That is, it’s the final Wednesday of the Belmont spring meet, which means that Saratoga is just nine days away. Fortunately it seems that the racing office is having little trouble filling races at the moment since a few of today’s fields are at capacity, including an intriguing puzzle in the featured eighth race.
Race 2: Claiming $25,000 N2L at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
LIFE’S A ROAR (#7)
Toy Cannon is clearly the best horse in this race, but I do not trust him to get to the wire in front, even with this drop in class. Mott has apparently given up on a horse who does have some ability, but just refuses to win races. Beyond him, the race really opens up. I’m going to take a shot with a likely huge price, LIFE’S A ROAR (#7). There really is not a great deal of speed signed on in this race, so Life’s a Roar is probably fast enough to make the front here. It’s now been quite a while since he’s run on turf, but as recently as last fall he was running races that make him competitive with just about any other horse in this race, except perhaps the untrustworthy Toy Cannon. The low-profile connections will only inflate what should be a very generous price.
$10 Win 7 [Scratched]
Race 3: Claiming $20,000 at six furlongs
I know it appears that PHOTON (#7) has gone off form, but I’m willing to be slightly forgiving of his last two efforts. On April 5th, he was cooked in a fast pace that completely collapsed, and then when he dropped in class for a $25,000 tag in May, he faced one of the toughest fields that you’ll find assembled at that level. He also took up the unenviable task of chasing a rejuvenated Readthebyline, who ran a hole in the wind on the front end that day. I don’t view the claim by Diane Balsamo as much of a negative since she does a good job with the few horses that she gets, and this turn back could work out well for a horse who is often stretched to his limit at a mile. Photon most recently ran a sprint distance last fall, when he twice went seven furlongs. He put in his typical good effort the first time, and then had a major excuse when asked to go that distance again in November, since he was squeezed and shuffled back at a critical point in the running. Today he should sit a great trip stalking the speed of Road Agent and Seeker before getting the jump on an inferior group of closers.
$15 Win 7 (WINNER; PAYOUT: $54.00)
Race 4: Maiden Claiming $40,000 at six furlongs for NY-bred fillies and mares
THAT’S NO LIMIT (#2)
This body of this field is full of horses that I don’t want to bet. Rufus Ruth and It’s Your Dime have traded decisions with each other while losing at this level recently, and I would expect them to both find at least one that’s better than them once again today. Penella makes some sense getting on turf for the first time, since she is a half-sister to two grass winners, but she’s disappointed in some easy spots recently and I wonder if she’ll be a shorter price than she really deserves to be. Either of the first two runners on the also-eligible list would be formidable if they drew in, but I’m more interested in a long shot down towards the rail.
THAT’S NO LIMIT (#2) spent much of the winter struggling in cheap races on the dirt at Aqueduct, but she was at least competitive on a couple of occasions, most notably in the slop when losing by just two and three-quarter lengths going six furlongs. She also was not aided by her connections’ choice of riders over her past four starts, which makes today’s upgrade to Edgar Prado especially significant. As for the turf, That’s No Limit appears to have enough pedigree to handle it and perhaps even move forward. She’s a half-sister to a couple of two-time turf winners, including Sportswriter, who actually beat the mighty King Kreesa in winning a minor stakes at Saratoga. That’s No Limit has more turf influences in her pedigree than that runner, being by a decent turf sire in Western Expression. At what should be double-digit odds, I think she’s a good horse to try in a field where many have questions to answer.
$10 Win 2
Race 8: Optional Claiming $80,000/C at one mile on the turf
SWIFT WARRIOR (#9)
RED RIFLE (#4)
This race is quite the handicapping puzzle. Some may simply concede it to the accomplished morning line favorite Lochte, but I’m looking to take some shots against him. He was awful in the Monmouth Stakes last time after a two-month break, and his trainer was quoted as saying that he was “not mentally prepared for the U.N.,” hence his placement in an easier spot. The Lochte that we saw in February and March would not lose this race, but I don’t know what we’re going to get today.
My top pick is SWIFT WARRIOR (#9). Before getting some slight class relief last time, he was on a steady diet of graded stakes races dating back to 2012. Perhaps he hasn’t been quite as potent so far this year, but I can find excuses for a few of his performances. His return was actually a rare, but decent, dirt effort for this turf specialist. He then stepped up into the Fort Marcy and ran slightly better than it appears on paper since he was steadied briefly coming out of the far turn as his rider tried to sneak through a hole on the rail that was closing up. Then last time, while he did face a weaker field, he still ran into a solid horse in Unbridled Ocean, who would be a top contender in this race. Swift Warrior’s versatile running style should be an asset in this large field.
I also want to use RED RIFLE (#4), who has admittedly been somewhat of a disappointment for Pletcher. After a promising start to his career, he’s managed just one win from his past six outings despite being short prices on a few of those occasions. He’s only tried the turf once, which resulted in a mediocre closing fourth place finish in last year’s Hill Prince. He has at times hinted at having ability, but inconsistency has gotten the best of him lately. I’m interested in him because he is a new gelding for this race, and I think he deserves another chance on turf given his pedigree. His dam won just 2 of 22 turf starts, but she placed in a few graded stakes races and banked over $320,000 on the lawn. Additionally, her one other foal to race eared his lone win on the turf. In such a large field, with Castellano landing elsewhere, this could be a rare Pletcher runner who gets overlooked in the wagering and I think he has a chance to improve today. Whether that makes him good enough to win remains to be seen.
I’ll use both of the aforementioned runners with the logical Plainview (#7), who almost always puts in a top effort when he’s able to make a clear lead early and that should be the case here.