Veteran turf writers analyze 2022 Belmont Stakes contenders

Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, NY, in 1970. Bob quickly introduced Tom to the joys of thoroughbred racing.

They endured a tough time on the track, with Tom being the exception when Bob repeatedly hits him in the back with a program as one of their horses throws a total drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of the onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as he proceeds to cash out a triple of $27.

They have owned a number of horses together and were part of the group that owned Whitney’s 1998 runner-up Tal of the Cat. They are often seen carrying on as if they had never left their teenage years.

Here is their opinion on the 154eBelmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, taking place at a mile and a half on Saturday at New York’s Belmont Park:

PEDULA: First off, kudos to you for voting early in the Preakness while I settled for second best with Epicenter for the second straight Triple Crown race. Everything about this Belmont tells me he’s named after Todd Pletcher. With three previous wins at Belmont he knows how to get the job done and he has two strong starters in Mo Donegal and a formidable filly, Nest. I think there is every reason to believe that Mo Donegal, who beat Early Voting at Wood Memorial, will recover from his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Considering the journey he endured after breaking away from rail, I was impressed he finished this high.

HEALT: Thomas, let me start by saluting you for putting these picks together under very difficult circumstances. I saw how you started shaking when I told you the New York Bee Gees would be playing at Belmont Park on Friday, bringing back some very bad memories. I’m one of the few who know the story of your short career as a singer. You landed a dream job as a backup singer for the Bee Gees, but then got into a fight with Barry Gibb over your insistence that “Fanny Be Tender” be changed to “Tammy Be Tender” because you thought that sounded better. Your life as a sportswriter since then shows how well that argument has gone for you. Well, disco’s loss was horse racing’s gain. I think. Anyway, after saving us face and clicking Early Voting in the Preakness so we won’t be kicked out in 2022, I’m off for a meatloaf. Since two out of three isn’t bad, I’m taking We the People to control the tempo and win the Belmont Stakes. I know you might not agree, but, hey, be tender.

PEDULA: One of Pletcher’s victories at Belmont came with a filly. None of us will ever forget standing side by side in the press box as Rags to Riches beat eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in one of the fiercest duels we have ever seen. Pletcher would never risk Nest in a race of this caliber if he didn’t believe she belonged. I remember interviewing him in Florida much earlier this season, when he was raving about his stamina. If there’s one horse built for the mile and a half, it’s this girl from Curlin.

HEALT: Knowing the ladies’ man you were back in high school, I’m not surprised by that choice. As for me, watching Rich Strike practice this week at Belmont Park this week, I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t Dexy’s Midnight Runners. It’s no wonder. I don’t know if he can overcome a slow pace, but I think he’s good enough to grab the spot. Go buddy. Believe me, Toora-Loora-Aye and all that.

PEDULA: At least on paper, Peter Pan Stakes winner We the People is a threat to go from gate to wire as the only speed in the eight-horse field. It will be doubly dangerous if the track is wet and there is a chance of rain in the forecast. But he’s not American Pharoah (2015) or Justify (2018), Triple Crown winners who have never been seriously challenged on the front end.

HEALT: I see some of your logic with Mo Donegal and I like it for the third one. He indeed had some bad luck in the Derby which left his supporters discouraged and confused. Some walked around with their pockets bare. At least the law of averages clearly states that chance circulates, so I’m looking for enough effort to get it into the trifecta and end all that bad luck.

PEDULA: Bob, I’m going to make this interesting by dropping Rich Strike and selecting Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road to take fourth place. He lost a ton of ground in the Derby, where he was 11 points wide at quarter pole finishing a respectable sixth. With blinders coming off and Joel Rosario in irons for the first time, Barber Road is a worthy longshot for promising trainer John Ortiz. Leave it outside at your own risk!

HEALT: Thomas, you forgot Rich Strike in the Kentucky Derby, and look what happened. Since covering it for us, for my last spot, I’ve been going with Creative Minister, which seems to be getting better with each start. I don’t know if he wants to go 1 ½ miles, but he’s talented enough to be used in Exotics. Oh, and if you’re looking for lyrics to old songs for the fourth time, sorry, unlike my choice for the fourth, I’m not that creative.