Let’s take a look at the major contenders in the stakes races Saturday at Belmont. From top to bottom, it’s one of the best cards NYRA has put out in quite some time, from both an equine and betting standpoint. I think it’s about the toughest Pk4 you’ll ever see and the Manhattan very well could be the best betting race I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a Breeders’ Cup or Triple Crown race. With five races to sift through and several major contenders, I’ll try to keep the analysis short and will skip the longshots. Best of luck to all and I hope you enjoy what shapes up as a tremendous day of racing. –Brian Nadeau
Race 6. The Grade II True North. 3-year-olds and up, 6 furlongs.
Benny The Bull: Talk about a bum deal; you get injured and subsequently retired to a life of leisure with the ladies and then after it’s determined you aren’t quite cutting the cheese, so to speak, you’re thrown back into training and have to face a tiger like Fabulous Strike right off the bench. Not that this guy can’t handle the assignment, but it’s asking a lot. Sure looks like his big late rally will be flattered by the abundance of speed entered, but with the injury, long layoff and short price let’s watch and see one first before jumping aboard.
Silver Edition: He’s been knocking at the door, but when the real running begins, he’s been having trouble finding the key. The good news is he’s a nice price and should get some pace to rally into. So, if Fabulous Strike gets fried and ‘Benny just isn’t ready to fire his best, you might have something here.
Two Step Salsa: Was going to go in the Met Mile but wasn’t quite ready after the trip from Dubai, so you have to wonder how he’ll get 6 furlongs here against this group. He is 3-for-3 at the distance, but not against the likes of the group he meets here. Holding my breath and siding against.
Sixthirteen: Know him early and it’s quite possible he’ll be the pacesetter in here. Can he last? That’s highly debatable, but speed fans get an improving horse at a price.
Desert Key: Trying to resurrect the form that had him en route to becoming a top 3yo sprinter last summer. If he can improve on his comeback, he rates an upset chance, but it might be tough with ‘Strike breathing down his neck the whole way.
Fabulous Strike: They should throw Kodiak Kowboy in jail for stealing the Carter after this guy did all the dirty work. He simply ran too good to lose that day and that was at 7 furlongs, which isn’t his best distance. Cuts back today and drew beautifully, so if the Carter didn’t knock too much out of him, he should handle this group. Choice for the win.
Race 7. The Grade I Just A Game. Fillies and mares, 1-mile turf.
Carribean Sunset: She was beaten 3 ¼ lengths by Euro monster Lush Lashes in a Group 1 last year, so we know there’s talent here. Figures to improve off the solid stateside debut in the Beaugay, and that should put her in the exotics mix.
Raw Silk: Honest filly should take them as far as she can and with little other speed that could be a long, long way. She’s probably not good enough to win this, but if they let her lope early, she could get brave turning for home.
Captain’s Lover: Classy South African enters off a long layoff but does get Lasix for the first time. Not doubting her talent, but this is a mighty tough spot to introduce yourself to U.S. racing.
I Lost My Choo: Pardon the bad pun, but this miss might be biting off a bit more than she can chew in this tough spot. The lack of pace also hurts her late rally. Minor award seems to be her ceiling.
Forever Together: What a special filly. Champion picked up right where she left off in the Jenny Wiley, when she rallied into a slow pace and won in hand. If she were going to lose, it would have that day, so thinking the rest are in for a long day in this spot. A yielding course would be the only concern but she still looks far too good for these. Call for the win and the most logical single in the Pick 6 sequence.
Modern Look: Disappointed at Santa Anita in her stateside debut after trading paint with some classy gals in Europe. She was 7-10 for a reason out west that was her first run since last June, so she should move forward. Exotics candidate for sure.
Diamondrella: She’s a sprinting machine and enters having won five straight, but she meets much tougher at a distance that might be a bit beyond her best. Passing.
My Princess Jess: Considering the tepid pace, her win in the Beaugay was big stuff. And it’s nice to know she can rally into tepid splits. As slow as they might go in here, it was probably faster than the 50 2/5 that they went in her last. Logical exacta partner with Forever Together.
Race 8. The Grade II Woody Stephens. 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs.
This Ones For Phil: Endured a nightmare trip behind Mr. Fantasy in the Withers and an odd trip in the Fountain of Youth. So if you key off the Sunshine Millions Sprint and the Swale, this guy is the one to beat. The rail is worrisome, but if Gomez can work out a trip, he’ll be right there.
Gone Astray: It’s nice to see Shug forge on, because on paper this colt is in deep. Tired badly when the real running began in the Withers, so it’s hard to imagine he can turn the tables on ‘Phil and get by a bunch of other newcomers as well.
Munnings: Big return run on Oaks Day at Churchill and that stamps him as a major player in here. Regression is a worry but maybe he moves forward off that start? After all, it was his first start since the BC Juvenile last November. If you think he builds off the CD effort, he’s a win candidate for sure.
Regal Ransom: A lot of people liked him in the Derby, but he retreated easily after stalking a slow pace, so this is probably a good cutback for him. Still, it’s tough to bounce back five weeks after getting drilled like that, and even if you like him, he’s coupled with Everyday Heroes, which totally eliminates any chance at a price.
Triumphant Flight: We’ve seen these Southern California runners improve leaps and bounds when they run on the real stuff, so maybe he’s in with a chance. Figures to show speed early, and while there’s some pace in here, no one is seems hell-bent on the lead. Interesting newcomer, especially if he’s forgotten on the board.
