Exaggerator appears best in big Belmont Stakes field

The “Test of the Champion,” aka the Grade I $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, will be run this Saturday at Belmont Park. The final jewel of the Triple Crown, it’ll go as Race 11 on a stacked 13-race card, with an estimated post time of 6:37 p.m. EST. The mile-and-a-half endurance event drew a field of 13.

#11 EXAGGERATOR is the 9-5 morning-line favorite, and while the odds aren’t generous considering there are 12 other three-year-olds entered against him, his credentials stand out by comparison. He just won the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby on May 7. Also, he’s by Curlin, one of the richest horses of all-time and a classic-distance influence. He’ll also appreciate any track condition, which will come in handy with the threat of some rain on Saturday. Kent Desormeaux, who won this race in 2009 with Summer Bird, is back to ride this horse for his brother Keith (the trainer) after an unexpected stint in an alcohol rehab clinic. It would be quite the story if he were to win the Belmont again.

Detractors will claim that EXAGGERATOR’s been the beneficiary of some off-tracks in his last few starts, but a look back at his Kentucky Derby will reveal that the race was run over a “fast” surface, and it was arguably his best performance ever. The horse that beat him that day, Nyquist, bowed out of this race due to sickness, so we’ll have to look outside of him to find EXAGGERATOR’s chief rival in here.

I think that honor goes to #5 STRADIVARI (5-1), who was a relative unknown going into the Preakness off two straight romps against weaker fields. He suffered a wide trip that day yet still managed to check in a respectable fourth. He’s already proven he can handle any track condition, and will be represented by Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez, who collaborated to take the 2007 Belmont Stakes with the filly Rags To Riches.

An outsider with a good shot in here is #1 GOVERNOR MALIBU (12-1), running for the same connections that scored in this race with Tonalist in 2014 (jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Christophe Clement). GOVERNOR MALIBU is a little short in the speed figure department, but he stands to improve at this elongated distance based on pedigree (by Malibu Moon). He nearly won last month’s Peter Pan Stakes, the traditional prep at Belmont for this race, with a bold late rally.

Horses that will be closing from well out of it are #3 CHERRY WINE and #4 SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS. That running style does not typically suit horses well in this race, but perhaps these two can round out a potential trifecta or superfecta play. CHERRY WINE was a fast-closing second in the Preakness Stakes last time out, while SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS found a bit of trouble in the Kentucky Derby but still put in a nice late rally; he gets a key rider change to Mike Smith today.

The play: $5 exacta 11/1,5 $2 trifecta 11/5/1,3,4, $2 exacta 11/3,4 ($20)

Daily Fantasy Jockey analysis: John Velazquez, as I hinted in an earlier column regarding Belmont Stakes day, has plenty of live mounts to justify his $11,500 salary, including Stradivari. He seems like a must-use, along with Javier Castellano ($12,000) and Mario Gutierrez ($7,000). Another low-budget option to consider is Mike Smith ($7,500). Although he only has three mounts they all have a realistic chance of winning, let alone hitting the board (Samraat in the Brooklyn, My Miss Sophia in the Just A Game, and Suddenbreakingnews in the Belmont).

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