After a brief vacation from handicapping, it’s time to dive back in for Belmont’s Fall Championship Meet, which begins today with a card that features a compact but competitive field in the Bowling Green Stakes (G2). I have opinions that vary in strength in seven of today’s races so let’s get right into the analysis:
Belmont, Race 1: Optional Claiming $25,000/N2X at one mile for NY-breds
One of the major questions you have to ask yourself in this race is whether you are more interested in the three year-olds coming out of the Albany Stakes or their older rivals coming out of that Saratoga optional claiming race at this same level won by Bug Juice. While I respect Zivo’s prior three year-old form and think he may move forward off his return, I generally was not impressed by the latter race and prefer the Albany horses.
Of the two coming out of that race, many may prefer Go Get the Basil, who had legitimate trouble when he was steadied out of the race heading into the far turn. He was also up against it from a pace perspective that day and I would have no argument with anyone who thinks he’ll run much better today. However, I think he’s going to be favored based on his solid performance in the Peter Pan and two 90+ Beyer speed figures from early in the year and I’m not so sure that he’s actually any better than the horse who finished ahead of him in the Albany, Smooth Bert.
Smooth Bert (#5) had some troubles of his own in that final leg of the Big Apple Triple. Mike Luzzi made an overly hasty decision to rate Smooth Bert heading into the first turn and found himself in a pocket in behind the leader, Escapefromreality, who was allowed to set a dawdling pace. Smooth Bert did not react well to these rating tactics and was pulling all the way around the clubhouse turn and into the backstretch. All things considered, he stayed on very well and finished up nicely down the stretch despite traveling a distance that is probably farther than his best.
I prefer Smooth Bert to Go Get the Basil today because I think the trip will be in his favor. With the scratch of Bake Shop, Mike Luzzi should be able to allow Smooth Bert to either stalk Cousin Michael or run freely on the lead if that rival does not go. I believe that Go Get the Basil needs a fast pace to deliver his best performance and I’m not sure he’ll get it here. Smooth Bert should appreciate this return to a one-turn mile and could be long gone by the time Go Get the Basil and Zivo are making their late runs.
$15 Win 5 (WINNER; Payout: $55.50)
Belmont, Race 2: Allowance N1X at six furlongs on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
This race is a real puzzle for a couple of reasons. It’s easy to see that these fillies and very evenly matched on paper, but what makes the race all the more inscrutable is that the pace scenario is especially murky. It appears that Uncle Southern is the fastest early and could find herself alone on the lead, but I wonder if she’s really good enough to beat this field and whether six furlongs will prove to be a half-furlong too far for her.
There are typically two types of horses who can overcome slow paces: those who can lay close to it and those who possess a turn of foot that is superior to that of the frontrunner. Two horses in this race fall into the latter category and they are Fantastic Eyes and Desert Bliss. I’m picking Fantastic Eyes (#1) because she’s probably going to be a larger price than Desert Bliss and because she has more of a nose for the wire having already won three races. In assessing Fantastic Eyes, the first inclination might be to say she’s cheaper than this field, but closer inspection reveals that is not actually the case. She ran deceptively well three races back when she was the only horse to make up significant ground in that fast race at this level on opening day at Saratoga. A mile and a yielding turf course in the New York Stallion Series did not agree with her, but she had previously shown herself capable of competing against stakes runners Frosty Bay and Image of Noon—either of whom would be very formidable here—going shorter at Belmont. Her connections dropped her in for $20,000 last time and got the win, but lost the filly. Joe Orseno has terrible numbers first time off the claim and in turf sprints, but I do respect him as a trainer and view those poor statistics as factors that will only increase the price on a filly who has an excellent chance to win based on her own merits.
