Belmont, Race 2: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at one mile
The first thing that needs to be discussed in analyzing this race is the pace since there’s plenty of it. Nevada Kid, Go Appeal, Wayward Sailor, and Reaching Out all appear to do their best running on the front end and pace presser North Ocean should be in close pursuit. With the likelihood of a fast pace, I’m most interested in horses who can rally.
I’ve landed on I Want You to Know (#4), who is the third Woodbine shipper trainer Michael Keogh has run on this circuit since the summer. The first, Say No More, nearly shocked a good allowance field at Saratoga when he was nipped on the wire at 24-1. The second, Thats Our Princess, won yesterday’s second race with an impressive wide rally. He clearly brings horses south that he think will appreciate a switch to dirt and that appears to be the case with I Want You to Know, who has run the two best races of his career on conventional dirt at Laurel. He also happens to be a half-brother to yesterday’s winner, Thats Our Princess.
What I find most encouraging about this horse is that he was actually in some of the best form of his life over the summer when he registered a couple of decent fourth place finishes on a turf, a surface he doesn’t really care for. His recent works suggest he’s still doing well and today’s conditions are much more appropriate. I expect him to be a major factor. Whether or not we’ll get anything close to the 12-1 morning line is another story since I suspect others are onto this angle by now.
$10 Win 4
Belmont, Race 5: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
It’s worth beginning discussion of this race with a viewing of the replay of another race at this level on September 11th since the first five horses across the wire that day are all back in this spot (Watch replay). This was a race that was completely dominated by horses who rallied from the back of the pack and the top three finishers all benefited from sitting far behind a quick internal fractions. I don’t want any of them back today because they will not get the same pace scenario in this spot.
However, I am interested in one of the horses who was close to that hot pace. “Horse to Watch” Razorbill (#3) raced up close down the backstretch and was sitting in what appeared to be a great spot coming to the top of the stretch. However, Edgar Prado could just never get him off the rail and he ended up steadying in behind the tiring frontrunners for about an eighth of a mile as the closers all swept past. When Razorbill did finally get into the clear, he regathered himself and made an encouraging late run to get up for fourth. He undoubtedly would have won that race without the trouble and was much the best considering the pace scenario. This horse is bred to be a good one being from the family of multiple Grade 1 winning turfers Midday and Elmaamul. I think he’ll finally start to deliver on that potential today.
As far as the competition today is concerned, I suppose that Hothersal could improve second time back from the layoff, but he will need to since he came up completely empty in the stretch last time. Also, it’s not as if Razorbill will be far off his flank again today. Hardest Core is a classy three year-old, but he drew a terrible post and the pace of this race will do him no favors if Luis Saez does not give him an aggressive ride.
I’ll throw a few extra dollars on Tapit Express (#1), who seems to be moving in the right direction for Jonathan Sheppard. He defeated Razorbill last time when that one likely needed a race off the layoff, but he was spun very wide into the stretch and should appreciate the extra sixteenth of a mile of this race.
$15 Win 3
$5 Win 1
Belmont, Race 6: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles for two year-olds
This is another great wagering race. I’m sticking with “Horse to Watch” Long Water (#2), who had to endure a three-wide trip last time behind Mosler and Master Lightning, who both rode the rail for much of the trip on a day when there was a strong rail bias. Survival, who also had a wide trip in that race, has already returned with a much-improve effort albeit on turf. Long Water, who is out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Round Pound, has shown ability in each of his starts and should appreciate the extra distance he gets to work with today.
