Trainer Todd Pletcher will have two chances at a fourth Belmont Stakes victory when he sends out Robert and Lawana Low's Intrepid Heart and Wertheimer and Frere's Spinoff in Saturday's race. Both horses galloped 1 ¼ miles over the main track Wednesday and stood in the gate.
Pletcher, who won the Belmont with Rags to Riches (2007), Palace Malice (2013) and Tapwrit (2017), says there can be a home track advantage in the Belmont, but it's more important to bring the right horse.
“I think you can make that argument from the standpoint of training on a mile and a half track,” Pletcher said. “Getting accustomed to that can be helpful, but I think the surface is probably such that more horses are going to handle it than Churchill.
“Churchill, I think, can be the quirkiest of the three. It seems like our horses have trained well here, but at the same time, you have to bring the right kind of horse with the right kind of pedigree and right kind of disposition. I also think having five weeks and being based here is an edge.”
The lightly raced Intrepid Heart, who will only be making his fourth career start, makes up for experience with one of the strongest pedigrees in the race and has been impressing his trainer with his training as has his stablemate.
“I think Intrepid Heart is clearly bred for this race,” Pletcher said. “He's by Tapit, who's had a lot of success in the race. He's out of a Touch Gold mare. Touch Gold won the Belmont. He's a half to Commissioner (second in the 2014 Belmont). If you look at his pedigree, it's AP Indy and Seattle Slew. There's a lot of Belmont history supporting his pedigree. And, out of the three Triple Crown races, I think pedigree plays the biggest role in this one.
“In addition to that, Intrepid Heart and Spinoff have both trained similar to our other Belmont horses that were successful here. Intrepid Heart's last breeze, I had him galloping out a mile in 1:38 3/5 and in Spinoff's penultimate breeze, I had him galloping out in 1:37 3/5, which historically is what horses like Palace Malice and Rags to Riches did. Even Commissioner and Destin, who didn't win, but ran well, had similar breezes.”
Spinoff will be making his first start finishing 18th in the Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track May 4, but Pletcher said he can toss that race out.
“I have to,” Pletcher said. “He ran well in the Louisiana Derby. And, if you look back on that race, with Country House and War of Will being in there, it was a legitimate prep race. The horse has trained really well. We always thought there was potential there. We could see the Thursday before the Derby when it was sloppy with the way he galloped over the track, he didn't love it. (Jockey) Manny Franco said he didn't handle it. So, you draw a line through it and hope he runs to the way he's been training. He's still a lightly raced horse so there's plenty of room for improvement.”
Neither Intrepid Heart nor Spinoff figure to be among the betting favorites, but that's just fine with their trainer.
“I think there are some advantages to it,” Pletcher said. “Like I was saying yesterday, if you're coming in with Justify or American Pharoah or California Chrome, it's a lot different when there's a Triple Crown at stake. For this, it's a big race and everyone wants to win it, but there's not that same kind of pressure as when there's a chance for a Triple Crown.”
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