That was quite a Preakness. I honestly hadn’t allowed myself to get too excited about the possibility of a Triple Crown attempt prior to yesterday. I was puzzled by the slow time of the Derby and wanted to see California Chrome prove that he was worthy of stepping up to the plate on Belmont day. He did just that, winning the Preakness as much the best horse in a very respectable time. Now I can hardly wait for the final installment of this story to play out in three weeks, but my hopes for a Triple Crown are still tempered by past disappointments. This year will mark the 19th straight Belmont Stakes that I’ve attended, and in that time I’ve witnessed seven failed Triple Crown attempts, and a few by far more imposing individuals than California Chrome. I’ll never forget the moments immediately after the running of the 1997 Belmont Stakes as I, at ten years old, stared, brokenhearted, at the television monitors watching the irreversible results play out over and over again, the chance at experiencing an historic moment gone.
These days I’m proud to say that I’m a far more objective handicapper and race-watcher, but all of that will be forgotten in that spine-tingling moment when a horse in California Chome’s position is able to forge his way to the front entering the stretch at Belmont Park.
I got in pretty late last night after the long drive back from Maryland, but was able to find enough time to get through today’s Belmont card and I’ve found a number of interesting opportunities that are worth discussing:
Race 3: Claiming $12,500 at 1 1/16 miles
TIZMAS (#4) is pretty formidable in this race as he drops out of a steady diet of allowance races into this bottom-level claimer. He also is likely to play out as the lone speed, which will make him even tougher to catch. His price will be too short to bet him to win, but I will play a straight exacta using him over MR. ESPRESSO (#3) with the plan being to try and beat Sun Bear and Chairman Now. Sun Bear drops in class after running one dull race of Bruce Levine nearly five months ago. This horse has never been much of winning type and I have serious doubts about his current form. Chairman Now at one time could have given Tizmas a tussle, but he’s been over a year since he was remotely competitive in a race. I’ll pass. Mr. Espresso, on the other hand, strung together some decent efforts towards the end of the winter season at Aqueduct, and the slow Beyer speed figure he earned two back was largely due to a slow pace rather than any major regression on his part.
$10 Exacta 4-3
Race 4: Allowance N1X at one mile on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
Summer Solo (#10) was very impressive in her debut and, if she runs back to that effort today, will be tough to hold off. However, there is not very much speed in this race, which won’t help a horse who broke slowly and rallied from far back in her debut. At what should be a very short price, I’ll take a small shot against her.
A slow pace should help the likely controlling speed, OLD HARBOR (#3), who makes her turf debut today. Russell Cash has had a great deal of success with first time turfers over the past few years, albeit primarily in turf sprints rather than routes. Nevertheless, I cannot ignore the turf influences in Old Harbor’s pedigree. Her sire, Raffie’s Majesty is a decent turf sire, getting 13% winners in grass races over the past five years, and this dam has produced three turf winners out of four who tried the surface. Old Harbor’s two races as juvenile were solid, if not spectacularly fast, and her return here 10 days ago was run over a sloppy track that she apparently did not care for. In watching her replays, she does have action that would appear to lend itself to the turf so I’m willing to take a shot with her and hope that she can wire the field at a price.
I will bet Old Harbor to win and will use her underneath in the exacta behind Milkyyourway (#1), who should have won last time if not for trouble at the top of the stretch, Takeoff Your Hat (#7), and the aforementioned Summer Solo (#10).
$10 Win 3
$4 Exacta 1,7,10 with 3
Race 5: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/4 miles on the turf
It’s well worth watching the replay of GIANT’S PASSION’S (#2) last race since he lost all chance coming off the far turn as he got caught in behind the tiring frontrunners and could never get clear at any point thereafter. Today the blinkers go on and he should be able to control the pace from the inside in a field seemingly filled with plodding closing types. The extra ground he gets to work with today should only help this half-brother to Presious Passion.
I will also use TELIC (#7), who was awful in his lone start on dirt over a year ago. However, this horse has no business running on anything but grass since his dam, by Rainbow Quest, is out of the great European racemare Islington, a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.
I’ll bet both of these horses to win at what should be decent prices and will also use them in an exacta box with likely favorite Hines (#1), who appears to have some ability and should relish the ten furlongs of this race.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 7
$2 Exacta Box 1,2,7
Race 8: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at seven furlongs for fillies and mares
This is a wide-open race in which I could make a reasonable case for any of about six or seven different runners winning. However, there is one in particular who has as good a chance as any and could get lost in the wagering. MY JOPIA (#5) enters this race off a layoff of nearly six months, which is somewhat of a negative as she goes out for a barn that does not have a strong record of winning with these types. However, that’s the only drawback I can see on a horse who may be able to control the pace. Ceci N Red also has some speed, but isn’t nearly as quick as My Jopia early. I would expect John Velazquez to send her to the front if she runs back to any of her efforts from last summer and fall, she has a legitimate chance to post the upset. She faced far tougher fields than she meets today in both the Jazzy and Finney Stakes last year and wasn’t exactly disgraced in either spot.
Additionally, I don’t find the horses that are likely to take money all that convincing at short prices. Corporate Culture would need to post a lifetime best performance to win and Quay has been absent for over three months since an uncharacteristically dull performance at Gulfstream. I’m more interested in Good So Far (#3), whose European form is solid enough and was solid enough in her return at Keeneland, and Spun Silky (#4), who is a seasoned turf sprinter who always seems to show up with consistently good efforts. I’ll use both of them over and under My Jopia in the exacta.
$10 Win 5
$4 Exacta 3,4 with 5
$4 Exacta 5 with 3,4
Race 9: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares
SOUTHBOUND SWINGER (#5) made a mild middle move while racing four-wide around the turn last time and was then not persevered with in the stretch as if her jockey was under instructions to just give her a race first time out. She has plenty of turf pedigree as she is a half-sibling to a turf winner, and her dam was a turf horse and a full-sister to multiple graded stakes winning turfer Senor Swinger. I think she has a big shot to upset this field at a price. I’ll bet her to win and will use her under well-bred first time starter Quincia (#3), J. Quirk (#9), and Gratitude (#11) in the exacta.