Belmont Stakes: Forte, Tapit Trice vs. Pletcher's past winners

Belmont Stakes: Forte, Tapit Trice vs. Pletcher's past winners
Photo: Susie Raisher / NYRA

With four Belmont Stakes wins on record, trainer Todd Pletcher knows how to win this race more than any other leg of the Triple Crown series. In this year’s edition, he is expected to bring Forte and Tapit Trice to the table, and they each resemble past Belmont winners from his stable in different ways.

If comparing Forte and Tapit Trice’s running styles to Pletcher’s Belmont winners, Forte’s natural style falls closer to how Rags to Riches, Palace Malice, Tapwrit and Mo Donegal won their respective editions of the race.

The key half-mile margin is 2 1/2 lengths. All four of those past Belmont winners ran within 2 1/2 lengths of the leaders at the half-mile fraction. Remove Mo Donegal from the equation and the remaining three horses were behind by exactly two lengths. Pletcher won this race with runners who made use of tactical speed to stay close to the leaders.

Even though Forte did not show this in the Florida Derby (G1), he typically runs about two or three lengths off the pacesetter if nothing goes wrong.

In last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Forte traveled three lengths off the leader at the half-mile fraction through a lively pace. Then in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), he settled 2 1/2 lengths off the leader at the same point. Forte probably will not set the pace anytime soon, but he can keep up early with the leading group of speed horses.

Forte’s tactics ended up as more conservative in the Florida Derby (G1) because of the wide post position and the awkward placing of the gate in two-turn dirt routes at Gulfstream Park. Rather than run wide and lose significant ground, jockey Irad Ortiz opted to hold back Forte on purpose and drop to ninth in order to minimize the effects of his post.

In contrast, the early position of Tapit Trice feels like a mystery because of his slow-breaking habit. Tapit Trice can run close to the leaders, as shown in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) when he made the early outside move after an improved break by his low standards. But in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3), Tapit Trice broke slow and ran in ninth through the half-mile fraction. Granted, Tapit Trice had only 4 1/4 lengths to make up.

But in the Kentucky Derby last month, Tapit Trice broke slowly again, and that start led to him traveling in last through the opening quarter and half-mile fractions. Tapit Trice fell back by 15 1/4 lengths before eventually making a mild move on the far turn and stretch to pick up seventh late.

In terms of pedigree, Tapit Trice feels closer to Pletcher’s Belmont winners, especially with his sire Tapit siring four winners in this race. Pletcher always won this race with horses showing obvious stamina influences on paper.  

To start with Pletcher’s first winner in 2007, Rags to Riches already showed the right sire as the daughter of the 1992 Belmont champion A.P. Indy. On the bottom side, Rag to Riches' dam Better Than Honour already produced the 2006 Belmont winner Jazil. On the top and bottom, this filly had the right breeding to win the Belmont Stakes. 

Palace Malice in 2013 did not show an obvious marathon pedigree on his bottom side, but as the son of Curlin, he had a right to handle longer routes. The same note applies to Tapwrit in 2017. As the son of Tapit, who already sired two Belmont winners in Tonalist and Creator by then, he had the potential to go long even with a more standard bottom side. 

Last year, Mo Donegal came into this race with several route influences on his bottom half of his pedigree, including his damsire Pulpit, A.P. Indy, Tabasco Cat and Forty Niner. Plus, his sire Uncle Mo sired the 2017 Kentucky Derby champion Nyquist. It felt likely he would enjoy the dirt marathon, especially with his form hinting at wanting to run longer. 

Tapit Trice has Tapit as his sire on top, although his bottom side feels more standard with the dam Danzatrice a half-sister to the precocious Jaywalk. When Jaywalk competed, it did not feel like she wanted to run longer route distances. But she also had a different sire in Cross Traffic, while Danzatrice’s sire is Dunkirk, who arguably offers more stamina.  

In terms of the marathon distance, Forte shows a shaky pedigree on both sides with Violence on top and a dam line that extends to Jeano, a successful sprinter who won the 1993 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (G3). He might overcome the pedigree as a talented colt, but nothing at first glance hints at wanting to run a dirt marathon. 

Forte’s natural running style will put him in the right spot to win the Belmont. But if Tapit Trice can move up early in the same fashion as he did in the Blue Grass, then he might secure a good position as well, and from there he could possibly outlast his stablemate. Even if Tapit Trice beats Forte, he also needs to beat other good horses in the race. 

If inclined to choose which one holds the better chance to win the Belmont, then Tapit Trice gets the nod.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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