Belmont Preview: Final Three Furlongs Will Yield The Drama

National Treasure training at Belmont Wednesday | Sarah Andrew


The GI Belmont S. entrants are listed in “likeliest winner” order.

1) NATIONAL TREASURE (c, Quality Road–Treasure, by Medaglia d'Oro) O-SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madaket Stables LLC, Robert E. Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC and Catherine Donovan; B-Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, LLC (KY); T-Bob Baffert. Sales history: $500,000 ylg '21 FTSAUG. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-2-1-2, $1,335,000. Last Start: 1st GI Preakness S. at Pimlico May 20.

National Treasure drew post one, added blinkers, and looked on paper to be the controlling speed in the GI Preakness S. After asserting command with little resistance through leisurely opening quarters of :23.95, :24.9 and :24.57, his wiring of the field was almost a foregone conclusion.

He did have to claw back the lead when Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) edged in front between calls in deep stretch, but this $500,000 FTSAUG son of Quality Road always had the upper hand. If anything, National Treasure was emboldened by the bumping and brushing with Blazing Sevens before finishing with purpose.

Most post-race analysis focused on those lethargic early splits that lulled the competition and kept National Treasure fresh. But how about that final three-sixteenths blitzed in :18.05?

National Treasure's clocking through that last furlong and a half of the race is almost too quick to believe. It ranks as the fastest since Summer Squall's 1990 Preakness, which was 18 seconds flat. Back then, timing was done in fifths and not hundredths of a second, so it's conceivable National Treasure's fraction ranks marginally faster. At the time, Summer Squall's closing three-sixteenths fraction was widely reported to be a Preakness record (Equibase charts that break out the final three-sixteenths date only to 1991). If National Treasure's clocking is for real, it has to be respected.

Back in March, National Treasure missed some training and an expected start in the GII San Felipe S. because of a quarter crack. His so-so fourth in the GI Santa Anita Derby must be viewed in the light that that nine-furlong try was his first race in three months. So now the question becomes was the Preakness his peak effort, or a bridge to better things in the Belmont?

The Preakness didn't seem to sap National Treasure. You'd have to think he won't get away with such a tepid tempo again in the Belmont. But he doesn't resonate as a needs-the-lead type to win. National Treasure will likely be placed somewhere near the front, and jockey John Velazquez should have the luxury of picking his preferred position over his home-court track.

Knowing that the three favorites ahead of him on the morning line all do their best running from midpack or farther back gives National Treasure a speed-centric advantage that is too intriguing to overlook at 5-1 odds. The Belmont will be his to win or lose on the far turn.

2) TAPIT TRICE (c, Tapit–Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) 'TDN Rising Star'. O-Whisper Hill Farm LLC and Gainesway Stable (Antony Beck); B-Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $1,300,000 ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 6-4-0-1, $883,650. Last start: 7th GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 6.

The 1 1/2 miles distance and vast, expansive configuration of Belmont Park both play to the style of 'TDN Rising Star' Tapit Trice. Yet there is an element of “now or never” baked into the equation when it comes to assessing his chances of not only winning the third leg of the Triple Crown, but using the victory as a springboard to dominance for the second half of the season.

His slow-to-go tactics have been well documented throughout the winter and spring. But even though this $1.3 million KEESEP son of Tapit habitually leaves the gate sluggishly and has to be scrubbed on for run so as not to lag too far behind the field, he very reliably unwinds with a prolonged, mid-race surge.

In both the GI Blue Grass S. (which he won narrowly despite looking beaten on the far turn) and the GI Kentucky Derby (where he was seventh after having his momentum stalled twice), Tapit Trice got rolling six furlongs from the finish. There are quite a few late-race runners at the top of this year's sophomore crop, but none of them have demonstrated they can launch a bid from that far out while finishing with authority.

By way of example, in the Blue Grass, Tapit Trice led the way home in a prolonged stretch fight through a final furlong timed in :12.40, which was the fastest final eighth for the Blue Grass since Keeneland switched back to dirt in the fall of 2014.

Tapit Trice came nine wide into the lane for the Derby after responding to far-turn rousing by Luis Saez. But when it was evident this burly gray was not going to hit the board, Saez decided to save Tapit Trice for another day. June 10 has been circled on the calendar ever since.

Forte Wednesday | Sarah Andrew

3) FORTE (c, Violence–Queen Caroline, by Blame) 'TDN Rising Star'. O-Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable; B-South Gate Farm (KY); T-Todd Pletcher. Sales history: $80,000 wlg '20 KEENOV; $110,000 ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: Ch. 2yo Colt, MGISW, 7-6-0-0, $1,833,230. Last start: 1st GI Curlin Florida Derby at Gulfstream Apr. 1.

Twelve furlongs off a 10-week break for a “headline horse” who has posted declining Beyer Speed Figures (100-98-95) since capping a championship 2-year-old season with a victory in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That sentence sums up all of the reasons to think twice about betting this 'TDN Rising Star' as the Belmont favorite.

