There is nothing normal about this year’s Belmont Stakes.
Three-eighths of a mile were lopped off its Test-of-the-Champion mile-and-a-half distance. No fans will be allowed on the premises. And the race, to be run late Saturday afternoon, oddly finds itself first on the Triple Crown calendar.
The series, in fact, has been turned so upside down by the pandemic — with the Kentucky Derby not coming till September and the Preakness Stakes till October — that some wise guys have taken to calling it the Crown Triple.
Alas, one thing at least will remain the same: I’ve latched onto a horse from the barn of the Hall-of-Fame trainer Todd Pletcher as my top pick. In the nine years now that I’ve been publishing my Triple Crown selections, this marks the sixth time I’ve landed on Pletcher horses in the Belmont.
It’s getting a little tedious, I’ll admit. Sure, the guy has a great Belmont resume — having trained three of the past 13 winners and four runners-up — but still, come on.
When I asked him the other day if he’s encouraged or discouraged by my public backing, he broke into a big laugh. “Well, what’s your record?” (Not too bad, Mr. Pletcher. See the table below.)
Of the two colts he’ll send out on Saturday, I like Dr. Post. The horse is a late-bloomer who’s coming into the race in sharp form. His victory in a minor stakes race in late April was terrific. Stuck in traffic the whole way around, he showed lots of grit to barge his way through the pack in the stretch and pull away to what was, in the end, a facile, stylish victory.
And Pletcher gushes about the way he’s been training since that race, telling me that his workouts down in southern Florida remind him of those put in by Always Dreaming in the run-up to his blowout Derby victory in 2017. Dr. Post, he says, has “an enormous amount of talent.”
Oh, and if the horse looks all hot and lathered up on the track before the race, don’t worry about it. That’s just him, Pletcher says. “He’s a free sweater, for sure.”
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