Happy Belmont Stakes Day! The final leg of the Triple Crown will be contested later this evening over Belmont Park’s 1 1/2 Mile oval, and although neither the Kentucky Derby nor Preakness winners will be in attendance, the race has shaped up to be highly competitive.
Underneath the Belmont, there are of course twelve other races, including nine other stakes heats, with five of them at the Grade I level. Here are my picks and analysis for the full 13-race card:
Best Bet: #5 Songbird, Race 5
Value Play: #1 Inside Straight, Race 9 (15-1 Morning Line)
Race 1: 3-6-1-7
#3 NIGEL’S DESTINY adds blinkers, a major move for his trainer. Has lacked a killer instinct at this level, but may flash more speed today with the equipment change. #6 WILD ABOUT DEB returns to a routing distance for his second start of the year. Kept impressive company last season. #1 VINCENTO could push the pace from his inside post, but must prove he can handle open company. #7 THEBIGFUNDAMENTAL has been favored in both career starts. Faces winners for the first time after blowing out a field at the course and distance about six weeks ago.
Race 2 (The Easy Goer): 7-5-6-8
#7 WEST COAST ships in from the west coast for Bob Baffert with a stellar work pattern in tow. Tactical type should work out a good trip at a short price. #5 LOCAL HERO must work out a clean trip, but should take well to this one-turn route. #6 TALE OF SILENCE was too close to the pace in the Tampa Derby and faded late. Would expect him to sit further back today and make a late run. #8 YOU’RE TO BLAME was hung way wide last time out, but caught extremely favorable fractions in that heat.
Race 3 (The Brooklyn Invitational – G2): 7-5-1
#7 WAR STORY appears to be in good form and should enjoy the added ground today. Castellano takes the call. Tested against the world’s best. #5 TU BRUTUS has been impressive in two domestic starts, but must carry speed over today’s extended distance. #1 GOVERNOR MALIBU took on the mile and a half in last year’s Belmont Stakes, finishing 4th. Often runs into trouble on his way around the course.
Race 4 (The Acorn – G1): 7-1-8-3
#7 SWEET LORETTA often encounters gate trouble, but that hasn’t stopped her from taking 4 of 5 career starts. Lone flop was a troubled 11th place finish in last year’s Breeders Cup. Poised to kick into gear in her second start of the year. #1 UNION STRIKE has taken a jump forward since moved to this barn two back. Must out-finish other closers. #8 SALTY owns plenty of excuses in her running lines and should improve with a clean trip. #3 ABEL TASMAN was impressive in winning the Kentucky Oaks. Works suggest she’s ready to roll again, but today’s pace scenario may not be as favorable.
Race 5 (The Ogden Phipps – G1): 5-2-4
#5 SONGBIRD may be the main attraction of this entire card. The nearly-undefeated wondergirl ships in for her first start of 2017 with a bullet work in tow. #2 PAID UP SUBSCRIBER needs a rebound run to factor here, but has been tested against some tough competition. Gets the nod to beat the rest today. #4 VERVE’S TALE may be better suited to the distance than some others. Could get in the mix at a hefty price.
Race 6 (The Jaipur Invitational – G3): 10-7-3-4
#10 STORMY LIBERAL takes the cross-country trip and should work out a perfect trip tracking the frontrunners from this outside position. Trainer keeps his runners in good form, and this one should be right there at the wire. #7 HOGY goes first time for trainer Larry Rivelli, who boasts good numbers with newcomers. Adds some ground today, which should be right up his alley. #3 PURE SENSATION won this event last year in course-record time. Incredibly dangerous while following the same prep pattern as last year. #4 GREEN MASK should sit among the first flight chasing the early leaders. Trainer hits at 31% with turf sprinters.
Race 7 (The Woody Stephens – G2): 7-11-3-8
#7 WILD SHOT should appreciate this turnback in distance. Versatile runner was up close to a torrid pace last time out, but has shown to be capable of rating as well. #11 PETROV returns to a sprinting distance and should come running late. #3 RECRUITING READY projects as a major pacesetter. Regular jockey makes the trip, which is always a positive sign. #8 AMERICAN ANTHEM has gone off favored in 4 of 5 career starts, but has won just two of them. Tested out longer distances on the Derby trail earlier this year, but now back to his best game.
