Building to Belmont Stakes: Who are 5 best going a route?

Building to Belmont Stakes: Who are 5 best going a route?
Photo: Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire

Even though National Treasure won the Preakness Stakes last weekend at Pimlico, giving him the top spot in the 3-year-old rankings seems premature at this point given the weakness of the field and his comfortable trip.

But he does enter the discussion of top 3-year-olds in training, who led by the Forte, the morning-line Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched the day of the race.   

Here is one opinion of the best five dirt-route 3-year-olds heading into the Belmont Stakes next month.  

1. Forte

With two graded-stakes wins in two starts this year, it still feels like Forte needs to get knocked off this pedestal the right way by losing.

In his most recent start, Forte overcame a wide trip in the Florida Derby (G1) and ran down Mage to keep his five-race winning streak alive. Of course, Mage went on to capture the Kentucky Derby in his next start, and Forte was scratched by the track veterinarian and never had a chance to battle Mage down the lane again in the run for the roses.

Forte's connections, including trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, want to run Forte again in the Belmont Stakes next month and prove he still stands as the best 3-year-old. Several other 3-year-olds will get their fair chance to take Forte down. 

As a good sign, Forte stepped back onto the work tab three days ago with a four-furlong spin in 50:31. The only question is whether his pedigree contains enough stamina to handle the 12-furlong distance. 

2. Mage

Mage remains one of the best 3-year-olds in training thanks to his Kentucky Derby win two weeks ago. He also ran a great second to Forte in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream, and Forte still commands respect. 

As for Mage’s Preakness effort, the first turn set a bad tone for the run when National Treasure came out a few lanes and into his path early on. Then on the far side, National Treasure set a slow and uncontested pace, which left him with plenty of run late to face Blazing Sevens' challenge.

Mage still had a chance to join National Treasure and Blazing Sevens on the far turn for an epic three-way battle, but he spun his wheels and could not close the gap as the leading pair separated from Mage by a few lengths in the stretch. 

The Derby champion will get his chance to redeem himself this summer.

3. Two Phil’s

From a pace-handicapping standpoint, Two Phil’s ran a beautiful race in the Kentucky Derby, and he earns respect for that effort alone.

With the fractions running at a blazing pace, Two Phil’s sat right behind the eager trio of Verifying, Kingsbarns and Reincarnate. As the pace horses began to wilt around him on the far turn, Two Phil’s still had enough energy to lead the field into the top of the stretch and battle Mage.

Two Phil’s lost to Mage by one length. Given the pace scenario, Two Phil’s arguably ran the better race because he needed to endure the pace.

Earlier in the season, Two Phil’s dominated the field in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) on synthetic at Turfway Park. Two Phil’s also ran a strong second in the Lecomte Stakes (G3) in January and third in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) one month later in a similar scenario where he led the field into the top of the stretch after a fast pace scenario.

Two Phil’s possesses plenty of talent and stamina. Expect to hear more from this colt soon, wherever he makes his next start. 

4. Tapit Trice

After reaching the No. 1 spot on many 3-year-old lists, Tapit Trice disappointed many followers with his seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. His effort felt flat considering he had a clear path late when Luis Saez finally took him outside in the stretch for an open shot.

On the Derby trail, Tapit Trice gave impressive efforts when he closed for the win in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Blue Grass Stakes (G1). In the latter race, Tapit Trice broke slightly better and found himself in the clear and ready to move forward on the outside at an earlier point thanks to the break. Tapit Trice found himself challenging Verifying on the far turn and outdueling that opponent to pick up the important win.

In the Belmont Stakes, Tapit Trice will need to show his flat Derby run was an outlier and return to the Blue Grass strategy of moving up sooner. He should end up as one of the main contenders to choose from.

5. National Treasure

Although National Treasure had only one win heading into his successful Preakness Stakes run last weekend, he always competed against top competition and never finished very far off the winner.

For example, National Treasure ran second in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall. After his 2-year-old campaign, National Treasure started off the year by running third in the Sham Stakes (G3) in January. He took time off to deal with a minor physical issue before returning to finish a good fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1).

National Treasure only had problems passing horses. Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey John Velazquez fixed that in the Preakness by putting this colt on the lead and slowing the pace, and he won again.

Given his consistent record in graded stakes and his Preakness win, National Treasure deserves a spot in this list of top five dirt route 3-year-olds. 

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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