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Lo Duca’s 2019 Belmont Stakes Power Rankings: Can Anyone Hang With Favorites Tacitus, War of Will?

Lo Duca’s 2019 Belmont Stakes Power Rankings: Can Anyone Hang With Favorites Tacitus, War of Will? article feature image

Dennis Schneidler, USA Today Sports.

  • The 2019 Belmont Stakes takes place on Saturday, June 8 at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
  • Paul Lo Duca shares his betting power rankings for the third leg of the Triple Crown:

The Triple Crown comes to a conclusion on Saturday and even though no horses are in the running to sweep all three legs, the Belmont Stakes should still be a terrific race, and best of all, there is some value in this 10-horse field.

Here are my power rankings for the 2019 Belmont Stakes, from the horse I think has the worst betting value to the best:

Power Ranking the 2019 Belmont Field

10. Everfast

Odds: 12-1
Post position: 2

A last-minute addition to the Preakness, Everfast shocked almost everyone with a runner-up finish in the Preakness behind War of Will at 30-1.

Those odds actually made the colt an underlay in the Preakness based on poor form entering the race, as he had lost his prior three races by a combined of 43 lengths, going off at odds of 60-1 or higher in all of them.

Prior to that streak, however, Everfast finished a fast-closing second in the Holy Bull at 128-1 odds, and in the Preakness he capitalized on a speedy early pace and a great ride by jockey Joel Rosario through the stretch to angle inside on the golden rail and edge Owendale for second, circling back to his best form.

The fact remains, however, that this son of Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy hasn’t won since his debut last August at Ellis Park and deep closers haven’t had much success in the Belmont Stakes in recent years.

He figures to be a longshot once again on Saturday, and I think his ceiling could be 4th but I’m not a fan at all! I would throw him out.

9. Joevia

Odds: 30-1
Post position: 1

This son of 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby projects as a pace factor in the Belmont Stakes, but Joevia would have to improve leaps and bounds to even contend in this race.

He rebounded from a disastrous showing in the Wood Memorial to win the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 12 in a good effort but he defeated only three horses — one of which lost his jockey — in that run.

In the Wood Memorial, Joevia crowded several opponents shortly after breaking from the far outside post in an aggressive bid for the early lead, tired badly after setting a contested pace, and was disqualified from seventh to last of 11.

He ran competitively in his three career starts before the Wood, winning his debut last summer and finishing second twice in listed stakes earlier this year after a long break, but he still appears overmatched against the best of his crop, especially in a long-distance race like the Belmont. No shot

8. Sir Winston

Odds: 12-1
Post position: 7

The other Mark Casse runner, like several other Belmont starters, this son of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again should be running from well off the early pace.

Sir Winston enters Saturday’s race off of his best effort during his 3-year-old season, rallying through the stretch to finish second behind Global Campaign in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 11. He had failed to muster any threat at all in three prior graded stakes this year leading up to the Derby but responded well to jockey Joel Rosario in their first pairing in the Peter Pan.

Rosario retains the mount for the Belmont, rather than staying on Preakness Stakes runner-up Everfast, and that’s a good sign. This colt put together his best three-race streak last fall at Woodbine on its synthetic main track, winning twice, including a stakes race, and finishing third in a graded stakes.

He has a solid pedigree for the Belmont’s 1.5 mile distance, and a patient rider in Rosario who is one of the sport’s best closers. If the Peter Pan showed that he indeed favors Belmont’s track, Sir Winston could sneak up into the trifecta or exacta – but when assessing the entire field, he’s definitely the understudy to trainer Mark Casse’s other entrant in this race, budding superstar War of Will.

7. Tax

Odds: 12-1
Post position: 4

A “wiseguy” longshot pick by some handicappers to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby, Tax turned in the first sub-par performance of his career, never making an impression during the race and finishing 15th (placed 14th).

Prior to that, he had shown up in all five starts, the last four coming in two-turn races. In his first two starts of 2019, he won the 1 1/8-mile Withers at Aqueduct and then ran a game second to morning-line favorite Tacitus at the same track and distance.

Based on his overall resume, this gelding’s best effort puts him right behind Tacitus and War of Will as a win candidate in the Belmont Stakes, and if his Derby was indeed a fluke he should be among the mix of contenders racing out of “Big Sandy’s” far turn and into the homestretch.

