2014 Belmont Stakes Day Preview Part 3: Friday and Early Saturday

We have covered the Belmont Stakes horse-by-horse here at Picks and Ponderings. Paul has analyzed the Grade I stakes races on Saturday June 7. However, Belmont's cards this weekend are so deeply stacked that there is still even more stakes action to go. In this case, there are two more stakes races on Friday, and four more earlier on Saturday. They run the gamut from six furlongs to two miles, they cover both three-year-olds and older horses, and they are full of promising long shots.

The races previewed for Friday June 6 will be shown live on NBC Sports Network in a program airing from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm ET.

Unlike the Grade I races later on Saturday afternoon, the Saturday races all happen before the coverage on NBC Sports and NBC begins.  However, they will air on the Belmont Park simulcast feed.

Update, June 6, 6:00pm CDT: Jaipur picks and analysis have been updated in light of the scratch of Marriedtothemusic, who opted to run in Friday's True North Stakes instead.

Friday

Belmont Race 9: True North Stakes (GII): four-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt (post time 5:25 pm EDT)

Selections: #2 Marriedtothemusic (10/1), #7 Palace (8/1), #9 Well Spelled (30/1)

The True North features a ton of early speed this year. Most of the field wants to be on or near the front end, which should ensure a lively pace. The winner will fall into one of two categories: either the speed of the speed if they can stay six furlongs, or the one who can pick up the pieces if that early speed falls apart. If the speed survives, Marriedtothemusic (2) may well take it. The four-year-old Linda Rice trainee looks to be coming into his own this spring, with wins in allowance and NY-bred stakes company. He goes up in class here, but is a fast and consistent horse. He has been first or second in every start since an eighth-place finish in April of last year; that April 2013 race was also his only off-board finish at six furlongs. Marriedtothemusic will be inside speed here, and inside speed has been very strong in recent dirt sprints at Belmont. If a horse from off the pace comes in to do it, Palace (7) is the most likely candidate. He comes in here on lay since February, but he has shown the ability to come back sharp off of previous lays, so that is hardly a worry. He has been working sharply, and the pace should set up nicely for him given all the early speed. For a long shot, consider the only other horse in the field who has shown a desire to come from significantly off the pace: Well Spelled (9). He has had a tough time of things lately, but has been very consistent (12-4-1-4 career) at this six-furlong distance. If this five-year-old gelding runs back to anything close to what he was doing last summer, and the front end falls apart, he could blow up the tote board. At the very worst, he will add good value to intra-race exotics.

Belmont Race 10: Belmont Gold Cup Invitational: four-year-olds and up, two miles on the turf (post time 6:10 pm EDT)

Selections: #7 Auld Alliance (12/1), #9 Eagle Poise (12/1), #12 Mambo Man (15/1)

This race is challenging for the same reason it is fascinating: it’s a two-mile turf marathon, and it’s uncommon enough to see a race over a mile and a half on the flat here, much less at two miles. The only horse in this field who has even attempted this distance is Spy in the Sky, a steeplechaser who periodically runs a turf route on the flat to stay in shape for longer runs on the hurdle. The key question of the race will be who will have enough gas left to pursue (or maintain) the lead in that final run down the stretch. In light of this, Auld Alliance (7) is my top selection. She is second off the lay here, and closed in time to win her last race (first off the lay, and first off the ship from England) at 1 ¼ miles. Across the pond, she won at 1 ½ miles, and finished third beaten only 2 lengths at 1 ¾ miles against males. Eagle Poise (9) is another strong, proven marathoner. His last out in the Elkhorn was flat, but it was his first start off the winter lay. Here he drops in class and stretches out. He has had a bit of second-itis lately, which is a drawback, but he has wins at distances as long as 1 ¾ miles at which he has been closing up ground late. He has a strong distance resume. For a long shot, consider Mambo Man (12). He is moving up in class here, but the five-year-old gelding looks like has has been coming into his own after being claimed by his current owners and pointed toward turf marathons. Two outs ago he won the 1 ⅜ mile Wildcat Handicap at Turf Paradise, and last out he won the 1 ⅞ mile Hasta La Vista Handicap at the same track. This is tougher than the fields he faced in Arizona, but he has won at a longer distance on the flat than anyone in this field. In this two-mile race, that experience makes him a viable longshot.

