2016 Belmont Stakes-G1, Race 11, Belmont Park, Saturday, June 11, 2016
3-Year-Olds, 1 1/2-miles, Dirt, Purse: $1.5 million
Exaggerator could be his own worst enemy in the 148th running of the Belmont Stakes today, and that's probably the only thing that can get him beat as the 9/5 morning line favorite.
Jockey Kent Desormeaux finally figured Exaggerator after timing his move wrong four starts ago in the San Felipe-G2. Since then it's been relatively clear sailing for the son of champion Curlin. He romped in the sloppy Santa Anita Derby-G1 three starts ago, encountered enough trouble to keep him out of the win photo in the Kentucky Derby-G1, although he likely wouldn't have won, and then came back to win the muddy Preakness-G1 in his last start after a perfect trip in which favorite Nyquist got into a suicidal duel.
Exaggerator did however, show something new in the Preakness. He made two moves, one to get into contention earlier than usual and another to win the race. That could stand him well in Saturday's Belmont, but it could also be his undoing. Desormeaux knows he's got two moves in his horse now, and he'll likely try to use one early and one late in a race with much less speed than his last.
Gettysburg looks like the speed of the race, but he also appears out classed and he doesn't look like he'll get the distance. We're thinking he'll be followed closely by Governor Malibu, Stradivari, Destin, and recent maiden breaker Seeking the Soul. The rest of the field is composed of relatively deep closers, a running style which doesn't generally work in the Belmont at 1 1/2-miles.
Interestingly, the two horses we think have the best shot at an upset are conditioned by a trainer we're not really a fan of, but in this case they have the angles, the riders, and possibly the talent going for them.
Destin will be ridden by top New York rider Javier Castellano and he may be better than he looks. He finished sixth beaten seven lengths in the Kentucky Derby after winning both the Sam F. Davis-G3 and Tampa Bay Derby-G3 against lesser competition. The Derby was a big step up in class for Destin and he made a decent bid before tiring. The rider certainly wasn't abusing him late, so maybe he was saving something for a better day, like today. Destin should sit close and make a bid into the stretch, but we're just not sure whether he can get the distance, or whether he can outrun his talented stablemate Stradivari.
Stradivari made just his fourth lifetime start in the Preakness Stakes after winning a maiden race at Gulfstream Park by 11 1/4-lengths and an allowance race at Keeneland by 14 1/2-lengths. He was actually right beside the much more seasoned Exaggerator in the Preakness when that one made his winning move, but couldn't keep pace late. Still, he outran his trainer to finish fourth beaten only four lengths in the Preakness and he fits one of our favorite angles of running s strong race on the class raise and coming back for a second start in the same class. Improvement is often forthcoming in these situations, especially with good horses that have achieved the higher level of fitness required to win in the new, faster and better class.
One or both of the Pletcher trainees and Exaggerator should fight it out for the top two spots in this year's Belmont Stakes, and the remainder of the field of generally over-rated closers will fight it out for the spoils.
At 4-1 or better Stradivari probably offers decent betting value. There's no question he has serious talent, and he also gets the services of top jockey John Velazquez. Destin could beat his stablemate with an absolutely perfect trip, and both will have to hope that Exaggerator's jockey makes a mistake in timing his moves. At a less than inviting odds, we're going to pick Exaggerator on top because he's the proven class and talent of the field, but we'll spend our win-place money on Stradivari and play a smaller saver amount on Destin.
In the Belmont Exacta we'll take Stradivari top and bottom with Exaggerator and Destin, with extra boxes on the Destin-Stradivari combo just to try to make a score. We'll also box all three in lesser exactas, play them in a trifecta box and use all three in all four spots in 20-cent Belmont Superfectas, just in case some crazy longshot like the improving but nutty Lani slips into the mix.
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