The Belmont Stakes field underwent a shakeup on Thursday, losing powerful Nadal to a broken leg and Wells Bayou to other Kentucky Derby preps. On the plus side, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed three of his horses, Dr. Post, Farmington Road, and Gouverneur Morris, will be in the starting gate for the June 20 race at Belmont Park.
Nadal’s sudden retirement, the byproduct of the Bob Baffert charge breaking a bone during a Thursday morning half-mile workout at Santa Anita, overshadowed what transpired with the rest of the Belmont field. Nadal was a likely favorite or — at the worst — co-favorite with Tiz the Law.
His retirement leaves a gap and, most likely, keeps his former Baffert stablemate Charlatan in the Belmont field. Earlier this week, Baffert said he was pondering pulling Charlatan out of the Belmont and putting him in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes. That seven-furlong race — a quarter-mile shorter than the Belmont Stakes — is on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
As for Charlatan, he has his own issues after a post-Arkansas Derby drug test for excessive lidocaine turned up positive. Should a second test mirror that positive result, Charlatan would lose his 100 Derby points. It most likely wouldn’t affect his Belmont Stakes eligibility, since Belmont’s entry guidelines kick in only if more than 16 horses petition for entry.
Wells Bayou Sitting This One Out
Meanwhile, one horse who won’t petition for entry is Wells Bayou. Brad Cox, the trainer of the Louisiana Derby winner, told the Daily Racing Form Wells Bayou is likely headed to either the July 8 Indiana Derby or the July 11 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Both races are on the Derby Trail.
We last saw Wells Bayou take command of the Arkansas Derby’s second division with an impressive start before Nadal blew past him on the second turn. A notorious front-runner, Wells Bayou essentially stopped at that point, finishing a well-beaten fifth. With 104 Derby points banked, Wells Bayou is already in the Kentucky Derby field.
That sums up the Belmont Stakes debits. Now, credit Pletcher’s trio, starting with Gouverneur Morris, last seen finishing third to Charlatan and Basin in the Arkansas Derby’s first division. All three are current Belmont probables.
He Knows These Guys
Aside from that race, Gouverneur Morris is a horse well familiar with his rivals — in and out of the Belmont Stakes field. He finished second in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity to Maxfield, and fourth to Tiz the Law in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in March.
“He didn’t have a bad trip in the Arkansas Derby, but at the same time, he was never really able to settle into the rhythm you’d like him to,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association. “He always had horses inside and outside of him and in front of him, and he was always in an awkward position, so I thought it was encouraging that he continued on and tried to the wire.”
The sire Quality Road brings us Pletcher’s other two Belmont entries, Farmington Road and Dr Post. Farmington Road finished fourth in one division of the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in February. Later in the spring, he placed second at the Oaklawn Stakes to 40/1 upset winner Mr. Big News, and fourth in the Arkansas Derby’s second division.
“He’s a horse that likes to drop back and make one run,” Pletcher said. “He’d benefit from a good, solid pace and unfortunately, we found ourselves in a few races where there hasn’t been much pace on. He’s still closed well, but would certainly benefit from a hot pace upfront.”
A Versatile Dr is in the House
The versatile Dr Post broke his maiden on March 29 in a seven-furlong sprint at Gulfstream Park. He moved on and captured the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled Stakes on April 25. Pletcher said the 1 1/8-mile Belmont should be Dr Post’s ideal distance.
“He’s versatile enough that he can run multiple distances, but we’ve always felt like he was looking for more ground,” Pletcher said. “Certainly, to go from a maiden win to a stakes race like he did against seasoned horses, we felt he handled that step up in class pretty well.”