The Final Jewel of the Triple Crown, the Test of the Champions, the Belmont Stakes always offers excitement and plenty of storylines. While the Derby winner Medina Spirit won’t be here after the suspension of Bob Baffert and his failed bid in the Preakness, we do get Preakness winner Rombauer, 2yo Champion Essential Quality, and a flight of other top quality 3yos. While we may not have a Triple Crown on the line, the August Belmont Memorial Cup will be going to a very deserving champion – one that will join the names of some of histories best horses.
Race 3 – Woody Stephens Stakes (G1)
12:47pm ET | $400,000 | Three Year Olds | 7 Furlongs Dirt
(3) Jackie’s Warrior | (6) Caddo River | (2) Drain the Clock
Jackie’s Warrior returns to the site of his biggest win, the Champagne Stakes last fall, and gets a race that suits so well for him. While he will need to deal with a bit more pace pressure with Caddo River, his form is too tough to test – should be able to escape this race easily with another victory – shaping up to be an excellent one-turn horse. Backing up are Caddo River, who I am excited to see return to one-turn, and Drain the Clock, who comes in well and improving out of many similar races.
Race 4 – Brooklyn Stakes (G2)
1:22pm ET | $400,000 | 4YO and Up | 1 1/2 Miles Dirt
(2) Ry’s the Guy | (7) Ajaaweed | (9) Lone Rock
A wide open affair in the older horse version of the Belmont. One of the oldest races run at Belmont Park, the Brooklyn offers older marathon runners a chance at big money – and joining many historic champions in graded stakes glory in this spot. I have faith that Ry’s the Guy will return to his winning ways in this one. He was just beaten in his return in the Marathon at Churchill Downs last out by Lone Rock, but that was his first back in months. This races sets up well on his form cycle and like the move to Jose Ortiz. Meanwhile, Ajaaweed looks to continue to step up as the races get longer; his pedigree and style screams distance to me – love him in this spot to improve but may still be a race away from winning. Finally, distance is the name of the game for Lone Rock, who may be the best marathoner in the US right now. Should run well, but is stepping up a bit in this spot.
Race 5 – Acorn Stakes (G1)
2:01pm ET| $500,000 | Three Year Old Fillies | 1 Mile Dirt
(2) Obligatory | (3) Miss Brazil | (6) Search Results
There is a ton of speed stacked up in this elite race for three year old fillies – which brings the Eight Belles winner against the Kentucky Oaks runner-up. Could Obligatory go from last to first once again? I hope so – she reeled in the whole field in the Eight Belles and faces a very similar task here with almost everyone else being full of speed. Meanwhile, Miss Brazil – the newcomer of the group, looks to take them all the way after she did just that over this course last out; she has the speed and the talent, but can she beat the tougher class? And I can’t leave Search Results out – the Kentucky Oaks runner-up should be better suited for the one-turn mile than she was for the testing course she saw at Churchill Downs last out.
Race 6 – Jaipur Stakes (G1)
2:41pm ET | $400,000 | 3YO and Up | 6 Furlongs Turf
(4) Fast Boat | (11) Got Stormy | (6) Bound for Nowhere
I loved Fast Boat in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint and will be riding with him again here; this son of City Zip swallowed the field up late to take the race last out and has the running style to win here in a Jaipur that is often won in a blanket finish. I do like the cut back in distance for Got Stormy, who I appreciate far more when she goes sprinting; Mark Casse preps her sprinting with these one mile affairs and then turn her back in distance for very good runs – hopeful for more of that here. And won’t leave Bound for Nowhere off the ticket – he has been an impressive sprinter throughout his career for Wesley Ward, although most of his success has come at Keeneland, and has a win over this course a few years back. He seems to be in good form off his win in the Shakertown last out and will be one to watch if he enters well.
