I’ll be heading off to Belmont in a few hours, so I hope this rains blows through soon… Onto the handicapping:
Belmont, Race 1: Optional Claiming $14,000/N1X at six furlongs for NY-breds
There’s plenty of speed entered in this race so right away I know I’m looking for a horse who can come from off the pace. I’ve been watching Tycoon Cat (#5) with some interest over the past couple of months. He’s a horse who’s been plagued by gate issues and inconsistency as he competed at the bottom level on this circuit for the past few years. However, a light bulb went on about two months ago. Ever since that closing nose loss on April 19th, he’s been a completely different animal. He was game in victory in his race after that, ran better than he had any right to in either of those two subsequent turf races and then posted a career best Beyer last time when finishing third to solid runners Most Happy Fella and Regal Warrior. He was claimed out of that race by David Jacobson, which represents a huge trainer change and, through that, a huge rider change to Junior Alvarado. This horse is likely to improve and I’m not even sure that he needs to. I know that his 2-for-45 record may scare some off, but I’m viewing him as a horse who’s only run five races since getting a new lease on life.
I will also make a smaller win bet on Meet the Mets (#10), who was excellent in his debut at Saratoga last summer before tailing off. His return last month was a much better effort than it appears on paper. He was making a decent run between horses coming to the top of the stretch before being angled down towards the inside. He should have gotten a lot out of that race and I expect an improved effort here.
$10 Win 5
$5 Win 10
Belmont, Race 2: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at seven furlongs
Odea (#5) is a horse I’ve liked for some time now and while I’m unsure about his ability to get seven furlongs, he loves a wet track and may be the speed of the speed. I wouldn’t hold that failed turf experiment against him and, despite being a NY-bred who’s stepping up, I think he’s as fast as anyone in here and could just distance himself from this field over the wet going. His 6-1 morning line would represent solid value.
$10 Win 5
Belmont, Race 4: Maiden Special Weight at one mile for NY-breds
I’m very interested in second time starting “Horse to Watch” El Genio (#1). I remember noticing prior to his debut (replay) that he was taking an inordinately large amount of play for a James Iselin firster and had curiously lured Rosario to take the mount. I think this is a horse who may possess some ability, but who clear was not ready for the stresses of his debut. He seemed to hop a couple of strides out of the gate after veering in and soon found himself in a tight spot along the rail while racing in behind the leaders. Around the turn he seemed to really resent getting dirt kicked up in his face as he threw his head about while Rosario was just trying to keep him as close to the rail as possible to avoid the kickback. Rosario obviously sensed that he wasn’t going to contend for the win, so he gave the horse a couple token waves of the whip in front of his face and then basically allowed El Genio to coast home under minimal encouragement.
The action this horse took first out makes me believe that he’s okay and perhaps just wasn’t mentally prepared for that race. Now he gets Lasix and blinkers and stretches out to a mile, which is what he’s bred to do. His dam, while not much horse herself, is by Dynaformer and is a full-sister to a mare who was twice stakes-placed routing on the grass so the distance should be no problem. With a cleaner break, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show more speed and he doesn’t have to improve that much to beat this field, especially after the scratch of Captain Davrick.
I’ll also take a small secondary shot with Brass Pear (#6), who was pulled up in his lone start after showing very brief speed. He’s a full-brother to a filly that I liked a few years ago, What a Pear, who won the Busher Stakes. He could get completely ignored on the tote board even though he’s coming into this race with solid works and a decent rider named.
$10 Win 1
$5 Win 6
Belmont, Race 5: Maiden Special Weight at one mile
“Horse to Watch” Howie’s Tiz (#6) was against a strong inside speed bias on May 11th and ran exceptionally well to go three-wide around the turn and still rally for second. His debut last year at Saratoga was also very good when he finished just behind subsequent graded stakes performers Honorable Dillon and Delhomme. He’s bred to get better as the distances stretch out since he’s a full-brother to Rush Now, a stakes-winning router of over $450,000. There appears to be enough pace in here to setup his late run and I think he’ll be very tough to hold off.
