Racing Roundtable: 2023 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival

June 13th, 2023

The Roundtable of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson discusses the Belmont (G1) and other notable performances over the festive weekend.

What did we learn from the Belmont?

James Scully: It bodes well for Arcangelo, who ran faster than counterparts this winter/spring, and the late-blooming colt is just getting started. A fast maiden scorer (97 Brisnet Speed rating) three starts back, the Jena Antonucci-trained son of Arrogate made his stakes debut a winning one in the Peter Pan (G3) on May 13, netting a 101 Speed rating on par with more accomplished divisional rivals through the first five months of 2023, and it was highly encouraging to see Arcangelo receive a 110 Speed rating for a 1 1/2-length decision in the Belmont.

Speed ratings were down in this year’s Kentucky Derby preps, as well as the first two legs of the Triple Crown, leading to doubts about the overall quality of the division. Arcangelo doesn’t fit that narrative, registering a top-class number in the Belmont while still on an upward trajectory.

The Belmont marked the first two-turn start for the long-striding gray, and Arcangelo was up close stalking a solid pace, putting rivals away with a powerful turn of foot into the stretch. He may still face a tough challenge from the likes of Arabian Knight, or perhaps another late-developer in the second half of the season, but Arcangelo clearly rates as the three-year-old I want exiting the Triple Crown series.

Kellie Reilly: The meteoric rise of Arcangelo is further evidence that late-developing three-year-olds can get good in a hurry. The son of Arrogate has been taking significant jumps forward, from being a maiden in mid-March to Belmont winner in three starts. Although his ground-saving trip helped around the vast Belmont Park oval, the key was how strongly he was traveling at every point of the race. Arcangelo looked like the winner on the backstretch, already telegraphing that he was full of run and awaiting the cue from Javier Castellano. Jena Antonucci will go down in history as the first woman to train a U.S. classic winner; a great accomplishment for any trainer, but especially given Arcangelo’s rapid progression under her tutelage.

At the same time, Forte’s gallant second proved that last year’s champion will have a lot to say about the forthcoming divisional battles. When he came under a ride a long way out, the Belmont appeared to be too tall an order after he missed the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Yet Forte showed his heart, and class, to stay on bravely and even outfinished his stoutly-bred stablemate, Tapit Trice.

Vance Hanson: The judiciously-handled Arcangelo catapulted to near the top of the three-year-old standings in the Belmont, thanks to his innate talent and also to a clever ride by Javier Castellano, who saved all the ground while his most serious challengers lost a precious amount of it while trying to rally wide. Forte perhaps ran the best race of anyone, tackling 1 1/2 miles having not run since winning the Florida Derby (G1) on April 1, and he remains one of the best in the division. Those two from the Belmont are ones we'll be talking about more in the race for division honors this summer.

One of the main stars of this Belmont, of course, was winning trainer Jena Antonucci. Her success is a testament to the hard work she puts in and the way she manages the horses under her care. I hope she will become a more frequent presence on racing's top stages for many years to come.

Which big-race winner impressed you most?

JS: I enjoyed watching Caravel, Cody’s Wish, and Up to the Mark deliver spectacular Grade 1 wins in succession prior to the Belmont.

Caravel extended her win streak to five, erasing any doubt about superiority in the turf sprint division winning the Jaipur (G1) by about a length.

Cody’s Wish, who netted a 110 Speed rating recording a convincing win in the Met Mile (G1), continued to enhance his legacy as one of the most distinguished dirt milers in the modern era, notching his sixth consecutive stakes triumph. And he didn’t appear limited to eight furlongs. I’m excited about the possibility of Cody’s Wish stretching out to 1 1/8 miles for the Whitney (G1) on Aug. 5.

Up to the Mark was 12-1 when making his turf debut in a Gulfstream allowance in late January, and the four-year-old has now recorded four wins from five turf starts, including consecutive Grade 1 events. He was at his best in Saturday’s Manhattan, drawing off to a 2 3/4-length decision, and Todd Pletcher trains the top U.S.-based contender for this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita.

KR: Several deserving choices in this category, but I’ll say Clairiere because she overcame an unfavorable race shape in the Ogden Phipps (G1). She was the one to beat, as the defending champion and last-out heroine of the Apple Blossom (G1). Still, the cutback to one turn was a question for the confirmed closer, considering that the pace was going to be a lot slower than her madcap set-up here a year ago. Search Results was in pole position stalking the leisurely fractions, and the tempo got even more lackadaisical through six furlongs in 1:13.85. When Search Results pounced and edged away, in conditions that played to her strengths, Clairiere briefly looked to have a tough task to catch up. Nor was Search Results stopping, throwing down a 118 Brisnet Late Pace rating more redolent of a turf race than dirt. But Clairiere zoomed even faster — earning a 123 Late Pace figure — to collar her by an ultimately comfortable half-length.

VH: Virtually every big race winner on Saturday's Belmont Day card was impressive in their own way, and in doing so established themselves as mid-season favorites for their respective division championships. Standouts include Met Mile winner Cody's Wish, a prime candidate to be champion older dirt male, especially if he can stretch out successfully in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) next time; Manhattan winner Up to the Mark, likely now pointing for the Arlington Million (G1) as the top turf male in the country; and older dirt mare Clairiere, who overcame a slow pace to win the Ogden Phipps for the second year running. Turf mare In Italian and sprint champ Elite Power are on this list as well. There wasn't much money to be made on any of them, but from a sporting perspective they all lived up to expectations on a star-packed weekend.

Who ran best in defeat over Belmont weekend?

JS: Popular opinion will center upon Forte, who gutted out a nose second over an underachieving Tapit Trice following a 10-week layoff. The accomplished colt was no threat to the winner, but finally received a top-class Speed figure in his seventh stakes attempt. Here are a couple other candidates.

Dorth Vader nearly caught Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Pretty Mischievous in the final strides of the Acorn (G1), coming up a head short, and proved that she can hold her own against divisional rivals in one-turn races. Filo Di Arianna sustained a tough neck loss in the Poker (G3), putting away rivals on the front end before being nailed late, and it was encouraging to see the multiple Grade 2 winner carry his form outside of Canada.

KR: In Friday’s New York (G1), Didia uncorked a furious rally to come closest to the loose-on-the-lead Marketsegmentation. That pacesetter stole the race and quickened 2 1/2 lengths clear in midstretch. Didia, who raced as many as four lengths back early, didn’t put herself in as deep a hole as the other main players, including favored War Like Goddess. Accelerating from her somewhat better position, Didia erased most of the deficit, finishing just three-quarters of a length off Marketsegmentation at the wire. A champion in her native Argentina, Didia continues to make waves stateside, and she’ll loom large in the Aug. 12 Beverly D. (G1) at Colonial Downs. Also worth a mention from Friday is Acorn (G1) runner-up Dorth Vader, who stubbornly kept trying and made the idling Pretty Mischievous pay attention to hold her at bay. Even around one turn, 1 1/16 miles is a shade far for Dorth Vader, who was validating her fifth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). Watch for her back in sprints.

VH: The aforementioned Forte gets the nod for running such a huge race in the Belmont, despite being a race short following a 10-week layoff. Based on that effort and his two wins over Mage in Florida over the winter, he's my mid-season leader among the three-year-old males, despite not having won any of the three classics. But there's still a long ways to go before that division is decided.

Honorable mentions include Dorth Vader for her runner-up effort in the Acorn, in which she again showed to be a high-quality one-turn filly, and the South American import Didia, who was second best in the New York after chasing a false pace. She's one to watch for in the Beverly D. at Colonial Downs later in the summer.