The one horse specifically worth taking a stand against here is Twilight Eclipse (11). He will likely be an underlay, because he is the one turf marathoner who people who don’t fanatically follow turf marathons will know. He holds the world record at a mile and a half, but that doesn’t guarantee he can chug along quite so smartly for four more furlongs. In fact, he has never attempted a race past a mile and a half. This is his first start back from Dubai, so he could be rusty. These are not risks to take on as short of a price as Twilight Eclipse will be.

Saturday

Belmont Race 2: Easy Goer, three-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt (post time 12:07 pm EDT)

Selections: #1 Life in Shambles (4/1), #7 Legend (3/1), #5 Misconnect (4/1)

The Easy Goer stands to have a fairly balanced pace. The only horse who has shown no ability to rate is outclassed longshot Howl (9), but most of the field likes to be within no more than three or four lengths off the pace early, except for Effinex (3), Pass the Coffee (8), and stone closer Kid Cruz (4). The fractions won’t be scorching, but with enough near the pace they won’t be blatantly slow either. In this race, Life in Shambles (1) is my emphatic top choice. He will be stalking just off the pace early, making sure that Howl or anyone else who may want to try the early lead has some pressure. He has shown the ability to get on the lead, and gamely fight late for it. His workouts at Belmont have been strong, including a recent one where it looked like he would have blown Tonalist out of the water had he actually been allowed to run. He is sitting on a huge one. Legend (7) comes in here off a maiden win in his fourth start. He had two close calls in his second and third starts, behind some sharp horses (Ring Weekend and Charge Now). His maiden win was over the Belmont dirt, so he can handle the surface. Legend should be sitting a length or two off the pace early, and could score here if he gets the same sort of stalking trip last out. He is stepping up in class here, but has shown good enough form to belong. Misconnect (5) is another horse who has shown he runs well at Belmont: both of his career wins are over the oval. He stretches out here in distance; all three of his career races have been at seven furlongs. However, trainer Todd Pletcher hits at a 27% rate with his first-time routers. He is working well, entering second off the lay, and has the stalking style that works in this middling pace scenario.

Kid Cruz (4) fits well with this field, and drops back to a more appropriate class level here after finishing a well-beaten eighth in the Preakness last out. If there was a bit more early speed, he would be one of my top choices. However, the combination of lacking early speed and a plethora of horses who will have no trouble staying the mile and a sixteenth suggests that Kid Cruz is the chalk worth trying to beat.

Belmont Race 3: Brooklyn Invitational (GII), four-year-olds and up, 1 ½ miles on the dirt (post time 12:40 pm EDT)

Selections: #2 Ground Transport (3/1), #3 Micromanage (7/2), #8 Norumbega (6/1)

There is only one horse in this field who shows a desire to get on the early speed, and that horse is Ground Transport (2). He stretches out to a mile and a half here, but in his last two starts (at 1 ¼ miles and 1 ⅛ miles), he has led stakes fields on a merry chase, and no one has been able to get to him. His jockey, John Velazquez, has both Brooklyn Invitational and Belmont Stakes wins; he knows how to get a horse a mile and a half at Belmont. If he has the stamina to get that last furlong, he could wire given the likely pace. If someone gets up from behind Ground Transport, Micromanage (3) may well be that horse. In a race with so little early speed, he will be helped by the fact that he can succeed by stalking just a couple lengths off. Micromanage has raced fairly well at Belmont, he has been working well over the track, and he has the strong trainer/jockey combination of Todd Pletcher and Javier Castellano. Finally, as a bit longer shot, Norumbega (8) is a good option. He is a stalking/midpack type, and run for the strong graded stakes barn of Shug McGaughey. His last start in the Ben Ali was a regression, but he returns to dirt here. Two starts ago, he kicked off his four-year-old year with a strong second-place finish in the 1 3/16 mile Skip Away (GIII). This is a 1 ½ mile race, and Norumbega is out of an A. P. Indy mare. This suggests stamina. Assuming he is near or better than his 6/1 morning line, it is worth betting that the light came on as a four-year-old, and he can improve on that.

