NEW YORK -- The Belmont Stakes is often referred to as the Test of the Champion. This year will be one of the exceptions.
With neither the Kentucky Derby nor Preakness winner in the field, the favorite for Saturday's $1 million Belmont is Aptitude, the Derby runner-up who has one win in six lifetime starts.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, Aptitude is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field of 11 3-year-olds entered Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile race.
Aptitude was a fast-closing second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness, won by Red Bullet, to better prepare for the Belmont.
''Going into the Triple Crown, I thought because of his breeding and style of running that if he had a chance of winning one of the three, this was his best chance,'' Frankel said of the Belmont. ''I knew if I didn't win the Derby, I didn't want to jeopardize my Belmont chances by running him in the Preakness.''
Aptitude, who will be ridden by Alex Solis, broke his maiden with a win at Santa Anita on Jan. 1, his third start. Since then, the son of A.P. Indy was second to Red Bullet in the Gotham and third behind Fusaichi Pegasus and Red Bullet in the Wood Memorial before finishing 1 1/2 lengths behind Fusaichi Pegasus in the Derby.
There is no chance to avenge those losses, but as Frankel says of the Belmont: ''It's a 1 1/2-mile race. The best horse will win.''
The past three Belmonts had much more drama, with the Triple Crown on the line each time. In 1999, Charismatic was third after injuring his leg in the stretch. Real Quiet and Silver Charm finished second in '98 and '97, respectively.
It will be the first time in 30 years that the Belmont will be run without the Derby or Preakness winners.
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