Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the Triple Crown, will feature the return of Rich Strike, the colt who stunned the horse racing world at 80-1 odds in his Kentucky Derby victory but sat out the Preakness Stakes to remain fresh for this outing.
Preakness winner Early Voting, meantime, will skip this weekend’s festivities and instead focus on either the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park or the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga this summer. Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up, will also be absent with the goal of running in the Travers Stakes.
That leaves seven other entrants to try their luck against Rich Strike, with a filly, Nest, looking like the best bet to win.
Before we examine the merits of Nest and the rest of the field, it is important to highlight the type of horse that usually wins the Belmont. Typically, winners have inherited between two and three times more speed than stamina from their ancestors, a numerical expression of a horse’s pedigree known as the dosage index and first described in the Daily Racing Form in 1981. Since 2012, when the Kentucky Derby qualification points system debuted, half the horses entered in the Belmont Stakes had a dosage index between 2.00 and 3.00, yet that group has accounted for eight of the past nine winners, discounting 2020, when the race was run at a less-grueling 1 1/8 miles. It has also helped if the mare side of the horse’s pedigree has added an influx of stamina.
Without it, horses sometimes struggle to carry their speed over 12 furlongs.
Sons of the horse Tapit have also done well in this race. He is the only horse to sire four Belmont Stakes winners since the sire Lexington, who died in 1875. Tonalist (2014), Creator (2016), Tapwrit (2017) and Essential Quality (2021), all Tapit colts, won the Belmont over the past decade.
The horses in this year’s field with the dosage index we’re looking for include Nest, Skippylongstocking and Mo Donegal, all of which have a dosage index of 3.00. There are no sons of Tapit in the field, but there are two grandsons of the famous sire: Barber Road and morning-line favorite We the People. It’s not clear if Tapit’s boost of stamina gets diluted a generation removed, so it’s probably best to set those two horses to the side and focus on the pedigrees we know are successful. The horse that stands out is Nest, whose combination of speed, running style and pedigree appears to be a perfect fit for this race.
Nest earned a 101 Brisnet speed figure while finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks. That ties her with Creative Minister for the third-fastest speed figure in the field last time out, behind We the People (108) and Rich Strike (102). Her stalking running style should put her close to the front, where most of the past Belmont Stakes winners have found success. In fact, 13 of the past 15 Belmont winners were positioned within 4 1/2 lengths of the leader after the opening half-mile. Nest has been 4 1/2 lengths behind the leader just once in her career, and no more than 2 1/2 lengths from the lead horse in her other five career races. Plus, Nest is a daughter of Curlin, the Hall of Fame horse and grandson of Mr. Prospector, whose male-line descendants have won 15 Belmont Stakes races since 1990. Nest’s maternal grandsire is A.P. Indy, winner of the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic as a 3-year-old in 1992. A.P. Indy is also the grandsire of Tapit. No wonder trainer Todd Pletcher feels Nest can navigate the Belmont’s 1 1/2 miles with ease.
“Strongly bred for the distance, she’s always been a good galloping filly that doesn’t pull hard, has a lot of the characteristics of horses that tend to do well at longer distances,” Pletcher said.
Why Nest, who is 8-1 on the morning line, over some of the other contenders? We the People earned a monster Brisnet speed figure of 108 in the May 14 Peter Pan Stakes, but that was 16 points higher than anything he had done previously, which often precedes a letdown. That’s what happened to Skippylongstocking. He earned a 107 Brisnet speed figure in the Wood Memorial Stakes, 13 points higher than any previous outing, and then dropped to a 96 figure in the Preakness, his next race. Mo Donegal also warned a 111 Brisnet speed figure in the Wood Memorial, 18 points higher than his previous best, and then fell to a 98 in the Kentucky Derby.
Nest’s previous best speed figure was 98, just three points below her 101 at the Kentucky Oaks. She also earned a career-best speed figure to the half-mile mark in the Oaks, a sign of improving form.
Plus, Rich Strike, Mo Donegal, Golden Glider and Barber Road are all closers, meaning they could be too far behind the pack to gain sufficient ground in the latter parts of the race. Lastly, as a filly, Nest will be carrying 121 pounds while the seven colts carry 126 pounds, a five-pound difference that should further help Nest’s chance.