It’s not often that horse racing fans are treated to a weekend quite like this. Not only do we get the 141st running of the Belmont, but the entire card for Saturday is a star studded affair filled with quality runners. Mine That Bird, Forever Together, Benny the Bull, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Justwhistledixie…they are all here. What’s more, guaranteed $1 million pools await both Pick 4 and Pick 6 players. If there’s ever been a day outside of the Breeders’ Cup that exemplified the whole idea behind the “Take Back Saturday” initiative, it’s right here, right now.
Obviously I’m jumping the gun a bit by posting my picks a full 48 hours in advance of post time. Needless to say late changes and scratches could totally alter the complexion of these races (and indeed the selections themselves). Even worse, one cannot be certain what Mother Nature may have in store. As of this writing, current forecasts for Elmont, NY (according to weather.com) call for “periods of heavy rain” on Friday, followed by a “mostly sunny” Saturday with highs near 77°.
Let’s hope for the best then and assume that Saturday will be a glorious day for racing, befitting of all the talented competitors, equine and human, answering the call to post.
DO NOT make the mistake though of overlooking this undercard. It is jam packed with interesting races. What follows are my initial thoughts, and while I rank my top 3 selections, I’ve decided to forego offering actual wager advice. My reason for doing so is that, in all honesty, my wagers tend to change once I get a look at the horses in the post parade. This means that any selections I give out here could be played by someone reading along, whereas my own wagers have evolved. I try to “tweet” these changes whenever possible, but as one can imagine that’s not always so.
Besides, as I always say, one should do their own handicapping if they are wagering a single dime. It’s your money, so you’d be wise to make sure you’re betting your picks. Not to mention you don’t have to wager to watch horse racing. You can be a fan of the horses and not wager a single dime. It’s still the best show in town.
What then is the value of my selections and why do I bother sharing? Because…we’re horseplayers. And if we’re not that we’re at least horse racing fans. We’re the most opinionated, stubborn mules the world has ever seen. Besides, we love to share our opinions. Speaking of which, make sure you check out the rest of the TBA bloggers as well, as no doubt we’ll be all over the place with our coverage. Quite a few of us “tweet” as well, if you’re so inclined.
With that in mind, I want to hear as many selections as possible from commentors. Everything you’ve got. C’mon peeps. It’s Belmont time! Sound off like you’ve got a pair!!!
Here’s a closer look at each of the races comprising the Pick 6 sequence, beginning with the True North Handicap (G2) in race 6 and ending with the Manhattan Handicap (G1) in race 10. The Belmont, which concludes both wagering sequences, will be the subject of it’s own post. It’s the Belmont for godsakes…it deserves it’s own post.
Race 6: The 31st running of the True North Handicap (G2) – 6 Furlongs
- #1 Benny the Bull (E. Prado/ R. Dutrow) 5/2
- #2 Silver Edition (J. Leparoux/ D. W. Lukas) 8/1
- #3 Two Step Salsa (G. Gomez/ S. bin Suroor) 3/1
- #4 Sixthirteen (E. Coa/ M. Hushion) 12/1
- #5 Desert Key (J. Velazquez/ J. Jerkens) 6/1
- #6 Fabulous Strike (R. Dominguez/ T. Beattie) 2/1*
- #1 Benny the Bull (5/2)
- #6 Fabulous Strike (2/1)
- #5 Desert Key (6/1)
We kick things off in the Pick 6 sequence with the True North Handicap. The race marks the return of one of the most popular sprinters in North America, #1 Benny the Bull. Last year it took Benny until the final few hundred yards to kick into high gear before he was able to run down Man of Danger and Abraaj in the stretch. He ought to get a decent pace to run at here and I wouldn’t be surprised at all given both the 6-year-old son of Lucky Lionel’s popularity and his human connections (particularly trainer Rick Dutrow) if he wound up going to post as the favorite. Currently he’s listed as the second choice on the morning line behind #6 Fabulous Strike. The question will be whether Benny is in sharp enough form to prevail after being on the shelf since last July. If his workout tab is any indication (and really, what else have we to go on barring last minute eyeball handicapping during the post parade?), then he appears to be ready to roll. His last 3 workouts in particular being the most encouraging.
