There are few things that are certain in horse racing, and this is one of them: Rich Strike isn’t going to surprise anybody in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
His days of anonymity are over. Such is how it works after winning the Kentucky Derby.
The Triple Crown season ends Saturday with the third and final jewel, the Belmont Stakes, the mile-and-a-half marathon that drew only eight horses this year. Among them is the Derby winner, after Rich Strike’s connections passed on the Preakness and decided that keeping the horse on a normal training and recovery schedule was wiser than chasing the Triple Crown.
He’s rested. He figures to be ready. And the lasting image of his Derby win — roaring past the leaders down the stretch in an absolute show of force — will surely compel more than a few bettors on Saturday to figure that he will be able to do the same thing at the Belmont.
Thing is, there’s a saying in racing: Pace makes the race.
And when it comes to pace, the Belmont will not be the Kentucky Derby.
Take nothing away from Rich Strike and his Derby win. His story was incredible: Getting into the field at the last minute, going off at odds of nearly 81-1, coming out of what seemed like nowhere to win at the end. But it’s also important to remember that everything broke his way that day, including a pace that could be best described as somewhere between vigorous and supersonic and drained most of the horses of all their energy long before the finish line.
That won’t be the case in the Belmont. The race — a quarter mile longer than the Derby, and probably the longest race that any of these horses will ever run — is way too long for anyone to try such shenanigans. There might not be much of a pace at all.
Traffic won’t be an issue, with only eight horses. One of them is going to have to be the early leader, which is going to be an unusual spot for whichever one emerges there. The eight horses in this field have combined for 53 lifetime starts. They’ve also combined for just three times leading races after a half-mile. Translated: Almost 95% of the time, these horses aren’t the leader around the midpoint of a race.
The only recent, and the most prominent, exception to that stat comes from We the People, a horse whose ownership group includes celebrity chef Bobby Flay. We the People went basically wire-to-wire to win the Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont last month, perhaps taking a bit of advantage from the course being wet that day. (There is a slight chance of rain in Saturday’s forecast as well.)
We the People controlled the pace in the Peter Pan, and therefore controlled the race. He’ll have the opportunity to do the same on Saturday.
Creative Minister is in the Belmont after the Preakness, where he ran a very solid third. Nest, the lone filly in the field, is interesting — she’s never missed the board in her first six starts, and trainer Todd Pletcher isn’t going to put her in here for no reason. He must see a path to winning the thing, and he won it with a filly before when Rags to Riches prevailed in 2007. Pletcher is also sending another contender in Mo Donegal to the Belmont, fully rested after the Derby.
Preakness winner Early Voting isn’t in the race. That means, unless Rich Strike wins, this will be the fourth consecutive year where three different horses win the three Triple Crown races. The last time that happened in four straight years was 1926 through 1929.
Bet on that happening again. Rich Strike won’t get the pace he needs on Saturday. And nobody will beat Bobby Flay.
The pick is We the People, over Nest and Mo Donegal.
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