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Belmont set with no Triple Crown threat but plenty of added buzz

By Tom Canavan
Associated Press
Exercise rider Joe Ramos rides Tacitus during a workout at Belmont Park.

New York – There’s been a buzz about thoroughbred racing since the Kentucky Derby and it just might increase when the “What if?” Triple Crown comes to an end with the Belmont Stakes.

Think about it.

What if Maximum Security, the first colt across the finish line, had not interfered with eventual Preakness winner War of Will at the top of the stretch in the Derby?

The incident led to a much-debated disqualification of Maximum Security.

What if a loose horse in the Preakness hadn’t overshadowed War of Will’s victory two weeks later at Pimlico in Maryland?

What will come next in the Belmont?

Maybe it’s trainer Mark Casse’s War of Will winning the final leg in the 1½ mile Belmont Saturday for two thirds of the Triple Crown.

Of course, that would lead to: “What if War of Will had not been fouled in Derby?” Might he have joined American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018) as recent Triple Crowns winners?

Casse insists his colt would’ve had a shot to win had he not been fouled.

The questions and the chatter will go on. But that’s positive for a sport dealing with a recent slew of thoroughbred deaths at tracks around the country.

“I think this has been a great Triple Crown for racing,” said trainer Dale Romans, who is saddling longshot Everfast for the Belmont. “It’s not a negative, it’s controversial issues. If it was a negative issue, it would be different. Controversy is good. People love controversy, and it’s got people talking about the game that had no idea about it.”

Exercise rider Kim Carroll rides War of Will during a workout at Belmont Park.

The Belmont will have a field of 10. Tacitus and War of Will are clearly the colts to beat.

Trainer Bill Mott’s Tacitus hasn’t raced since being placed third in the Kentucky Derby. The colt also will have somewhat of a home advantage since he regularly trains on the track known as “Big Sandy.” The colt is sired by Tapit, the father of three of the last five Belmont winners.

Mott is cautiously optimistic about his chances.

War of Will is racing for the third time in five weeks. He is the only colt to compete in all three of the Triple Crown races this year.

“I have less concern about that now than if you had asked me that question two or three days after the Preakness,” Casse said. “I would have said that is a huge concern. We know that horse pretty well and we think he is ready.”

There are other interesting stories that could emerge Saturday.

The third choice in the race is Master Fencer at 8-1. The colt is looking to become the first horse bred, based or owned by Japanese connections to win the Belmont.

Roman’s Everfast, who finished second in the Preakness at 29-1, will be looking for only his second win in 12 career starts.

There are other stories and there will probably be more “What ifs?” knowing how this Triple Crown has gone.

NBC horse racing analyst Randy Moss said he has heard as much talk about the Derby after this year as in any of the 39 Kentucky Derbies he has covered.

“People who know nothing about horse racing were saying: ‘What do you think about this call?’ Was it legitimate? Was it a bad call? Was it a good call?” Moss said.

Moss got a text message from a colleague at the NFL Network after the Preakness.

“If the (riderless) horse had finished first, would he have won the race?” Moss said.

The answer is no.

“Sometimes when these weird things happen, it can actually stimulate interest from the public in the sport,” Moss said.

Belmont Stakes

When: Saturday, 6:40 p.m. 

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Distance: 1 ½ miles

TV: NBCSN, 2:30-4 p.m.; NBC, 4-7 p.m.

2018 winner: Justify, who completed the Triple Crown


1. Joevia, 30-1

2. Everfast, 12-1

3. Master Fencer, 8-1

4. Tax, 15-1

5. Bourbon War, 12-1

6. Spinoff, 15-1

7. Sir Winston, 12-1

8. Intrepid Heart, 10-1

9. War of Will, 2-1

10. Tacitus, 9-5