What We Learned From This Year’s Belmont Stakes: The 2022 Triple Crown season has come and gone. As we look toward the fall racing season and all that comes with it- Saratoga, the Breeder’s Cup, and eventually the Eclipse Awards- we will carry with us the lessons that this Triple Crown season taught us.
There were many questions going into the 2022 Belmont Stakes, and as Mo Donegal brought the series to a close, several of them were answered. Let’s take a look at some of the clearest lessons learned.
Rich Strike’s One Dimensional Style
We cannot say for sure whether Rich Strike’s 80-1 shocker in the Kentucky Derby, which surprised even the horse racing odds chart by TwinSpires.com, was a complete fluke or not. One poor race in strikingly different circumstances does not solidify his reputation. It could be that his victory was a fluke, it could be that he is a Churchill Downs specialist, or it could be that he is, by nature, inconsistent.
What we can say for sure, though, is that Rich Strike is a deep closer with no interest in approaching the early pace, especially from the outside. Trainer Eric Reed stated after the Belmont that he regretted instructing jockey Sonny Leon to stay on the outside during the Belmont and that attempts to train some early speed into the colt resulted in frustration. Unsurprisingly, the colt who publicly mugged his own lead pony after the Kentucky Derby seems to have a mind of his own.
Nest’s Desire For Distance
After the Kentucky Oaks, many speculated that the second-place filly Nest wanted more than the 1 ⅛ mile distance of that race. Being by Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Curlin out of a stakes-winning daughter of A.P. Indy, many thought that stamina may be her trump card. Her full brother, Idol, won the 1 ¼ mile Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, adding more credence to the idea that nine furlongs were simply not long enough for this classy filly.
She did not win, but she hardly embarrassed herself with a second-place finish. Indeed, she was running well at the end, only three lengths behind the winner. This finish is all the more impressive when considering that Nest stumbled at the start of the race and immediately encountered traffic problems, being bumped by Rich Strike and subsequently left behind by the rest of the field. She showed herself as fully capable of handling the boys at Classic distances.
New York Prep Form
The Grade II Wood Memorial may not have provided racing with a Kentucky Derby winner since 2003, but this year’s edition has certainly produced the cream of this year’s three-year-old crop. Second place finisher Early Voting had previously won the Preakness Stakes, but the overall quality of the field was still in doubt when the Belmont Stakes gate opened.
Two and a half minutes later, those doubts were laid to rest. Wood Memorial winner Mo Donegal, the only horse ever to defeat Early Voting, took command at the three-sixteenths pole and was hand ridden at the finish line. In addition, the third place finisher was Skippylongstocking, who had also finished third in the Wood Memorial.
Looking further back in Mo Donegal’s career, we see his victory in the Grade II Remsen Stakes as a two-year-old, which was also at Belmont Park. His main competitor that day was Zandon, who lost to Mo Donegal by a nose. Zandon went on to win the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes and finish third in the Kentucky Derby, adding more luster to the New York Triple Crown prep races.
Pletcher stated after the Belmont Stakes that he plans to keep Mo Donegal in New York for the summer. He is eyeing the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga as a prep race for the meet’s grandest race, the Grade I Travers Stakes.