Trouble is, this 6-for-7 son of Violence ($80,000 KEENOV; $110,000 KEESEP) is such a gifted athlete who carries himself with just the right mix of poise and panache that he could defy conventional value-handicapping wisdom and finally bust out in the Belmont, meeting or exceeding the lofty prognostications that have shadowed his career.

A bruised right front foot derailed Forte's Kentucky Derby chances, necessitating a scratch on the morning of the race. The 15-1 upsetter in Louisville ended up being Mage (Good Magic), who had given Forte a brief scare in the GI Florida Derby before Forte blew by him with his ears pricked in the final few jumps to the wire.

Although the race spacing for Forte is not ideal, and it's still an open question as to how much he's progressed since his juvenile campaign, the foot bruise has reportedly healed, and Forte should, in theory, have an easier time negotiating a field of just eight rivals on Saturday instead of the 18 he would have faced in the Derby. That's because one of Forte's strengths has always been his ability to carve out ideal mid-pack positioning under the guidance of Irad Ortiz, Jr., using that prime stalking spot as a launch pad for a far-turn blast-off that has only failed him once from seven starts.

A crowded, chaotic race like the Derby might have been a challenge for Forte, whose one tactical weakness is a lack of early acceleration to put himself clear of trouble at the front of the pack.

He's not as likely to encounter traffic woes in the Belmont, nor is he likely to be taken out of his game by being asked to go too fast too soon. Forte should be in it to win it three furlongs out. Then the test of this particular champion will begin.

4) ANGEL OF EMPIRE (c, Classic Empire–Armony's Angel, by To Honor And Serve) O-Albaugh Family Stables LLC; B-Forgotten Land Investment Inc & Black Diamond Equine Corp (PA); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $32,000 RNA wlg '20 KEENOV, $70,000 ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GISW, 7-4-1-1, $1,369,375. Last Start: 3rd in the GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 6.

Angel of Empire ($32,000 RNA KEENOV; $70,000 KEESEP) will try blinkers on in the Belmont. Don't expect the equipment change to transform him into a frontrunner. The intent seems to be to get him a touch more focused in the initial stages of the race. In the Derby, this Pennsylvania-bred son of Classic Empire settled willingly for Flavien Prat before building steam and picking off most of the field with a grinding rail run. Off the final turn, he was eight wide and right behind eventual winner Mage, but when Mage ratcheted into a higher gear, Angel of Empire didn't produce a similar upper-stretch burst. He did torque it up a notch inside the eighth pole, but couldn't reel in Two Phil's (Hard Spun) for second.

His third-place finish as the 4-1 beaten Derby fave was commendable, but I'm not sure I fully buy into the projection that the effort equated to a 10-point jump in his best lifetime Beyer, from 94 to 104. By comparison, we've already seen that Mage couldn't reproduce his winning 105 Beyer as the only Derby entrant to run back in the Preakness, regressing from 105 to his previous plateau of 94.

That's not to say the Belmont's 1 1/2-miles distance isn't within Angel of Empire's scope. This colt has shown no problems sticking around to have a say in the finish as his race distances have increased. His dialed-in run through the lane in the GI Arkansas Derby came through a final eighth timed in :12.12, the fastest final furlong out of the nine 2022-23 Derby qualifying stakes at nine furlongs.

5) RED ROUTE ONE (c, Gun Runner–Red House, by Tapit) O/B-Winchell Thoroughbreds, LLC (KY); T-Steven M. Asmussen. Lifetime Record: SW & GISP, 10-2-2-1, $732,525. Last Start: 4th in the GI Preakness S. at Pimlico May 20.

To give you an idea of how slow the Preakness pace was, Red Route One-a stone-cold closer whose connections were intentionally trying to set him up for one run from far back-ranged up to be jointly second at the rail five-eighths out, just a length off eventual winner National Treasure.

“This race fell apart for a lot of reasons that nobody will be able to put their finger on,” trainer Steve Asmussen said post-Preakness, adding that he knows the same thing could happen in the third leg of the Triple Crown.

“You're not guaranteed to get pace in the Belmont. [But] he's kept very good company his whole career and was probably beaten [4 3/4] lengths in the Preakness in a race I don't think set up ideally for him,” Asmussen said. “Does he beat them under different circumstances? Who knows? But I do like the opportunity to run him a mile and a half.”

Red Route One didn't look comfortable while carrying his head high entering the Preakness backstraight. After briefly nipping at National Treasure's heels, Joel Rosario backed him down a bit, and it looked on the far turn as if a second, more substantial move was percolating. It never materialized despite Rosario's urging. The three horses he outfinished were the longest shots in the field of seven.

By Gun Runner out of a Tapit mare, I don't think anyone dismisses Asmussen's longer-the-better belief in this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred. The question comes down to how fast can he cover that distance-which, of course, hinges on how fast the frontrunners cover the initial nine furlongs.

