The 148th running of the Belmont Stakes won't feature a coronation like it did a year ago - or even the chance for a coronation like it did two years ago - but it still headlines a star-studded day of stakes action at Belmont Park on Long Island.
Ten stakes are included on Saturday's 13-race program, six of them Grade 1 and three offering seven-figure purses. The Belmont Stakes is the biggest of all, with a $1.5 million purse and a demanding 1 1/2-mile distance to test to remaining 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail.
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist isn't in the lineup but his vanquisher from three weeks ago in Maryland, Preakness winner Exaggerator, is along with a few other familiar faces from earlier in the circuit. There are newcomers, too, making the 13-horse field a tough one to dissect if you're thinking the favorite might finally throw in a bad one.
The day gets started early with the Easy Goer Stakes at 11:35 a.m. and the stakes keep rolling until the feature at 6:37 p.m. Daughtry will perform before the Belmont and again with a full set after the races and there figures to be some elbow room in the spacious facility without a Triple Crown on the line.
Count our crew among the expected crowd and they've got all the stakes scoped out for Saturday. Tom picked four winners during Friday's card - Theogony in the Rags To Riches Invitational, Kareena in the Jersey Girl, Dacita in the New York and Da Big Hoss in the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational and tied for the season lead with 11 winners overall. Joe also sits at 11 after picking Silver Mission in the Tremont and Kareena, while Sean trails with eight winners after picking Silver Mission Friday.
One last time with feeling. Enjoy and good luck.
Easy Goer. $150,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. 11:35 a.m.
Last year's edition wound up being a field of three so here's hoping all stays together for the 2016 renewal of race named for 1989 Belmont winner. Many hoped Bob Baffert would dip a toe back into the classic waters with Cupid but he opted for this spot instead. Winner of the Rebel Stakes earlier this winter looks tough against Rally Cry, Economic Model and two others.
Tom: Cupid, Rally Cry, Hit It Once More.
Joe: Cupid, Rally Cry, Economic Model.
Sean: Cupid, Race Me Home, Rally Cry.
Acorn (G1). $700,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 1 mile. 12:39 p.m.
Field of only six but it's quite a six-pack. Kentucky Oaks winner Cathryn Sophia squares off against Black-Eyed Susan winner Go Maggie Go, with the talented Carina Mia also in the mix.
Tom: Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia, Paola Queen.
Joe: Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia, Go Maggie Go.
Sean: Cathryn Sophia, Carina Mia, Go Maggie Go.
Brooklyn Invitational (G2). $400,000, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/2 miles. 1:11 p.m.
Curious how the track might play going 12 furlongs? Here's your chance. Kid Cruz enters off back-to-back stakes victories and got a two month freshening following nice store in Grade 3 Excelsior last time out. Turco Bravo handles distance about as well as any and comes off solid win in prep earlier in the meet. Samraat ran in the 2014 Belmont, finishing sixth and only 4 lengths behind Tonalist. That's as strong an indication he'll handle the distance as any.
Tom: Samraat, Securitiz, Doyouknowsomething.
Joe: Securitiz, Kid Cruz, Shaman Ghost.
Sean: Securitiz, Turco Bravo, Neck 'N Neck.
Ogden Phipps (G1). $1 million, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles. 1:52 p.m.
Powerful lineup for race that continues to get better and better every year. Curalina started her run last year in Grade 1 Acorn on Belmont undercard and exits very strong victory in Grade 1 La Troienne at Churchill Downs. Sheer Drama turned back Stopchargingmaria in the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland and those two renew rivalry, the latter with the benefit of a two-month break in between. Don't look past Cavorting, she's 3-for-4 at Belmont and easily defeated Carrumba in Grade 2 Ruffian May 14 at Belmont.
Tom: Curalina, Stopchargingmaria, Sheer Drama.
Joe: Curalina, Sheer Drama, Stopchargingmaria.
Sean: Curalina, Stopchargingmaria, Cavorting.
Jaipur Invitational (G3). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, 6 furlongs, turf. 2:34 p.m.
