I tried to get this up as early as possible since I’m heading out to Belmont to see these races live. Good luck everyone!
Belmont, Race 1: Optional Claiming $20,000/N1X at seven furlongs on the turf for NY-breds
This is a tough race, but I cannot resist betting back the two “Horses to Watch” that were entered.
Sky Blue Pink (#5) is a horse that I’ve always thought was a little bit better than he looks. Perhaps he’s seen better days, but he’s definitely still good enough to win a race like this, which he displayed last time (Watch Replay). After getting away in a tangle, Sky Blue Pink was allowed to settle near the back of the pack. Coming to the top of the stretch, he was clearly moving strongly while racing through traffic just waiting for a seam to run. That seam never came and Jose Espinoza was forced to restrain him until around midstretch when he was finally able to angle out and find a path. Sky Blue Pink came running late, but the race was over. With a little bit of pace, he is a major threat to win today.
I will also bet Fourseventeen (#11), who drops in class and is much better than his two recent efforts at Saratoga would suggest. On August 4th at Saratoga he ran into some traffic trouble in the stretch when trying to make his late rally in a race that came against much tougher company. Then last time he never had any chance to make an impact after enduring a three-wide trip all the way around the track over that rail-biased turf course late in the meet. This seven furlong distance is perfect for him and I think he’ll be tough to beat today.
I’ll bet each of these horses to win since they should both be decent prices and I’ll also box them in an exacta.
$15 Win 5
$15 Win 11
$4 Exacta Box 5/11
Belmont, Race 3: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for two year-olds
Unless one of the first time starters takes a lot of money, this race appears to center around the horses who have already run. Storming Inti and This Guy Is Blue ran respectable races in their debuts and neither would shock me as the winner of this race, but I think they’ll both need to improve a bit to break their maidens today. I was more interesting in a couple of other runners coming into their second career starts.
Survival (#3) is a younger half-brother to Point of Entry so this surface switch should agree with him. I won’t suggest that he would have been a major factor in his debut, but it should be kept in mind that he sustained a wide trip over a track that was strongly favoring the inside paths. He definitely has to improve on that effort to win today, but his debut was much more encouraging than that of a horse like Good Response, who also has turf pedigree but would need a complete turnaround.
I will also use Behedeman (#4), who probably doesn’t look very appealing at first glance. However, his debut is really not as bad as it looks. He was squeezed back after the start and trailed the field for much of the journey. Coming around the far turn Mike Smith angled him off the rail to mount a rally leaving the better footing towards the inside. Despite solid fractions, this race was completely dominated on the front end and run as a merry-go-round. Behedeman actually did some decent running late in the race and only missed fourth place by two lengths. He’s bred to do better and show more speed since he’s a younger full-brother to Secret Circle so he may have just needed his debut. I like that Mike Smith is back on him today and I would not be surprised to see him turn it around this afternoon.
$10 Win 3
$6 Win 4
Belmont, Race 6: The Kelso (G2) at one mile
This is a real head-scratcher of a race. I suppose Graydar is the horse to beat, but I have questions about him coming off the long layoff. He needed a race coming off a similar break in a one-turn mile at Belmont last year and the same may be the case today. I’m also always a little skeptical of these Todd Pletcher horses that show up with huge performances off layoffs at Gulfstream. They just never seem to recapture that brilliance elsewhere later in the year. He can win, but I’ll take a shot against him.
I’ve landed on Brujo de Olleros (#6), who may look improbable on paper, but who seems to be moving in the right direction. I don’t want to put too much stock in his South American form because I’m no expert in analyzing it, but his performance in the Gran Premio Pedro Pineyru is a sight to behold. He contested a quick pace before drawing off through the stretch to complete 1,600 meters (about one mile) in 1:33 1/5 seconds. That is just exceptionally fast. He was apparently sold to Team Valor after that race and came to the United States for a brief summer campaign in 2012. He didn’t show up with his best in either race and was put away. They again brought him back in June of this year and he seems to be finding his South American form. That LeVine Memorial Handicap drew a pretty salty field and Brujo de Olleros was extremely game to come back and nearly win in such a tough spot. Last time he faced a softer bunch at Delaware but was visually impressive as he drew off from the field. He needs to move forward again today, but it’s entirely possible that he has it within him. If he finally he can finally replicate in the United States that powerful kick that he displayed in Uruguay he has a real chance to win at a big price.
