I’ll be making the trip out to Belmont tomorrow. How could I possibly pass up such an awesome day of racing? I really like this card and found plenty of opportunities worthy of discussion.
Saturday, September 27
Race 2: Allowance N1X at 6 1/2 furlongs
6 – Chapman
This field appears to be pretty evenly matched, but I’m taking a shot with CHAPMAN (#6) since he looms as the main speed and could find himself clear early. Scam and Round are the two most likely to press him, but neither is really a frontrunner. As long as Chapman breaks well–which was not the case last time–he should be in front early through fairly moderate fractions, and that scenario will likely put him in the winner’s circle.
I’ll use him with Noble Cornerstone (#5), who might be the most talented horse in the race but may need to be placed closer to the pace this time. I had originally thought that his 100 Beyer win at Saratoga looked a little suspicious, but he actually validated that effort with a very solid run despite an awful wide trip in the King’s Bishop. He and Chapman are the two that I want the most.
$10 Win 6
$5 Exacta Box 5,6 (Payout: $60.00)
Race 4: The Kelso (G2) at one mile
7 – Itsmyluckyday
Some may look at River Rocks or Bradester and think, based on their recent speed figures, that they are legitimate alternatives to the favorite, Itsmyluckyday. However, I’ll be very surprised if either beats the Woodward winner today.
River Rocks, in particular, is seriously dressed up off his two wins at Saratoga. I know that he was assigned a huge Beyer speed figure last time, but that track was very kind to inside speed and he was allowed to set relatively slow fractions for the distance. Salutos Amigos, who I will discuss later, actually put in a valiant effort to get within a length of River Rocks in the stretch despite being taken out of his game to come after him early. Then, two back, River Rocks never had to face any serious challenges and coasted over a muddy track that was also kind to speed types. I’m not biting.
Bradester does have some ability, but he was the beneficiary of slow paces at Monmouth, and faces a much tougher task today as he must play the role of pace presser.
In my opinion, Itsmyluckyday put in one of the best performances we’ve seen all year in the Woodward. He’s in spectacular form right now and this one mile distance is well within his scope. I won’t bet him at what will be a very short price, but he’s supposed to win.
Race 5: The Beldame (G1) at 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares
7 – Belle Gallantey
Let’s be honest. This is far from a strong Beldame lineup, and this field pales in comparison to the one that was assembled for the Personal Ensign five weeks ago. New faces like Toasting and Stopchargingmaria might look appealing to some and clearly have merits, but I’m more interested in the fillies and mares getting some class relief out of the Personal Ensign.
While I think that Stanwyck (#4) might be the best horse in this race and believe that she will love the return to Belmont and a dry track, I just can’t bring myself to pick her on top given the likely pace scenario. Unless they decide to change tactics with Stopchargingmaria, there are absolutely no speed types aside from BELLE GALLENTEY (#7), and I just cannot ignore a capable runner who is very likely to work out a perfect trip. Belle Gallentey’s prior Grade 1 triumph in the Delaware Handicap was indeed pace-aided, but she had already suggested at having newfound quality in her surprising close fifth place finish in a very deep Ogden Phipps. While she did finish well behind Fiftyshadesofhay and Stanwyck in the Beldame, I’m willing to be forgiving of that effort. She was never in a comfortable position that day, and Jose Ortiz basically wrapped up on her at the top of the stretch, exaggerating the margin of defeat. At odds of 7/2 or better, I think she presents a good opportunity.
$15 Win 7 (Payout: $85.50)
$5 Exacta Box 4,7
Race 6: Optional Claiming $62,500/N2X at seven furlongs on the turf
1 – Shock Leader
6 – Ragtime
I struggled for a while with this race. There are many horses that I am not going to discuss that can certainly win, but I’ve ultimately decided to focus on a couple of runners who could get lost in the wagering and aren’t without chances to pull off upsets.
At first glance, it might look as if SHOCK LEADER (#1) is running at the wrong distance, but I think his connections might be doing the right thing by turning him back. In all three of his starts in New York, he has landed in paceless affairs and actually did quite well each time to make even a minor late impact. Despite not having much of a chance in those races, it’s quite clear that he’s in the best form of his life right now, and while this turnback to seven furlongs is a bit drastic, at least he is going to get pace to run into today. Escapist, Great Attack, Green Gratto, and Asset Inflation all figure to be forwardly placed and should ensure an honestly run race. Shock Leader has displayed a nice late kick in his races, and his pedigree suggests that he should possess the speed to get this trip since he is a son of capable turf sprint sire Bernstein out of a mare who only won sprinting. At double-digit odds, I find him very interesting.
