Belmont Park: The Grade I, $1.5 million Belmont at 1 ½ miles
#1 Mubtaahij (IRE) (10-1): De Kock runner gives some international flavor to the proceedings as he made a name for himself in Dubai this winter, culminating in a visually impressive score in Meydan’s GII UAE Derby. And while that form didn’t translate to the Derby, he didn’t run all that poorly when eighth, and you’re allowed to think he’ll be better off here, as he’s more acclimated to American racing now and, as a son of Dubawi (IRE), he’ll like the 12 furlongs a lot more than most. Midpack type showed push-button acceleration in the UAE Derby and that’s the type of style that usually wins the Belmont, but he was farther back in the Derby and his trainer has said that American racing might be a bit too fast-paced for him, which isn’t really a ringing endorsement for a runner who is trying to pull off a mighty big ask; underneath, if at all.
#2 Tale of Verve (15-1): Longshot made some friends when he rallied from last in the slop to complete the exacta in the Preakness, though it had a “someone had to be second” feel to it, to say the least. Tale of Ekati homebred certainly moved up over the off-going that day, as his previous claim to fame was a Keeneland MSW win with a speed figure that wouldn’t win the 35k N2L they’re running here next Wednesday. To be fair, though, maybe he’s just now filling into the horse that Stewart thought he was all along and that Preakness run can be taken at face value and is a sign of things to come, though it’s hard to argue that the slop and race flow didn’t aid his stretch run. Like several in here, he has little to no early speed, and the pace figures slow, at best, so it’s tough to think that he can spot the Derby and Preakness winner 12-15 lengths and run him down in the lane, especially when he was beaten 7 last time; just not seeing it.
#3 Madefromlucky (12-1): The first of two from Pletcher looked good winning the local prep, the GII Peter Pan, last month and owning a win over this sometimes tricky surface is never a bad thing. Stalker did get all the best of it that day, though, as he moved into a hot pace in a five-horse field where those running 4-5 early finished 1-2 late. The good news is that he keeps Castellano, is bred for this, as dad Lookin at Lucky excelled going long, and could trip out beautifully just off the speed and get first run on the turn. It’s also important to note that as bad as his trainer has been in the Derby, he’s been that good in the Belmont, so there are definitely some things in his favor, though on paper he’s not fast enough to win and must run the race of his life to even crack the trifecta; mixed signals in this corner.
#4 Frammento (30-1): Zito bomber passed a few drunken soldiers to finish 11th in the Derby and is another who has no speed at all and will be hoping for a pace meltdown in the lane. Deep-closing son of Midshipman actually takes blinkers off, which is odd in that he had no speed with them, so you have to wonder if he’s even further back without them. It’s tough to get too excited about any of his runs, but his late close when third in Gulfstream Park’s GII Fountain of Youth in February was a decent run over a very speed-favoring track, and he did beat a major player in here in Frosted, so at least you know he has run well against some big guns in the past. No doubt you have to respect his connections and he’ll get the distance–he just figures to get it about sixth fastest; no thanks.
#5 American Pharoah (3-5): The Derby and Preakness hero will look for racing immortality as he tries to end a 37-year drought and become the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner when he starts as an odds-on proposition. Homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile tripped out beautifully in the Derby, then basically splashed the field off its feet in the Preakness over a track he clearly relished while the other heavyweights that day did not. A lot has been made this week of the fact that he’s passed exactly three horses in his entire career, and while that’s a fact, he’s also now 6-for-7 lifetime, with wins over five different tracks, and he’s passed/beaten everyone he’s had to, with devastating ease, too, so it’s not like he’s had his victories handed to him. The waters get a bit deeper today, though, as this will be his fourth start in eight weeks, and his two biggest rivals—Frosted and Materiality—enter fresh and are bred to like this trip a bit more than he will. The post might not be ideal, either, as he could shake out as the inside speed with Materiality pressing him the entire way from the outside, which could compromise his chances. The other rub is that, while he’s beaten all of these before, he’s really never run all that fast and could be set for a bit of regression based on his arduous schedule and the fact that the 12 furlongs could be a bit taxing, meaning, if one of the two other heavy hitters decides to run the race of their lives and gets the distance a bit better, it leaves this big gun little or no margin for error. On paper he’s clearly the one to beat, but he’ll be 2-5 on the tote while his actual winning chances are more in the 6-5 range, so taking that kind of price in a race that has foiled better than he is doesn’t seem all that enticing; access denied.
#6 Frosted (5-1): Dangerous runner very well may have run the best race when fourth in the Derby, as he closed from 14th and just missed third in a race where the top three ran around the track together as a result of the extremely slow pace. Versatile son of Tapit has been transformed from a pace-pressing type to a stalker/closer by McLaughlin, but you get the feeling that he’ll be a lot closer Saturday, as the pace figures to be a crawl, and he didn’t break all that alertly in Louisville, either. It’s also nice to know that he’s got a run over the track, as he was second in an MSW here last year, and being that he’s been here for a while, it’s never smart to dismiss a home court advantage, so to speak. He showed in his GI Wood win at Aqueduct that he’s up to the task, and the break after the Derby should do him wonders, but the gut says he might simply be left with a bit too much to do in the lane; second-best.
#7 Keen Ice (20-1): Curlin colt is yet another deep closer with no early speed, which puts him in a precarious position in a race that will probably resemble a turf marathon instead of a true dirt race. Romans has accredited himself nicely in the Triple Crown the past several years, and you know this colt will get the distance, as dad was beaten about three inches by the filly Rags to Riches in this very race in 2007. The price will also be right, if you’re a believer, and all indications are that he’s been training up a storm at Churchill Downs and is ready to run the race of his life, which should help. And that’s a mighty good thing, because up until now he’s never run fast enough to split this field, let alone beat it, which means a minor award might be his ceiling, regardless of how big a shot he fires; using underneath.
#8 Materiality (6-1): The second from Pletcher impressed when sixth in the Derby after blowing the start but persevering and rallying from 17th after setting or pressing the pace in his three wins at Gulfstream this winter. He won’t be anywhere near the back today (with an alert beginning), and he gets all the best of it as well, as he drew outside ‘Pharoah, which gives Velazquez two very important options of either setting the pace or pressing that rival the entire way. Dad Afleet Alex blew the doors off this race in 2005 and his son seemingly has the same type of push-button style that plays very well in this event, which is usually run through slow splits, which puts the ability to accelerate quickly at a premium. It’s also nice to know that he’s actually run the fastest race of any of these this year, in his GI Florida Derby win, so if he cycles back to that effort, the chalk, as good as he’s been, might simply not be able to handle him. Pletcher has been aces in this race over the past several years and he’s bringing a fresh, battled-tested colt that showed in the Derby that he’s not just a Gulfstream hotshot; poised to spoil the party.
#5 American Pharoah
#4 Keen Ice