Geo Sette plots the mile and a half Test of Champions: The 154th Belmont Stakes

June 8, 2022

The Belmont Stakes, dissected by Geo Sette at Past the Wire

Geo Sette

Give Geo Sette a quality field, and a mile and a half to work with and you know he will come in strong. His past Belmont Stakes analysis shows that right here at Past the Wire. We’d expect no less, and Geo does not disappoint as he does he usual enthusiastic deep dive into this year’s small but select field. Follow Geo on Twitter at @settebetterdays

So, you want some history? How about 153 years of it? We’re all set for the 154th, $1,500,000, Grade 1 Belmont Stakes.  It’s the always intriguing mile and ½ marathon, the final Jewel of the Triple Crown and true “Test of a Champion.”

Elmont N.Y. out on Long Island will be buzzing for sure with a huge crowd expected after two lackluster years due to the pandemic.  As I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I know the scene very well as I have attended this fabulous race 15 times over the years.

This year’s event provides 8 starters, 7 colts and one very special filly. In fact, only 23 fillies have run in the Belmont Stakes in it’s storied history with 3 of them winning: 1867 Ruthless, 1905 Tanya and 2007 Rags to Riches who provided one of the greatest Belmont Stakes stretch runs in running down the great Curlin, becoming the first filly to win in over a century.  I was in attendance that day and will never forget the excitement of the “Battle of the Sexes” stretch run.

As always, I dug down deep into each horse’s career past performances, their workouts and a very detailed bloodline/pedigree analysis with hours of race replay film study.  All these horses will be tested and I only see a few as genuine win contenders with others perhaps in a position to run an improved race to hit the board so you can cash your exotics tickets.  Here’s my precise order of finish as I picture the full race being run in my head.

#6 Mo Donegal    

This son of Uncle Mo was my rather decisive top choice. Purchased for a cool $250,000 as a yearling, he’s been a consistent and reliable runner since his debut over this same Belmont oval. He began his career that day as a juvenile with a 3rd place finish and after a slow start, he was forced to be steadied but still had some run in him. He went on to graduate in his next start in a MSW event also at Belmont. It was then he exhibited his first powerful turn of foot.

This tough, hard-hitting colt has stamina in his pedigree through second dam, Island Sand; a fabulous Grade 1 winner, sired by Belmont Stakes’ winner Tabasco Cat. I’ve always been a fan of sire Uncle Mo and grandsire Indian Charlie. Based on the tenacity he has exhibited in all of his races, I just know he will relish the imposing distance of 12 furlongs.

Following his maiden graduation day, he was ambitiously entered in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct where he stretched out to his first 9 furlong test. It was on that day that you could see he was a colt with a world of talent as he came off the rail, swung wide and battled down the stretch vs solid colt Zandon ( who won the Blue Grass Stakes this year) to win by a thrilling nose.  He then started in the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, was favored but only ran 3rd after a slow start. To me, that distance wasn’t his best at a mile and 1/16th.  After a few months on the shelf, this guy ran a brilliant race in the Wood Memorial, running down Preakness Stakes’ winner Early Voting. When it seemed his target was home free, he ran with conviction and took care of business.

 It was then time for his start in the Kentucky Derby . He drew the rail and was off slowly. In my opinion he ran a very strong and gutty race. Behind a wall of horses, he was forced 10 wide and sandwiched to his left and right, but split them with a surge of power and kept on running towards the wire. He ended up finishing 5th on Derby Day, just under 4 lengths off the longshot winner Rich Strike.  In defeat he ran a very brave race and I love the fact that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, passed on running in the Preakness for this race.  Of course, Pletcher is no stranger to this race. The multiple Eclipse winning trainer is a three time winner (2017 Tapwrit, 2013 Palace Malice and winning with the filly Rags To Riches as mentioned earlier in 2007). 

 It’s fabulous that jockey Irad Ortiz is back in the saddle. Perhaps no other jockey knows Big Sandy as well as he does and he’s won the Belmont Stakes back in 2016 with Creator.  This colt seems primed for a huge race. If he gets a clean trip and anything close to a moderate pace, he should be thundering down the lane to win, perhaps by several lengths.  He’s an absolute must use on all your exotic tickets as he’s the most probable winner.  I am hoping that others will support   #1 We The People and Derby winner/Cinderella Story # 4 Rich Strike at the windows which will help us collect more money. I do not like the chances of those two colts, and I am expecting them to be over bet.  Mo Donegal is a true fighter, whether inside, outside or needing to split horses, he can get it done. I’m really expecting a strong finish from him.  Get ready to cash your tickets!

