It’s the first Saturday of the year at Belmont, which means today’s feature is the Westchester Stakes (G3), the local prep for the Met Mile, and it drew a deep and competitive field. I’ll be getting to that race a bit later, but we’re presented with a card of excellent races today and I have opinions about quite a few of them:
Belmont, Race 3: Maiden Special Weight at one mile for NY-breds
Any consistent readers know that I have a serious soft spot for “Horse to Watch” Seventy Six (#7). I’ve stuck by him since his trouble-filled debut and I can’t give up now that he appears to be heading in the right direction. He got a great trip and had no excuse last time other than that the winner was better than him. However, that was an encouraging step forward at today’s one-turn mile distance and a repeat of that performance will make him very tough to beat. Despite the fact that his resume makes him a standout, I won’t be surprise to see him be under-bet once again to do the low profile connections.
$20 Win 7 (WINNER; Payout: $63.00)
Belmont, Race 5: Optional Claiming $14,000/N1X at one mile for NY-breds
Dehere of the Cat (#11) is clearly the horse to beat based on his good efforts at this level last year and his solid if unspectacular return last month. However, I expect a big effort from “Horse to Watch” Jonrah (#8), who ran much better than it looks on paper last time and should appreciate the move back to this one-turn mile. After breaking slowly in that March 30th optional claimer (replay), Eddie Castro started to advance on the backstretch and then put Jonrah into a hard drive to go four to five-wide around the far turn while the eventual winner, Anaphylaxis, got a great trip up the rail. It was a clear step forward for this horse. He gets a mildly positive rider switch to Junior Alvarado and it will only take some slight further improvement to put him in the winner’s circle here at a big price.
$10 Win 8
$5 Exacta 11-8
Belmont, Race 7: Maiden Special Weight at one mile on the turf for NY-breds
I’m very skeptical of Mobridge, who is going out for the Bill Mott barn for the first time. I suppose that he can improve off his prior turf form, but he’ll really need to because he was not facing very good horses in that maiden claimer at Tampa. I will instead try Seljuck (#4), who put in a good effort over this course last spring and ran deceptively well from a wide post in his return to the turf earlier this month. Today he gets a good rider switch to Jose Ortiz and I expect him to be a major factor here. I will also use a bit of Charity Reins (#7), who admittedly needs to improve off his return to the races, but is a logical alternative to likely underlay Mobridge.
$10 Win 4
$5 Win 7
Belmont, Race 8: Claiming $20,000B at six furlongs on the turf
Longhunter is a logical contender and I don’t have much of a problem with him aside from his probable short odds. That said, I can’t ignore the trainer change and switch back to turf for Tazered (#2). This horse ran the best races of his career sprinting over Belmont’s turf course last season while usually racing against tougher company than this. After some failed dirt experiments over the winter he was shrewdly claimed by Jeremiah Englehart and rested up for this return to turf sprinting. If he can get back to his turf debut on last year’s Belmont Stakes undercard or his good second to Strong Impact in July, he will be a very likely winner of this race and his morning line of 12-1 will look like a gift.
$10 Win 2
Belmont, Race 9: Westchester Stakes (G3) at one mile
I had initially picked Mordi’s Miracle here, but with all the scratches Big Screen (#7) becomes the clear top choice for me. However you break it down, his most recent race was legitimately fast and I’m of the opinion that this horse is just now coming into his own as a four year-old. His one mile return at Gulfstream this winter was powerful and the nine furlongs was probably his undoing against Cigar Street two back since that’s a tough distance for a Speightstown to handle.
Additionally, I’m always a little skeptical of horses like Cross Traffic who are coming off big wins for Pletcher down at Gulfstream and now have to duplicate that form up north. Flat Out obviously loves Belmont, but a one-turn mile is a little short for him. I’m not sure if I’ll still get 3-1 on Big Screen with the scratches, but that would be a fair price.
$15 Win 7
Belmont, Race 10: Maiden Claiming $25,000 at six furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares
I’m not really thrilled by the likely favorites Go the Distance or Chessrate so I’ll try some longer prices in the finale. Quintile (#2) has been plagued by greenness and gate antics in her two career starts so I’m hoping that today’s addition of blinkers makes a difference for her. She’s bred to love the turf since she’s a half-sister to turf stakes winners Solvig and Lady Carlock. She also ran better than it looks last time when she was hindered by a very slow pace and raced very wide on the turns while shying away from the other horses. I will also put a few dollars on Acrobatic Tactic (#1), who admittedly hasn’t done much running yet in her career, but is out of a dam who won 5 of 24 turf starts and earned over $240,000 on the grass.
$10 Win 2
$5 Win 1