Who's hyper for the Jaipur? Apparently horsemen all over the country as a full field of 14 looms for turf sprint fixture. Rocket Heat looks to complete his own Triple Crown of sorts after winning Churchill Downs Turf Sprint on Derby Day and finishing close third in Jim McKay Turf Sprint the day before the Preakness. Loaded affair also features the consistent Ready For Rye, A Lot, Green Mask, Guns Loaded and Take Cover.
Tom: Ready For Rye, Pure Sensation, Guns Loaded.
Joe: Mosler, A Lot, Take Cover.
Sean: Take Cover, A Lot, Mosler.
Woody Stephens (G2). $500,000, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. 3:15 p.m.
Anyone who saw Sharp Azteca's victory in the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day left impressed after son of Freud battled for the lead and finished powerfully when asked. He breaks from the rail this time and shortens up a bit against Chick Lang winner Justin Squared, I Will Score, Counterforce and Dig Deep.
Tom: Counterforce, Tale Of S'avall, I Will Score.
Joe: Justin Squared, I Will Score, Mrazek.
Sean: I Will Score, Star Hill, Dig Deep.
Longines Just A Game (G1). $700,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 mile, turf. 3:58 p.m.
Older females get a chance to scoop a Grade 1 with two of the best in the division - Tepin and Miss Temple City - overseas readying for Royal Ascot engagements. Not surprisingly the race drew a field of 13, led by Mrs McDougal, Raina Da Bateria, Faufiler and Recepta.
Tom: Recepta, Celestine, Faufiler.
Joe: Faulifer, Mrs. McDougal, Strike Charmer.
Sean: Faufiler, Recepta, Rainha Da Bateria.
Mohegan Sun Metropolitan Handicap (G1). $1,250,000, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile. 4:41 p.m.
Field of 11 reduced by two with the scratches of Sloane Avenue (quarter crack) and El Kabeir (running in next week's Stephen Foster) but it remains a tough affair. Todd Pletcher considered Pimlico Special for Stanford but changed his mind, leaving that race for Noble Bird to destroy. They're both in the mix, along with morning-line favorite Frosted, unraced since the Dubai World Cup, and Canadian shipper Ami's Flatter.
Tom: Frosted, Stanford, Upstart.
Joe: Noble Bird, Frosted, Stanford.
Sean: Marking, Calculator, Stanford.
Woodford Reserve Manhattan (G1). $1 million, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles, turf. 5:37.
Flintshire was an absolute monster winning the Sword Dancer last summer at Saratoga and he'll need to be again against a much better group for traditional Belmont Day grass feature. Transferred to Chad Brown over the winter, Flintshire does show some signs of second-itis with 10 runner-up finishes in 19 career starts. Of course many of those efforts were against the best in Europe. Loaded heat also includes Grade 1 winners Slumber, Wake Forest, Big Blue Kitten and Divisidero along with multiple Grade 2 winner Ironicus.
Tom: Ironicus, Flintshire, Divisidero.
Joe: Flintshire, Ironicus, Take The Stand.
Sean: Flintshire, Take The Stand, Ironicus.
Belmont Stakes (G1). $1.5 million, 3-year-olds, 1 1/2 miles. 6:37 p.m.
One member of our team calls the Preakness the tollbooth on the road to the Triple Crown, well, the Belmont is certainly the last exit on the highway. Preakness winner Exaggerator looks to add a second notch on his belt and take the lead from Nyquist in the race for the 3-year-old championship. He'll need to beat 12 others to do so, including two from Todd Pletcher's barn in Stradivari and Destin and two from Dale Romans' barn in Brody's Cause and Cherry Wine. Creator and Trojan Nation make their return to the Triple Crown, while Lani looks to finish the series with a victory for his Japanese connections.
Tom: Lani, Exaggerator, Creator.
Joe: Suddenbreakingnews, Exaggerator, Forever d'Oro.
Sean: Suddenbreakingnews, Exaggerator, Governor Malibu.