Who's hot, who's not on the Belmont Stakes trail

For this week, the focus is the impact of the Preakness and other significant news on the overall picture for the June 11 Belmont Stakes.

Heating up

Exaggerator: For a complete, glowing profile of Exaggerator as well as his (very good) chances to win the Belmont Stakes, check out this week's Making the Grade. In short, Exaggerator is an extremely consistent and talented racehorse by a two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, who could run all day. He showed he was at the top of his game in winning the Preakness Stakes impressively and he figures to be extremely tough to beat going 1-1/2 miles in the Belmont Stakes on June 11 for trainer Keith Desormeaux. A Belmont Stakes win combined with his Preakness and Santa Anita Derby victories and runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby could have Exaggerator in the driver's seat for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.

Destin: Destin ran pretty well in the Kentucky Derby. I'm not sure the eight weeks off between the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby was ideal, and I was of the opinion that he could have used the extra experience and maturity that would come with another race. He definitely should benefit from a great learning experience in the Derby in which he raced in front of 167,227 fans in a 20-horse field, broke in and bumped with a rival at the start. He didn't have a ton of punch in the stretch, but he was a little bit farther back than usual early and never gave up. With five weeks off since the Kentucky Derby, I think that sets up a fresh Destin to run a massive race in the Belmont Stakes. He's also one of the few horses targeting the race with tactical speed. Of the horses probable for the Belmont Stakes, I think Destin is the most likely to upset Exaggerator.

Cherry Wine: Cherry Wine closed powerfully to nip Nyquist for second in the closing strides of the Preakness Stakes on May 21 at Pimlico. He missed the Kentucky Derby because of insufficient points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, but confirmed his class in the Preakness with the runner-up finish that earned him a career-best 102 Equibase Speed Figure. A one-run, deep closer, Cherry Wine should be able to conserve energy early and run a big one at 1-1/2 miles in the Belmont Stakes. It's not a race that is especially kind to closers, but Cherry Wine is in peak form and has as good a chance as anyone not named Exaggerator to finish in the top three on June 11.

Cooling down

Nyquist: The Kentucky Derby winner came up short in the Preakness Stakes when he tasted defeat for the first time in his career. The Preakness third-place finish was far from a clunker though. Nyquist battled to the finish line despite a grueling early pace and then being passed by Exaggerator in early stretch. He gave up second place in the final jump to Cherry Wine. But Nyquist isn't on this list because I think far less of him today than I did before the Preakness -- he's still a fierce, talented competitor who loved to win and is a champion. He's on this list because he spiked a fever and will miss the Belmont Stakes. I would have really enjoyed a rematch between him and Exaggerator in the Belmont Stakes, but it was not to be. Instead, we can only hope these two lock horns again later this year.

Collected: Collected's best chance on the Triple Crown trail appeared to be the Preakness Stakes, and I think Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert knew the 1 3/16-mile race at Pimlico would be a better fit for Collected than the longer, 1-1/4-mile Kentucky Derby. Whether it was the sloppy main track or the extra distance of the Preakness -- he's won stakes at 1-1/16 miles and 1-1/8 miles -- Collected fired a blank in the Preakness when finishing 10th in the 11-horse field. He a fast, talented runner, but I do think the City Zip colt has some distance limitations and might not be quite ready for center stage in the 3-year-old division. I'd also really like to see him try the turf again. He won his debut on grass and then finished second in a Grade 3 race before being shifted to the main track. The future is bright for Collected but that path doesn't lead through the Belmont Stakes in a few weeks.

Gun Runner: The Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby winners ran a determined third in the Kentucky Derby. When trainer Steve Asmussen decided to bypass the Preakness in favor of the Belmont Stakes, it seemed like a great idea because Gun Runner looked absolutely gassed in the Kentucky Derby stretch. Now, it appears that Asmussen will give him some additional time to recover, skip the Belmont and target some big races this summer. I love this move for Gun Runner's long-term potential. Give him the extra time now and reap the rewards in the second half of the season. I think Gun Runner is a serious racehorse and patience in May gives him every chance to shine in the summer and fall. I also believe that 1-1/4 miles might be stretching it a bit from a distance standpoint, so I'm not sure the 1-1/2-mile Belmont was a great fit for him.

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