By Jarrod Horak
The 2023 Belmont Stakes includes two runners from the powerful Todd Pletcher barn, 2-year-old champion Forte and Grade 1 Blue Grass hero Tapit Trice. Last year, Pletcher trainees Mo Donegal and Nest finished first and second in the final leg of the Triple Crown, and he seeks his fifth Belmont winner on June 10.
For whatever reason, Pletcher’s Kentucky Derby runners underperform. He is 2-for-64 in that race, but he has saddled the Belmont Stakes winner four times and has a very good chance to add to that total in New York on Saturday.
Rags to Riches (2007), Palice Malice (2013), Tapwrit (2017), and Mo Donegal (2022) all captured the Belmont Stakes for Pletcher. Let’s go through his previous winners and see if we can find any common denominators.
Rags to Riches (A. P. Indy – Better Than Honour, by Deputy Minister)
DP 8-11-19-0-0 (38) DI= 3.00 CD= 0.71
The impeccably bred filly finished fourth in her career debut as a juvenile in 2006. She graduated at Santa Anita in her first start as a sophomore and quickly climbed the ladder after that. She won the Las Virgenes (G1) and Santa Anita Oaks (G1), and shipped to Kentucky and captured the Kentucky Oaks (G1). She was the 4-1 second choice in the Belmont Stakes (G1), and she sat wide in midpack, moved with post time favorite Curlin, and outgamed that one by head after a stirring stretch duel. John Velazquez was her winning pilot.
Palace Malice (Curlin – Palace Rumor, by Royal Anthem)
DP 4-5-11-0-0 (20) DI= 2.64 CD= 0.65
This son of Curlin graduated second time out as a 2-year-old. After a runner-up finish in an optional claiming race to begin his sophomore campaign, he was third in the Risen Star (G2), seventh in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and second in the Blue Grass (G1). He added blinkers and set a fast pace before wilting in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and removed blinkers, stalked wide, and drove home to win the Belmont Stakes (G1) by 3 1/4 lengths as a 13-1 longshot under Mike Smith.
Tapwrit (Tapit – Appealing Sophie, by Successful Appeal)
DP 6-9-12-1-0 (28) DI= 3.00 CD= 0.71
The Tapit colt won twice as a juvenile in 2016 including the Pulpit Stakes. As a 3-year-old, he was second in the Sam F. Davis (G2), first in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and fifth in the Blue Grass (G2). He was 15th early in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and passed a few rivals to finish an okay sixth. In the Belmont Stakes (G1), he stalked early leader Irish War Cry and wore that one down to score by two lengths at 5-1 odds under Jose Ortiz. His stablemate Patch was third.
Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo – Callingmissbrown, by Pulpit)
DP 2-6-8-0-0 (16) DI= 3.00 CD= 0.63
He showed ability right away in 2021 with a maiden win second time out and a gritty victory over Zandon in the Remsen (G2). He was third in the Holy Bull (G3) in his sophomore bow and followed that up with his second graded tally in the Wood Memorial (G2). He was off slow from the inside post in the Kentucky Derby (G1). The pace was electric that day and he went from 19th to 5th in a respectable effort. The Belmont Stakes (G1) was next and he was patiently handled early. He advanced in the stretch and used his stamina to kick away from his stablemate Nest to win by three lengths as the betting favorite under Irad Ortiz Jr.
Each of Pletcher’s four Belmont Stakes winners had a few things in common. Three of the four rebounded from subpar efforts in the Kentucky Derby. Rags to Riches was exiting a victory in the Kentucky Oaks, so that means all four last competed on Derby week at Churchill Downs. All four had a Dosage Index of 3.00 or lower, and three of the four winners had strong Dosage Profile numbers in the Classic category. The Dosage Profile (DP) consists of five numbers (listed in order of Brilliant-Intermediate-Classic-Solid-Professional). Let’s concentrate on the Intermediate/Classic numbers. The higher the numbers in those two categories, the more likely a runner is to improve as they get older. Mo Donegal did not have flashy numbers like the others, but they were more than acceptable.
Pletcher will saddle two strong Belmont contenders this year. Forte was the 2-year-old champion. He has not lost since a flat fourth in the Sanford (G3) at Saratoga last summer. After that race, he rattled off wins in the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), and began 2023 with victories in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1). He was the Kentucky Derby morning line favorite but had a foot bruise and scratched the morning of the race. He missed a few weeks of training and has worked three at Belmont Park including a five panel bullet on June 3. He has a Dosage Index of 3.00 and is certainly classy enough to win the Belmont Stakes, but the ten week layoff is a concern.
Tapit Trice has much more in common with Pletcher’s other Belmont Stakes winners. The 2-time graded winner was unplaced in the Kentucky Derby and has a strong Dosage Profile. His Dosage Index is a bit high at 3.92 but I am not too concerned about that. His sire Tapit is a prolific Belmont Stakes sire. His offspring have captured the final jewel of the Triple Crown four times (Tonalist, Creator, Tapwrit, Essential Quality), and multiple others hit the board including Frosted, Lani, Hofburg, and Tacitus. His Derby effort was similar to Tapwrit and Mo Donegal, and his morning activity since the Derby has been especially strong.
If Pletcher wins the Belmont Stakes again this year, Tapit Trice is probably his best shot.
Belmont Stakes Field
1 – Tapit Shoes / Jose Ortiz / Brad Cox / 20-1
2 – Tapit Trice / Luis Saez / Todd Pletcher / 3-1
3 – Arcangelo / Javier Castellano / Jena Antonucci / 8-1
4 – National Treasure / John Velazquez / Bob Baffert / 5-1
5 – Il Miracolo / Marcos Meneses / Antonio Sano / 30-1
6 – Forte / Irad Ortiz, Jr. / Todd Pletcher / 5-2
7 – Hit Show / Manny Franco / Brad Cox / 10-1
8 – Angel of Empire / Flavien Prat / Brad Cox / 7-2 (blinkers on)
9 – Red Route One / Joel Rosario / Steve Asmussen / 15-1