Belmont Race 4: Jaipur Invitational (GIII), four-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the turf (post time 1:16 pm EDT)

Selections: #8 Ben’s Cat (5/2), #10 Marchman (3/1), #9 Positive Side (8/1)

There will likely be a hot pace on the front end of this, given that there are three horses in this field who will be striving as hard as possible for the early speed: Spring to the Sky (1), Global Power (2), and Marriedtothemusic (3). Others, such as Anyriderill Do (5) and Marchman (10), may join them as well, although they have shown success rating as well. The top selection in this race is Ben’s Cat (8). He is on a step up in class from his last few starts, but he has been showing some of the best speed of his career late last year and early this year. He runs best from a stalking or midpack place, which will serve him well in the likely situation that the pace collapses. He is the morning line favourite, but on his speed and style, he is a deserving one. If one of the horses right along the lead takes the field all the way around, Marchman (10) is the one to do it. The price on Marchman will likely be short, but his recent form suggests that the light has gone on in this four-year-old's head in a big way. He upset the Shakertown (GIII) back in April by a neck, and then followed that up with a win in the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (GIII) on the Oaks undercard.  He stretches out a bit here, but he has won at six furlongs on the all-weather, and is a stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.  The added distance shouldn't be a problem. These are the only two who look like great candidates to win, but for lower exotic rungs, consider Positive Side (9). He is coming into this race in good form; his works have been strong coming into this race. His last three times out, he has finished on the board and no more than two lengths back: including a neck loss to Marchman two starts ago in the Shakertown (GIII). He stretches out from those last three starts, but did well enough in routes last year that a the extra half furlong will not be a problem. Positive Side has shown some second-itis lately, but is consistent enough that keying him on lower rungs of exactas or trifectas is a useful strategy.

Belmont Race 5: Woody Stevens (GII), three-year-olds, seven furlongs on the dirt (post time 1:54 pm EDT)

Selections: #7 Tonito M. (20/1), #5 Coup de Grace (10/1), #12 Top Fortitude (20/1)

The word of the day in the Woody Stephens is speed. Everyone in this field has shown a penchant for being either on or near the early speed except for Financial Mogul (2) and Kobe’s Back (10); the only others who have shown even some aptitude for rating farther off (though they’ve succeeded right near it too) are Spot (9) and Coup de Grace (5). If there were a strong, consistent closer, they would look great here. However, Kobe’s Back is flaky at best when it comes to breaking from the gate, and Financial Mogul would have to post a sharp improvement in speed after a two-month lay. Neither of these are appealing propositions. Instead, the top selection here is Tonito M. (7). Despite a troubled trip, he got up for second in the Laz Barrera (GIII) last out, in his first start since shipping up from Puerto Rico. He owned Camarero before shipping here, and appears to have picked up right where he left off. He can stalk off the hot pace, and he has shown gameness in a speed duel. If he runs back to his last out, he’s a threat; if he improves second off the ship, he’s downright dangerous. Coup de Grace (5), the Bay Shore winner, has shown some versatility of style. He was right on the speed in maiden and allowance wins, but came from a handful of lengths back in the Bay Shore. Given all the early speed in the Woody Stephens, he should revert to that style here; he is the only credible off-the-pace horse in the field. He has been off since the Bay Shore, but his works are sharp and trainer Chad Brown hits at a 29% rate with horses on similar-length (45-90 day) lays. That shouldn’t be a worry. Top Fortitude (12) comes in here off a win in the Laz Barrera (GIII), where he blew up the tote board at 30/1. The bettors forgot his strong maiden effort at Hollywood last out, and that was to their peril. The AOC flop in April can be tossed; it was his first race since November, and he just needed to knock the dust off. The real Top Fortitude showed up in his other two races. He gets a jockey change here to Mike Smith; Mike Smith has been winning at a 32% rate in sprints, and should be able to ride this horse just right. If he improves here third off the lay, or even runs as well as he did last out, he could stalk off the early speedsters and pounce on them late.

****

You can take "Picks and Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.

Filed under: Belmont Park, horse racing

Leave a comment