The Belmont Stakes is now only hours away and while the 3rd leg of the Triple Crown may lack the Derby and Preakness winner, it has no shortage of quality. There are two colts, First Dude and Ice Box, on the verge of ascending to the top of the 3YO ranks with a win in the “Test of the champion.”
Here’s a look at all of the graded stakes races on the program. Best of luck and I’ll be back tomorrow with a recap.
Race 6, The Woody Stephens
#1 EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY is cutting back in distance off of an uncharacteristically bad effort in the Derby Trial for trainer Gary Contessa. This guy has run a couple of very nice races this year at 6 and 7 furlongs, so the cutback is going to do him a world of good. The rail draw will force jockey Ramon Dominguez to send this colt to the lead, but that’s his game and he’ll be very tough to catch if able to get free and clear down the backside. #2 REMAND is a bit of an outsider given his apparent lack of class and somewhat dull recent efforts, but the pace stands to be in his favor. Trainer John Terranova has hit at a rate of 19% with horses cutting back from routes to sprints on the dirt over the last five years. This colt will likely be last of all headed around the far turn but should make some noise in the stretch drive. #5 D’FUNNYBONE looks like he might be moving in the wrong direction after a very poor effort in the Withers last time out. He now cuts back to seven panels and should be stalking right from the outset given the strong inside speed. A return to the good form he was in earlier this year will make him plenty dangerous at a relatively fair price in the 5/2 neighborhood.
Race 7 ,The Just A Game Handicap
This is a serious class test for #4 FANTASIA as she has come up wanting in the stretch of each of her prior efforts in America. Her best races in Europe came against softer company but she did not have a clean trip last time out and some of her races across the pond give the indication that she is better on firm turf. Trainer Jonathan Sheppard had the option of running Rainbow View or this gal here and he opted for this daughter of Sadler’s Wells, which speaks a bit to his confidence in her. #5 PROVISO defeated males in the Frank Kilroe Mile last time out with an electrifying burst of speed from just off the pace. Her turf accomplishments speak for themselves and she’s been working lights out for her return to the races. The biggest knock on her is that she enjoyed a perfect trip in the Kilroe and the final time of that event was slightly slower than straight 3YOs ran in the Pasadena an hour and a half or so before. All signs point to this gal as the one to beat but don’t kid yourself, there are some question marks. #3 PHOLA has found a way to get good pretty quickly for trainer Todd Pletcher as she’s won a Grade III then Grade II and now looks for the coveted Grade I. The wet turf probably helped her in her last two starts but her record between 8 and 9 furlongs on the lawn is very strong and you can count on her moving in the right direction late.
Race 8, The True North
It’s tough to argue with what #2 CUSTOM FOR CARLOS has done this year as he’s a neck away from being 3 for 3 during a carefully managed campaign by Eddie Kenneally. He gamely tracked down Chief of Affairs last time out and that runner came back to win a sprint race at Indiana over the Count Fleet show horse, Riley Tucker. The latter then reversed the decision in last week’s Aristides, so this guy beat live horses in his Oaklawn triumph. The rail is a bit of a tricky draw but it wouldn’t be surprising if jockey Jose Lezcano gets this guy out quickly and takes the race to his rivals right from the gate. #5 SNAPSHOT was bet down to 2-1 in the Maryland Sprint Handicap last time out and a dull break from the gate completely ruined his chances. He stayed on well while racing between horses and wound up checking in 5th beaten just over two lengths. The move from the inside to the middle of the field post position-wise will help this son of Awesome Again. #8 CHECKLIST broke through with a tremendous performance in a N2X optional claimer last time out, so he obviously arrives here in terrific form. The lead could be his for the taking if some of his rivals inside take back, but this son of Gone West does not need it to be successful.
Race 9, The Acorn
#6 AMEN HALLELUJAH is cutting back in distance for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. after trying the Kentucky Oaks in her most recent outing. That effort pretty much sealed the deal that this gal is a sprinter/miler who’s going to be more effective around one turn. Thus, the setup today is completely in her favor and she seems to be preparing beautifully for this event with four workouts since the Oaks day 6th place finish. #8 MUCH REJOICING is chief among the “fresh faces” in here as she’ll be trying stakes competition for the first time with her 2-2 record in tow. She was a rather handy winner at first asking for trainer Jimmy Toner, who very rarely wins with firsters, so talent is something this gal clearly possesses. She beat a very strong field in her last start at Keeneland as four horses from that race came back to win their next starts, including a couple of stakes races, including that of #9 BUCKLEUPBUTTERCUP on the Derby undercard. If this gal benefited from the time off she’ll be involved from the start under Alan Garcia. #2 TANDA has quickly become the best 3YO filly sprinter in California and she’s now stretching out to a mile for the first time today. Her pedigree indicates the stretchout won’t be an issue and her dam has dropped three foals to race prior to this daughter of Sweetnorthernsaint, with all of them winning multiple races on conventional dirt. A poor effort from this gal would surprise me.
Race 10, The Manhattan
Sometimes you have to think outside the box and that type of approach makes #11 EXPANSION a win candidate at a huge price in this affair. He has run two rather ordinary races in a couple of graded stakes events this year but he had valid excuses in both and that’s enough to give him a pass for those two. His Red Smith win came when he rallied from well off a very sluggish pace before unleashing a tremendous late run. The pace scenario will work in his favor today and this daistance has always been a nice fit for this son of Maria’s Mon. #1 GIO PONTI needs no introduction as he had a phenomenal 2009 where he won all over the map. Trainer Christophe Clement seemed a bit nervous when asked about his condition because the horse coughed two weeks ago. Clement assured everyone he’s fine but that’s just another item to heap on a growing stack of reasons to try and beat this heavy fave. #9 JUST AS WELL rallied gamely in the Dixie last time out but came up marginally short at the end. This guy has had a hard time finding the wire and that has to make you nervous, but the fact that he’ll be moving late into a solid pace helps his chances.
Race 11, The Belmont
For someone who liked and bet on #6 ICE BOX in the Kentucky Derby and #11 FIRST DUDE in the Preakness, it’s tough to toss that allegiance aside but #5 FLY DOWN gets the nod in this “Test of a Champion.” His handy Dwyer win was absolutely spectacular as he just subjugated the field after a big move into the stretch. The distance will be no issue as he’s kin to multiple dirt route winners and his running style makes him a nice fit for this affair. If the big ‘Dude gets hooked a bit early then this son of Mineshaft will be in position to capitalize. The aforementioned First Dude is coming off a tremendous 2nd place finish in the Preakness where he made the lead, was confronted then nearly held off his rivals late. The lead looks like it’s his for the taking today and that makes him particularly dangerous as Ramon Dominguez can win races from anywhere on the track. If Ice Box can get his motor cranked then he’ll be heard from in the waning stages, especially if jockey Jose Lezcano can nurse him along before turning this into a two furlong dash.
Click here for the rest of my selections, available for each NYRA racing day http://www.capitalotb.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=154&Itemid=204