Hello Broadway: Where was the fire in the Peter Pan? He ran like his tail was ablaze and the result was hardly a surprise. Back to doing what he has probably wanted to do all along: sprint around one turn. And if you find the last time he did it, it was a fine second to the classy Capt. Candyman Can. Finally, after all these disappointments, you even get a price on him. OK, he gets the call for the win one last time and when he falters, I promise I won’t pick him any more.
Everyday Heroes: We knew he was solid before the Jacobs, but that run was a real beauty. And the Godolphin/Darley group took notice. Now he goes from the hunter to the hunted and this is no easy spot. The coupling ensures a lousy win price and doesn’t he have to bounce a bit off that monster run? I’ll try and beat him today.
Hull: Undefeated and essentially untested after three starts. And don’t forget, they were eyeing the Preakness for this guy before passing and ending up here. Speed to spare and this draw allows Mena to gauge things from the start and act accordingly. Major player for all the slots.
Race 9. The Grade I Acorn. 3-year-old fillies, 1-mile.
Casanova Move: Honest miss has had trouble closing the deal, though she usually runs well. Still eligible for an entry-level allowance so can’t see her winning this tough Grade I.
Gabby’s Golden Gal: Toss the Oaks and her other dirt run was solid, though the gals at Sunland don’t quite stack up to those in here. Her speed should have her in the mix early, but with Dream Play drawn to her outside, it’s tough to envision she lasts.
Be Fair: Another who gets a pass after getting beaten up in the Oaks and returning to a one-turn mile makes this filly very interesting. She’s got enough speed to lay close and enough foundation to be strong in the last few furlongs, which might not be the case with a few of the others in here. Call to post the upset at a nice price.
Funny Moon: Makes a huge jump in class off an N1X win here last month, but hey, why not? She’s 2-for-2 at the distance and about as fast as anyone else in here. Dangerous to say the least.
Doremifasollatido: Her comeback was solid and the gal that beat her is a Pletcher monster who almost broke the track record. But is she Grade I-quality? The feeling here is that while she’s always been a nice filly, she’s not good enough to win a race like this. Willing to take a stand against today.
Livin Lovin: Hasn’t run since winning the Tempted last November, and as good as that was, geesh, it’s asking a lot of her to win this off the bench. Speed to be in the fray early, but hanging around late is anyone’s guess.
Dream Play: Speedy miss drew well and if Migs wants the lead, he can have it. But even if that’s the case, they certainly won’t let her waltz away up front. Dangerous if she shakes loose, but thinking there’s enough other speed to keep her honest early and soften her up late.
Justwhistledixie: The probable favorite was scratched out of the Oaks with a bruised foot just hours before post and now shows up here five weeks later with three snappy works. But as nice as they are, she is entering off an injury, so how she reacts is a viable concern. Winner of five straight, including her last two over ‘Casanova-but we’ve already mentioned her merits (or lack thereof). Formidable, but playing against in this tough spot.
Four Gifts: Looked good on Derby Day in the Eight Belles and a repeat of that performance has her in the mix here. Brings some tactical speed to the party and that, added to her advantageous post, makes her very enticing. Major contender should offer tremendous value.
Race 10. The Grade I Manhattan. 3-year-olds and up, 1 ¼ mile.
Marsh Side: Grade I winner in Canada ran deceptively well to be fifth in Dubai. Makes his first start since that run and that isn’t the best angle to go on. Siding with others in this ultra-tough affair.
Court Vision: Tough customer is always there with his late run, but he’s come up wanting in three tries versus older foes. Should relish the distance but the possibility of off-turf might not play into his hands. With the expected short price and a big field to weave through, I’ll take a strong stand against on the win end.
Gio Ponti: Another with a big late run, but he’s been making his name at much shorter of late. Clement going great guns these days and this guy enters in career form, but the nagging feeling is he’s better going a bit shorter.
Champs Elysees: Been bobbing and weaving with this guy since late last year and have never quite got him home. Could today be the day? Maybe, but he’s another who will have to make his late run through traffic while spotting some nice horses several lengths early. Passing, albeit grudgingly.
Wesley: Loved him in the Dixie and for some reason Garcia had him out the back and then ridiculously wide in the stretch. And what do you know, Kent pilots today. Might have turned the corner since the blinkers went on and if he can lay a bit closer, it will enable him to get the jump on the closers. This race is begging for a newcomer to step up and snatch it, so we’ll try him one more for win honors today.
Cosmonaut: His return was huge and it puts him on edge for this spot, which comes over a course and distance he likes. There’s a ton of speed in this corner as well, and that should have him in a salty spot turning for home. But he’s 7 now and never could get over the Grade I hump when he was younger, so why would he do it today?
Lauro: Didn’t run poorly in the Dixie to finish fourth, and you know 9 furlongs is far too short for him. The draw did him no favors but his speed might enable him to work out a trip. Should be a nice price for those who believe.
Cowboy Cal: Ran too big to lose against Einstein in the Turf Classic and that career-best run has him trying to avoid the dreaded bounce today. He drew terribly in here, but at least you know he’s got speed to get some position into the turn. His connections will make him a big underlay and there’s a sneaky suspicion this is a furlong past his best. Playing against in this spot.
Zambezi Sun: Just hasn’t put it together in three U.S. starts, so it’s hard to believe he’ll make amends in here. May like a soft course and Frankel has been deadly in this race (three wins in the last seven years) but he’ll have to be a freak to win from out here.