The 149th Belmont Stakes was bypassed by both Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing, but an intriguing field of 12 will line up for the 1 1/2-mile challenge this Saturday (5 p.m., NBC). Wood Memorial winner and Derby also-ran Irish War Cry was installed as the tepid 7-2 favorite in a wide-open renewal of the “Test of the Champion.” We’ll take a look at three of the main contenders here.
Epicharis (Post Position: 11, Odds: 4-1)
Epicharis ships in from his native Japan for his U.S. debut. He had enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but his connections ultimately decided to await the Belmont Stakes. The $1 million bonus that Belmont offered to a Japanese-bred Belmont Stakes winner this year may have influenced that decision. Epicharis has a win in Japan’s prestigious Hyacinth Stakes and a runner-up finish in the UAE Derby to his credit this year. He’s likely to show speed against a field that seems to be lacking early initiative, so he has a tactical advantage. The third-place finish by Japanese runner Lani in last year’s Belmont offers encouragement that this international shipper belongs in this race. Regular jockey Christophe Lemaire will ship in to ride.
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Patch (Post Position: 12, Odds: 12-1)
Patch, the one-eyed son of 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags, garnered plenty of attention going into the Kentucky Derby and is bound to do so on Saturday as well. However, he has a legitimate chance to win this race. Patch makes just his fourth career start after finding the Derby waters too deep, but he ran fast enough in his prior two tries (a maiden win at Gulfstream and a runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby) to justify competing in this race for Todd Pletcher. John Velazquez has the call for Pletcher, and they already have a Kentucky Derby win under their belts this year. Pletcher has won the Belmont Stakes twice before; the filly Rags to Riches beat the boys with Velazquez aboard in 2007, and Palace Malice upset the field in the 2013 rendition of the Belmont.
Senior Investment (Post Position: 8, Odds: 12-1)
Senior Investment is a late-blooming three-year-old that failed to qualify for the Derby but was charging home for third in the Preakness. His belated run in the Triple Crown’s middle jewel was eye-catching, as he wheeled out six-wide turning for home after steadying behind rivals on the far turn. Despite a pedigree that would play more kindly to middle distances, Senior Investment seems to improve whenever he adds ground. Trainer Ken McPeek has upset the Belmont once before with 70-1 shot Sarava in 2002, while jockey Channing Hill seeks his first Triple Crown race victory.