Belmont Stakes 2023 Contenders, Pretenders And Longshots For ‘Test Of Champions’

Written By Jack Flaherty on June 6, 2023
2007 belmont stakes horse race rags to riches against curlin`

The 155th running running of the Belmont Stakes, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown, is set for Saturday at Belmont Park.

Some people might think with no Triple Crown title at stake this year, there will be no big story lines, the Belmont will be diminished. You cannot be more wrong. Belmont Day is loaded with Grade 1 Stakes races featuring the country’s top horses. No Triple Crown? So what, I say.

The best live race I ever saw was the 2007 Belmont Stakes. In that race, we had the great Curlin, coming off his Preakness victory and soon to be named Horse of the Year. He was pitted against the filly champion, Rags to Riches. Unusual. Keep in mind that no filly had won the Belmont in over a century.

From the top of the long Belmont stretch, it became a match race. The two battled together neck-and-neck for what seemed like forever. Rags fought to keep a tiny lead, but near the end, she lost the lead and the crowd thought it was over. It was not. Rags fought back one last time and near the wire, pulled ahead and won by 12 inches. Twelve inches in a 1 ½ mile race. The grandstand crowd was hoarse, stunned, ecstatic, and drained.

We all knew we had seen something special. That’s Belmont.

Belmont Stakes: The ‘Test of Champions’

The race is 12 furlongs. It’s long. So long that none of these ponies have ever run more than 10. It’s why some call Belmont Stakes the “Test of Champions.” But more often, it is referred to as the “Graveyard of Champions.”

Over time, more than 20 horses who were victorious in the first two legs – the Kentucky Derby and Preakness – have come up short in the Belmont.

My extended family and I have attended quite a few Belmont Stakes beginning back in the 1970s. My father, a successful appliance executive, received a race invitation from the head of the advertising agency that handled his account. But not just an invitation to the race, but also to the swanky Belmont Jockey Club.

Now my father, from the South End of Boston, who could not tell a bridle from a horseshoe, and with his store-bought reading glasses, he was hopeless with the program’s fine print. Even if he could read the program, it would never do him any good.

But the old man knew how to fake it. With a cigar in one hand and a drink in another, he would send his sons asunder to place bets for him. The King of Siam had nothing on him. Of course, my father never won. He never won. Or at least, until he listened to my mother and played birthday trifectas numbers – and that brought him back.

Previewing the 2023 Belmont Stakes field

We have a strong group of Belmont Stakes entries this year. Several good, experienced and successful ponies. Tough guys. No Mage but that’s OK, he earned a rest.

No Arabian Knight either, the former top-ranked 3-year-old. No one knows what exactly happened to Knight. Trainer Bob Baffert put him somewhere and has not been heard of since. I just hope Bobby-Bob hasn’t completely forgotten about him.

In no particular order, here is the current field. Keep in mind this year’s fields have been fluid with too many late additions and late scratches. The odds listed are just estimates. The Belmont draw is Tuesday, June 6. That’s when the real NY horse betting begins.

National Treasure (8-1)

Man, did National Treasure enjoy a cakewalk in the Preakness. Got out front early and set his own pace (slow). And nobody stepped up to challenge him. This did not help the closers if there were any, which left National Treasure with plenty in the tank for the finish.

But Saturday is 12 furlongs. With much stronger competition. No strolls amongst the tulips on June 10. Convicted drug cheater, Baffert, is the trainer for National Treasure. Good guy Johnny V. will be piloting.

  • Trainer/jockey: Bob Baffert/John Velazquez
  • Last race: Won Preakness (G1)

Arcangelo (20-1)

We have a female trainer for this pony, her name is Jena Antonucci, who trained up Arcangelo to win the Peter Pan with a solid 97 Beyer at Belmont a month ago. Always liked horses with previous track wins; they are presumed to be more familiar and thus more comfortable with their surroundings.

In the Peter Pan, Arcangelo’s last 3 furlongs were an impressive 36.18 seconds. Means he might like distance. The pilot, Castellano, is the recent Preakness winner and evidently fell onto his feet. He lost the idle Mage but picked up this decent colt. May surprise people.

  • Trainer/jockey: Jena Antonucci/Javier Castellano
  • Last race: Won Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont Park

Red Route One (30-1)

Red Route One gave me a short-lived thrill in the stretch at Pimlico – albeit, a very short-lived one. My main pick, Perform, had evidently decided not to run very hard that Preakness Day. So that left me with only a four-horse (No Mage) trifecta box and at mid-stretch I was looking good.

Red Route One, a closer, looked to be making a move to catch Mage for third place, and my heart jumped at the thought of a lucrative and winning trifecta. But no, Red Route One flattened and Mage picked it up. Foiled. Even as a longshot for Belmont, I am staying away from the Route. I learned once again the horse is not very fast and despite his recent win at OP in the Bath House, he doesn’t look like a 12f horse.

  • Trainer/jockey: Steve Asmussen/Joel Rosario
  • Last race: 4th in Preakness (G1)

Angel of Empire (4-1)

I am a Brad Cox guy. Have been for a while. My favorite trainer since St. Nick P. Zito quietly faded away. I have ridden Angel of Empire this entire prep season. It’s been a nice profitable ride with his stake wins in the Risen Star and Arkansas Derby. He was third in the Derby, but only a length or so behind the winner and Angel still scored a 100 Beyer. (Mage was just a little better that day.)

Cox said a month ago he was pointing Angel toward the 12 at Belmont. He thinks he will like the distance. No reason not to believe him.

