The theme of this week at Picks and Ponderings is three-year-olds.
Paul stays home while I go east. Paul will preview the three-year-old state-bred stakes at Arlington this Saturday: the Purple Violet for fillies. I will preview a Grade III turf race for the sophomore set. This preview focuses on the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont.
The Pennine Ridge Stakes is one of the newest stakes races on the Belmont calendar. Inaugurated in 2014, this year is its first year with a grade. The race’s namesake won three graded stakes during his career, including a pair at Belmont Park: the 1994 Hill Prince Stakes (GIII) and the 1994 Jamaica Handicap (GII). Pennine Ridge’s final career stakes win came in 1996 at Arlington, where he took the Newbury Handicap by half a length over graded stakes-quality Illinois-bred Homing Pigeon.
The fact that Pennine Ridge won the Jamaica Handicap makes it fitting that the race named in his honour is the de facto local prep for the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (GI), as the Belmont Derby was previously the Jamaica. Thus far, neither winner of the Pennine Ridge has gone on to win the Belmont Derby. However, 2015 winner Divisidero has gone on to become a force in the grass division. Divisidero won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) this year, and is probable for the Manhattan (GI) on June 11. Close followers of the Chicago circuit may also recall that Divisidero is a full brother to local allowance mainstay Dance With Kitten, who finished fourth behind Lovely Loyree in the Stickney Handicap at Hawthorne last October.
These races, just like all races at Belmont Park, will be streamed live on the Belmont Park website.
Selections are made for turf only. Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated Thursday, June 2 to include morning lines.
Saturday, June 4: Belmont Park
Race 8: Pennine Ridge Stakes (GIII), one and one eighth miles on the turf, post time 5:13pm CST
The $200,000 Pennine Ridge drew a field of ten talented turf horses. Though there are a few who are more prominent or proven than others, the race has no clear standout, and should be an excellent betting affair.
What the race drew very little of was early zip. TOUGHEST ‘OMBRE is the only one in the field who appears to need the lead, but AZAR should not be far behind, and he fits this field like a glove. Pacewise, he has shown some versatility, but is able to run very well contesting for the lead, or sitting a length or two back early. In other words, he is a forward type who does not need the lead, a style that should suit this race perfectly. AZAR has some form over the Belmont grass, having run a solid second in the Pilgrim (GIII) last year. He also has form at a mile and an eighth, having finished a close second in the Spiral Stakes (GIII) after doing so much of the front-end dirty work. Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez have the one to beat with AZAR.
The most lightly raced horse in the field, and the most intriguing, is CALL PROVISION. He is one of three entrants from trainer Chad Brown, and the only one without a graded stakes win to his credit. In fact, CALL PROVISION has only raced once — a maiden win against New York-breds at Aqueduct on April 16. The waters get far deeper here. But, Brown is not the sort of trainer who would frivolously toss his name in the entry box. CALL PROVISION’s speed figure in his maiden race was right in range of what he would need to be in order to be competitive here. He did not start well, sat well off a comfortable leader, and still found enough to run him down. He has upside to improve second time out, and perhaps with a better start he does not need to be a one-run closer. As the “Chad Brown C” entry, CALL PROVISION has a lot of upside, and looks the value of this group.
CAMELOT KITTEN, the “Brown A” entry, also demands respect. Let off at 18/1 in the American Turf (GII) on Kentucky Derby day, he posted a game win over Beach Patrol. That form was franked this past weekend at Arlington, when third-place Surgical Strike came back to win the Arlington Classic (GIII). Though CAMELOT KITTEN is an off-pace type, he does not need to be extremely far off the pace, and can rally into a relatively slow pace if need be. He proved that in his maiden win last year. CAMELOT KITTEN also comes in third off the lay for Brown, a 22% winner in that circumstance. It was a relatively close decision for the third slot between CAMELOT KITTEN and somewhat more pace-advantaged HAMMERS VISION — but CAMELOT KITTEN seems far more likely to want a mile and an eighth than HAMMERS VISION, and he has enough to suggest that the American Turf was no fluke.
#4 AZAR (5/1)
#7 CALL PROVISION (12/1)
#2 CAMELOT KITTEN (8/5)
Longshot: In a race without a lot of early gas, #9 TOUGHEST ‘OMBRE (30/1) intrigues. He has early speed, he has shown some fight on the front end, and he will be one of the longest shots on the board. He also comes in second off a short break. Last out he was well beaten by HIGHLAND SKY in the Woodhaven Stakes, but two starts back he graduated at Tampa Bay, with front-end contention for a good portion of the way. In the Woodhaven, he did not get the lead — something it appears he wants, given how he broke his maiden. Here, TOUGHEST ‘OMBRE drew into a field with little real speed. If AZAR really guns it, he is dangerous — hence his place as the top selection. However, if AZAR takes back a bit or comes off a little slow? TOUGHEST ‘OMBRE could dictate terms for a very long time at a very long price.
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