Well, we’ve made it through another winter at Aqueduct and it finally feels like spring is here with an interesting ten race card to kick off Belmont’s meet. There’s a lot to get through today so I’ll get right to it.
Belmont, Race 1: Optional Claiming $35,000/N2X at one mile for NY-bred fillies and mares
I probably spent more time handicapping this race than any other on the card. You can make a pretty solid case for nearly everyone and finding the right horse to bet will largely be determined by price, especially with horses like Read the Research, Peggy Jane, and Schillerette in here, since all are routinely overbet. That has partially influenced my decision to go in a completely different direction and take the new face–or old face, depending on how you’d like to view her–Necessary Luxury (#5). I certainly haven’t forgotten this filly’s 33-1 upset going this distance at Belmont last year, which saw her earn a career best 80 Beyer speed figure. She hasn’t quite recaptured that form since, but I think you can make some excuses. She was cooked in a pace duel in her next start at Saratoga and then was over-matched on turf before being put away. She returned at Fair Grounds to race in some pretty tough spots this winter and you can argue that she faces slightly easier foes here.
Necessary Luxury obviously loves this main track since she’s won 3 of her 5 starts while amassing nearly two-thirds of her lifetime earnings here. If Alex Solis puts her in the game early I’m hoping that she can stalk Read the Research, put her away turning for home, and hold off the closers late.
$10 Win 5
Belmont, Race 4: Claiming $15,000B at seven furlongs for fillies and mares
I was really hoping when I placed So Fashion (#3) on my “Horses to Watch” list after her last race that she’d show back up in a spot exactly like this. I thought she had a big chance last time since she was dropping in class and figured to sit a great trip. Unfortunately, she never got a chance to prove me right or wrong. It’s informative to watch the head-on replay of that race to get a sense of why she only earned a 10 Beyer speed figure. She was the #6 horse on that day and you’ll see her hop a couple times as she leaves the gate, which put her a good three or four lengths back early. She was slow into stride from there, but notice that her jockey makes no attempt to motivate her–almost at any point in the race. He takes a hold and waits around the far turn, niggles at her lightly for a few strides at the top of the stretch and then just coasts home. For whatever reason, So Fashion was never given a chance to be competitive last time. I’m glad to see her back on just over three weeks rest so there appear to be no physical issues. I’m hoping she gets back to her prior efforts at Belmont because they will win this race.
$10 Win 3
Belmont, Race 5: Claiming $20,000B at six furlongs on the turf
I had originally picked Big City Boy, who has been scratched, and had planned on using him in the exacta with D’oro Dancer (#2). I’ll now just place a few dollars to win on my second choice, who has really improved for Carlos Martin and turns back to a more appropriate distance. Both of his sprint efforts at Gulfstream are better than they look on paper since he had to overcome wide trips. I’ll now use him in the exacta with Holy Endeavor (#14), who draws in off the also-eligible list and becomes a major threat based on his back class.
$5 Win 2
$4 Exacta Box 2/14
Belmont, Race 7: Maiden Special Weight at one mile on the turf for NY-breds
I have no real problem with the favorites here and certainly will use A Better Tomorrow, With Exultation, and Sneaky Freud heavily in any multi-race wagers. However, there are two other horses who I had wanted to bet back out of their recent races and will be more appealing prices. Here He Fitz (#4) showed a decent amount of ability in his debut, in which he ran awkwardly down the backstretch and made up some serious ground in the stretch before galloping out past he winner by the time he had hit the clubhouse turn after the wire. He hasn’t quite run back to the potential he hinted at in two subsequent starts, but I’m hoping the switch to turf will wake him up. His dam won once on turf and, being a War Chant, he figures to take to this surface.
I also want to take one last shot with Bob and Jim (#7), who has routinely disappointed me. What I can say in his favor is that he has plenty of turf pedigree on his dam’s side and his grass debut last time is not quite as bad as it looks. He was away slowly and was steadied at the start, which put him in last early. For a horse who has a tendency to get rank, he relaxed at the back of the pack and passed some tired horses in the stretch despite a slow pace that held together fairly well. Rajiv Maragh should be a good fit for him and if he’s ever going to run to his potential it should be going this one-turn turf mile. He’s a bit of a guess, but the price will be huge.
$10 Win 4
$5 Win 7
Belmont, Race 9: Claiming $20,000B at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I found an interesting DRF Formulator stat on Dominic Galluscio in regard to Free Brave (#4) in this race. Over the past 5 years, when he runs a horse back first time off the claim after giving them 45-90 days of rest (this horse has had 62 days) he’s won with 10 of 27 (37%) with an ROI of $4.59. Those are some impressive statistics, and what’s even more encouraging is that he claimed this horse off a couple of trainers who had been struggling recently, to say the least. I realize that Free Brave may have some character flaws given his perceived aversion to winning races, but Irad Ortiz, Jr. knows him well and I’m confident he’ll try to time his late run just right. I could see him getting a little lost in the wagering despite the fact that he’s run some of the best turf races of anyone in here.
$10 Win 4
Belmont, Race 10: Maiden Claiming $25,000 at six furlongs on the turf
Solengo and Dendrite both figure to be dangerous as the likely favorites, but I’ll favor a couple of horses with far less turf experience. Deterrent (#2) has come to hand of late for trainer Mark Hennig and enters this race off two decent third place finishes. His dam won just once on turf, but earned a 96 best Beyer and was stakes-placed on that surface. First Defence has proven to be a capable turf sire and I think this horse may really take to the grass. I’ll also use Hoppy Do (#9), who gets excellent pedigree to handle the turf from his dam and may have just not wanted the two turns last time after making a strong middle move down the backstretch. His dam won twice on turf and both of his siblings are turf winners, topped by J C’s Queen, who has earned $79,000 on the grass. He may have a chance at a big price.
$10 Win 2 (WINNER; Payout: $40.00)
$5 Win 9
[5:38 p.m. update] – Well, one winner is better than none, I suppose, even it seemed like that one was an underlay prior to the race. After the race I can say Deterrent ($8.00) perhaps would have been an underlay at 3-5, not 3-1. He really ran to his pedigree and loved the turf winning easily in a good time of 1:08 3/5 seconds.
In case anyone was curious, I disagree with any assertions that the main track was favoring speed early in the day. I just think some logical horses happened to go wire-to-wire early on the card. Later races disproved any inside bias theorists.