True story: earlier this week—the night before the Belmont Stakes post position drawing, to be exact—I had a dream, and in my dream, I clearly saw the number 6 win the Belmont Stakes. However, it was Rags to Riches wearing the number 6. Curious about its possible meaning, I anxiously awaited the actual drawing, confounded even more when Hard Spun, not Rags to Riches, drew the six spot. What does it all mean?
Curlin is a magnificent animal, powerful physically and certainly proved his talent in the Preakness. I would not be surprise if he did hang on for a minor prize, but I do think his relative inexperience will finally show in this 1-1/2 mile marathon. I am still scratching my head over Imawildandcrazyguy’s finish in the Derby, which (looking at his pedigree, workouts and race record) I can only surmise to be a total fluke. Sorry, but I give him zero chance here of winning (and I LOVE grays, so it pains me to say that). C P West had a nice race in the Preakness, and I love Edgar Prado, but I do not think he is a serious threat here either. I actually like Slew’s Tizzy a lot, especially on an off-track, but the weather looks to be good and, with the other quality here, I will pass.
That leaves Hard Spun, Rags to Riches and Tiago. Hard Spun is my little homebred PA soldier, by another Pennsylvania-bred stallion Danzig. Purely by breeding, he is certainly equipped for the 1-1/2 mile distance. The big “if” for me with him is “if” Garrett Gomez can hold his early speed enough to have something left in the tank for late. How it must pain Gomez to see Velazquez riding Rags to Riches, though! I love her intimidating physical size and power, and her breeding screams Belmont Stakes winner. And she’s a girl…duh! I always root for the underdog. As much as I dislike Todd Pletcher (and feel John Velazquez is overrated), I have a gut feeling this is the three-year-old to finally bring him a Triple Crown race win. Again, let me reiterate how much that thought pains me. However, what I want to see happen is Curlin not fire, Hard Spun taking the lead from Slew’s Tizzy as they go around the final turn, with Rags to Riches right at his flank. As these two duel it out, Tiago blows around them to the outside, and takes it by a length. I have always been a sucker for deep closers...
As for the other races on Saturday’s Belmont card:
Race 3 ($100,000 Birdstone Stakes): This looks to be Hesanoldsalt’s race to lose. If he is to be beat, many look to A.P. Arrow, but I am more apt to see Naughty New Yorker coming in for a big win here. Papi Chullo is an enigma, who has been bouncing around trainers, but now with Gary Contessa (and Eibar Coa up) could be ready to successfully re-enter this level of competition.
Race 5 ($80,000 Foresta Stakes): I like Meribel a lot here, in her third start off a layoff; she’s got loads of late pace speed, won her last start here in the Steal a Kiss Stakes, and goes for very strong jockey/trainer connections. She finished only ½ length in front of Kiaran McLaughlin’s Fantastic Shirlin that last start, so you might think Shirl’s a contender. Well, she is, but this time she’s got John Velazquez up, as Edgar Prado chose to stay on Shug McGaughey’s Criminologist, which I think says something about his confidence in that horse. My longshot pick for the exotics is Dean’s List who has been quite consistent in putting in good performances against many of these runners (UPDATE: Dean's List is an early scratch.)
Race 6 (G2 True North Handicap): Goldophin’s trainer Saeed Bin Suroor has been red hot at Belmont, but his horse Council Member looks susceptible here. Looking back over his racing history, he does well in the first race after a layoff, but fails badly in the second race, especially if (like here) the race is within a few weeks of the last. I’m just not blown away by him. Bordonaro looks to be the class of this field, and certainly has the record and workouts to back it up…BUT, he has never raced at Belmont, nor have any posted workouts there since shipping in from Hollywood. So I’m going to take a calculated risk and box him in a $1 tri with Todd Pletcher’s Keyed Entry who will be early speed and Dashboard Drummer (paired with Suave Jazz) who has cranked out three good races recently (although he has yet to win at Belmont after 7 starts, with 2 places and 3 shows).
Race 7 (G2 Just a Game Stakes): Only five entries in this field so not much chance at getting value. Todd Pletcher’s Wait A While is 6-5 morning line favorite, although she failed to fire in her last effort, April’s G2 Jenny Wiley which was taken off the turf and run on Keeneland’s polytrack. She has a history of wins coming off a layoff, and, of course, there is that Gomez-Pletcher combo. However, I am willing to bet against the Toddster virtually every day (although, usually pointlessly). I like Bill Mott’s My Typhoon and Patrick Biancone’s Mauralakana here, especially the latter, but since I want value, I may take a chance on H. Allen Jerkens’ Miss Shop at 15-1.
