This is probably the best race card of the year so far in New York. It has everything from intriguing allowance races and a promising maiden field to four stakes races stacked with some of the best horses in the country. While it will be hard to top last year’s Met Mile this one is shaping up to be another great race.
I’ve tried to select what I believe to be the best wagering opportunities on the card while also mentioning most of the stakes races:
Belmont, Race 1: Allowance N1X at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-breds
With Exultation is going to be a heavy favorite here and for good reason. His debut was an exceptional effort and a repeat of that sort of performance will make him very tough to beat. What this race essentially comes down to is whether or not you want him or one of the horses out of that May 4th allowance race at this same level. I will go the latter route and take a slightly longer price with my old friend Noosh’s Tale (#2). I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to come back to this horse after I selected him on the day he broke his maiden and helped me complete the biggest score of my lifetime. Objectively speaking, he didn’t beat much that day and was exposed next time out versus tougher company. A winter experiment back on dirt necessitated a layoff coming into his most recent race.
He went off at a huge price in there and actually ran a very nice race. He rallied from farthest back and was determinedly pecking away at the deficit he was attempting to make up all the way to the line. He’s always had plenty of potential since he’s a half-brother to Fox Ridge Farm’s multiple graded stakes-placed turf Yield Bogey and now it seems that Pat Kelly is getting serious since he’s giving the horse Lasix for the first time in his eighth career start. If he takes the step forward that I think he will it should carry him past proven commodities Gossip Column and Toy Cannon and may give him a shot to beat the favorite.
$10 Win 2
Belmont, Race 2: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at one mile
Norumbega (#5) is a bit of a conundrum for me. I added him to the “Horses to Watch” list after he was badly compromised by a very slow pace two races back in which he was beaten by today’s rival Baker Street. I expected him to make the necessary improvements to win his next race, but he got an oddly aggressive ride from Junior Alvarado, who was obviously being influenced by a sealed, speed favoring track. Now he get Joel Rosario, who was aboard for his maiden win at Saratoga last summer. I still wonder if a mile is just a little bit short for this rangy son of Tiznow, but if he can sit just off the early pace of Baker Street and Craqui I think he can take over in the stretch and hold off the closers This Hard Land and So Scott, both of whom fail to get there first more often than not.
$10 Win 5
Belmont, Race 5: Allowance N1X at seven furlongs on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
This race is a real puzzle. I’m taking a couple of shots with two horses who I think will at least be decent prices based off poor recent efforts.
Heading to Toga (#11) is a tough one to figure out. Her debut at–where else?–Saratoga last summer signaled that she could be a special New York bred filly, but she followed that up with three disappointing performances which were each followed by layoffs. I can make excuses for at least a couple of them. On October 5th at Belmont the turf course had taken a lot of rain and was very heavy and tiring. It was hard to carry speed that day and Heading to Toga understandably got tired in the lane. Next time, in the Lie Low Stakes, she broke slowly, which is not noted in the comment line, and was at a disadvantage from the start in a slowly paced race dominated on the front end. She actually came with a decent late run despite never really having a chance to threaten for one of the top spots. I don’t know what happened at Gulfstream last time, but Schettino has obviously given her plenty of time to recover from that trip to Florida. This sort of turf sprint seems like a good return spot for her and she’s drawn a post position that should give Irad Ortiz, Jr. options and allow her to stay out of trouble. Her best race can win this.
Heidi’s Holiday (#12) also has some question marks surrounding her, but I’m less concerned about her recent form since her last race was obviously a prep. That was a race where the speed never came back despite honest fractions and she could not make a late impact. To be honest, I’m not really thrilled with any of her dirt form, but I think this surface switch is really going to move her up. Harlan’s Holiday seems to have recently turned into a solid turf sire and Heidi’s Holiday’s dam’s major success came on turf. Additionally her dam is a half-sister to turf stakes winner Incurable Optimist and more generally hails from a female family that has produced primarily turf runners.
$10 Win 11
$5 Win 12
Belmont, Race 7: The Sands Point Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles for three year-old fillies
Discreet Marq (#2) holds a huge pace advantage over this field and may be as good as anyone in this race even without that sort of aid. It just doesn’t seem logical to fight it. I’ve always been a fan of this New York bred and am happy to see her wind up in the hands of a capable New York-based trainer in Christophe Clement. She’s already beaten today’s rival Caroline Thomas at a mile despite setting a much quicker pace than she’ll see today so the only negative appears to be that she could be too obvious and might go off an underlay.
As far as her other rivals are concerned I’m not sure what to expect from Watsdachances. Her last race was very disappointing and I’m beginning to question whether her two year-old form is really as strong as it appears. In particular, that Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf in retrospect feels like a race where a few key horses didn’t show up and many had rough trips while she did not. I suppose she can step forward here, but I wonder if she still holds any sort of edge of this field.