Race 7 – Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1)
3:18pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 1 1/16 Miles Dirt
(5) Shedaresthedevil | (6) Water White | (2) Valiance
The unfortunate scratch of Swiss Skydiver means we won’t see the rematch of Swiss Skydiver v Shedaresthedevil v Letruska. This also changes the pace scenario up, which I think favors Shedaresthedevil heavily. She is my top pick here and should run away with the field. I will put Water White underneath as she is one that loves the one turn and has been running well with the best of them; just a few lengths away from competing. And watch out for Valiance – she has been sharp entering this race off the layoff; she upset Shedaresthedevil in the Spinster last fall and proved herself running second to Monomoy Girl in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff – watch out if she turns up well!
Race 8 – Just a Game Stakes (G1)
3:58pm ET | $500,000 | 4YO and Up F&M | 1 Mile Turf
(11) Blowout | (9) Summer Romance | (3) Daddy Is a Legend
The Belmont turf tends to trend towards front runners in mile races and outside of Blowout, there really isn’t anyone looking for the lead. Blowout took them gate to wire impressively in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile last out and looks to do that again. She is dangerous on the front end and Flavien Prat has got her where she wants to be – this Chad Brown trainee is going to be tough to real back in. Meanwhile Charlie Appleby brings in two, with Summer Romance and Althiqa; when he ships to the US, he does so to win – with nearly a 50% click in wins with his last 7. I would include both on any ticket, but Summer Romance is my top selection coming off the win in the Balanchine; in real good form, the better of the pair, and should enjoy this trip. Finally, Daddy Is a Legend is a longshot for George Weaver that is always well placed; George Weaver had her cranked up well last out in her return to the stable, and she has done her best running at Belmont Park – with a shot at the price.
Race 9 – Metropolitan Handicap (G1)
4:42pm ET | $1,000,000 | 3YO and Up | 1 Mile Dirt
(1) Mischievous Alex | (2) Dr Post | (5) By My Standards
The Carter Handicap winner, Westchester winner, Oaklawn Handicap winner, Churchill Downs runner up, Oaklawn mile winner, and Pegasus World Cup/Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner all line up for a stacked edition of the Met Mile. This competitive field gives us six horses that all have a chance. Personally, I’m playing this as if Knicks Go needs one after his trip to Saudi Arabia, though I will use him in multi-race wagers. Instead, I play with Mischievous Alex – the winner of the Carter last out; he has improved leaps and bounds since switching to Saffie Joseph, Jr. and has some of the best speed in this field. I do play with Dr Post, who has a lot of talent and is entering in good form for Todd Pletcher – this might be a bit tougher in class for him, but he has shown a lot of skill in his past races and will try again here to capture a big one, and with By My Standards, who also shows his best stuff and his pedigree suggests that he will show better when running around one-turn miles.
Race 10 – Manhattan Stakes (G1)
5:38pm ET | $750,000 | 4YO and Up| 1 1/4 Miles Turf
(9) Gufo | (7) Channel Cat | (4) Domestic Spending
|Last year’s Hollywood Derby has already given us G1 winners in Domestic Spending and Smooth Like Strait from the top three… now it is Gufo’s turn. He was so close in the Man O’ War last out, but was just short against Channel Cat. He gets a firmer turf than that time here and looks to upset the Pegasus World Cup Turf Winner in Colonel Liam. He won over this course and distance last year in the Belmont Derby and looks to try again here. I’ll be playing with Channel Cat, the winner of the Man O’ War (although no one has done the Man O’ War – Manhattan double since Gio Ponti in 2009), who battled everyone out last out and should get the lone lead here – going to play catch me if you can and not sure who here can other than Gufo. Finally, Domestic Spending is uber tough and I don’t want to be caught in a spot where I don’t include him – he is a winner of three straight, although never this long, and has been improving with each start.|
Race 11 – Belmont Stakes (G1)
6:49pm ET | $1,500,000 | Three Year Olds | 1 1/2 Miles Dirt
1- Bourbonic: One of three for Pletcher here as he looks to take another Belmont Stakes. Bourbonic was the huge upset winner of the Wood Memorial, coming from the clouds to just get up. Bourbonic and Carmouche teamed up again in the Kentucky Derby, but finished well behind in 13th, but did improve down the stretch. His pedigree suggests that he should love the added distance, but the Belmont Stakes isn’t one to win coming from the clouds. If the pace is quick, he has a chance to upset, but otherwise not going to consider him a win factor. However, closers love to peak up in the exotics – so keep him in mind there.
