The Preakness winner and the pre-scratch favorite in the Belmont Stakes odds for the Kentucky Derby are set to face seven other 3-year-olds in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Forte was the morning-line favorite for the Derby before being held out due to a bruised foot, but has been training well for his return at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. for the 1½-mile Test of a Champion. The son of Violence will meet Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s National Treasure, who went virtually gate to wire to win the Preakness on May 20.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has both Forte and Tapit Trice, who was seventh in the Derby after winning the Blue Grass Stakes, in the field. Pletcher is third in the country in trainer earnings behind Brad Cox, who has three horses in the Belmont, and Steve Asmussen, who saddles Red Route One. Those three, plus Baffert, combined to win six of the last eight Belmont Stakes
👀 Rate Champion FORTE’s breeze 1-10 👇🏻
59.67 seconds covering 5 furlongs with stablemate Varatti on his inside 🔥
— World Horse Racing (@WHR) June 3, 2023
Cox will send Angel of Empire (third in the Derby), Hit Show (fifth in Derby) and promising Tapit Shoes to the post for the Belmont when the smoke clears.
Derby winner Mage, who finished third in the Preakness, is skipping the Belmont to prepare for summer racing.
Forte, who will break from the 6 hole, is the morning-line favorite for the Belmont at 5-2, followed by Tapit Trice (3-1), Angel of Empire (7-2) and National Treasure (5-1).
Forte, Tapit Trice Hope To Peak
While he had the best resume of anyone in the Derby field, many experts were picking against Forte because he had not taken big enough steps forward in 2023.
The winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November had to battle down the stretch to edge Mage in the Florida Derby, but that race looked better after his foe went on to win the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
“Obviously he didn’t run in the Derby, but he hasn’t missed any training,” Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte, told reporters. “It works out. We still think this is the best 3-year-old in the crop and I think on Saturday he’s going to prove that.”
He may have to battle his stable mate Tapit Trice (post 2) in the final yards at the Belmont. The son of Tapit was blocked a bit on the backstretch and did not have much punch left in the stretch at the Derby, but the longer distance should not affect him here if you are betting online.
“He’s got a big, long stride on him,” Pletcher told the Paulick Report. “If we can get him into a good position and into a good rhythm, I think he’s going to like the mile and a half. He’s been training that way.”
Who Wants The Lead?
National Treasure adjusted well to leading the field through a dawdling pace in the Preakness, and could get a similar scenario Saturday.
Baffert’s colt, who struggled in his first two races of 2023, will probably get some competition for the lead from Tapit Shoes (post 1) and trainer Antonio Sano’s Il Miracolo (5).
“We’re going to ask him to run out of there,” Cox told reporters of Tapit Shoes. “We’ll let him break on his own terms and go forward. It doesn’t look like there’s a tremendous amount of speed.”
It’s not out of the question, with the pace being slower, that Peter Pan winner Arcangelo (3) and Hit Show (post 7) try to be up closer as well.
“He’s been going over the track very well here,” Baffert’s assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes told reporters of National Treasure. “We wanted an inside-type post, so post four should be perfect for him. At a mile and a half, it’s not that big a concern.”
Blinkers For Angel
Deep closers do not often fare well in the Belmont, so Angel of Empire (post 8) and Red Route One (post 9) will have to show some versatility to beat the Horse Racing odds.
Red Route One actually made an early move on the backstretch in the Preakness, going by Mage at one point, but could not gain in the stretch before finishing fourth. Angel of Empire made a steady close in the Derby, but ultimately had too much to do.
Cox has added blinkers to Angel of Empire in hopes that the son of Classic Empire can stay a bit closer.
“He trained in them all winter, we just never made a change obviously, he was running very well,” Cox told reporters. “He ran well last time, but (jockey) Flavien (Prat) came back and said it might not be a bad idea to add the blinkers to him and see if it works out.”
Picks By Elimination
This could be a difficult race to make money betting, unless you have deep pockets and a guaranteed winner.
The top four in the seem to separate themselves from the rest — Forte, Tapit Trice, National Treasure and Angel of Empire. We think Tapit Shoes and Ill Miracolo are not on the level of the others and Red Route One is not likely to circle the field.
So, what to do? Pick two from top four and then your best bet out of Hit Show, Arcangelo and Red Route One to round out the trifecta box at the racebook.
Bet a 2-6-7 trifecta box and put 6 on top of exactas with 2,3,7,8.9.