Race 8 (The Just A Game – G1): 5-1-2-7
#5 CELESTINE follows the same race pattern as last year leading up to this event, which she won last season. Horse for the course has won all three tries at Belmont and taken six of eight at the distance. Potential to control the pace today only adds to the appeal. #1 DICKINSON out-finished Lady Eli last time out at Keeneland, and has completely taken off since introduced to turf routing. Five for six over the green in her career and dangerous again today. #2 ROCA ROJO has captured all three starts over the Belmont turf, so something must give between her and the top choice. Always seems to make her rally no matter the early pace scenario. #7 ANTONOE had some trouble at the start in her first domestic try. Steps up in class today, but should offer solid value for top connections.
Race 9 (The Metropolitan Handicap – G1): 1-9-12-2-5
#1 INSIDE STRAIGHT has shown steady improvement along the Beyer scale, and the trainer boasts solid numbers off the layoff. Really took off when blinkers were removed two back. Picks up a new jockey, but Arroyo has had success with trainer Diodoro. Could fly under the betting radar. #9 MOR SPIRIT has hit the exacta in 10 of 12 career starts. Ships in for Bob Baffert, who scores at 25% second off the layoff. #12 AWESOME SLEW should like this stretch of ground, but not sure how much pace he’ll get to run at today. #2 RALLY CRY will be one of the main pacesetters, but faces a stiff class test today. #5 SHARP AZTECA was at the top of his game earlier in the year, but no telling how much the Dubai trip took out of him. Strong contender on the pace if he’s back in form.
Race 10 (The Manhattan – G1): 7-2-3-1
#7 DIVISIDERO scored on the Kentucky Derby undercard, and picks up Johnny V today. Has had time to recover from that event, and should be cranked to run at the top of the stretch today. #2 WAKE FOREST needs a rebound run after a disappointing effort last time out behind a glacial pace. Never seems to get much pace to run at, but has scored in 4 of 8 tries at today’s distance. #3 WORLD APPROVAL stretches back out after the score on the Preakness undercard. Has had less time to recover than usual since that effort, so maybe that has some effect. Often allowed to run on an easy lead. #1 BEACH PATROL could flash some speed from the inside. Typically runs shorter distances, but has scored at today’s trip.
Race 11 (The Belmont Stakes – G1): 8-2-12-7-6
#8 SENIOR INVESTMENT closed well to grab third in the Preakness, and has improved along the Beyer scale every race of his career. Returned in 14 days to capture the G3 Lexington at Keeneland in mid-April, so the time between races shouldn’t be much of an issue. Late-runner doesn’t find himself as far back as fellow closer Lookin’ At Lee, which can prove helpful over this course, but the out of town rider must avoid getting caught too wide on the sweeping turns. #2 TAPWRIT has had plenty of time off since getting slammed at the start of the Derby. Was one of only a handful to make up some ground late, but was obviously compromised like others. Perhaps he returns to his early-season form with a clean start, and Pletcher always seems to factor in the Belmont. #12 PATCH is Pletcher’s other runner, but has encountered trouble in his last two. Again, the horse with no left eye breaks from the far outside, so no telling when he’ll actually see his competition, but the lightly-raced darling can factor at a price. #7 IRISH WAR CRY is a puzzling commodity, but it may be that he didn’t enjoy the off-going in Kentucky. Likely favorite could rebound with a big run today, but must be careful not to get caught up in what could be a solid early clip. #6 LOOKIN’ AT LEE will be the only horse to start all three legs of the Triple Crown, so he wins that superlative. As for how much gas is left in the tank, if any horse has something in the reserves it’s this one. Deep closer hopes for a pace meltdown. I’m hoping for 8-1 or higher next to his number on the board.
Race 12: 9-3-1-6
#9 HOCKEY SCHOOL put in an upbeat workout earlier this week, and the trainer scores at 20% off the layoff. Should be favorable on the tote to boot. Best races have come at longer distances, so this trip should only be a boon. #3 REVVED UP is consistent along the Beyer scale, and McGaughey scores at 22% off the layoff. Close to Zennor two back at a shorter distance, and that runner returned to win an AOC80k/N3X locally on Friday. #1 RAY’S THE BAR has been tested in tougher spots and should employ a tactical edge today. #6 AZAR has faced stakes runners in the past and should enjoy this trip. Improved along the Beyer scale each of his last four.
Race 13: 5-3-9-10-6
#5 RIVER ECHO turns back to a sprint today and comes in with a strong workout in tow. Should sit just behind the early leaders. #3 STORY TO TELL clearly prefers a fast track and should get it today. Must prove he can handle this trip, and he usually runs a furlong shorter. #9 NO HIDING PLACE projects to be the pacesetter in this event and enters with a bullet workout. #10 REALM must rebound from the disappointing Westchester, but is a big threat with one of his better efforts. #6 DO SHARE should enjoy the return to this trip. Projects to save ground in behind the early leaders.