There will be no Triple Crown championship for I'll Have Another, no redemption for Union Rags or Dullahan.
Paynter will win Saturday's 144th Belmont Stakes.
Trainer Bob Baffert finally will capture a leg of the Triple Crown this year after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Bodemeister. It just will take his second-string horse to do it.
The Belmont will be a four-horse race among I'll Have Another, Dullahan, Union Rags and Paynter. It takes a simple case of elimination to pick the winner.
I'll Have Another raced brilliantly in his Derby and Preakness victories. Nothing has gone wrong over the past three weeks to suggest a problem. But the last 11 Triple Crown seekers, some with resumes stronger than I'll Have Another's, were denied immortality.
Betting horses is often about feel. You can play with the speed figures all you like, but in the end gambling comes from the gut, and something just says I'll Have Another will end up third.
Dullahan would be the smart choice, but the change in riders from Kent Desormeaux to Javier Castellano isn't a positive. Desormeaux lost the mount along with some others after he failed a breathalyzer at Belmont last week, but he's one of the nation's top money-riders -- maybe the best since Jerry Bailey or Angel Cordero. With Desormeaux, it would be Dullahan's race to win. But the third-place Derby finisher will get second here.
Union Rags suffered a terrible early trip in finishing seventh in the Derby. It cost him the race, but the colt finished well and should be fresh after skipping the Preakness.
If Union Rags leads with an eighth mile remaining, he will be tough to beat. Union Rags is the best colt in the field after I'll Have Another. But it looks like four horses will be in the lane together, and Union Rags might be a little short.
So that leaves a second-tier option -- like so many Belmont long-shot winners before.
Paynter should get a look if only because Baffert doesn't come to New York without reason. The Californian lost a couple Triple Crown chances a decade ago and rarely just shows up with a 10-1 runner like Paynter. That's a tip-off right there. Baffert loves to win classic races but isn't mesmerized into running without a real chance.
Paynter has shown talent in winning two of four races. He was a close fourth in the Santa Anita Derby and second in the Derby Trial over a sloppy track before whistling to a win on the Preakness undercard. That sharpened Paynter for the Belmont.
There will be a crowd with an eighth mile remaining in a Belmont with far more top horses than many past Triple Crown aspirants faced. If I'll Have Another duplicates his last two stretch runs, the crown is his.
The triple will be Paynter-Dullahan-I'll Have Another, though. Racing must wait another year to seek a champion.