If all 3 Baffert possibles make the Belmont, who will lead?

If all 3 Baffert possibles make the Belmont, who will lead?
Photo: Alex Evers / Eclipse Sportswire

After capturing the Preakness Stakes with National Treasure, trainer Bob Baffert said he could point three horses to the June 10 Belmont Stakes, National Treasure, Arabian Lion and Reincarnate. If all three runners make it, then deciphering who will lead will not come easy.  

Without studying the past performances, it might seem that Arabian Lion wants it more because he leads in most of his races. The last time Arabian Lion did not set the pace, he folded to fifth in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) in December, but maybe that was a result of inexperience.

Even though National Treasure set the pace in the Preakness Stakes and won, it feels unnatural to see him up front because he ran as a stalker in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and Sham Stakes (G3). The last time he set the pace before the Preakness came in his maiden breaker last year at Del Mar. 

As for Reincarnate, he won the Sham Stakes (G3) earlier in the year on the lead before running as a closer in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and a tracker in the Arkansas Derby (G1).

Reincarnate then used aggressive tactics in the Kentucky Derby and burned himself pressing through near suicidal fractions. Given Reincarnate has tried many styles by now, he is almost unpredictable. 

But when looking through their past performances, none of the three Baffert runners show any wins without setting the pace, which means all three of them would seem to benefit from a pacesetting trip to a degree.

Arabian Lion’s two career wins, with his most recent one the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, came with a loose lead. National Treasure broke his maiden and won the Preakness by setting the pace. Reincarnate’s maiden and Sham Stakes victories came through leading as well. 

Based on pace figures, Arabian Lion does not hold the highest early speed of the trio, which comes as a surprise since he either leads or runs second early in all of his races. It feels like Arabian Lion is supposed to run fast. 

From purely a numbers standpoint, Reincarnate sports the highest pace figures because he spent the early stages of the Kentucky Derby chasing the grueling pace. For his efforts in keeping up with Verifying and Kingsbarns, Reincarnate posted blazing 157 and 140 TimeformUS Pace Figures.

Arabian Lion sports some of the slowest TimeformUS Pace Figures in the field even though he secures the lead on a more consistent basis than National Treasure or Reincarnate. In recent times, Arabian Lion set the pace in both the Lexington Stakes (G3) last month and the Sir Barton.

In the Lexington, Arabian Lion posted 110 and 115 pace figures on TimeformUS before finishing strong and running second to First Mission, who had the benefit of an inside path when making his winning move.

In the Sir Barton, Arabian Lion set a crawling pace with sluggish 97 and 106 TimeformUS Pace Figures for the first two fractions. He did finish strong again and won the race by four lengths over Tapit’s Conquest. But the main point is that Arabian Lion runs slower in the early stages than most would expect.

National Treasure’s early pace figures fall somewhere between Reincarnate’s extreme Derby numbers and Arabian Lion’s slow-paced efforts in the Lexington and Sir Barton. He tends to run pace figures in the 110 to low 120 range in the early stages, which are moderate numbers.

For example, National Treasure posted TimeformUS Pace Figures of 124 and 124 in the Preakness last weekend. Two starts ago in the Santa Anita Derby, National Treasure went a little faster without setting the pace with initial pace figures of 133 and 124. But in the Sham in January, he posted initial pace figures of 115 and 119.

Given Reincarnate exits the Kentucky Derby after posting crazy pace figures, perhaps that means he will go to the front in the Belmont easily with the pace scenario likely to run significantly slower, even if Arabian Lion and National Treasure both make the final Belmont field as well.

But then again, that logic comes from a numbers handicapper. Just because Reincarnate shows the best pace figures because of the tiring Derby pace scenario does not mean he will attempt to run fast early on in the Belmont. But if asked to run, Reincarnate can post faster fractions.

Overall, there is not a clear answer of who will go for the lead if all three Baffert horses run in the Belmont. It all depends on who Baffert wants up front, as the other two horses probably will end up as stalkers by design.

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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