Belmont Stakes Report: Forte, National Treasure head probables

May 24th, 2023

The seven-horse Preakness field lacked pace and National Treasure took advantage, cruising through slow opening splits in :23.95, :48.92, and 1:13.49 on a clear lead. Kentucky Derby winner Mage broke better than recent stakes appearances, stalking the pace in third through the opening half-mile, but the lightly-raced colt lacked the necessary finishing kick in the stretch.

National Treasure still had to work for it, as Blazing Sevens launched a bold challenge off the far turn to nearly draw even in upper stretch. The duo battled to the wire, bumping repeatedly before National Treasure prevailed by a head.

By Quality Road, National Treasure delivered Bob Baffert a record eighth Preakness victory. He won previously with Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Lookin at Lucky (2010), American Pharoah (2015), and Justify (2018). National Treasure was the first to not run in the Kentucky Derby.

Mage, who earned his first stakes triumph in the Kentucky Derby, will skip the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont on June 10, following a non-threatening third at Pimlico. Blazing Sevens will also bypass the “Test of the Champion.”

National Treasure missed a scheduled start in March’s San Felipe (G2) due to a minor foot issue, and he lacked the necessary points for a Kentucky Derby bid following a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). Twice Grade 1-placed at two, including a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), the bay sophomore earned a 100 Brisnet Speed rating in the Preakness, his first win since his career debut at Del Mar in early September.

The improving bay also netted a second consecutive triple-digit Late Pace number (107). National Treasure will be pointed to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, possibly along with stablemates Arabian Lion and Reincarnate.

Belmont probables

With a little more than two weeks remaining, 13 horses are under consideration for the Belmont. Let’s examine the prospects.

Angel of Empire – Arkansas Derby (G1) and Risen Star (G2) winner launched an eye-catching rally on the far turn of the Kentucky Derby, but Angel of Empire could not match Mage’s kick through the stretch, winding up a belated third as the favorite for Brad Cox. Essential Quality rebounded for Cox after a close third as the favorite in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, rallying to win the Belmont five weeks later, and Angel of Empire will try to follow the same path.

Arabian Lion – After returning from a 2 1/2-month layoff with a good second in the Lexington (G3), Arabian Lion kept progressing in the Sir Barton S. at Pimlico on the Preakness undercard five weeks later, leading all the way in a convincing win. Speedster would be the one to catch in the Belmont, but he’s never been past 1 1/16 miles and faces questions at the 12-furlong Belmont distance.

Arcangelo – Up-and-coming colt jumped to stakes competition with a commendable head win in the May 13 Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont Park, and Arcangelo is bred for the added distance being a son of Arrogate and out of a Tapit mare. He registered his first triple-digit Speed rating (101) last time, and the Jena Antonucci-trained gray appears to have something going for him, but the lack of experience remains a valid concern for the intriguing three-year-old.

Forte – Kentucky Derby favorite was scratched the morning of the race, and Forte will train up to the Belmont off a 10-week layoff for Todd Pletcher. The juvenile male champion has won five straight, including four Grade 1s, and the bay colt rallied to defeat Mage by a two-length margin in the Florida Derby (G1) last out. The son of Violence will need to thrive over a 1 1/2-mile distance following the freshening, but Forte remains a threat to outclass rivals.

Hit Show – An uninspiring nose second in the Wood Memorial (G2), Hit Show stepped up with a respectable performance from the rail post in the Kentucky Derby, chasing an extremely wicked pace before finishing fifth. And the Candy Ride colt is a candidate to keep advancing in the Belmont for Cox.

Kingsbarns – Perfect from three starts entering the Kentucky Derby, including an easy frontrunning score in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Kingsbarns forced a ridiculous pace after failing to make the lead from the starting gate at Churchill Downs, going all-out in pursuit along the backstretch instead of settling in second. The antics exacted a heavy toll, as Kingsbarns weakened to 14th, but the lightly-raced colt would figure to employ different tactics in the Belmont. His tactical foot could be an advantage, and he’s trained by four-time Belmont winner Pletcher.

National Treasure – Preakness winner showed speed from the innermost post at Pimlico, the first time National Treasure had been on the early lead since his career debut, and the early/presser will probably employ up-close stalking tactics in races with a legitimate pace.

Prove Worthy – Broke his maiden the third time out on May 2, stretching out to a 1 1/4-mile distance at Churchill Downs to win going away by more than four lengths, and the Curlin colt certainly has upside after registering a decent 94 Speed rating. But the Belmont would be a tall task for Prove Worthy, one of four Pletcher runners being considered.

Raise Cain – His lone wins, including Gotham (G3) over a muddy track in March, have come at one turn, and Raise Cain’s eighth in the Kentucky Derby did not suggest the Violence colt will relish the added ground in the Belmont.

Red Route One –  Confirmed closer made an early bid along the backstretch of the Preakness, and Red Route One held his spot in fourth throughout. His breeding fits, but it’s difficult to recommend the dedicated late runner’s chances given his lower Speed ratings and unplaced efforts in his last two graded starts.

Reincarnate – Chased the pace in the Kentucky Derby before winding up 13th, and Reincarnate would add speed to Belmont field. From the first crop of Good Magic, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Mage, the gray colt recorded thirds in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel (G3) after opening the year with a frontrunning Grade 3 win at Santa Anita.

Sun Thunder – Since finishing an encouraging second in the Risen Star (G2), Sun Thunder has failed to make an impact in three consecutive stakes, recording an 11th in the Kentucky Derby with the addition of blinkers. By Into Mischief, the late runner will need to find form to challenge in the Belmont for Kenny McPeek, who recorded a 70-1 upset with Sarava in the 2002 Belmont.

Tapit Trice – After breaking his maiden in mid-December and recording an allowance win in early February, the slow-starting colt recorded consecutive wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and Blue Grass (G1), racing closer to the pace in the latter after a tardy beginning. Tapit Trice failed to challenge after trailing early in the 18-horse Kentucky Derby, checking in a belated seventh, but he’s eligible to race closer to the pace in the Belmont. Three of Pletcher’s four Belmont winners (Palace Malice, Tapwrit, and Mo Donegal) rebounded from unplaced finishes in the Kentucky Derby, and Tapit Trice remains eligible to make a serious impact.