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Why the Belmont Stakes still will matter this year despite no Triple Crown bid

Horses leave the gate at the start of

Horses leave the gate at the start of the the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 9, 2018. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A Ferrara

BALTIMORE — When a horse wins the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the public and the mainstream media obsess over the Triple Crown. When there’s no possibility of a sweep, most people who watch three races a year assume that the Belmont Stakes doesn’t matter.

For the first time since 1996, the Derby winner skipped the Preakness. Country House, who inherited the victory when Maximum Security was disqualified, began coughing shortly after the Derby. Trainer Bill Mott ruled out of the Preakness, and he’ll also skip the Belmont.

To serious fans, the 151st “Test of the Champion” on Long Island will be more than just a 1½-mile lap of North America’s biggest racetrack. It’s always a signature day at Belmont Park and a banquet for handicappers.

Baffert picks son over Belmont

Mr. Triple Crown, Bob Baffert, freely admits he doesn’t call the shots in his family. The one who does is “the warden, the boss,” as he affectionately called his wife, Jill, Thursday on Pimlico’s backstretch.

Their son, Bode, is graduating eighth grade June 7, the eve of the Belmont. The man who hoisted the Triple Crown trophy twice in the previous four years will not be at the Triple Crown finale.” He’ll be with Jill in Southern California watching a rite of passage of a boy whom America has seen grow up in the winner’s circle.

“Can I go to the Belmont?” Bob asked Jill.

“You’re not going to the Belmont,” she said with mock sternness.

Baffert will ship stakes runners to Elmont with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes. “Jimmy will take care of things there,” Baffert said. “This is our last classic.”

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