Fabulous Strike ought to be on the gas early on, but doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to win. Still, the son of Smart Strike would appear to be the one the rest of the field will need to catch in order to get their picture taken in the winner’s circle. #5 Desert Key hasn’t been out of the Exacta in his last 8 races and looks like a “must use” horse underneath in the exotics. You might be able to get away with using Benny the Bull as a single on your exotic wagers, but I’d probably cover Fabulous Strike as well just to be safe.
Race 7: The 16th running of the Just A Game (G1) – 1 Mile (Turf)
- #1 Carribean Sunset (R. Dominguez/ C. Clement) 6/1
- #2 Raw Silk (P. Lopez/ T. Albertrani) 10/1
- #3 Captain’s Lover (J. Velazquez/ T. Pletcher) 8/1
- #4 I Lost My Choo (J. Lezcano/ P. Serpe) 15/1
- #5 Forever Together (J. Leparoux/ J. Sheppard) 6/5*
- #6 Modern Look (G. Gomez/ R. Frankel) 8/1
- #7 Diamondrella (R. Maragh/ A. Penna Jr.) 8/1
- #8 My Princess Jess (C. Velasquez/ B. Tagg) 5/1
- #5 Forever Together (6/5*)
- #6 Modern Look (8/1)
- #7 Diamondrella (8/1)
The Just A Game features the current top turf female in the nation, Forever Together. The 5-year-old daughter of Belong to Me and current Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf champion has won her last 3 races, as well as 4 of her last 5 overall. She seems quite lethal at any distance from a mile onward, and boasts a 3-2-0-1 record from today’s mile distance. Clearly she’s the horse to beat. The question is whether any of the runners in this field have what it takes to potentially pull the upset?
Depending on what kind of impression she makes in the post parade, it migh be worth taking a ride on #6 Modern Look. She’ll likely offer some value as her running lines don’t necessarily jump off the page at you. However, take note of a few key items. For starters, she was favored in her U.S. debut back in March and ran a decent race, all things considered, finishing 2nd. Certainly she’s got a right to improve. Her workout lines also suggest she’s at least enjoying her Belmont surroundings. Most importantly, however, note the runners she finished 4th to last May at Longchamp (France): Zarkava, Goldikova, and Halfway to Heaven. Zarkava or Goldikova would be obvious singles in this race in my opinion, even with Forever Together. With that in mind, I’m going to use Modern Look as my 2nd choice behind the favorite.
Looking deeper, #7 Diamondrella has gutted out 5 consecutive victoires going back to last June, including her only start of 2009 in the Giants Causeway at Keeneland in April. This will obviously be quite a class hike for her as she faces off against the favorite, but you’ve got to like that sort of consistent form. The obvious question will be whether she can handle the extra distance as she seems to be more of a sprinter. #2 Raw Silk will likely be the pace and should enjoy the mile distance of the Just A Game. One also can’t overlook the runners on the bookends. #1 Carribean Sunset was favored in her U.S. debut last month in the Beaugay (G3), but came up 1 3/4 lenths short behind #8 My Princess Jess. I could see these two fighting for a minor award.