I also want to use RAGTIME (#6), who has been fairly ordinary on dirt, but may really move up with this surface switch. Henny Hughes is a decent turf influence, and his dam, by El Prado, is half-sister to three turf winners, including Grade 1 winner Dancing Forever. He appears to be working well on the turf for this race, but more telling is that this is an exceptionally good move for Shug McGaughey. I know this sounds like a bit of an oddball statistic, but over the past five years Shug is 5-for-13 with first time turfers in optional claiming or allowance races, good for an ROI of $4.23. Those are some excellent numbers, indicative of Shug’s philosophy of letting the horses to tell him over time what they do best. Compare that stat to his 18% win rate from a much larger sample moving maidens to turf for the first time:
$10 Win 1
$10 Win 6
Race 7: The Flower Bowl (G1) at 1 1/4 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
9 – Stephanie’s Kitten
1 – Abaco
5 – Starstruck
I realize that I’m not being all that creative here, but I see two very likely winners of this race, with a pretty sizable gap to the other contenders. STEPHANIE’S KITTEN (#9) and ABACO (#1) are both in excellent form right now and should relish this mile and a quarter distance. You can make the argument that Stephanie’s Kitten may have been best in the Beverly D. where she had to weave her way through traffic before flying through the final furlong to just miss. She has shown an electrifying kick in each of her last three starts and will win this race if she repeats her Diana or Beverly D. efforts. Abaco also ran very well in her most recent start when she was much the best in the Ballston Spa when forced to make a long, sustained run while spun very wide for the drive. She doesn’t always get the respect that she deserves, but I think she’s proven recently that she’s good enough to win a race at this level.
As for the others, I just don’t know how you can possibly trust Alterite or Tannery, who would have been top contenders in this race at one time, but appear to have badly tailed off this year. Alterite has been keen in her races and has shown no signs of still possessing the late kick that carried her to victory in last year’s Garden City. Tannery did have an excuse in the Diana when she was too close to the pace early, but I find her Bevery D. to be unforgivable. She was racing right alongside Stephanie’s Kitten coming to the top of the stretch and that one nearly won the race while Tannery sputtered.
There is one other horse at a price who I gave a long look to, and will try to get into exactas and trifectas with my top two selections. Starstruck (#5) probably would have been right there at the finish of the Robert G. Dick Memorial going 11 furlongs three back if she hadn’t been clobbered at the eighth pole, so the distance is no concern for her. She was excellent in the Matchmaker after that, and then just didn’t get the right trip last time when she was too far back early before trying to pick her way through on the rail in the stretch. I don’t think she’s quite good enough to win, but she could get a piece of the purse at a big price.
$15 Exacta 9-1 (Payout: $136.50)
$10 Exacta 1-9
$5 Trifecta 1,9 with 1,5,9 with 1,5,9
Race 8: The Vosburgh (G1) at six furlongs
4 – Salutos Amigos
There is a ton of speed on paper in this race, so it’s difficult to envision the early pace being anything short of torrid. For that reason, I’m focusing on the horses who will be sitting a few lengths behind that scramble up front. Palace (#1) is the most logical contender fresh off his two Grade 1 triumphs at Saratoga. As unlikely as it may have seemed at one time, he has to be considered the frontrunner for an Eclipse Award in this division after triumphs in three of the most prestigious sprint races run in New York. A win in this race would all but lock up that title, though I think he’s going to face a serious challenge from a horse that he defeated a couple of times earlier in the summer.
SALUTOS AMIGOS (#4) couldn’t quite get the best of Palace but did run very well in both the True North and Belmont Sprint Championship before getting a brief freshening. He returned last month at Saratoga and ran perhaps the best race of his life. He was against a strong inside speed bias that day, and was forced to be ridden hard early to apply pressure to the naturally fast River Rocks. Salutos Amigos is best as a one-run closer, so it’s a testament to his ability that he was able to still finish off that race as strongly as he did despite his early exertions. If he runs as well again today, I believe that he can pull off the upset.