He was bred and originally owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, and has a pedigree rich in the stamina bloodlines and he runs like it. He’s very one-paced and a one-speed type horse that can run all day. That will suit him well for the distance. The question is whether or not he’s fast enough.

6. Spinoff

Odds: 15-1
Post position: 6

One of the two horses in the Kentucky Derby to not have their final position altered by The disqualification, Spinoff checked in 18th of 19 after breaking from the 17th post position.

That post compromised his chances severely, as he raced wide throughout and backed up in the far turn. Trainer Todd Pletcher was quoted saying he hated the track at Churchill. The Derby was essentially a throw-out race, and he’s been training well at Belmont Park since then.

After impressing last summer as a juvenile, winning his debut and then finishing third in the Saratoga Special Stakes, Spinoff was off for six months but came back strong in his two first starts of 2019, romping at Tampa Bay Downs and then finishing second by three quarters of a length in the Louisiana Derby after leading in mid-stretch.

He’s got a forwardly-placed running style that should be to his advantage in an edition of the Belmont Stakes that lacks an abundance of speed, and he also has an above-average pedigree for stamina. This colt is still inexperienced – he only beat four opponents at Tampa and could not close the deal in the Louisiana Derby and the Belmont’s mile-and-a-half distance is a major obstacle.

But Spinoff has enough talent and untapped potential to make him a solid longshot choice in the Belmont Stakes if he can resume his race to race improvement after the Derby debacle.

5. Master Fencer

Odds: 8-1
Post position: 3

The Japanese shipper’s strong effort at Churchill Downs was overshadowed somewhat by the controversy. Master Fencer outran his 58-1 odds to finish a late-running seventh (placed sixth after Maximum Security was disqualified).

He was regarded as a Derby also-ran by most of the U.S. racing contingent based on his mediocre record in his home country and the fact that the first three horses on the Japanese qualifying points list declined the invitation to Louisville.

Still, he earned decent numbers in his starts and exceeded expectations in his North American debut, which places him among the top tier of Belmont Stakes starters, and showed good courage during his stretch run over a sloppy track in Louisville to close from last under Julian Leparoux.

Leparoux retains the mount for the Belmont, and this son of promising young stallion Just a Way (a Japanese champion from the legendary Sunday Silence sire line that country) should be positioned near the back of the field again in the Belmont’s early stages.

While the added distance in the Belmont should suit Master Fencer, he may not get the solid pace he needs to close into in the stretch. He also stumbled and was pulled up during his breeze at Belmont on May 29, although his exercise rider said following the workout that there were no ill effects, and

Master Fencer has handled the track better in subsequent gallops. Overall, replicating the third-place finish by Japan-based Lani in the 2016 Belmont would appear to be this colt’s ceiling.

4. Bourbon War

Odds: 12-1
Post position: 5

Sent off as the second betting choice in the Preakness and definitely the wise-guy horse at odds of 5-1, Bourbon War never threatened in a disappointing eighth-place finish. He received the solid early pace in the Preakness that he needed to set up his closing kick, but had no response as he crossed the wire 9.5 lengths behind War of Will.

He had added blinkers for the Preakness after finishing fourth in the Florida Derby but trainer Mark Hennig said they would be removed for the Belmont Stakes. After interviewing Hennig he said the horse was a handful soon as the blinkers went on in the paddock and knew he was in trouble.

Now he turns to Hall-of-Famer Mike Smith to motivate Bourbon War, which boosts his chances for a comeback effort. If this colt, who is well-bred for this distance, can regain his early 2019 form — when he dominated a Gulfstream Park allowance race and ran giant in the Fountain of Youth — he’s a threat to hit the board on Saturday.

On the other hand, closers typically haven’t fared that well in recent Belmonts and this year’s renewal does not have an abundance of speed horses lined up. I do think he’s talented but not yet.

3. Intrepid Heart

Odds: 10-1
Post position: 8

Want to buy a racehorse? Intrepid Heart was a $750,000 purchase by Robert and Lawana Low as a juvenile, the highest-priced horse sold at auction among this year’s Belmont Stakes field.

This son of leading sire Tapit turned heads in his very first start, scoring by over 7 lengths in a one-mile maiden race at Oaklawn Park on the Feb. 18 Southwest Stakes undercard.