Unbelievable Dream is also intriguing but I have to imagine she is going to be more compromised than anyone else. Her preferred style is to come away slowly and take her time getting into a comfortable rhythm. I don’t think she’s versatile enough to be placed closer to the pace and still be expected to finish. She’s a very delicately built filly who I don’t think would appreciate being forced to race in traffic. Joel Rosario understood this and rode her perfectly last time, but if he employs similar tactics today it’s hard to envision her coming out on top.
Caroline Thomas (#3) intrigues me as the likeliest upsetter. Although she couldn’t take advantage of the solid pace set by Discreet Marq in the Sweetest Chant, she was forced to race four-wide around the entire far turn that day and lost a lot of ground in the process. Next time she never had a fair chance after being rated behind a ridiculously slow pace and getting steadied at a critical point in the stretch drive. She’s worth throwing into the exacta.
$15 Win 2 (WINNER; Payout: $58.50)
$4 Exacta Box 2/3
Belmont, Race 8: The Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1) at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares
Try as I might I just can’t convince myself that Joyful Victory is really as good as she looks on paper and I think she’ll be an underlaid favorite here. I know her Santa Margarita victory came up very fast, but it’s hard to get that figure to make sense for the only two other fillies who even finished that race. She’s going to be pressured if she decides to set up show on the front end today and I think she’s extremely vulnerable.
I strongly prefer Larry Jones’ other filly, Believe You Can (#6). It’s worth noting that her only poor performances since her two year-old season came when she was forced to race from off the pace and inside of horses. That will not happen today with her outside post and her best efforts are certainly good enough to take this race. John Velazquez has plenty of options and can even show speed if Joyful Victory and Authenticity decide to take back. Her morning line would be excellent value on the filly who I believe to be the most likely winner of this race.
$15 Win 6
Belmont, Race 10: The Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at one mile
I’ve heard two camps of thought pertaining to the projected pace of this race. Some believe that Cross Traffic (#1) is the only true frontrunner in the race and that he could be allowed to set moderate fractions. Others think that horses Fort Loudon, Handsome Mike, and Fed Biz are sure to be ridden aggressively and will force Cross Traffic, who once again drew the rail, through demanding early fractions. I’m partial to the latter line of thinking, but I merely expect a fairly run race that should give Cross Traffic and the closers each an honest chance.
And that’s what this Met Mile boils down to in my estimation. Cross Traffic is clearly the best and fastest of the pace runners and it’s just a matter of how fast he’ll have to go and whether or not the closing types will be able to catch him. Flat Out (#6) is once again a logical alternative given his obvious preference for Belmont and his huge performance in the Westchester when he was just barely able to outgame Cross Traffic. However, I think those gaudy 115 Beyer speed figures that each of them are sporting will really drive down their prices when I don’t think think either actually holds that much of an edge over this field.
I’m going to turn to the “other” closer in this race, Sahara Sky (#7). I was very impressed by his run in the Carter Handicap and, while I’m aware that it came up a much slower race than the Westchester, I think there are some things that are going to work in this horse’s favor today. First of all, I don’t see any issue with the one-turn mile given that this race often plays like an extended sprint and Sahara Sky is a son of stamina influence Pleasant Tap. With Flat Out showing renewed early interest in his last race it feels like Sahara Sky will be able to race on his own about four or five lengths behind the rest of the pack. Joel Rosario excels in this sort of scenario since he has a real knack for getting horses to shut off early in a race and save all of their late burst for the right moment in the stretch. It’s the type of ride Rajiv Maragh perfected with Caleb’s Posse and Sahara Sky has the exact same running style.
If the leaders get to the quarter pole having run six furlongs in sub-1:09 time they all better watch out because Sahara Sky routinely throws in sub-24 second final quarter miles and that late kick should only be intensified by having one of the best off-the-pace riders in the country on his back. I expect him to go off at close to his morning line of 6-1 and I will bet him at that price. I’ll also use him in the exacta with the two from the Westchester.
$10 Win 7 (WINNER; Payout: $58.00)
$4 Exacta 1/6 with 7
$2 Exacta 7 with 1/6 (WINNER; Payout: $77.00)
UPDATE: WHAT. A. RACE! I guess it was possible to top last year’s edition after all. Cross Traffic certainly didn’t deserve to lose, but he’ll have his chances to win many more races like this. On the other hand, now at age five, Sahara Sky has turned into one of the coolest horses in the country. He can go anywhere from six furlongs out to a mile and he always comes with that insane late rush.