$15 Win 4
$10 Exacta Box 1,4
Race 9: The Turf Classic (G1) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf
5 – Main Sequence
I’ve been a major proponent of MAIN SEQUENCE (#5) since he arrived in this country and I see no reason to pick against him today. While I don’t believe that his slow break in the Sword Dancer hurt him all the much, he was in a very difficult position coming to the top of the stretch of that race with over four lengths still to make up. Imagining (#3) showed up with one of his better efforts that day and wasn’t stopping late, forcing Main Sequence to run his final furlong in under 22 2/5 seconds to overtake him. It was truly an awesome performance by both horses, but I have to think that Belmont’s sweeping turns and long stretch will play to Main Sequence’s strengths today. Imagining is likely the lone speed here, but I’m not sure that will even be enough to allow him to hold off the late charge of Main Sequence.
I’m not way against the other obvious contender, Big Blue Kitten, but I feel that the Beyer speed figures will lead most people to believe that he’s the horse to beat whereas in actuality he will have to run better than he has in his two most recent starts in order to win this. Additionally, Real Solution, who is pretty clearly not quite as good going 12 furlongs, is going to drag the price of the entry down into underlaid territory.
$20 Win 5 (Payout: $59.00)
$10 Exacta Box 3,5
Race 10: The Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) at 1 1/4 miles
8 – Tonalist
Moreno ran two excellent races at Saratoga, but it’s hard to ignore how different and more difficult today’s task will be. In the Whitney he faced an uncompetitive pace scenario and in the Woodward, he was aided by a racetrack that was kind to inside speed. Today, he drew post 11, which is extremely disadvantageous going this distance at Belmont. Furthermore, he is drawn just inside of a horse who may very well be faster than him early, so Junior Alvarado is going to have to decide early on whether to gun for the lead or try to win from a stalking position. Neither situation is ideal, so I’m taking a stand against him.
I prefer the three year-olds, particularly Wicked Strong and Tonalist. I intend no disrespect towards V. E. Day, who is a talented horse in his own right, but the first two finishers in the Jim Dandy clearly ran the two best races in the Travers, and it’s unfortunate that neither was able to come away victorious. While I was against Bayern in the Travers, it was impossible to know that he would be such a non-factor. It’s easy to say in retrospect, but Joel Rosario did ride the race like Bayern was the horse to beat when it actually was not necessary to be quite so aggressive.
Wicked Strong also raced close up to the pace, but TONALIST (#8) was the one that did all the dirty work early, and I anticipate that he’ll be able to work out a much more comfortable trip this afternoon. This distance is perfect for him, and I like the fact that they’re taking the blinkers off because it sends the message that they’re not looking for him to be part of the pace. Wicked Strong (#3) is a formidable foe and I’ll be using him strongly in multi-race and exotic wagers, but Tonalist is my pick in this year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup at what should be a fair price.
$15 Win 8 (Payout: $60.75)
$10 Exacta Box 3,8
Race 11: Optional Claiming $35,000/N1X at 1 1/2 miles on the turf
3 – Innovation Economy
I prefer the lightly raced three year-olds running for the allowance condition to the older horses entered for a tag. INNOVATION ECONOMY (#3) apparently needed his return race as she was just a little flat early and got going too late while lugging in through the stretch. He should have gotten a lot out of that effort and I love that they’re stretching him out in distance immediately, since this is exactly what he’s bred to do. He’s a son of top stamina influence Dynaformer and is out of a mare who, in addition to producing stakes-winning turf router Seaspeak, is a half-sister to two top turf marathoners in Flower Bowl winner Dynaforce (also by Dynaformer) and Sword Dancer winner Cetewayo. Innovation Economy’s dam is also a half-sister to Rietondale, the dam of Stormy Len, who placed in Canada’s 12-furlong Northern Dancer (G1) last season. This pedigree is absolutely stacked with stamina influences. He’s the one I’ll use most strongly, but I’ll also pair him with Trecastle (#8), who has been steadily improving and is out of a dam who placed in a Grade 2 stakes at 1 1/2 miles.
$10 Win 3
$5 Exacta Box 3,8