Was the 2023 Belmont Stakes a Strong Race?

Arcangelo captures the 2023 Belmont Stakes – NYRA Photo

By Jarrod Horak

The 2023 Belmont Stakes was loaded with graded talent and Arcangelo parlayed a ground saving trip into a 7-1 upset over Forte and Tapit Trice in the final jewel of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 10. Jena Antonucci had this one primed to run a big race and she became the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown event. Javier Castellano notched his first Belmont victory and gave the winner a great ride, and he also picked up his first Kentucky Derby win aboard Mage on the first Saturday in May. 

None of the nine Belmont Stakes participants have run back yet so there is no direct evidence to suggest it was a strong race. However, four of the Belmont runners were Grade 1 winners (Angel of Empire, Forte, National Treasure, Tapit Trice), and that number now stands at five following Arcangelo’s historic victory at Big Sandy. The latter captured the Grade 3 Peter Pan prior to his Belmont triumph in June, and Hit Show was the other graded winner to compete in the Test of the Champion. The latter took the Grade 3 Withers at the Aqueduct in February.

Arcangelo has been chilling at Saratoga for a few weeks and is gearing up for his first workout since the Belmont. He could have his next morning move as early as the middle of next week. His trainer Jena Antonucci has indicated that this one could train up to the Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 26. 

Forte put forth a very nice effort in the Belmont. The final leg of the Triple Crown was his first start in 10 weeks and he rallied wide and was slowly closing the gap on Arcangelo in the late going. That ended a 5-race win streak in the graded ranks for the 2-year-old champ but he lost nothing in defeat. He worked in company with Major Dude on June 30. They went an easy half-mile in 50.47 and galloped out five panels in 1:03.30. It was Forte’s first morning activity since the Belmont.  

Tapit Trice won the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and Blue Grass (G1) in March and April. It really looked like he was going places but he broke slow, raced wide, and was a bit one-paced when finishing 7th of 18 in the Kentucky Derby. He was training forwardly heading into the Belmont Stakes and eased out after breaking from an inner post, moved up while wide, and just missed the place by a nose. That solid but slightly disappointing effort was much better than his Derby run. He has worked twice since the Belmont and assistant trainer Byron Hughes was really pleased with his energy level in his solo move on June 30. In that sharp morning work, he went a half-mile in 47.59 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.05 and six panels in 1:12.69. The Tapit colt acts like there is more in the tank and I would not be surprised if he notched another graded victory this summer. The Haskell (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), and Travers (G1) are in play for stablemates Forte and Tapit Trice.   

Angel of Empire looked great in back-to-back graded wins at 1 1/8 miles in the Risen Star (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) earlier this year. He came running late for the show in the Kentucky Derby (G1) but probably should have done a bit better considering the race shape. He stalked wide and finished in a dead-heat for fourth with his stablemate Hit Show in the Belmont Stakes. He got back to work with a half-mile breeze in 49.40 on June 30. He needs to rediscover his sharp winter/spring form if he expects to compete at the Grade 1 level later this year, and he might be best at a mile and an eighth.  

Hit Show breezed a half-mile in 49.40 at Churchill Downs on June 30. He looks to be a Grade 2-3 type at this stage. I would like to see him drop down from the Grade 1 ranks and try to get a confidence-boosting victory vs. lesser company.   

National Treasure was able to make the lead and dictate the pace from the inside post in the Preakness. In the Belmont Stakes, he had to work harder to make the lead at 1 1/2 miles and was hounded by Tapit Shoes and Hit Show. He held the lead for quite some time but ran out of stamina in the lane and weakened to sixth. He has worked twice at Santa Anita Park since his last start and went an identical 48.80 both times. I am not sure what Bob Baffert has in mind. There is nothing on the West Coast for him unless they want to try turf in the Del Mar Derby (G2) later this summer on Sept. 3. More likely options include the Haskell (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), or Travers (G1).  

Il Miracolo was overmatched in the Belmont Stakes and that was his sixth up the track finish in the stakes ranks. He is back in Florida and returned to the worktab at Gulfstream Park on July 1. He needs to find an allowance or non-graded spot.  

Red Route One competed in the Preakness and Belmont and was fourth in the former and eighth in the latter. He nailed Tapit Shoes on the line in the Bath House Row Stakes at Oaklawn in April. His first work since the Belmont Stakes was on July 2 and he breezed an easy half-mile on the inner turf course at Belmont Park that day. He easily broke his maiden in a turf route at Kentucky Downs last year and Steve Asmussen might be considering some turf route stakes races at Saratoga this summer.  

Tapit Shoes was used as a rabbit for his stablemates Angel of Empire and Hit Show in the Belmont, and he faded to last after attending the pace from the inside post. He just missed in the aforementioned Bath House Row in April and is still eligible for an entry level allowance race. He most recently logged a half-mile in 48.20 at Churchill on July 1. 

The top six Belmont finishers are all quality horses and I would not be surprised if the final jewel of the Triple Crown turned out to be a productive race.