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By Anil Mukhi | 07 Jun 2019 |

Anil Mukhi

The moment that Maximum Security was controversially disqualified, 22 minutes after the runners passed the wire in the Kentucky Derby of 2019, one felt there would be no Triple Crown winner this year. The only horse that was eligible for that honour as a result of the stewards’ enquiry was Country House – and he certainly did not seem to be good enough for the subsequent legs, beaten as he was on merit by the first-named. In the event, a sickness ruled out the official Derby winner anyway and it was left to War Of Will (by War Front), unplaced in the Kentucky Derby, to annex the next leg, the Preakness Stakes on May 19th.

Three weeks later the action moves to Belmont Park on Long Island in New York for the third and final leg, the 151st Belmont Stakes over the true “Classic” trip of 1 mile and 4 furlongs on Saturday, June 8th. The New York Racing Association has laid out a delectable feast, with no less than 8 Grade 1 events, culminating in the feature! Horse racing at the highest level commences at 1:22 p.m. Eastern Time (10:52 p.m. in India), with action climbing to a crescendo at 6:37 p.m. local time (4:07 a.m. on June 9th in India) when the Belmont Stakes (presented by NYRA bets) is scheduled to get under way. Fortunately, the weather is slated to be good, with no rain around and a high of 27 Celsius.

Here is the field with the expected odds:


1 Joevia Greg Sacco Jose Lezcano


2 Everfast Dale Romans Luis Saez


3 Master Fencer Koichi Tsunoda Julien Leparoux


4 Tax Danny Gargan Irad Ortiz, Jr.


5 Bourbon War Mark Hennig Mike Smith


6 Spinoff Todd Pletcher Javier Castellano


7 Sir Winston Mark Casse Joel Rosario


8 Intrepid Heart Todd Pletcher John Velazquez


9 War of Will Mark Casse Tyler Gaffalione


10 Tacitus Bill Mott Jose L. Ortiz


Before dealing with the principal event, it’s worth mentioning – for the benefit of true racing aficionados – that the supporting contests are the Longines Just a Game Stakes , the Ogden Phipps Stakes, the Jaipur Invitational Stakes, the Acorn Stakes, the Woody Stephens Stakes presented by Mohegan Sun, the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap  and the Manhattan Stakes. Enough to keep one awake at night!

Belmont Park is a unique race course, with a vast track as compared to the tight and cramped facilities at Churchill Downs in Louisville or Pimlico in Baltimore. Surrounded largely by forest, it is less than 10 miles away from the John F. Kennedy International Airport and is well served by train which deposits racing patrons from Penn Station in Manhattan right into the grandstand. Of course, the prospect of a Triple Crown pushes up the attendance to over 100,000, but even without that lollipop dangling in front of punters, some 70,000 are expected to throng the track.

Of the 10 sophomores declared, War Of Will is the only one trying his luck at all three legs of the Triple Crown. Four more of the Derby runners skipped the Preakness so as to remain fresh for this gruelling task – namely Tacitus (third), Master Fencer (sixth), Tax (fourteenth) and Spinoff (seventeenth). Two more come in from the Preakness, Everfast (second) and Bourbon War (eighth), while a trio consisting of newcomers Intrepid Heart, Joevia and Sir Winston completes the line-up.

Anyone who watched the Kentucky Derby closely would have noticed that a grey blur gained ground rapidly from the back of the pack to put in his best effort at the finish. That was Juddmonte’s Tacitus, a stablemate of that day’s official winner. As a son of Tapit, he can be said to be bred for the job – that excellent sire has had three previous winners of the Belmont in Tapwrit (2017), Creator (2016) and Tonalist (2014) in just the last five years. Nor was his dam a slouch as Close Hatches contributed $2,707,300 to her owner’s tally. Both his trainer and rider have scored in this race before, as has his owner-breeder. Drawn widest of all, Tacitus will start as favourite or joint favourite and can be relied on for a big effort.

One place to his inside is War Of Will, a beautifully-bred colt that his breeders, the Niarchos Family, must regret having sold! Being out of a mare by Sadler’s Wells, he ought to find the trip holds no terrors. Schooler Mark Casse will justifiably have a talking point should his ward triumph here – could War Of Will have won the Triple Crown had he not been hampered in the Kentucky Derby? Drawn 9, the colt will provide both handler and pilot a maiden win in the race were he to win. His morning works have been impressive.

Given the manner in which he finished in the Kentucky Derby, Japanese hope Master Fencer (by Just A Way), showed he was not far off in talent from his American compatriots. He only has to make up a few points in rating to be right there, a task which Julien Leparoux will attempt with more confidence, now that he knows his mount better. The colt has had issues changing legs at the gallop, and hopefully his connections will be able to sort that out.

Preakness runner-up Everfast (by Take Charge Indy) was putting in his best work nearing the wire on that occasion and is likely to appreciate the added trip and longer straight here. Although he races in the sacred name (on the Turf) of Calumet Farms, he does not carry its famed silks, but rather a new version selected by its current owner. Winless since his debut success back at Ellis Park in August last year, he seems the sort who can at best be expected to place.

Amongst the certainties of existence are life, death and taxes. As such Tax (by Arch) could well come into it if one ignores his lifeless effort in a scrappy Kentucky Derby. At all his remaining five starts, the very well-bred gelding hailing from Claiborne Farm has won or placed. With the in-form Irad Ortiz, Jr., up – replacing Junior Alvarado – he seems a great place prospect.

Can one write off runners campaigned by Todd Pletcher in a Classic? One can, but only if one ignores the threat to one’s piggy-bank! The vastly-experienced trainer sends out two runners here, both with leading riders in charge. These are Spinoff (by Hard Spun), who hated the sloppy ground in the Kentucky Derby and deserves another chance, and Intrepid Heart (also by Tapit), who likewise had an excuse when only third in the Peter Pan Stakes last time out after stumbling. That the latter is being risked in this company at only his fourth lifetime start suggests his schooler knows more than is publicly known.

Finally their own connections will be amongst the few that hope for a victory for longshots Bourbon War (by Tapit), with blinker coming off, Joevia (by Shanghai Bobby) and Sir Winston (by Awesome Again). But then, did not Da’Tara (at 38 to 1) and Sarava (at 70 to 1) score in this event earlier this century!