Race 8: The 25th running of the Woody Stephens (G2) – 7 Furlongs
- #1 Regal Ransom (A. Garcia/ S. bin Suroor) 2/1*
- #1A Everyday Heroes (J.C. Caraballo/ T. Ritchey) 2/1*
- #2 This Ones for Phil (G. Gomez/ R. Dutrow) 7/2
- #3 Gone Astray (E. Prado/ C. McGaughey III) 15/1
- #4 Munnings (J. Velazquez/ T. Pletcher) 4/1
- #5 Triumphant Flight (K. Desormeaux/ E. Kruljac) 15/1
- #6 Hello Broadway (R. Dominguez/ B. Tagg) 12/1
- #7 Kensei (R. Albarado Jr./ S. Asmussen) 15/1
- #8 Hull (M. Mena/ D. Romans) 3/1
- #2 This Ones for Phil (7/2)
- #1 Regal Ransom/ #1A Everyday Heroes (2/1*)
- #8 Hull (3/1)
The Woody Stephens has bit of a “hey, whatever happened to so-and-so?” feel, as a couple of characters return to the spotlight after running a bit under the radar recently. Trainer Rick Dutrow sends out the “Beyer freak” #2 This Ones for Phil. You might remember this guy as the dude who improved his Beyer figure by 39 points in the Sunshine Millions Dash back in January. Since then he was taken off the Triple Crown trail and kept at the shorter distances, where he’s proved he can consistently churn out impressive speed figures. He hasn’t been able to win since January, but he has run into some pretty good runners in Quality Road, Big Drama, and Mr. Fantasy along the way. He should find this field more to his liking, as well as the tricky 7 furlong distance that he’s proven he can handle (albeit through a disqualification of Big Drama in the Swale).
The coupled entry of #1 Regal Ransom and #1A Everyday Heroes looks quite formidable here as well. The interseting thing is that I actually liked Regal Ransom quite a bit leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but I’m now more interested in Everyday Heroes, who is undefeated in 4 lifetime starts. Then there’s #8 Hull, who at one point was considered a Preakness contender before being pointed to the Woody Stephens instead. I think you’d be wise to cover all of these runners in the exotics as this appears to be a bit more open a race than the first two in the sequence.
Another horse you’ve got to consider here is #4 Munnings. Remember this guy? At one point last year he was one of the more highly regarded juveniles. After disappearing for many months, he resurfaced at the allowance level and promptly posted a career best Beyer figure (101) in running a respectable 2nd in his first start of 2009. Although he’s yet to win at the 7 furlong distance, he is a Speightstown colt, which means you’d be wise to consider him at any sprint distance. Of the entire field, he’s the runner I’m most interested in getting an actual look at in the post parade. I didn’t rank him as one of my top 3 selections, but he’s an intriguing runner in here. The only trouble is that he might get hammered at the windows due to that triple digit Beyer. If the value is there, and if he makes an impression in the paddock, he could well be the play.
Race 9: The 79th running of the Acorn (G1) – 1 Mile
- #1 Casanova Move (J. Lezcano/ J. Jerkens) 6/1
- #2 Gabby’s Golden Gal (J. Castellano/ B. Baffert) 15/1
- #3 Be Fair (M. Mena/ D. W. Lukas) 12/1
- #4 Funny Moon (A. Garcia/ C. Clement) 8/1
- #5 Doremifasollatido (E. Coa/ J. Jerkens) 6/1
- #6 Livin Lovin (R. Dominguez/ S. Klesaris) 15/1
- #7 Dream Play (R. Migliore/ K. McLaughlin) 8/5*
- #8 Justwhistledixie (J. Leparoux/ K. McLaughlin) 8/5*
- #9 Four Gifts (R. Albarado Jr./ S. Asmussen) 6/1
- #8 Justwhistledixie (8/5*)
- #4 Funny Moon (8/1)
- #7 Dream Play (6/1)
The Acorn would seem to be all about #8 Justwhistledixie. If there’s one 3-year-old filly in the nation capable of running respectably against Rachel Alexandra, it’s her. Unfortunately, she scratched from the Kentucky Oaks last month due to the sloppy track conditions. We all know what happened next as Queen Rachel romped by over 20 lengths and caught the eye of Jess Jackson. The rest is history. With no Rachel to contend with today, Justwhistledixie looks like a clear favorite that those looking for a life changing score in the exotics will have to hope they can get past.
Of all the contenders, I’d give the improving #4 Funny Moon the best shot to pull the upset. Not only is she improving rapidly, but her final times at the mile distance in her last two victories would appear to stack up very well against this field. Also note that she’ll have Alan Garcia aboard for the trip, who also piloted Justwhistledixie in 3 of her 5 lifetime victories. If she looks live in the post parade, she could be just the type of horse that helps blow up the payouts in the exotics.