I’ll also use Waco (#4), who needs to improve on his debut, but is much better bred for dirt than turf and was probably just being given a race at two turns for experience first time out. His dam was best on dirt, winning a Grade 2 stakes race while earning a best Beyer of 99 routing. She is also a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Offlee Wild so the pedigree is there for this one to be pretty good.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 4
Belmont, Race 7: Claiming $20,000B at seven furlongs on the turf
I’m very interested in Non Stop (#10) in this spot. I know that he’s revived his career since being switched back to dirt, but I’m wondering if that has more to do with the trainer change than the surface switch since he was not really a superior dirt horse in the past. He definitely has some character flaws since he’s been a gate scratch on more than a few occasions and is known to lose his composure between the paddock and the starting gate. The connections have apparently worked on him a bit since he got into the gate last time. Instead, he had some problems leaving the gate as he was off a step slowly. Abel Lezcano allowed him to settle on the rail early before angling out coming to the top of the stretch. Non Stop made a furious late rally into some very fast closing fractions in a race where no one else mounted any closing run. I was impressed and I don’t think that this return to turf is going to faze him. The distance is a minor question, but the way he rated and finished well last time encourages me.
$10 Win 10 (WINNER; Payout: $97.00)
Belmont, Race 9: The Frizette (G1) at one mile for two year-old fillies
Beyond her, things get more interesting. I was impressed by Artemis Agrotera’s (#2) debut, but she really beat nothing that day. Still, the figure was legitimately fast as the also-rans have returned to confirm it. But what really makes her interesting here is her pedigree since she is bred to love the extra distance. Her dam was a stakes-winning router who was second in the Black Eyed Susan Stakes and she is a full-sister to Stephen Got Even. The works since her debut have been very strong and she could control the pace from the inside.
I’ll box these two fillies in the exacta while pushing Sweet Reason’s number strongly. Stopchargingmaria is also in with a chance once again and Recepta impressed me visually in her debut. I’ll try to cover them in trifectas and multi-race wagers with my top two choices.
$10 Exacta 1-2
$5 Exacta 2-1 (WINNER; Payout: $55.00)
Belmont, Race 10: The Champagne (G1) at one mile for two year-olds
In an attempt to describe Honor Code’s (#5) debut to a friend I got so carried away that I invoked the name of Secretariat. That was some hyperbole to be sure, but that’s the sort of feeling I got from the performance. I’ve personally never witnessed a horse do what he did from the half-mile pole to the wire in a debut performance. Terms like “breathtaking” and “awe inspiring” just do not quite do it justice. (Watch the replay.)
He didn’t drop 22 lengths off the pace in his debut because he’s a slow horse. He was green and disliking the kickback, but once he got his mind on running he showed just how fast he is with a 34 and change final three furlongs. I expect Honor Code to lay much closer to the pace today and if he can show that same burst of speed while within range of the leaders—much the way Sweet Reason did in the Spinaway—everyone else may be running for second. Well, everyone except perhaps one horse.
Strong Mandate (#7) is a formidable obstacle for Honor Code. I suppose one could make the argument that he is vulnerable in this spot because he doesn’t have much, if any, of a speed figure edge over this field. However, I’m not of that opinion since I take issue with the number he got in the Hopeful. It just looks and feels wrong. And indeed, the also-rans who have come back to run out of that race have suggested that the number is not predictive. Fourth place finisher Big Sugar Soda improved his figure by 25 points next out in the Futurity, 5th place finisher Wired Bryan improved his figure by 34 points next out in winning the NY Breeders’ Futurity, and 9th place finisher Corfu improved his Beyer by 37 points next out in the Futurity. In watching the race, it certainly appeared that Strong Mandate ran off the screen while registering a 100+ figure on the Beyer scale and for all intents and purposes I think he basically did.
For me this race is all about those aforementioned two. I’m mildly against likely third choice Havana. They paid a lot of money for him and subsequently bet a lot of money on him because he’s clearly a very fast horse. He proved that at the two year-old sale and again in his debut. But you have to be more than fast to win the Champagne. I see this as a tall order, especially in a race with other speed. I think it’s also telling that John Velazquez didn’t hesitate to say in an interview that he would have been on Honor Code if he wasn’t going to Keeneland.
I’ll make a large win wager on Honor Code provided he isn’t too overbet and will strongly push an exacta box using him and Strong Mandate.
I cannot wait for this race!
$25 Win 5
$15 Exacta Box 5/7