Tue, 26 Sep 2023

Stakes high at Belmont, from Baffert to Tapit Trace

Field Level Media
08 Jun 2023, 02:19 GMT+10

Trainer Todd Pletcher had a miserable weekend at Churchill Downs during the first Saturday in May.

Pletcher traditionally fares much better at his home track in the Belmont Stakes and he's got a formidable duo entered this Saturday in the final leg of the Triple Crown.

The first and second choices in the morning line are trained by Pletcher -- Forte at 5-2 odds and Tapit Trice at 3-1 -- in the nine-horse field.

Pletcher has trained the Belmont winner four times, including Mo Donegal last year. In contrast, Pletcher has started a record 64 runners in the Kentucky Derby with only two trips to the winner's circle.

Forte came to the Derby as the morning line favorite but was scratched by track officials due to a bruised right hoof. It was later revealed that Forte had also failed a drug test after winning Saratoga's Hopeful Stakes as a two-year-old.

Forte couldn't compete in the Preakness after being placed on the veterinarian's list due to the hoof issue. Forte's injury has healed, according to Pletcher.

"It's not the way we drew it up by any means, at the same time we didn't miss a whole lot of training," Pletcher said.

Forte hasn't raced since winning the Florida Derby in April. He posted a solid five-furlong work of 59.67 seconds at Belmont over the weekend.

"It was exactly what we were hoping he would go out there and do and I think based off the strength of his breezes, he's coming into it as well as we hope," Pletcher said.

Tapit Trice was a huge disappointment in the Derby. He finished seventh as the second choice at odds of 9-2.

Tapit Trice certainly has the pedigree to bounce back in the Belmont. His sire, Tapit, has produced four Belmont winners.

No one will mistake any of this year's entrants with the immortal Secretariat, who completed his Triple Crown sweep a half-century ago with a smashing 31-length romp at Belmont Park.

However, the field looks stronger than the one that competed for the Preakness three weeks ago in Baltimore. Kentucky Derby winner Mage finished a flat third behind National Treasure, who set the early pace and held on for the victory. Mage wasn't entered in the Belmont.

National Treasure will seek to duplicate that performance in the Belmont's testing 1 1/2-mile distance for trainer Bob Baffert.

Baffert, who trained the last two Triple Crown winners, hasn't started a horse in New York since March 2022 due to a suspension. He'll look to make a triumphant return this weekend.

"That noise, I keep it out," Baffert told the Daily Racing Form of his suspension. "That's a different animal. I just focus on the horses. It's fun to come back if you have a chance to win."

National Treasure is the fourth choice in the morning line at 5-1. Third choice Angel of Empire (7-2) finished third behind Mage and Two Phil's in the Derby. His trainer, Brad Cox, won the Belmont two years ago with Essential Quality.

"I think he has more to show," Cox told the Thoroughbred Daily News. "We always thought he would get better with the more he does based off pedigree and his physical, and he has. His numbers (speed figure) in the Kentucky Derby went forward and he's had five weeks to recover from that number."

Cox has also entered Hit Show (10-1) and Tapit Shoes (20-1).

--Field Level Media

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