Breaking it down

A complete, horse-by-horse look at the Belmont Stakes field

A complete, horse-by-horse look at the Belmont Stakes field

Preakness winner War of Will looks to take the Belmont. Getty Images.

Saturday is the last of the Triple Crown races for 2019 with the Belmont Stakes. There is no shot at a Triple Crown, so basically it is just another nice stakes race. Here is a look at the 10 horses in the field.

No. 1 Joevia (30-1)

Trainer: Greg Sacco

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Why he can win: He has one weapon in his arsenal - speed. He will be the early pacesetter, and if he is not, he has no shot. The Belmont - despite being the longest of the Triple Crown races, tends to favor early foot, so he will gun and hope. Probably not good enough to hold on all the way but could hang around for a piece late.

No. 2 Everfast (12-1)

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Luis Saez

Why he can win: He did run second in the Preakness at a monster price. But horses that did not run in the Derby, then fared well in the Preakness historically struggle at Belmont. Plus he is a deep closer, and that style rarely wins here. Might clunk up for a piece late.

No. 3 Master Fencer (8-1)

Trainer: Koichi Tsunoda

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Why he can win: Was surprisingly beaten just four lengths in the Derby and was moving well at the end. Japan based horses win a lot of races around the world and while this guy is second tier there, he should love the distance and could be a live long shot in a field lacking quality. Would not be shocked if he is in it at the end.

No. 4 Tax (15-1)

Trainer: Danny Gargan

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Why he can win: He has some nice races on his resume, but was no match for Tacitus in the Wood Memorial and was no threat in the Derby. Plus he has a horrible name. Would need significant improvement in this spot, but I think we have seen his best and it does not appear to be good enough.

No. 5 Bourbon War (12-1)

Trainer: Mark Hennig

Jockey: Mike Smith

Why he can win: We loved him in the Preakness, and he simply did not fire at all. Horses skipping the Derby and doing the Preakness/Belmont double rarely do well, but he might have needed the last race off a layoff, he should handle the distance and not ready to give up on him. Will be a long shot play.

No. 6 Spinoff (15-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Why he can win: He was a strong second in the Louisiana Derby, is lightly raced and should improve. Still, he was no factor whatsoever in the Kentucky Derby and probably does not want any part of the distance here. Pass.

No. 7 Sir Winston (12-1)

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Why he can win: He doesn't very often - just twice in nine starts - but he was a good closing second in the prep for this and tends to hit the board at big prices. A classic grinder, would not be surprised if he picked up some pieces late and helped blow up the trifecta price.

No. 8 Intrepid Heart (10-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: John Velazquez

Why he can win: He has only raced three times, so there is room for improvement. He finished behind Sir Winston in his first stakes try, running third. But he is bred to go farther, and they spent $750,000 on him. A big step up but won't be surprised if he is a small factor.

No. 9 War of Will (2-1)

Trainer: Mark Casse

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Why he can win: His Preakness was a thing of beauty after the rodeo that was the Derby. At his best, he generally stalks the pace and takes control late. Expect him to be in the front tier of horses and try to employ that strategy again. Could win, but could also find himself off the board if he throws in one of his occasional clunkers.

No. 10 Tacitus (9-5)

Trainer: Bill Mott

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Why he can win: The morning line favorite was probably the second best horse in the Derby. He hated the surface, was unsettled, and still managed to finish fourth, beaten less than four lengths. (He was placed second). He is bred to love the distance, should get a better track today and will be very tough to beat if he brings his A game.

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It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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