#1 Casanova Move has had the misfortune of running into ‘Dixie several times in recent memory, and seems to find a way to hit the board underneath. It would be nice to see #5 Doremifasollatido in the mix at the end, if only to hear her name in the stretch call, but I’m not sure if the mile distance will be to her liking. On the other hand, #6 Livin Lovin, #7 Dream Play, and #3 Be Fair all have victories at the distance, and are lightly raced enough that we’ve still got room for improvement. Dream Play and Livin Lovin can also boast of being graded stakes winners. Same goes for #9 Four Gifts. This one might not be as obvious as it appears on paper is all I’m sayin’, although I do expect the favorite to prevail.
Race 10: The 108th running of the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (G1) – 1 1/4 Miles (Turf)
- #1 Court Vision (R. Dominguez/ W. Mott) 4/1
- #1A Optimer (R. Rodriguez/ S. Dutrow) 4/1
- #2 Champs Elysees (J. Leparoux/ R. Frankel) 12/1
- #3 Marsh Slide (J. Castellano/ N. Drysdale) 20/1
- #4 Premium Gold (E. Prado/ J. Kimmel) 20/1
- #5 Gio Ponti (G. Gomez/ C. Clement) 7/2
- #6 Wesley (K. Desormeaux/ M. Hennig) 12/1
- #7 Senior (M. Luzzi/ J. Delozier) 50/1
- #8 Better Talk Now (J. Rose/ G. Motion) 15/1
- #9 Cosmonaut (J. Lezcano/ P. Serpe) 6/1
- #10 Interpatation (R. Maragh/ R. Barbara) 20/1
- #11 Lauro (A. Starke/ A. Wohler) 15/1
- #12 Cowboy Cal (J. Velazquez/ T. Pletcher) 3/1*
- #2B Zambezi Sun (J. Leparoux/ R. Frankel) 12/1
- #6 Wesley (12/1)
- #12 Cowboy Cal (3/1*)
- #1 Court Vision (4/1)
I’m going to come right out and say something that probably sounds like heathen blasphemy on Belmont Day. The Manhattan Handicap is the “race of the day”, by far, on paper. Just look at this field! I’ll start with “Blackie” (#8 Better Talk Now), a former turf champion and over $4 million lifetime earner. You’ve no idea how happy it would make me if Blackie found a way to get it done on Saturday. I’ve loved this horse for years, and whlie he’s clearly in the autumn of his distinguished career, it warms my heart whenever I see his name among the entries. Over the past year I’ve also become quite fond of both #1 Court Vision and #12 Cowboy Cal on the turf. Cowboy Cal in particular has quietly become one of my favorite runners. I was hoping to get more than 3/1 on him here, and was a bit shocked that he was the favorite on the morning line, but I suspect bettors will be spread out here offering decent value on whomever you wind up on.
Despite my affinity for these runners, I’m going to pick a shocker here for the upset. #6 Wesley looks primed and ready to run a big one. I saw this guy on Preakness day at Pimlico and was quite taken with him in the post parade fo the Dixie. If you didn’t see that race, it’s worth watching again. Wesley ran well enough to win, only he was forced to steady several times on the turns. His running line merely denotes “6wd 1/8″, but it was much more than just being wide. I left thinking he was by far the best horse of that field, despite finishing 3rd. I’m expecting a big improvement this weekend, and I’m encouraged to see his latest workout at Belmont on 5/31 was a sharp 4 furlongs in 47 and 3. This is a salty group, and he’s obviously got to prove he can get the extra distance here, but based on that wide trip in the Dixie I’d argue that he’s already been a mile and a quarter! #5 Gio Ponti, #2 Champs Elysees, and # 9 Cosmonaut could all make some noise in here as well. Depending on how you’re playing your exotics, this might be another wise spot to go deep and spread on the coverage.
Best of luck to all. With any luck you’re still alive in your exotics as we get set for Belmont 141.