The last stage includes a multitude of closures
After so much went well for Rich Strike to win the Kentucky Derby, he’ll likely need even more luck at the Belmont Stakes with so much stacked against him.
Rich Strike won’t go more than 80-1 this time around, but even after rounding the Preakness to run in the final leg of the Triple Crown, he shouldn’t be the horse to beat in the eights area. That accolade belongs to 2-1 morning line favorite We the People, a newcomer to the Triple Crown trail who could set the pace in the 1 1/2 mile run and thrive if it rains in New York today. .
If it’s a wet track similar to We the People’s victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last month, trainer Mark Casse doesn’t like the chances of others.
“We’re all going to be racing for second place, even the winner of the Derby,” said Casse, who is due to saddle Golden Glider in the Belmont. Golden Glider finished far behind We the People in the Peter Pan on May 14.
Rich Strike shockingly overtook 19 other horses on May 7 to become the second biggest by far to win the Derby. Even that took a myriad of factors to happen: sharp training at Churchill Downs the previous week, pulling out of Ethereal Road to get into the peloton, a steady pace, the perfect course and the kind of acceleration it had never shown before in racing.
“Is this the best of his life? I don’t know,” said retired jockey Jerry Bailey. “History will only tell us that. But I think he’ll have to run better than that, actually, to win.”
This is partly because horses don’t usually run as fast at the start of the longer Belmont, known as “a champion’s test”. The 154th edition of the race is particularly gearing up at a brisk pace with We the People looking like the only speed horse to take on Rich Strike and six others closer on a large, sandy track that doesn’t tend to favor late charges.
“The mile and a half is just an entirely different race,” said Casse, who won the Belmont three years ago with Sir Winston. “You don’t want to be too far.”
The blame lies with the jockeys, including Rich Strike’s Sonny Leon, whose navigating Derby traffic will go down as one of the best races in the history of the sport.
“We weren’t expecting to get the trip we got because going over 19 horsepower takes a lot,” trainer Eric Reed said this week. “It’s one of the best rides ever.”
But Leon has never ridden at Belmont Park before and is not expected to step onto the main dirt track until he boards Rich Strike in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
After watching Calvin Borel at the top of his game in 2009 misjudge when to make his move with Derby winner Mine That Bird and other jockeys making costly mistakes in that race, Bailey thinks it’s a big task to take on. for Leon.
“He has a lot to think about,” said Bailey, who is now an analyst at NBC Sports. “The Belmont is different because you can actually affect the trip you get. In the Derby they just passed him, so he just played the hand that was dealt to him. He can pretty much control his own hand if he chooses to be because he won’t be that far back, so he’s going to have to decide where he wants his horse at the start of the race and then when it comes time to move, when he actually moves, depending speed – or for that matter perhaps how slow they were.”
It seems to be a bit slow. Among the others in the race, including Derby horses Mo Donegal and Barber Road, two returning from Preakness in Creative Minister and Skippylongstocking and filly Nest, there is a lack of early speed.
It seems perfectly set up for We the People to go from thread to thread if jockey Flavien Prat can control the race.
“Flavien Prat, does he slow the pace down as much as he can and then try to get so many at the end that they’ll never catch up to him?” Bailey said. “Does he try to spread out the run somewhere in the middle and get a cushion? Much will depend on how Flavien decides to run the run.”
In one look
154TH BELMONT GAME
WHEN 5:59 p.m. Central Post Office Time
WHERE Belmont Park, Elmont, NY