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Tacitus, War of Will headline Saturday’s Belmont Stakes to conclude unusual Triple Crown season

By Liane Crossley
Special to KyForward

Tactitus, third in the Kentucky Derby, is the 9-5 morning line favorite among 10 three-year-olds entered for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. Preakness Stakes winner War of Will is second choice at 2-1.

Previewing the race requires a brief recap of arguably the most talked first two legs of the Triple Crown since the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were inaugurated nearly a century and a half ago.

This year’s trio began with a well-matched group of 20 entrants and an alternate for the Kentucky Derby. Days before the race, the morning-line favorite Omaha Beach was scratched because of a respiratory problem which allowed also-eligible Bodexpress into the field. Then Haikal was withdrawn 36 hours before the Derby due to a minor hoof injury.

Tacitus (Photo by SV Photography courtesy of Churchill Downs)

Maximum Security, the second choice in the Derby, finished in front on the muddy Churchill Downs track, but 22 minutes later he became renowned as the first Derby winner to be disqualified for interference after a lane change that affected his rivals. Country House—a 65-1 longshot—was promoted to first place and three days later his connections announced he would bypass the Preakness because he reportedly had a minor illness.

Maximum Security’s disqualification stayed in Thoroughbred racing’s spotlight for the two weeks leading to the Preakness on May 18. Among the hot topics were his owner’s lawsuit and match race challenge, his jockey’s suspension and overall debates on social media and in private conversations on the fairness of the disqualification.

With no Derby winner in the line-up and therefore no hope of a Triple Crown sweep, the Preakness had all the makings of just another high-end race until the starting gates opened. Bodexpress leaped up, launched his jockey, joined the race and solidified his place as one of the most famous riderless horses of all time. Neither he nor his jockey was injured.

From the “can’t make this up” file, War of Will—the horse severely bumped in the Derby—won the Preakness. He returns in the Belmont in hopes of joining 23 other Thoroughbreds that won two thirds of the Triple Crown. Last year Justify swept the series just three years after American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Post time for the race at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York is 6:37 p.m. ET. NBC begins their coverage 4 p.m. with broadcast of the afternoon’s undercard starting on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m.

Following is the list of entries in post-position order with native states in parentheses.

1. Joevia (Ky.)

Joevia tuned up for the Belmont by winning a stakes race at Monmouth Park in New Jersey on May 12.

Kentucky connection: Joevia went unsold as a weanling on a final bid of $32,000 at the 2016 Keeneland November mixed sale. In 2017, he was sold for $50,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s July yearling sale. His sire Shanghai Bobby was a stallion at Ashford Stud in Versailles before being sold for stud duty in Japan.

2. Everfast (Ky.)

The surprise runner-up in the Preakness won his career debut at Ellis Park in western Kentucky in August but had only a second and a third in nine subsequent starts. He was fifth in the Pat Day Mile Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard in his Preakness prep race.

Kentucky connection: He was purchased by Lexington’s famed Calumet Farm for $47,000 at the 2017 Keeneland January sale.

3. Master Fencer (Japan)

Master Fencer is the first Japan-born horse to race in the Kentucky Derby in which he finished sixth. He earned his ticket to the Derby by winning a qualifying race in his homeland.

Kentucky connection: He trained at Keeneland for several days prior to the Derby after spending two days in mandatory quarantine at Arlington Park in Chicago following his flight from Japan. He trained again at Keeneland after the Derby and left for Belmont Park on May 24. His owner purchased his dam at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale.

4. Tax (Ky.)

Tax returns to the Triple Crown scene following his 14th place finish in the Derby. He took the New York route to the Kentucky Derby with a victory and a second in two Derby preps at Aqueduct. His name is a nod to his dam Toll.

Kentucky connection: His sire Arch was a stallion at Claiborne Farm in Paris.

5. Bourbon War (Ky.)

The connections of Bourbon War had the Kentucky Derby on their schedule but their plans changed when the colt lacked sufficient qualifying points to be entered. He was rerouted to the Preakness in which he finished eighth.

Kentucky connection: He was sold as a weanling for $410,000 at the 2016 Keeneland November sale and went unsold on a final bid of $525,000 the following year at the Keeneland September yearling sale. His sire Tapit stands at Gainesway farm in Lexington.

6. Spinoff (Ky.)

A runner-up effort in the Louisiana Derby in March earned Spinoff a ticket to the Kentucky Derby. He finished 18th that day and bypassed the Preakness. His trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont three times.

Kentucky connection: His sire Hard Spun is a stallion at Darley in Lexington.

7. Sir Winston (Ky.)

A newcomer to the Triple Crown scene, Sir Winston was second in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 11. His trainer Mark Casse also trains War of Will.

Kentucky connection: Sir Winston went unsold on a final bid of $50,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale. His sire Awesome Again is a stallion at Adena Springs in Paris.

8. Intrepid Heart (Ky.)

Another from the Pletcher barn, this gray colt looked like a star in the making when his owners paid $750,000 for him at a 2018 Florida auction. He won his first two career starts earlier this year before finishing third in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 11 at Belmont Park.

Kentucky connection: His sire Tapit resides at Gainesway in Lexington.

9. War of Will (Ky.)

Considered the horse most bothered by the interference that resulted in the Kentucky Derby disqualification of Maximum Security, War of War found redemption with his Preakness victory. Often dubbed WOW by his connections to reflect his initials and charisma, he has had an unconventional journey to the top of his class. Unsold on a final bid of $175,000 at the 2017 Keeneland September yearling sale, War of Will made his next auction appearance in France where he was purchased as a two-year-old in training for $298,550. Repatriated to North America, he began his racing career in Canada.

Kentucky connection: War of Will did most of his training at Keeneland in advance of the Derby and returned to Keeneland following his Preakness triumph.

10. Tacitus (Ky.)

Following the Derby disqualification of Maximum Security, Tacitus was elevated to third. He is trained by Bill Mott, who also is the trainer of official Derby winner Country House. Tacitus solidified his place in the Derby starting gate by winning the Wood Memorial Stakes at New York’s Aqueduct in early April and the Tampa Bay Derby a month earlier. The human Tacitus was a Roman Empire senator.

Kentucky connection: He is owned and bred by Prince Khalid Abdullah in the name of his Juddmonte Farms which is located in southeastern Fayette county. His sire Tapit resides at Gainesway in Lexington.

Lexington-based freelance writer Liane Crossley is a lifelong lover of Thoroughbred racing who has held a variety of jobs in both barns and offices. Her favorite part of the industry is being with the horses and the people who share her passion for them. She can be reached at crossleyliane@yahoo.com

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