Race 8 (G2 Woody Stephens Breeders’ Cup Stakes): I love Stormello here! He was brilliant in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, though nosed out by Scat Daddy after leading the entire 1-1/8 mile race. His return to Florida for the Florida Derby (rather than staying in California for the Santa Anita Derby) was an exhausting mistake, and he never recovered enough to fire in the Derby, and was wisely eased. Thankfully, he is cutting back to 7 furlongs, and appears to be recovered, if his last bullet workout in 1:12.3 for six furlongs is any indication. On top of that, his two-year-old full sister made a real splash in her maiden win at Hollywood last Saturday, so I am hoping he fires this time too. Sports Town comes off an impressive win at Belmont on May 16, in the restricted, non-graded Ogygian Stakes, and has been firing bullet workouts ever since. He retains Garrett Gomez (UPDATE: Sports Town is an early scratch). Street Magician came on to win impressively in the G3 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes (beating my beloved Southwestern Heat) last out at Pimlico, and threw another bullet :35 workout on June 6. With Bejarano up, he looks very tough here, and I will definitely include him in exotics. My longshot favorite: Teuflesberg. Trainer Jamie Sanders has aggressively run this talented bay, and, like Rodney Dangerfield, he gets no respect. Yet, since breaking his maiden last October, he has only been out of the money 3 times in 9 races, and one of those was finishing fourth (less than 1 length behind Dominican) in the G1 Blue Grass Stakes. He gets Robby Albarado back on, and I really like his chances here.
Race 9 (G1 Acorn Stakes): I have been awaiting Christmas Kid’s return since her victory over Octave in the G1 Ashland (did I mention that I had a Oaks future wager on her at 50-1, and Jimmy Jerkens didn’t run her?). Interestingly, this daughter of Lemon Drop Kid acquires Edgar Prado today. Cotton Blossom didn’t response well to the muddy Churchill track during the G1 Kentucky Oaks, but has been working out well at Belmont and gets John Velazquez back on for the Toddster. I don’t know…she just appears to be one of those underachieving three-year-old Pletcher trainees that he has been “blessed” with this year. Dream Rush is the 7-5 morning line favorite, but she will have to prove that to me. Yes, she ran impressively to win the G3 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream in February, but who did she beat? Dreaming of Anna finished third in that, but that filly hasn’t lived up to her two-year-old champion form this year. After a layoff, Dream Rush came back to crush a small field in the G2 Nassau County Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Belmont on May 7. I like her in the exotics, but I bet (hope) she doesn’t win, not at that price. My wildcard is Boca Grande, who was on my radar earlier in the year, but then she dropped out of sight after winning the G2 Comely Stakes on April 14. I just don’t know if she’ll be ready to fire after that layoff.
Race 10 (G1 Manhattan Handicap): I can’t believe I am going to say this, but English Channel looks weak here. I can understand the poor performance in Dubai, but his workouts since returning are underwhelming and he just looks to me to need another race before this. Sky Conqueror holds some appeal after his G1 win last out on yielding turf at Churchill (UPDATE: Sky Conqueror is an early scratch). I really like another Lemon Drop Kid offspring here, Cosmonaut who, under Edgar Prado, has reeled off two impressive races this year, including a close second in the tragic G2 Dixie where he literally jumped over the fallen, fatally injured Mending Fences. Kiaran McLaughlin’s Shakis performed impressively in his first American race on May 25, defeating Minister’s Joy who starts from the rail for Shug McGaughey. Either that race served as a perfect prep for here or it took a bit much out of them. I’m banking on the latter. So, after Cosmonaut and Sky Conqueror, who else do I like? Don’t laugh, but I’m counting on a big effort by Steppenwolfer, who made the switch from dirt to turf last out, finishing a respectable second on this track.
Finally, one mention of Sunday’s Rumson Stakes at Monmouth…as per my previous suggestion (see the next-to-last paragraph) my favorite three-year-old speedball sprinter, Southwestern Heat will be starting out of the two hole…and don’t be surprised if no one catches him!