Hit Show Wednesday | Sarah Andrew

6) HIT SHOW (c, Candy Ride {Arg}–Actress, by Tapit) O/B-Gary & Mary West (KY); T-Brad Cox. Lifetime Record: GSW, 6-3-1-0, $494,375. Last Start: 5th in the GI Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs May 6.

When most horses draw the dreaded one post for the Derby, you can almost automatically expect put a line through that race when you next see it in their past-performance block. Not so with Hit Show. This Candy Ride (Arg) homebred for Gary and Mary West enjoyed one of the most trouble-free trips from the innermost gate in recent Derby memory.

Hit Show broke alertly, and Manny Franco positioned him as he liked, gearing back to seventh through the turn, then easing off the fence to the four path right behind the speedsters with no one covering them up. Hit Show started to pick it up with a four-wide run 3 1/2 furlongs out, but the bid required brisk urging from Franco.

Hit Show was very much in it to win it turning for home. But after advancing to third, he had no response to further rousing via left-handed stick work. After being accosted by Mage, Hit Show  stayed on doggedly, with Franco keeping him to task to get fifth.

His Apr. 8 GII Wood Memorial second was notable for Hit Show running second, beaten a nose, as the middle horse who got pinballed in a three-way stretch scrum while never backing down. As a May 9 foal, he's among the youngest of this year's Triple Crown crop, so the extra five weeks since his last start will presumably be to his benefit.

7) ARCANGELO (r, Arrogate–Modeling, by Tapit) O-Blue Rose Farm. B-Don Alberto Corporation(KY); T-Jena Antonucci. Sales history: $35,000 ylg '21 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: GSW, 4-2-1-0, $167,400. Last Start: 1st in the GIII Peter Pan S. at Belmont Park May 13.

This $35,000 KEESEP son of Arrogate burst into Belmont S. relevancy with a 97-Beyer score in the GIII Peter Pan S. May 13.

Rated back to sixth for the early part of that nine-furlong race, Arcangelo came rolling into a two-horse speed setup. He snatched the lead a sixteenth from the wire, then got quite a tussle from favored runner-up Bishops Bay (Uncle Mo), who not only survived the duel but re-seized the lead between calls before Arcangelo won a tight bob at the wire. They were 8 3/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field.

Despite twice racing at a mile (Gulfstream) and once at 1 1/8 miles (Belmont), those were one-turn configurations, which will make Saturday's race Arcangelo's first two-turn attempt.

His 84-Beyer Mar. 18 MSW win at Gulfstream has not evolved into a productive race. Five of the six horses Arcangelo beat that afternoon have since come back to run, and all five have lost, including two as favorites.

8) TAPIT SHOES (c, Tapit–Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley) O-Spendthrift Farm LLC, Steve Landers, Martin S. Schwartz, Michael Dubb, Ten Strike Racing, Jim Bakke, Titletown Racing Stables, Kueber Racing, LLC, Big Easy Racing LLC, Rick Kanter and Michael J. Caruso. B-Kenneth L. & Sarah K. Ramsey & Tapit Syndicate(KY); T-Brad Cox. Sales history: $300,000 ylg '21 FTKOCT. Lifetime Record: SP, 5-1-1-1, $82,878. Last Start: 2nd in the Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn Apr. 22.

Tapit Shoes, a half-bother to last year's GI Haskell S. and Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, exits a second-place try in the Bath House Row S. at Oaklawn.

Four, then three wide on the turns, this $300,000 FTKOCT colt by Tapit mounted a rally at the top of the lane, initially with his head cocked out to the grandstand in upper stretch before straightening out and digging in.

He at first had difficulty putting away the favored pacemaker when he drew alongside. Once he dispatched that rival, Tapit Shoes was nipped on the wire by out-of-the-clouds winner Red Route One. What his effort lacked in polish shouldn't diminish the underlying potential here.

Considering that was the first stakes try for this colt (who has a nice base of five races, all at 1 1/16 miles or longer), and keeping in mind that Tapit Shoes (May 17) is another late foal, like stablemate Hit Show, another progression forward isn't out of the question. The morning line says 20-1 is your price point to find out if that advancement is good enough to win.

9) IL MIRACOLO (c, Gun RunnerTapit's World, by Tapit) O-Eduardo Soto; B-Willow Oaks Stable LLC (KY); T-Antonio Sano. Sales history: $75,000 ylg '21 KEEJAN; $190,000 RNA ylg '21 FTKOCT; $70,000 2yo '22 OBSOPN. Lifetime Record: 10-2-3-0, $103,125. Last start: 1st in allowance optional claimer at Gulfstream Park May 11.

For the longest shot in the Belmont S., how about a colt whose name translates from Italian to “The Miracle”?

Il Miracolo ($75,000 KEEJAN; $190,000 RNA FTKOCT; $70,000 OBSOPN) enters the third leg of the Triple Crown coming off a 77-Beyer wiring of a five-horse allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream.

His previous five tries were stakes on the Derby trail in which Il Miracolo was beaten an aggregate 79 1/2 lengths.

This colt shares the same Gun Runner out of a Tapit mare cross as Red Route One.

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