He bettered that effort with a hard-fought half-length win in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claiming race at Keeneland on April 5, but then regressed in the May 11 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, finishing third as the 6-5 favorite behind Global Campaign and Belmont opponent Sir Winston after stumbling at the start and bumping a rival.

He weakened in the stretch while still passing a couple of horses from last in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan, which is a concern for the Belmont Stakes, but on the positive side this colt is still relatively inexperienced and has plenty of room to improve. Whether he’ll reach that potential in the grueling Belmont is a big question, but he has the pedigree for stretching out, as Tapit has sired three of the past five Belmont Stakes winners and his dam’s (mother’s) family includes 2014 Belmont runner-up and near-winner Commissioner and recent Hold Cup Vino Rosso (fourth in last year’s Belmont).

Look for Intrepid Heart to sit near the front-runners in the Belmont and vie for the lead through the far turn – and, as always in this race, jockey timing will be crucial.

To that end, regular rider John Velazquez is very familiar with Belmont’s unique main track and his skill at judging pace should be beneficial to Intrepid Heart’s chances. The colt will add blinkers for his Belmont start….and is a dangerous horse for a trainer that knows how to win this race. My upset special.

2. Tacitus

Odds: 9-5
Post position: 10

Sent off in the Kentucky Derby as the third choice at 5-1 odds, Tacitus overcame some minor early traffic trouble and made a sustained run through the far turn and homestretch to finish fourth behind Maximum Security , before being put up a spot to third.

He checks all of the boxes for a live Belmont Stakes contender, and should vie with War of Will to be the post-time favorite on Saturday. Surprisingly he was minted as the morning-line favorite. He’s in good form, he won the Tampa Bay Derby, then the Wood prior to the Kentucky Derby; he’s shown the ability to overcome in-race adversity, in the Kentucky Derby and especially in the Wood; and he’s proven over three different race tracks.

He also has got the perfect pedigree for the Belmont’s mile-and-a-half distance, as a son of three-time Belmont sire Tapit and of dam (mother) Close Hatches who earned over $2 million and specialized in winning graded stakes at route distances. Close Hatches was also trained by Trainer Bill Mott.

This colt is similar in several ways to 2017 Belmont winner Tapwrit, who also won the Tampa Bay Derby, ran decently in the Kentucky Derby (sixth), skipped the Preakness, and then took the Triple Crown’s final leg.

Jose Ortiz rode Tapwrit two years ago, and kept his mount closer to the early pace than in prior races and timed his move for the lead just right. Look for Ortiz to employ similar tactics on Tacitus in this year’s renewal, in order to take advantage of this horse’s stamina and rallying ability in the stretch.

1. War of Will

Odds: 2-1
Post position: 9

After gaining what trainer Mark Casse called satisfaction, not revenge by winning the Preakness Stakes, this talented, competitive colt enters the Belmont Stakes aiming to take control of the 3-year-old male division.

He endured the worst of the controversial traffic trouble in Kentucky Derby history checking hard just behind leader Maximum Security when that foe darted out several paths.

War of Will lost momentum for several strides after the incident before briefly re-rallying, only to tire in deep stretch and finish eighth (moved up to seventh after Maximum Security was disqualified).

In the Preakness, he employed a similar stalking trip to his Derby effort, tracking along the rail from the inside-post position, and was rewarded this time when space opened up at the top of the Baltimore stretch.

For a horse that started his career on turf, the Preakness was his third win from five starts on dirt, all three of them stakes victories, and he has had legitimate excuses in his two off-the-board finishes in the aforementioned Kentucky Derby and in the Louisiana Derby where he lost stride shortly after the start and was taken out of his preferred running style.

It will be important for jockey Tyler Gaffalione to get War of Will situated in a comfortable position just off of the pace in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, breaking from an outside-post position this time after two consecutive starts on the rail.

He’ll need to be patient and keep enough of the horse’s energy in reserve through Belmont Park’s long backstretch and sweeping far turn before pushing the “go” button at the right time.

Rising star Gaffalione will be making his first Belmont Stakes start, as opposed to Belmont-winning riders such as Jose Ortiz (Tacitus), Joel Rosario (Sir Winston), Irad Ortiz (Tax) and John Velazquez (Intrepid Heart), which could be a disadvantage in this high-stakes arena.

But War of Will has already proven to be one of the most talented athletes in his age group, and looms as the horse to beat once the starting gate opens Saturday evening. Remember speed is the key in the Belmont…which he possesses.

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