Lo Duca: There’s A Spoiler In The Field At Belmont
Brad Penner, USA Today Sports
Much is said each year about trainer Todd Pletcher’s less-than-desirable Kentucky Derby record. If only those pundits would be so kind as to mention his Belmont record each year as well. You know, even out the scales a little bit? While the first Saturday in May still seems like a Rubik’s Cube mismatched for Pletcher, the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown has been a career-maker.
The most postrace exuberance Pletcher has ever shown was after the 2007 Belmont Stakes, when his top-class filly Rags to Riches won a ferocious stretch duel against the great Curlin. The now 50-year-old Texan was flailing his arms and yelling like any other fan, as he had just won his first Triple Crown race.
Home Away From Home
Since that memorable win in 2007, Pletcher has added two more Belmont wins to his ledger, including last year with Tapwrit. However, those two wins don’t exactly spell out the truth of just how good Pletcher has been in the Belmont. When we take a closer look, we’ll find that he has had one horse in the exacta in four of the past five Belmonts. Commissioner and Destin were very small margins away from potentially giving Pletcher five Belmont winners.
There are reasons for this. It’s far from happenstance. First off, this is Pletcher’s backyard. He’s coming up on 20 trainers titles at Belmont going back almost 20 years. Second is the time off his horses are given coming into the race. What do Rags to Riches, Dunkirk, Palace Malice, Destin and Tapwrit all have in common? They all got five weeks’ rest from Derby weekend. They were poised to fire their best shot in New York.
This year, Pletcher’s chief Belmont contender, Audible, has been taken out of consideration given his conflicting ownership issues with Justify. Pletcher’s other top 3-year-old, Magnum Moon, has been given extended time off after a troubled Kentucky Derby run. Even without his best two 3-year-olds, Pletcher still figures to be a major player in Belmont 150 with Vino Rosso (8-1) and Noble Indy (30-1).
Noble Indy will be used for his speed in racing’s final jewel. “Rabbit” probably isn’t the right word. “Target” would probably be a better way to describe his role, being owned by the same people who own Justify. Very few horses would willingly go to the lead against Justify, knowing what caliber of horse was breathing down their neck. Just ask Promises Fulfilled in the Kentucky Derby. He burst right to the lead, and Justify was ominously stalking on his outside waiting to be released. After Justify took over, Promises Fulfilled faded all the way to 15th. Noble Indy could very well play that same role in this year’s Belmont, the target.
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If Noble Indy doesn’t get too discouraged when Justify passes him, there is a chance he could potentially hold on to a small piece of the exotics if he sets a slow enough pace. He did win the Louisiana Derby and has a mix of speed and stamina. However, his role will be difficult, having to race close to Justify early.
A Sleeper Looms
Pletcher’s other contender, Vino Rosso, has the look of a key horse for exotic bets. He runs at a constant pace. That’s a style that is tailored for this race. When you examine his ninth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby, there were some bright spots to take moving to New York. One thing to note, he was very wide in the Derby. With no attempt to save any ground, Vino Rosso still moved up through the herd for a midpack result. He is by top classic stallion Curlin. Also, his mom, Mythical Bride, is a half sister to Commissioner, who almost won the 2014 Belmont. Commissioner was second, beaten by a head at 28-1.
With his pedigree, his racing style and, most importantly, his trainer bringing him in rested, Vino Rosso is looming as a major exotics key horse to expect to hit the board in Belmont 150.