the end.
"Generally, going a mile and a half they won't be further back," he added. "If anything, we will be closer. He’ll get the mile and a half." Jose Ortiz will be in the irons from post 10.
Belmont Stakes will be shown live on NBC with an approximate post time of 6:35 p.m. at this time the track condition will be fast.
Tony's Belmont Stakes picks
1. Tacitus - Pedigree matters in the Belmont-son of Tapit has it.
2. War of Will - Proves his Preakness was no fluke-strong second here.
3. Sir Winston - Improving at right time-live long shot.