Bel­mont has sto­ry­lines

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

Is there any rea­son for a ca­sual sports fan to watch the 2019 Bel­mont Stakes?

Might as well jump right to the ele­phant in this room. The Bel­mont al­ways holds some fas­ci­na­tion be­cause it presents a unique en­durance test for the top 3-yearold horses in the coun­try. None of them has ever raced over 1 1⁄2 miles, and most of them never will again.

That’s still not much of a hook for those out­side the bub­ble. So in the ab­sence of a po­ten­tial Triple Crown win­ner, is there some other nar­ra­tive car­ry­over from the Derby or Preak­ness?

The con­tro­ver­sial fin­ish to the Derby — where Coun­try House was handed vic­tory af­ter Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity was dis­qual­i­fied for swerv­ing into the paths of other con­tenders — gen­er­ated fierce na­tional de­bate. But nei­ther horse showed up for a re­match in Bal­ti­more and nei­ther will run in New York next week­end. So the in­trigue and squab­bling did lit­tle to build drama for the re­main­der of the Triple Crown se­ries.

We saw ev­i­dence of wan­ing in­ter­est in tele­vi­sion rat­ings for the Preak­ness, which were down about 21% na­tion­ally com­pared to 2018.

The Preak­ness pro­duced a wor­thy cham­pion in War of Will, one of the horses im­peded by Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity in the Derby. But even as he re­ceived his win­ner’s blan­ket in Bal­ti­more, view­ers seemed more smit­ten with the rid­er­less Bod­ex­press, who’d run the race af­ter dump­ing jockey John Ve­lazquez at the start­ing gate.

Will the Bel­mont of­fer us an­other dose of weird? Per­haps that’s the rea­son to con­tinue watch­ing the most askew Triple Crown se­ries in re­cent mem­ory.

Can War of Will es­tab­lish him­self as the king of this class?

The Mark Casse-trained colt lost his chance at a Triple Crown as soon as Max­i­mum Se­cu­rity halted his mo­men­tum in the Derby. But War of Will showed no ill ef­fects from that rugged race as he beat a large (and largely fresh) field in the Preak­ness.

Casse said all along that his horse should not be writ­ten off be­cause of a dud out­ing in the Louisiana Derby. And War of Will made his trainer sound like a sage.

Could he fol­low in the hoof prints of past Preak­ness cham­pi­ons such as Point Given and Curlin, who failed to win the Derby but ran on to Hall of Fame ca­reers? A win in the Bel­mont would give War of Will se­ri­ous mo­men­tum.

Casse is not one to keep his horses wait­ing in the barn, so if War of Will has that kind of en­dur­ing tal­ent, he’ll prob­a­bly get the chance to prove it.

Can Bill Mott claim an­other leg of the Triple Crown with a dif­fer­ent horse?

AL BELLO/GETTY

Ex­er­cise rid­ers give horses a work­out in prepa­ra­tion for the Bel­mont Stakes, which has its 151st run­ning Satur­day in El­mont, N.Y.

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