Here we are again, facing a second consecutive Belmont Stakes without a Triple Crown on the line. And this year, the field won't include either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner, the first time both have skipped the race voluntarily since 2010.
It's difficult to spin that into an ideal scenario for the third leg of the Triple Crown series. Attendance, betting handle and television viewership will likely suffer.
But the Belmont is still an important and lucrative event within the thoroughbred racing world, and it will offer a shot at minor stardom for many of the horses who fell short in the Derby and Preakness.
Here are five stories to watch heading into Saturday's race:
Will Classic Empire finally get his big victory? You could argue he already did in winning the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. But the reality is, many casual fans don't pay attention to a thoroughbred class until the Triple Crown series, and Classic Empire has been this year's hard-luck kid.
First, he took a brutal hit just after breaking from the gate in the Derby and had to fight to finish fourth. Then, he made the race in the Preakness by successfully putting away Derby champion Always Dreaming, only to be run down by Cloud Computing in the last few strides.
Classic Empire might well be the best 3-year-old left standing, but he doesn't have a classic win to show for it.
Trainer Mark Casse has said Classic Empire has plenty left in his tank for the 11/2-mile Belmont, where he'll likely be the favorite. If he wins, he could go a long way toward sealing his reputation as the best in his class and not the problem child many dismissed him as during the Derby prep season. He has more on the line than any other horse in this race.
Can Steve Asmussen make it two in a row? Lookin At Lee is the one other holdover from both the Derby and Preakness, and it's hard not to admire his consistent effort.
As his Hall of Fame trainer, Asmussen, has noted, he's heavily dependent on other horses setting an early pace and then tiring. But Lookin At Lee feels like the kind of horse who could grind out a Belmont victory after the distance proves too much for his foes.
Asmussen won last year's Belmont with another strong closer, Creator. And it would be quite a feat for him if Lookin At Lee, who didn't generate much pre-Derby buzz, came out of the Triple Crown with a second, a fourth and a victory.
Can Epicharis or Twisted Tom play spoiler? It's no secret that American racing officials would love to attract more foreign-based horses to the Triple Crown to entice international bettors.
And Epicharis, a Japanese horse who has never raced in the United States, is this year's candidate. He dominated his early starts in Japan, but then finished second to Derby also-ran Thunder Snow in the March 25 UAE Derby. So it's hard to get a sound grip on his class.
Twisted Tom, meanwhile, brings a little Maryland flavor to the race given that his two biggest wins, in the Private Terms and the Federico Tesio, both came at Laurel Park.
Trainer Chad Brown showed his gift for placing the right horse in the right race by taking the Preakness with little-tested Cloud Computing. He has said Twisted Tom is still improving and well-suited to run 11/2 miles. If Brown is right, he, more than any other horse, will go down as the star of this year's Triple Crown.
Can any of the returning Derby or Preakness horses steal this race? This field looks to be full of horses who ran in the Derby or Preakness but never threatened to win either.
Of those, Irish War Cry is probably the most interesting. The Maryland-based colt went off as the second betting choice in the Derby and appeared to be in excellent position at the top of the stretch only to fade rapidly from there.
Trainer Graham Motion initially suggested he'd point to the Haskell Invitational rather than the Preakness or Belmont. But he felt encouraged enough by Irish War Cry's workouts to announce Sunday that he'll run in the Belmont. That's telling, because Motion does not push his horses into races he does not think they can win.
Third-place Preakness finisher Senior Investment is also intriguing considering how well he closed at Pimlico Race Course.
And it's hard to dismiss sixth-place Derby finisher Tapwrit, whose trainer, Todd Pletcher, will look to rebound from Always Dreaming's disappointing Preakness. Pletcher knows Belmont as well as anyone.
Other familiar names include Gormley, Irap, J Boys Echo and one-eyed fan favorite Patch, but none of them set the heart racing.
Will we remember any of these horses?You never know. Arrogate was hardly a speck on the radar at this time last year, and now he's the best horse in the world, with $17 million and counting in career earnings.
But this certainly feels like a forgettable 3-year-old class at the moment. The next one to string together three excellent races will be the first. And it's not as if the Belmont will decisively crown the best of the bunch given the absence of Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing.
Classic Empire's 2-year-old brilliance and his notable efforts in the Derby and Preakness make him the best candidate. But it's very possible none of these horses will go down as the story of 2017, especially if 4-year-old Arrogate maintains his roll through the Breeders' Cup Classic.