The Preakness provided a major surprise finish as the two-horse duel between Classic Empire and Always Dreaming everyone was expecting appeared to be on for a little more than half the race before Always Dreaming ran out of gas and a stunning upset contender, Cloud Computing, thundered down the field and edged across the line for the win. Always Dreaming was so out of gas that he will no longer be racing at Belmont, as he and several other horses from the first two legs of the Triple Crown will be sidelined for the third and final Triple Crown Race. Preakness champion, Cloud Computing, will also not be participating on June 10th, so we are ASSURED of a third different winner in our third and last Triple Crown race.
Despite the many omissions, there are still some familiar names in the field; Classic Empire is back again as the favorite, and is also the clear top-rated horse in the field. Can the early Kentucky Derby co-favorite finally grab a Triple Crown leg victory? Also participating are familiar names like Looking at Lee, Irish War Cry, Gormley, and Conquest Mo Money. Looking at Lee has been on the Superfecta card in both races, but will he have enough in the tank for a third strong showing? Here’s how Vegas sees the race as of June 1st:
Early Odds from Bovada:
Classic Empire (2-1)
Lookin at Lee (5-1)
Senior Investment (15-2)
Irish War Cry (9-1)
Conquest Mo Money (10-1)
Twisted Tom (12-1)
J Boys Echo (20-1)
Classic Empire, the most familiar name in the gates, opens as the favorite, but not by nearly as commanding a margin as Always Dreaming’s 4-5 odds at the Preakness. It’s a bigger field than two weeks ago, but some of the bigger names have withdrawn and a few new strong horses (Epicharis) have entered the mix. Here’s a breakdown of the top contenders to take the final leg of the Triple Crown season.
BELMONT TOP CONTENDER PROFILES:
#1. Classic Empire (2-1)
After a disappointing fourth place finish at the Kentucky Derby, it LOOKED like Classic Empire was set for redemption at the Preakness. He led late in the race, only to be thundered down by a movie-like charge from underdog Cloud Computing in one of the more surprising results of the 2017 racing season. Alas, Classic Empire is back for a third and final crack at a Triple Crown race victory, and appears to be well-poised to do so. He is the highest-rated horse in the field on Horse Racing Nation by a sizeable margin and has won three times at distances of over a mile, making the long track at Belmont a little less daunting.
However, though he certainly is the class of the field, Classic Empire has only won one of four starts in 2017. It is also his fifth race of the year, so fatigue could certainly be a factor in this race. After all, he was chased down by a good, but not great, horse in Cloud Computing two weeks ago and the Belmont is the longest of the three Triple Crown races.
Classic Empire is a worthy favorite, but FAR from a lock. He has finished ahead of other horses in the field in big races; horses like Conquest Mo Money and Looking at Lee, but could have a real challenge from fresher horses like our #2 favorite, Epicharis.
#2. Epicharis (19-4)
At nearly five to one, a fresh horse like Epicharis is certainly worth a look. He will definitely be fresh; hasn’t raced since a second place finish at the UAE Derby on March 25th. Jetlag could be an issue though, as he is making a long trip for his first race outside of Asia. Assuming all is well, he has the speed to contend at Belmont. He ran the UAE Derby in 1:57.76, finishing second. The Preakness winner, Cloud Computing was quicker at 1:55.98, but every track and race is a little different. His time was slower, but it was evidence of the stamina to handle a long track at a rapid pace.
There are some reasons for skepticism though. Aside from being over a second slower at a similar distance to Classic Empire, there is also the really low rating on HRN, which has him tabbed as just the ninth rated horse in this field, behind the obvious favorites but also behind longer-odds horses like Tapwrit, Patch and J Boys Echo.
#3. Looking at Lee (5-1)
A lot of folks think Looking at Lee might finally be out of gas, but with a second place finish at the Kentucky Derby and a fourth place finish at the Preakness, he has been on the Superfecta card in both of his two Triple Crown attempts. This horse has already greatly outperformed expectations. Now the question is, does a horse no one though much of entering the Kentucky Derby five weeks ago have ONE MORE great race left in him, or will fatigue finally catch up?
#4. Tapwrit (13-2)
Sixth at the Kentucky Derby, fifth at the Blue Grass Stakes. Those are the last two races for this horse, which earned its way into the Derby Field with an impressive win in February’s Florida Derby, beating State of Honor and Wild Shot, and by finishing second in the race prior, just behind McCracken. Legendary trainer Todd Pletcher gave Tapwrit the race off, skipping the Preakness, to hopefully gear up for one more run at the Belmont. We shall see if the extra rest proved wise. Rested horse, legendary trainer, solid jockey – it’s an intriguing combo.
#5. Senior Investment (15-2)
The odds have narrowed on Senior Investment after a surprising third place finish at the Preakness, but HRN has this a the 11th rated horse in the field for a reason; there are a seventh and sixth place finish on his 2017 resume, and the list of races doesn’t include some of the bigger and more prestigious fields. The line is a little bloated from the recent surprise at Pimlico.
#6. Irish War Cry (9-1)
I liked this horse’s potential to win at the Kentucky Derby. It is a hard-charging front runner. We went Ricky Bobby on him – if it ain’t first, it’s last, and were pretty close. We did notch a nice ATB winner with Always Dreaming on the official play, but Irish War Cry’s longshot flyer proved to be just that; long. He finished a distant 10th place. But the potential for speed is still there, as Irish War Cry has impressive first place finishes at the Wood Memorial and Holy Bull under his belt, beating out horses like Cloud Computing, Gunnevera and Classic Empire.
#7. Conquest Mo Money (10-1)
There is still some optimism around this horse stemming from four races in 2017 where he either won or placed, knocking off horses like Looking at Lee at the Arkansas Derby and Irap at the Mine That Bird Classic. But a seventh place finish at the Preakness could be a sign that fatigue has finally settled in.
LONGER SHOTS WITH VALUE PROFILES:
#1. Patch (18-1)
This horse is currently sitting at 11th in the odds at a fat 18-1 after a miserable 14th place showing on a sloppy day at Churchill Downs in the Derby. But Horse Racing Nation has this rated as the third best horse in the field, making 18-1 a pretty enticing value. Add in the mystique around any Todd Pletcher horse, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this line is narrower come post time next Saturday. Patch has the terrible Kentucky Derby showing, but has been home resting since and does have a nice second place finish at the Louisiana Derby in his resume.
#2. Gormley (14-1)
Remember me? Gormley was a late-surging pick before post time at the Kentucky Derby but has lost a lot of favor with bettors after his disappointing 9th place finish. Like Patch, he has been home resting since a disappointing Derby and remains one of the highest rated horses in the field despite some long odds. He was the winner of the Santa Anita Derby back in April, running the 1 1/8 mile track at a brisk 1:51.16.
#3. J Boys Echo (20-1)
One of the longest shots on the board, this is another horse with a high rating and a disastrous Kentucky Derby showing (15th) on his resume. Trainer Dale Romans gave J Boys the month off, sitting out the Preakness, hoping for one more big time race. His 4th place finish at the Bluegrass Stakes behind Irap, Practical Joke and McCracken is nothing to be embarrassed about and a win at the G3 Gotham Stakes (beating Cloud Computing) is an impressive line item on the resume.
We will have some official picks closer after the gate assignments and closer to race day, but for now, I like the sneaky value of Patch, and have some real interest in the value of Tapwrit and Irish War Cry. Keep an eye on the odds over the next week, as numbers move rapidly as the big race approaches!
Here’s my early card:
Irish War Cry
*With longshot leans on Patch and Gormley
The Belmont Stakes is June 10th on NBC
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