Anyone who’s read my previous picks should know who I’m going to pick for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes (G1). I’ve been a Lani (#10, 20-1) lover since the beginning and will be rooting for the Japan’s star runner throughout the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.” The fact his connections have come out and said the Belmont Stakes has been the main goal all along makes me even more confident in the feisty gray’s chances. The fact he’s at 20-1 sort of makes the Tapit colt my longshot pick as well as my top choice, but that doesn’t matter. Lani has improved with each stateside race, going from ninth in the Kentucky Derby (G1) to fifth in the Preakness Stakes (G1), rallying from well back on each occasion. He’ll get even more ground for his late run in the Belmont Stakes and would spark a huge celebration in the winner’s circle with a victory on Saturday.
After speed horse Gettysburg entered the Belmont (G1) picture earlier this week, the connections and backers of Preakness (G1) hero Exaggerator (as well as others in the field) had to start feeling a lot better. Now with adequate pace in the field, Exaggerator (#11, 9-5) has the ability to assert his superiority again while not necessarily having to deviate from the running style that has made him one of the more formidable members of his crop. There’s been debate since Wednesday how low Exaggerator’s odds will be, and before post positions were drawn I figured even-money or 6-5 was in the ballpark. Anything lower and he might be worth taking a shot against, and anything higher would be a gift. Regardless of his playability, he’s the best horse in the race and the most likely winner.
Exaggerator has the best resume as the Preakness (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up, but post 11 isn’t ideal, and two different historical angles aren’t in his favor (see Vance Hanson’s look at similarly situated Belmont contenders and my piece on the Belmont trends). So although he remains the most probable winner, I can’t resist taking a shot with Suddenbreakingnews (#4, 10-1). Not only does he fit the recent pattern of Derby losers who skipped the Preakness and won the Belmont, but he gets a major rider change to Hall of Famer Mike Smith. We haven’t seen the best of this closer yet, and Smith might be the key. Suddenbreakingnews has been finishing like the proverbial freight train when second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and just missing third in the Kentucky Derby. Bred to excel at this trip, he’s well drawn in post 4, and a better-timed move could make all the difference.
Creator (#13, 10-1) turned the corner for trainer Steve Asmussen in late winter, registering increasing BRIS Speed ratings as he scored a maiden victory, finished a rallying third in the Rebel (G2) and captured the Arkansas Derby (G1) going away at Oaklawn Park. I thought he still had much more to offer, but the Kentucky Derby didn’t set up for his late-running style and nothing went right for him under the Twin Spires as the son of Tapit experienced an awful trip from the start. I’ll draw a line through it and look for his best in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He receives a positive rider switch to Irad Ortiz Jr. and owner WinStar Farm has entered a “rabbit,” Gettysburg, to ensure the proper set-up. Creator shows four works in the five-week interim and appears ready to take a significant step forward. His Speed and Late Pace ratings are among the best in the field and the colt still has tremendous upside. He reminds a little of Summer Bird, an improving late runner who put it all together when recording a 2 3/4-length victory in the 2009 Belmont at 11.90-1 odds. Creator will offer plenty of value as well.