$10 Win 1
Belmont, Race 4: Starter Optional Claiming $16,000 at one mile
Itsagoodtendollars always shows up and Raging Daoust will be tough if he’s able to transfer his Monmouth form—where he is 6 for 8 lifetime—to New York. They are the two top contenders, but I prefer Talk Therapy (#3), who, based on his last race, is in career form and may be just as good as those aforementioned two. Nothing went right for him in that August 21st starter optional claiming race (replay). After leaping up and breaking slowly Talk Therapy was left at the back of the pack and out of position early. Cornelio Velasquez tried to improve his position coming out of the backstretch, but Talk Therapy was forced to steady when Cinnamon Beach dropped back in front of him entering the far turn. Even after all of that trouble Talk Therapy was finishing strongest of all in the stretch despite racing at a distance that is probably farther than his best. That performance coupled with his prior stakes win at Finger Lakes signals that he is in the best form of his life. I feel that he would have beaten Itsagoodtendollars last time with a clean trip and he should be a larger price than that rival today. At odds of 7-2 or greater I think he’s a solid wager.
$10 Win 3
Belmont, Race 7: Maiden Special Weight at seven furlongs on the turf for two year-old fillies
This race is wide open, but I can never resist taking at least a small shot with horses like Crashing Conclave (#4). She showed nothing in her debut, but is clearly bred to be a turf horse. Her dam saw all of her success come on the turf where she won five races and nearly $300,000 while winning two stakes races. Leroy Jolley, Jr., who I can only assume is the son of the great trainer from years past, has come out of the woodwork to train this one. She’s a wildcard, but the price should be large enough to warrant taking a chance on her.
$6 Win 4
Belmont, Race 8: The Bowling Green (G2) at 1 1/4 miles on the turf
I picked London Lane (#3) in the Sword Dancer last time—to the ridicule of some—and while he didn’t win, I don’t feel that I was wrong in my assessment of him. The distance may have ultimately gotten the best of him, but he was a prominent factor into the stretch after enduring a wide, uncovered trip that saw him drag his way up to the lead midway through the race. It was just not the sort of trip that is going to win a race as tough as the Sword Dancer. It was a different story one race prior when he was held up at the back before unleashing a furious late rally that carried him past the entire field including today’s rival Hyper.
Based on quotes from Kiaran McLaughlin, I think that Farhaan will be on the lead here with Boisterous and Quick Casablanca stalking from close range. I’m hoping that Jose Ortiz can get Long Lane back in behind those horses early so that he can get the sort of trip he needs to be successful here. This race will inevitably turn into a sprint to the finish and I think that scenario will play in London Lane’s favor so long as Ortiz is able to save his explosive kick for the stretch drive.
Boisterous (#1) clearly likes Belmont better than Saratoga, but it’s not as if he has a huge edge on this field and he also may not be at his best over firm ground. I’ll use him over London Lane in the exacta, but will be hoping to beat him with my top selection, who should present great value at anything over 4-1, hence the large wager.
$20 Win 3
$5 Exacta 1-3
Belmont, Race 9: Claiming $16,000B at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Cash Your Ticket (#6) ran three times at Saratoga and got impossible rides and trips in every one of those efforts. I know that he did not even crack a 60 Beyer in those races, but they are all much better than they appear on paper. He was extremely wide all the way around the course on July 29th, was wide again on August 11th, and was carried out and then endured a third wide trip on August 26th when the turf course was very slanted towards inside speed. Cash Your Ticket may not get that much pace today, but he’s going to be a solid price and I feel he is just as good as any of his rivals if he can get a merely competent ride from the apprentice.
$15 Win 6
Belmont, Race 10: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs on the turf for NY-breds
One of my favorites from the inner track at Aqueduct, Bob and Jim (#2), is back. This turf sprint finale is a pretty tricky race where I don’t particularly like any of the horses who ran at this level at Saratoga. Insighting did have a bit of trouble two back, but it feels like everyone is going to land on this horse “just because” and I do not want him at a short price. Bob and Jim’s best prior effort came sprinting on the dirt, but I thought his turf efforts at the least showed he can handle that surface. Maybe he just doesn’t want to go two turns and turf sprinting will be his true calling. At double digit odds, I think he’s worth a shot.
$10 Win 2