When a thoroughbred is going for the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is one of the biggest sporting events of the year on the calendar. For example, back in 2015 the race got huge viewership and betting handle because American Pharoah was going for the Triple Crown – and he broke horse racing’s 37-year drought.
However, when there’s no history at stake the Belmont Stakes suffers. That’s unfortunately the case Saturday for the 149th running of the Belmont Stakes, the longest of the Triple Crown races at 1½ miles.
Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming is skipping after a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Preakness. Cloud Computing, who won the Preakness but didn’t race in the Derby, also is not at Belmont Park. It’s the first time since 2010 that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner will run.
Classic Empire, the two-year-old male champion, opened as the sizable favorite earlier this week in the watered-down field. That colt was a co-favorite at the Derby but got caught up in a collision out of the gate. He rallied to finish fourth. At the Preakness, Classic Empire was caught at the wire by Cloud Computing.
So Classic Empire could well be the best three-year-old in the country, but his bad luck continued when he was scratched from the Belmont due to an abscess in his right foot. One of Classic Empire’s big victories last year was the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but Chief’s Crown (1985) will remain the only winner of that race to even run in the Belmont.
The +300 betting favorite at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com for the Belmont is Irish War Cry, who will start from Post 7 in the 12-horse field under jockey Rajiv Maragh. The colt was among the Derby favorites, but got caught up in the same scrum as Classic Empire and finished 10th. Irish War Cry skipped the Preakness. His father, Curlin, was second at the 2007 Belmont.
Arguably the most interesting story in the field is Japanese horse Epicharis, who starts from Post 11 and is at +350 on the Belmont Stakes odds. Epicharis was 4-0 racing in his native country but comes off a second-place finish in March at the UAE Derby. Many don’t know what to make of Epicharis considering the winner of that race, Thunder Snow, was 20th in the Kentucky Derby.
It’s not 100 percent that Epicharis will run Saturday. He is receiving a treatment for “lameness” in his right front leg and has been fitted with a glue-on shoe. Epicharis has been unable to train since Tuesday. His handlers are still hopeful he can go because the NYRA offers a $1 million bonus to any Japan-based horse who wins the Belmont. That was created to lure more competitors from the country.
The only Belmont entry to run in the Derby and Preakness is Lookin At Lee (Post 6). He’s at +550 on the 2017 Belmont Stakes odds after finishing second in the Derby as a long shot and fourth in the Preakness. Lookin At Lee is trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. They won the 2016 Belmont with Creator.