Keeping up with the latest Belmont Stakes field is like trying to figure out what outfit Jennifer Lopez will wear for her next number in one of her shows.
Just when it looks like the entry of a filly would add excitement to a Triple Crown finale when we still don't have a definitive winner of the Kentucky Derby, it appears undefeated Malathaat will now focus instead on July's Coaching Club American Oaks.
Only three horses from the 19 that ran in the Kentucky Derby entered the Preakness Stakes, but as many as eight of them are considering a run at the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes on June 5, joining Preakness Stakes winner Rombauer and potentially another four three-year-olds who would be making their Triple Crown debuts.
With over two weeks left until the Belmont Stakes, speculation is certain to run rampant until trainers and owners actually enter their horses in the race.
Bob Baffert suspended for Belmont Stakes
One trainer who won't be entering any horses in the Belmont is Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who has been suspended indefinitely by the New York Racing Association and is prohibited from submitting any entries at Belmont, Aqueduct or Saratoga. The positive test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit for illegal levels of the anti-inflammatory betamethasone has had profound effects for Baffert, whose reputation is at stake despite two Triple Crown-winning campaigns with American Pharoah and Justify.
No word from Brad Cox
What is interesting is the relative silence from the camp of trainer Brad Cox, who had Essential Quality as the favourite entering the Kentucky Derby and had Mandaloun finish second but will probably be declared the winner if Medina Spirit's second blood sample returns similar results to the first one. Cox declined to enter Mandaloun in the Preakness, despite the possibility of being able to make a run at the Triple Crown with a victory and a Medina Spirit disqualification from the Derby.
There is no indication at all that Cox plans on a Mandaloun run in the Belmont Stakes, but Essential Quality, who entered the Kentucky Derby with five wins in as many races but only finished in fourth place, remains a possibility.
Caddo River, a third Triple Crown prospect in the Cox stable, has yet to make an appearance in the series and is also not expected to be entered in the Belmont.
Potential Belmont storylines
So given the horses that are expected to compete on June 5, what compelling story will NBC be able to pitch on its four hours of network television coverage of the third jewel in the Triple Crown?
No doubt, there will be considerable time spent on the latest news regarding Bob Baffert and Medina Spirit, but hopefully, the coverage will be focused on how closely matched Essential Quality, Preakness winner Rombauer, Derby third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie, Midnight Bourbon, and Rock Your World are for the Belmont Stakes.
With controversy and disruptions surrounding the Triple Crown over the last three years, what the sport really needs is another fantastic race run by great horses in the Belmont Stakes. In the best interest of the industry, it would be terrific if the top trainers decided to run their best horses on June 5.