  • Trainer/jockey: Brad Cox/Flavien Prat
  • Last race: 3rd in Kentucky Derby (G1)

Il Miracola (70-1)

Took Il Miracola four tries to break his Maiden. This colt has raced nine times in his young career, and has won just twice. His speed numbers are low, but the connections keep putting him in there.

“Maybe the extra distance will help,” the bosses must be thinking. I think these guys are looking for a “Miracola,” but the shrine in Fatima is a long way away.

  • Trainer/jockey: Antonio Sano/Marcos Meneses
  • Last race: Won allowance optional claiming race (Gulfstream Park, May 11)

Raise Cain (A lot)

Raise Cain won Gotham last March in the slop and that has been his claim to fame other than his maiden. I really don’t see it, even as a big underdog.

  • Trainer/jockey: Ben Colebrook/Junior Alvarado
  • Last race: 8th in Kentucky Derby

Forte (5-2)

Forte is the current top-ranked 3-year-old and the favorite for this race. He was a late vet-scratch the morning of the Kentucky Derby. He limped on a perhaps sore hoof, at least according to the doctor. The Churchill people were understandably spooked that Derby week and probably would have vet-scratched any colt if he even sneezed.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer, is top-rate and has often employed jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. for the big races. For a good reason. Pletcher knows Irad hates to lose.

The issue for Irad is that he can be nasty. Often suspended, he has acquired a racing style similar to the Steve Boyd character in the Ben Hur chariot races. Ominously for “Big Stick,” there is a move afoot for the sport to limit how many times the jock can whack his horse with the stick. (No more than six times after the first furlong.) Irad won’t like that.

  • Trainer/jockey: Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz Jr.
  • Last race: 1st in Florida Derby (G1)

Hit Show (15-1)

Another Cox-trained pony, Hit Show surprised me in the Derby by finishing fifth. He stayed nicely with the second-tier pack throughout despite the fast pace. His pedigree says he has stamina. He also has tactical speed. If it is a good price, I have had worse longshot bets. Like him.

  • Trainer/jockey: Brad Cox/Manny Franco
  • Last race: 5th in Kentucky Derby (G1)

Tapit Trice (3-1)

Tapit Trice had four consecutive wins going into Louisville, including two graded stakes. Trice was running OK in the Derby, mid-pack, not chasing the lead, but then didn’t make any move. It happens, these colts are still only 3 years old. His father, Tapit, has been a prodigious lover and one of the most productive fathers since Xerses of Persia.

Tapit has already sired four Belmont Stakes winners. That means Trice will get a lot of respect for his pedigree. Any horse can have a bad race, including Secretariat. But I am not buying it. Won’t get aboard a pony who thinks 7th place at Churchill was OK.

  • Trainer/jockey: Todd Pletcher/Luis Saez
  • Last race: 7th Kentucky Derby (G1)

Possible addition: Tapit Shoes (50-1)

Not sure why Cox is considering him. Tapit Shoes has done and raced little to date. Cox might have been impressed with Shoes’ gallant but losing recent effort at Bath House. Or maybe the owner or owners just want to be invited to Belmont cocktail parties. One never knows with these things.

  • Trainer/jockey: Brad Cox/Jose Ortiz
  • Last race: 2nd in Bath House Row Stakes (Oaklawn Park, April 22)

What to know about vig and parimutuel pools in NY horse betting

Now let me tell you something that even faithful horse racing aficionados don’t know or even bothered to know. Below, you will find the track vigs for NYRA Aqueduct race track. This is the percentage the host track and/or national parimutuel pool takes out of payoffs for winning wagers. Other tracks and simulcasts are probably about the same. These people don’t work for nothing.

  • Win-Place-Show bets: 16%
  • Exacta and Daily Double: 18%
  • Trifectas and Superfectas: 24%
  • Pick 5 or 6: 24%

You can understand why some prefer the straighter win and show bets. With a fair 16% vig and a decent effort at handicapping, one can consistently win. Have you ever calculated the vig, in comparison, on state lottery games and Keno? It’s laughable.

One other thing, wherever you place your horse bets, either in person or online with apps like FanDuel Racing, make sure you are getting track odds or payouts. That would mean your wager vendor is probably in the national parimutuel pool. If not, that means your vendor is booking horse bets in-house.

That also can mean they have restrictions on their payouts, written in fine print somewhere. Make sure. Ask. Make sure your waging venue is in the parimutuel pool and the house is not just setting their own inflated odds in disfavor to their best horse betting clients.

With one exception please, off-track betting, what few there are still remaining. New York OTBs take another modest cut. But that’s all right, we can live with it. Most OTB places give back by offering a racing atmosphere, inexpensive burgers, and Friday Happy Hours.

Soundtrack for 2023 Belmont Stakes: Empire State of Mind

One last thing, Belmont has had three pre-race official songs over the years. Sidewalks of New York, Sinatra’s NY thing, and more recently, Empire State of Mind, which I like the best. Not sure what song will be played this coming week. But our songs sure beat My Kentucky Home and Maryland, My Maryland.

Point in fact, they don’t play Maryland at the Preakness anymore. It seems that despite a poem and song dating back to Civil War, 1861, it appears nobody had bothered to read all the lyrics and verses. You know, that final verse, the stanza that one could today argue helped inspire Maryland native, John Wilkes Booth, to assassinate Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater.

“Sic Semper Tyrannis,” anyone? I prefer Empire State of Mind.

Photo by Peter Morgan / AP Photo
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