$15 Win 6
Belmont, Race 6: The Easy Goer Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for three year-olds
I really liked Wabbajack’s (#8) maiden victory. He tracked a solid early pace and took over with authority in the stretch to record a solid final time that puts him squarely in the mix here. He’s recorded a nice string of works since that race and I like the confidence Jimmy Toner shows by stepping him immediately up into stakes company. He might not take as much money as some of the other contenders who have already been tested in graded stakes, but I think there’s a strong possibility he may possess as much natural ability as any of them. There also is not an abundance of early speed in here and I wouldn’t be surprise to see Wabbajack either setting or sitting just off some moderate fractions.
$10 Win 8
Belmont, Race 9: The Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) at seven furlongs for three year-olds
I wish I could lock in that 8-1 morning line on Declan’s Warrior (#1). He’s a consistent three year-old who is in great form and projects to get a perfect pace setup here. He may have to run a bit faster than he ever has to win this, but that appears to be a strong possibility considering the probable race flow. The early fractions should be supersonic with Zee Bros and Let Em Shine both committed to the front and I’m sure Merit Man and Retrieve will be in hot pursuit if one of those decides to back off. I’m fairly certain Declan’s Warrior is the best of the closers so I’ll make a strong win bet on him, but I’ll also use him underneath fellow deep closer Capo Bastone (#3) and the in form Clearly Now (#9) in the exacta.
$15 Win 1
$2 Exacta 3/9 with 1
Belmont, Race 11: Belmont Stakes (G1) at 1 1/2 miles for three year-olds
The Triple Crown season finally draws to a close with the running of the Test of the Champion, and there may just be a champion in this race, certainly if either the Derby or Preakness winners are able to tally up another victory here.
A quick glance at my top pick may have you thinking that it was a foregone conclusion for me, but I actually spent quite a bit of time poring over this race and considered a few options for my top selection. Yet when it came time for me to post my picks, I just could not reason myself out of the opinion that Orb (#5) is the most likely winner. I’ve watched the Preakness many times and I firmly believe that he got discouraged racing inside of horses. Perhaps the inside wasn’t the best part of the racetrack, but that is not a valid excuse for his poor effort. He lost the race by nine lengths and showed little interest in moving through traffic around the turn before losing contact with the leaders.
He had run too well in his prior races–all while making outside rallies–for me to downgrade him off one poor effort under a new set of circumstances. I am certain that McGaughey and Rosario have discussed how important it is to get him outside of horses early in the race and, with that sort of trip, I expect him to rebound with a win. You know that he will handle any sort of track condition that is thrown at him tomorrow and he has one of the best pedigrees for the distance of anyone in this race. I realize that he’s likely to be favored once again, but I’ll be betting regardless.
If Orb and Oxbow both happen to regress off their respective Derby and Preakness efforts, I’ve come up with one bomb who I think is worth inclusion, especially in exactas and trifectas. Incognito (#6) is a horse that I’ve been a fan of since he was a maiden racing on the inner track this winter. He graduated from my “Horses to Watch” list with his maiden victory and has been crying out for more distance ever since.
He did get an extra furlong to work with in the Peter Pan, but the track was severely against him that day. He was actually doing a bit of running in the stretch to just miss third despite appearing hopelessly beaten around the far turn. He should relish the mile and a half distance of this race perhaps more so than anyone else and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him picking up the pieces when many of these are gasping in the final quarter mile. Also since this is the Triple Crown season of predictive statements out of me, on February 17th I tweeted, “Incognito is my early pick for the Belmont Stakes.” Let’s go with it.
I’ll bet Orb and Incognito to win and use them along with Oxbow (#7) and the likely-to-be-overlooked Golden Soul (#14) in an exacta box. I’m conspicously leaving out Freedom Child, who I think will face pace pressure and may have distance limitations and Revolutionary, who I just don’t foresee presenting any value.
$20 Win 5
$5 Win 6
$2 Exacta Box 5/6/7/14