2- Essential Quality: Four of the last ten Belmont Stakes winners have been by Tapit, and a fifth winner is real possible with the 2yo champion. The Kentucky Derby didn’t go as planned after a bumped start and trying to make ground on a very speed favoring course. He finished a solid length back of Medina Spirit. Now, all eyes are on him once again and he has all the inclinations of the Belmont Stakes winner. The way he runs, how he trains, and what his pedigree is, suggests he has this. He should run well here and Brad Cox has a dangerous one here to try and get his first Triple Crown race win.
3- Rombauer: The Preakness winner returns on short rest to try and grab the third jewel in the Belmont Stakes. Not sure he will take to such a long distance, or a race that doesn’t set up with for him with little pace, but he has proven himself a tough one when the pace is slow – just look back on Essential Quality’s Blue Grass. Worth a look, especially in the exotics, and will be an exciting horse to watch throughout the year.
4- Hot Rod Charlie: The Louisiana Derby winner has been getting a lot of attention lately in the lead up for the Belmont Stakes. He finished a solid third last out in the Kentucky Derby after facing traffic and looks to try and change the course here and flip the script. Going to depend a lot on if he can get clear early and really what Flavien Prat (who chooses back on him over Preakness winner Rombauer) does with him early. Just don’t think he wants anything to do with this distance and he has peaked back in Louisiana. Not a play for me.
5- France Go de Ina: The Japanese import tries his hand again at a Triple Crown race and looks for that Belmont Stakes bonus that is available. The Preakness served as a prep for him and now he gears up for this. The Japanese horses have been solid in the past in the Belmont Stakes, including fan favorite Lani a few years ago. Can France Go de Ina add his name to this list of Japanese runners hitting the board? Hard to say – but the prep in him and running style tends to mean he will be up there – huge exotics chance.
6- Known Agenda: The Florida Derby winner has turned out well throughout his career – but really excelled on the switch to Gulfstream Park. Perhaps he is a horse for course, and it could be that, but the move from Gulfstream Park to Belmont Park always seems to work well for Todd Pletcher. While we don’t know who the jockey is after the injury to Irad Ortiz, Jr., Known Agenda has the right running style to be up there at the finish – going to be one that should sit close and try to make a run at the end.
7- Rock Your World: The Santa Anita Derby winner lost all chance last time out when he got off slow and started near the back in the Kentucky Derby. Now, he tries to break well and get to the lead. Even with a slow start, the lack of traffic here should lend itself to allowing Rock Your World to get back on top. He is a dangerous threat in the lead and the Belmont Stakes tends to favor speed. My only major concern would be the lack of stamina on the sire-side, but he does have Empire Maker on the dam-side, which may be enough to allow him to sustain his front running talent all the way around.
8- Overtook: The Peter Pan third place finisher and Withers runner up is well overclassed, but Todd Pletcher has him improving with each start and should do well at the longer distance. I love this horse from marathon races later in his career, and I’ll give him a long look at going here to finish in the money. Blinkers on may help.
My Belmont Stakes horse is going to be the 2yo Champion, (2) Essential Quality. Everything on paper and everyone on film makes sense here. He is going to be forwardly placed, his pedigree suggests he will love this, his back races suggest so much talent, and he just fits the bill. Brad Cox said months back that this was his Belmont horse, and he may be right. Essential Quality might not pay much but will be worth the play. Outside of him, (6) Known Agenda and (7) Rock Your World should be placed well, with Rock Your World the likely early pace. Both are going to be must uses for me underneath. Rounding out my exotics are led by Rombauer and France Go de Ina. The Preakness winner always runs a solid race and this should be no exception. Meanwhile the Japanese import is going to be looking for a top three finish to get a nice check and getting a much more normal (and stress free) road to this race might do him enough to finish near the front.