# 3 Nest   

This beautiful filly is facing the boys, and she’s my overwhelming 2nd choice in this Belmont field of 8.  Purchased for $350,000 as a yearling, she is bred to make this Belmont distance.  She’s the daughter of Curlin out of a dam by Belmont Winner and 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy.  In my opinion, this filly has the very best pedigree for this race in the field and because she’s facing the boys, she will carry 5 pounds less at 121 pounds, all the colts will carry 126.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has done a fabulous job with her from the very start of her career, never once sprinting, racing in her debut as a juvenile over this same Belmont soil, trouncing her filly opponents by 5 lengths.   She then went on to win the Grade 2 Demoisel and the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland by 8+ lengths. A month later while racing in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, I felt she was full of run, but had to settle for 2nd after a challenging trip.  Her regular rider Irad Ortiz sided with my top choice Mo Donegal, so there’s a rider change to Jose Ortiz his brother, who is also aggressive and talented in the silks ( he won the Belmont in 2017 with Tapwrit).   My top two choices here are stablemates, they have worked morning drills together and they both appear fresh and very fit.  I am seeing this filly racing around 3 to 4 lengths off the pace and I have a strong vision of seeing her and Mo Donegal both firing their best in the final quarter mile of the race.  She’s my 2nd choice and should be used on your exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets. If she runs her very best and gets a perfect trip, I give her a chance to win in a close finish, especially if Mo Donegal doesn’t fire his very best.   She’s never been out of the money in her 6 career starts ( Stakes races, 3 of which were graded) and I do not expect her to be off the board here, even with the task of beating the boys.

It’s a Todd Pletcher exacta, stablemates to the wire!

# 2 SkippyLongStocking  

If my loyal readers can remember, I backed this colt as my 2nd choice in the Preakness Stakes underneath my eventual winner Early Voting. I have watched a tremendous amount of film on him as he’s the most experienced colt in the race with 10 career starts.   He was a disappointing 5th in the field of 9 on Preakness Day, but he didn’t run a bad race. I did not like the ride that Junior Alvarado gave him and I’m guessing trainer Saffie Joseph felt the same way as Manny Franco (who won the Belmont aboard Tiz The Law in 2020)  is this colt’s new rider. 

This imposing colt is the son of Exaggerator who won the Preakness and hit the board in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes and went on to win the million-dollar Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park.  Over his last 5 races, he’s shown continuous improvement as demonstrated in his Beyers (60-79-88-91-94) and he’s got the closing punch needed to finish strongly in this race.  His overall bloodlines are fabulous, bred to be a winner, from his daddy I mentioned above, his grandsire ( Curlin) was Horse of the Year twice, by the dam Twinkling ( War Chant).  He has been barned and has worked over the Belmont surface, a nice moderate breeze to get a feel of Big Sandy.

I am expecting yet another advance in his form and Beyer speed rating. If that happens, I can see this guy hitting the board and making your Trifecta and Superfecta tickets much more promising.  As for him winning the race, he would have to fire his career best while my top two failed to provide theirs, and that’s not very likely.  I respect his connections and his experience and with his overall pedigree, he’s deserving of consideration at a robust price.

#5 Creative Minister 

This attractive gray colt was purchased for $180,000  and never ran as a juvenile. Not having a two-year-old racing campaign is not something I am a big fan of, but he has prospered having four quality races to his credit over 4 different racetracks ( Gulfstream, Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Pimlico) so I admire his versatility and his ability to travel and remain composed.  He too has demonstrated improvement with each of his starts, as his Beyers indicate ( 76-83-96-100).  He has two morning drills over this Belmont soil, his 2nd to me was a little slow going 4 furlongs at 50.1 breezing which could be an indication that he’s a bit tired. It’s not always the case, but I did see him breeze the same distance in .47 flat at Gulfstream Park.  He’s trained by Ken McPeek  who won this race way back in 2002 with 70-1 bomb Sarava. That was a shocker ( I was in attendance as well) as he beat War Emblem and prevented him from winning the Triple Crown.  His regular Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. is back in the saddle and he’s a very capable Jockey in big races such as this.  This guy was originally my 5th choice but I moved him up a notch to 4th. I do have questions in my mind on whether he’ll make this distance but I have the same question for many others in the field.  He’s a worthy choice for many of your bottom gimmicks. He should be giving you some action in the stretch.

# 1 We The People

This colt is a flashy son of Constitution and he has a world of speed. He’s very much the likely pace setter. In fact, many handicappers feel he could be the lone speed in the race. As you are watching the first ½ mile of the race, rest assured he will likely be the front runner.  This guy does have an impressive pedigree for the distance as Constitution is the son of Tapit (who sired four Belmont Stakes winners), and who also sired a Belmont Winner in Tiz The Law; albeit that was the pandemic year in 2020 where the Belmont was run at 9 furlongs and not the traditional marathon distance of 12 furlongs (Mile and a half).   The connections here are very solid. Flavian Prat is back in the saddle for the 3rd time in 5 career starts for this colt and he is trained by the consistent barn of Rudy Brisset.