$10 Win 6
Belmont, Race 8: The Flower Bowl Invitational (G1) at 1 1/4 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
The entry of Tannery (#1) and Laughing (#1A) appear to be pretty formidable on paper and I’m certainly not trying to beat them. While most bettors probably prefer Laughing, it’s not all about her just wiring the field since Tannery also has a ton of ability and is probably the second most likely winner in her own right. I suppose you could try to say that Laughing could have trouble with the distance, but her pedigree indicates it might actually help her. She’s a half-sister to the great Viva Pataca, who won over $10 million racing mostly in Hong Kong and he was best from about 9 to 12 furlongs.
I’m more interested in figuring out who will finish second and I’ll try to get Somali Lemonade (#3) to complete the exacta. She had no chance given the way the race was run last time since not only was she trying to close into fast final fractions, but she was doing it while wide on a rail-biased turf course. The distance is a question for her, but I think she may be rounding back into form and she’s sure to be a big price.
$10 Exacta 1-3
Belmont, Race 9: The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf
The entry will be very tough to beat, but I’m going to take a shot with Slumber (#4) because I think he’s really going to relish the extra distance he gets today. His sire, Cacique, has only produced a few runners due to fertility problems, but from a small sample he’s shown himself to be a serious stamina influence. He was always cut out to be a good horse but has raced sparingly over the past couple of years due to injuries. His recent win confirms that he’s in good condition and his prior form reminds of the potential in this runner. His U.S. debut in the Hollywood Derby (G1) back in 2011 was an excellent effort that saw him close belatedly into a very slow pace. Over in Europe his form was solid, perhaps topped by an early season third place finish behind subsequent Group 1 winners Treasure Beach and Nathaniel in his third career start. He should sit a good trip today and be helped by the likely pace scenario. The two serious runners in the Ramsey entry will be tough, but I feel that they may be overbet because they’re just too obvious. Slumber is a great bet at anything close this morning line.
$15 Win 4
Belmont, Race 10: The Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at 1 1/4 miles
I have to bet against Cross Traffic. Yes, he can win, but he was gasping at the end of a mile and and eighth last time even after setting slow early fractions. If Palace Malice breaks cleanly I have to think that Mike Smith is going to get after him a little to at least try and make Cross Traffic work to clear him. Also it’s not as if Vitoria Olimpica and Alpha are exactly slow. He’s a brilliant miler and he is probably the best horse in the race, but he’s going to be a relatively short price and I just think he faces a tough task.
Flat Out is the horse to beat. Winning three Jockey Club Gold Cups in a row is almost an unthinkable feat in this day and age and it would be pretty cool to see him do it. He’s as good as he’s ever been, if not better, and probably should be the favorite.
I’ve taken a liking to this three year-old crop and I like the chances of both Orb and Palace Malice. The distance isn’t a question for either of them and I think there is room for improvement in the case of both colts. While Orb’s Travers may have initially seemed a little disappointing, there were plenty of positives to take out of the race. He was forced to make an early move into the fastest part of the race and had a right to get a bit tired late. He also proved that he can run effectively inside of horses without making that wide looping move, something that has not been working too well at Belmont recently. It’s hard not to like the jockey switch to Javier Castellano given the way he’s been riding lately. He’s been winning everything because he’s acutely aware of the inside bias so you know he’ll try to work out a trip up the rail if they haven’t changed the track for tomorrow.
Palace Malice is clearly a player as well. With a clean break in the Travers he could have won by two or three lengths and be entering this off a Beyer of about 112. The only negative is that everyone saw the trip last time so he could be as low as the second choice, but that is probably deserved. He’s one of the main players.
Ultimately, I’m going back to Orb (#2). He showed me what I needed to see in his Travers return and I think there’s a good chance he’ll take a step forward tomorrow. I’ll bet him to win and use him in the exacta with Flat Out (#6) and Palace Malice (#7) in an effort to beat Cross Traffic.
$20 Win 2
$4 Exacta Box 2 with 6/7
Belmont, Race 11: Maiden Special Weight at seven furlongs on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
I’m taking a couple of shots in the finale with “Horse to Watch” Rosalie’s Pleasure (#3) and Echluath (#6), both of whom faced adverse circumstances in their prior starts at Saratoga. Rosalie’s Pleasure had a complete meltdown in the paddock and on the racetrack prior to her comeback at Saratoga last time. If she is calmer today I have to think she’ll show up with an improved effort. Echluath had trouble during her race as she got sandwiched between horses on the backstretch last time and was steadied back entering the turn. We haven’t yet seen the best out of her.
$10 Win 3
$6 Win 6