Lest anyone had forgotten, this year’s Kentucky Derby showed why races are run on the track and not on paper. Even those inside of Rich Strike’s camp didn’t hold their breath thinking the son of Keen Ice would upset the biggest apple cart in the sport, but at the wire, it was his chestnut frame rolling past all rivals and into the history books as the 148th winner of the Run for the Roses.
Bettors likely won’t get 80-1 odds on any of the eight horses set to post in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes. But, with We the People installed as a tepid 2-1 choice on the morning line, there figures to be value found at the windows. So, before you craft your ticket, Playfecta lays out the case for why each contender can win and what scenarios could be their respective undoing.
We the People (2-1)
Why he can win: Contrary to popular belief, the Belmont’s 12-furlong distance is more favorable to horses with tactical speed than to closers. And based on past performance lines, We the People is the only clear speed in the race, as he has been on or near the lead in his three career victories. The son of Constitution also showed his affinity for “Big Sandy” when he led every point of call en route to a 10 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes on May 14.
Why he can’t win: In the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 2, We the People wasn’t able to get a position in that first flight and ended up a nonfactor in seventh. Hence, if something goes awry for him at the break on Saturday, his day could be over by the time they hit the far turn. Moreover, his win in the Peter Pan came over a sealed track. So one wonders whether the bay colt is a freak in the making — or simply freaked that day over a surface that had taken some rain.
Why he can win: His most visually impressive effort came when he broke his maiden by 10 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park last September, a race in which he showed more speed than usual and was able to take command by the half-mile mark.
Why he can’t win: There are levels to this game, and this son of Exaggerator seems to be in over his head when he faces graded company. His third-place finish in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial was decent enough, but he was no threat to the top two of Mo Donegal and eventual Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting. His Preakness effort was another middle-of-the-road effort as he finished a nonthreatening fifth.
Why she can win: Of the horses in the Belmont field, Nest has the bloodlines that most scream success going 1 1/2 miles. Her sire, Curlin, was beaten by just a head in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, with his conqueror that day being none other than the champion filly Rags to Riches, who, like Nest, was trained by Todd Pletcher. Rags to Riches was a daughter of Hall of Fame and 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, and Nest herself counts A.P. Indy as her dam’s sire. Nest also has the race credentials to go with her breeding, as she ran her foes off their feet in winning the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April before finishing second in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.
Why she can’t win: In the Kentucky Oaks, Nest was bottled up throughout, and if no one presses expected pacesetter We the People on the front end, she’ll have her work cut out for her trying to keep up.
Rich Strike (7-2)
Why he can win: As evidenced by his 80-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby, no one thought the son of Keen Ice had a prayer that day, and look what happened. Given how sharp he has looked in the mornings since bypassing the Preakness Stakes, he certainly appears to be coming into the final leg of the Triple Crown with energy to spare.
Why he can’t win: His Kentucky Derby upset came about due to a master class of a ride from jockey Sonny Leon paired with an absolute pace meltdown. Barring something unexpected, Rich Strike doesn’t figure to get the fractions needed Saturday to suit his late-running style.
Creative Minister (6-1)
Why he can win: This Ken McPeek trainee has progressed in each of his four career starts and he showed he could handle deeper waters when he finished third in the Preakness Stakes, his first try against graded company. His pedigree says he should handle the 12-furlong distance, and McPeek has enjoyed success in this spot before, having saddled upset winner Sarava in 2002.
Why he can’t win: He has plenty of upsides but still a lot of question marks around him as well, given his relative lack of experience. Four horses who finished behind Creative Minister in the Preakness should have been massive long shots on the odds board. It’s fair to wonder how much that effort was him on the upswing and how much was simply besting some mediocre competition.
Mo Donegal (5-2)
Why he can win: When he won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, Mo Donegal was able to reel in a front-running horse who had gotten away with some comfortable fractions. The horse he caught that day was eventual Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, and Mo Donegal came back to run an admirable race in the Kentucky Derby when he closed from well back to get fifth.
Why he can’t win: If he’s next to last early on in the Belmont Stakes — as he was in the Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby — and We the People is coasting along on an uncontested lead, Mo Donegal will need a Herculean effort if he wants to give trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth career win in the Test of the Champion.
Golden Glider (20-1)
Why he can win: Trainer Mark Casse pulled off a Belmont shocker in 2019 when he saddled Sir Winston, who had only two prior wins to his credit, to victory in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Golden Glider has been decent in his four tries against graded stakes company, including a runner-up effort in the Peter Pan Stakes.
Why he can’t win: He just does not appear good enough. Yes, he was second in the Peter Pan, but We the People was 10 1/4 lengths in front of him. If he sits closer to the pace, as he did when he finished fourth in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, he can maybe fill out some exotics.
Barber Road (10-1)
Why he can win: This son of Race Day is a plucky sort who always manages to give a good account of himself. His sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby marked only the second time he has been worse than third in nine career starts, and he did show speed in both of his career wins during his juvenile season.
Why he can’t win: Again, his usual style is to come from well back, and that will be a hill to climb going 1 1/2 miles in a race devoid of speed. Love his determination, but he’s also developing an always-a-bridesmaid reputation, given he has lost his last six starts.