 I have great respect for Prat. To me he’s a top 5 rider in the business today, he always seems to make the best decisions in his races.  This horse is fast, no doubt, and speed can be dangerous as horses get brave on the lead; however, although he’s won 3 of his 4 starts rather convincingly, two were at Oaklawn Park vs much cheaper rivals. He laid an absolute egg with a stinker in the Arkansas Derby, was totally empty finishing 7th in the field of 9, but then he opened some eyes racing at Belmont Park in the Grade 3 Peter Pan winning gate to wire by 10+ lengths.  It was a solid race, but he didn’t open my eyes, as I feel that was a weak field of Grade 3 starters. 

This Belmont Stakes, a Grade 1 mega event, provides a significant jump in class for him. There’s no doubt he’ll be on the lead, but the longest he’s ever gone is 9 furlongs, and now he must finish 12, that’s another 660 yards or 6 and ½+ football fields.  He ran a big 103 Beyer in the Peter Pan, it was his career best and I’m thinking he may bounce off of that.  He’s my 5th choice and he’s likely to get well bet at the windows, so he’ll clearly be an underlay to me and feel he will burn lots of win money in the process.   Of course, there’s a chance he’ll hang on for a share, but I would only suggest using him in your very deep gimmicks like your multiple Triples and Superfectas.

# 8 Barber Road    

This colt could easily be considered the wild card of the race. They are taking his blinkers off and added the fabulously confident Joel Rosario as a big rider change. This guy has fought many battles and he always seems to make his presence felt, finishing in the money in 7 of his 9 career starts, winning twice. In his last two, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, he raced well and seemed to have something left at the end.  Additionally, he comes into this Belmont Stakes with a few nice morning drills, so he appears to be fresh and fit.  He’s been running late off the pace, but something tells me they may send him early with Rosario in the saddle, so do not be surprised if he’s up early with # 1 We are the People or perhaps closer to # 3 Nest and # 7 Golden Glider.  I do appreciate a horse who never quits, and this guy has proven that over several races, but he seems to be a cut below my top 4 in the race.  He’s my 6th choice, but with Rosario in the silks, he’s capable of a better finish, so watch the board and consider using him in your bottom gimmicks like your Triple and Superfecta wagers. On his very best day,  he’s got the guts to be in the thick of it late. Last thought, Rosario won this race with Sir Winston back in 2019.

# 4 Rich Strike    

The 80-1 Bomb, Cinderella Story from the Kentucky Derby was such a longshot, and it should have been much longer like 180-1.  This son of Keen Ice, trained by Eric Reed was not even listed as a starter until just before the entry deadline on the Friday prior to the race. Most handicappers and columnists, including myself, didn’t even have him as part of their script upon submitting earlier in the week.  Several horses had to scratch out of the race for him to become a late starter, so he was left off all published scripts as they were all due prior to the weekend.  His Jockey, Sonny Leon, somehow pulled off a legendary run. Navigating through most of the field, finding lanes and getting through while benefitting from the fastest quarter in Kentucky Derby history.  His improbable win came after several failed attempts against horses who had previously soundly defeated him.  His lone victory came in a $30,000 maiden tag race at Churchill Downs, of course the same track he would later shock the world. 

He’s been training very well leaving Churchill Downs after a couple of very fast breezes, so he’s fresh and rather fit, but at the same time he figures to get lots of window action making him a big underlay in the wagering. To me, you will not get any value for what he will need to accomplish.  Although his sire Keen Ice defeated American Pharaoh in a major upset at the Travers in Saratoga, I simply do not feel this colt will make the 12-furlong distance. Yeah, he’s a natural closer but he will not catch a perfect storm like he did in the Kentucky Derby. The pace won’t be as fast, and he will have to pass many talented horses that will be firing their best in front of him.   There’s no doubt he’ll attract betting interests from many bettors, but he won’t get one dollar from me. I’m tossing him, he’s likely to be off the board.

# 7 Golden Glider    

This colt is a nice horse. The son of Ghostzapper, he was purchased for a robust $395,000. His trainer Mark Casse ( who won this race in 2019 with Sir Winston) does has a flare for the dramatic. In my opinion, he is a big outsider with inferior numbers on the Beyer scale to all of the runners in the field and would be a huge surprise if he was competitive vs this group of proven winners. I’m tossing him. His jockey is Dylan Davis, one of the sports good guys and a talented rider in his own way but this horse seems up against it and is likely to be the longest shot on the board. He will not be on any of my tickets, no matter how deep I go.

Belmont Stakes Logo: NYRA

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@jonathanstettin I had goosebumps reading that. Excellent work, thank you for sharing!

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