Belmont, Race 1: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at 1 1/4 miles on the turf
I don’t think that I’ll get anything close to his ridiculous 8-1 morning line, but I do think that Star Channel (#3) is the horse to beat in today’s opener. North Slope will likely go favored based on his perceived upside, but I don’t think you can just ignore that Star Channel is a classier horse overall. Since being claimed away from Todd Pletcher, his new connections ran him three times at Saratoga in ambitious spots and he was not disgraced in any of those efforts. He was taken way too far off the pace in the John’s Call when Luis Saez tried to close into the fastest part of the race. He then ran a huge race in the Sword Dancer to squeeze though between horses late and beat half the field. Last time, it may look like he didn’t bring his A-game, but you must remember that the turf course was severely tilted towards runners that stayed on the rail and Star Channel was off the inside for the entire race while running three to four-wide through the stretch. It’s an effort that is a bit better than it might look.
Now he drops into a much easier spot at his favorite distance and really only has to deal with North Slope as a major threat. I just don’t think that any of the others have shown that they are capable of winning a race this tough. I know that Share Out and Tiz Gianni ran well at this level in each of their last starts, but Share Out rode the rail bias at Saratoga and Tiz Gianni took advantage of a pace scenario that he won’t see today. I just think that Star Channel is the best horse and I should get decent value on him.
$15 Win 3 (WINNER; Payout: $53.25)
Belmont, Race 3: The Aljamin Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs for three year-olds
The scratch of Whiskey Romeo leaves Dads Caps (#2) as the main speed and I think that makes him a serious threat to Shanghai Bobby (#3). I thought he showed a lot of promise in his first couple of starts before being forced onto the sidelines and his return at Saratoga on the Travers undercard is a better effort than the Beyer speed figure suggests. He was asked to go seven furlongs off a five-month layoff and Cornelio Velasquez made a slight tactical error coming out of the gate as he wrangled Dads Caps into a stalking position. There appeared to be more speed on paper, but it never materialized and Power World as allowed to wire the field over a track that may have been favoring horses racing on the inside.
Today there is no one to go with him early unless John Velazquez decides to get aggressive with Shanghai Bobby. It certainly hasn’t hurt to be the main inside speed over the past week and if that bias is still in place Dads Caps could be tough to catch. I doubt I’ll get his morning line of 10-1, but at 5-1 or greater I think he’s the best alternative to the returning Two Year-Old Champion.
$15 Win 2
$10 Exacta 3-2
Belmont, Race 6: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-bred two year-olds
On paper this is a confusing race with many horses coming out of a couple of New York-bred maiden races upstate. I want to bet the two that were most hurt by the turf bias on August 28th since they should present the best betting value.
Tapidor (#10) broke from an inside post position that day, but was angled to the outside on the backstretch and continued to race three-wide all the way around the far turn. Horses were not having success with that type of trip during the last week at Saratoga and I think he can do much better. He comes from a strong turf female family so I have to think that there is more improvement coming.
I’ll also use Gridley Here (#8) who broke two lengths slowly in that first start before riding the rail near the back of the pack for much of this trip. Coming to the top of the stretch there was nowhere to go inside and Alan Garcia angled sharply to the ouside of Tapidor. It appeared for a split second as if he might run right past them all, but the poor footing outside quickly slowed his momentum and he flattened out to be fifth. Still, I thought it was an encouraging debut for Ken McPeek, who usually has them better prepared for their second starts.
I want those aforementioned two rather than John Bailey and Balderdash, who both really took advantage of the bias last time.
$15 Win 10
$10 Win 8
Belmont, Race 7: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Perhaps this should not really be taken as a serious wagering recommendation, but I cannot resist putting at least a small wager on Captain Keon (#2) because I know that he’s a lot better than his last three races suggest. His debut at Gulfstream was a legitimately good effort that would make him a fringe player in a field like this. However, nothing has gone right since. He was an early factor in that turf sprint return at Calder before hitting the rail hard on the backstretch and getting totally taken out of the race. In his next start on turf in a maiden claiming race at Saratoga, he was knocked sideways at the start and found himself again farther back than he really needs to be. Coming to the top of the stretch there was nowhere to go inside so Robby Albarado was forced to swing him five or six-wide for the stretch drive. Again recall that you just could not close on the outside on the turf during the last week at Saratoga, so he did not make up any ground.
He’s a horse who may go off at 60-1, but who I think should be closer to 20-1. Perhaps that doesn’t make much of a difference to you, but I’d call that significant value and reason enough to justify my $5 bets to win and place.
$5 Win/Place 2
Belmont, Race 8: The Zaftig Stakes at one mile for three year-old fillies
I recognize that Flash Forward is the filly to beat, but I don’t think you can completely ignore the fact that she really relished stretching out to nine furlongs at Saratoga and that this race is only a one-turn mile. She’s still the best horse in the race, but at her morning line price of 6-5 I think she’s an underlay. The only alternative that I can see is Ol Donyo (#6), who may really appreciate finally getting to stretch out in distance on the dirt. After all, she is a Curlin and she certainly runs like a filly who needs some more ground. She was very wide around the far turn last time and many fillies would have just thrown in the towel at the top of the stretch, but I thought she stayed on determinedly like one who would not mind an extra furlong or two.
I think we’ve already seen how good horses like Toasting and Girl Code are, but we may not have yet seen the best of Ol Donyo. For that reason, she’s the one I’ll try to get home for the upset.
$10 Win 6 (WINNER; Payout: $82.00)
Belmont, Race 9: Allowance N1X at six furlongs on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
This race came up pretty weak for the level and many might be quick to just concede it to Therapy, who faced much tougher runners last time at Saratoga. However, I think you need to go back and watch a replay before dismissing one of her rivals.
Your Time Is Up (#9) made her turf debut in mid-June at Belmont and was just never given a chance to run (watch the replay). That was a very slowly paced race in which many jockeys seemed to totally misjudge the pace allowing Rakin Gold to wire the field. Jose Ortiz was one of those jockeys. Your Time Is Up clearly possesses ample tactical speed, but Ortiz took a hold of her out of the gate and decided to ride her as a closer. Unfortunately the closers had no success in the race, but it did not help matters that Your Time Is Up was mired in traffic at the top of the stretch. She did find a clear path on the rail during the final furlong, but Ortiz elected to just wrap up on her as if something was not quite right. She was given three months off after that, but I think it’s a good sign that she shows up in a turf race again. She certainly has enough pedigree to handle the surface since she’s by Freud and out of a dam that has produced two turf winners form 4 runners to try it.
I just have a hard time seeing Therapy as that formidable of a favorite and think there’s a good possibility that Your Time Is Up could prove to be just as good.
$15 Win 9