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Focus Group, winning the John’s Call, last August at Saratoga.
Focus Group, winning the John’s Call, last August at Saratoga.|NYRA

Thorougbreds Saturday: Garrity’s got the Man O’ War plus two more stakes at Belmont, plus Monmouth and Santa Anita

Enjoy your day then start your race-watching at 4:45 pm EDT 

Chris Garrity

We're back for another Saturday, and while one might think that the Saturday between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness would be a quiet one in the horse racing world, that is decidedly not the case: the deck is stacked, as it were, with stakes races from coast to coast, with the headliner being Belmont Park, which today runs the Man O' War Racing Festival. There are so many stakes, in fact, that we cannot cover them all , but we are going to highlight the ones we think are noteworthy, and which offer betting potential. We expect the weather to be fine for all the races we selected, so we're handicapping for fast and firm. Let's go.

At Belmont, there's a quintet of stakes, with the headliner being the Grade 1 Man O' War, which features horses 4 and up going a mile and 3/8 on the grass. It goes as Race 10 in Elmont, with a scheduled post time of 6:24 pm (as always, all times here are Eastern).

Usually, "horses 4 and up" means males: This condition is open to either sex, but females running against the boys is unusual. But that's what we have today: in a race with some of the top turf horses currently in training, like 1-Hunting Horn, 2-Zulu Alpha, and 8-Channel Maker, there's a filly in here, the Aiden O'Brien-trained 5-Magic Wand. This 4-year-old daughter of all-time great turf sire Galileo has been running in the highest-class races in the world, like the Dubai Sheema Classic, the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf, and the Prix de l'Opera at Longchamps. At 3-1, she figures to get a lot of support at the windows.

We will be frank here: we are a sucker for Euro horses who come to North America to run in turf stakes races, and we are a sucker for females running against the boys. But we don't like Magic Wand in this one: The historical record of horses making their first start in the U.S. after racing in Dubai is poor; these horses very frequently lose, usually at very, very short prices. Because of this, we think that Magic Wand is a play against, and because of the Dubai angle, we also dislike her Coolmore/O'Brien stablemate, Hunting Horn, whose last race was also in Dubai.

We like 6-Focus Group. This Chad Brown trainee is in top form, and the distance suits him to a tee: At 11 furlongs, he has two wins in two career starts. Turf racing in general, and turf stakes in particular, are usually won by the horse with the strongest closing kick, and Focus Group has that: He has a significant edge in the late-speed ratings, and he will be rolling late. Because of the parimutuel support that the Coolmore horses will get -- they always get bet -- we think that Focus Group is a fantastic win play: we think we will get something close to his 5/2 morning-line win odds. When you have the best horse, who's in the best form, and you're getting this kind of price, there's only one thing to do, and that's remove the rubber band from the bankroll. We will bet him to win. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 10, $50 to win on 6-Focus Group.

On the Man O' War undercard, there are two races that we like: the Grade 3 Beaugay, which is Race 7 and which goes off at 4:45 pm, and the $150k Runhappy, which is Race 9 and which has a scheduled post of 5:51 pm.

In the Beaugay, we like another Chad Brown trainee, 5-Homerique. This 4-year-old gray daughter of Exchange Rate has been running in some good French races -- in fact, she finished third in the aforementioned Prix de l'Opera, a nose behind Magic Wand. And while we don't like Magic Wand in the Man O' War, we love Homerique in here: we think she's another very, very good win bet. We expect her to sit midpack, and then to blow the rest of the field away in the stretch. We will bet her to win at 9/5. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 7, $40 to win on Homerique.

The Runhappy has an excellent field: there are some seriously fast horses here. And there are horses in good form, like 2-Skyler's Scramjet and 5-Recruiting Ready. But we like a horse whose recent races were not great: that's 3-Firenze Fire. This 4-year-old Jason Servis trainee is as good as it gets when he's in form, and while he wasn't in form in his last race, a dull third in an overnight stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, a brief freshening, plus a sizzling recent morning workout tab, has us thinking that he's ready to fire. Even better: He loves the racing surface at Belmont; he has 2 wins in 2 career starts at Big Sandy. We think he wakes up today, and if so, he's going to be more than the rest of the field can handle. At 7/2, we think he merits a play. We will bet him to win, and we will also hammer him in the double with Focus Group in the Man O' War, which is the race after the Runhappy. The bets: Belmont Park, Race 9, $25 to win on 3-Firenze Fire; $20 double, 3 (Firenze Fire) with 6 (Focus Group).

We will take a couple of quick peeks at two other stakes races, the Serena's Song at Monmouth and the Santa Barbara at Santa Anita. We picked these because we like the Santa Barbara, and it's good to see racing back at the Jersey shore.

The Serena's Song goes off as Race 10 in Ocenaport; post time is 5:25 pm. It a mile and 70 yards on the dirt for fillies and mares 3 and up, and six are entered.

We like the favorite in here, 5-Forever Liesl. This 5-year-old mare has had buzzard's luck recently: her last six races, going back to last August, have all been on wet tracks. It seems the rain clouds have been following her around. But she will get a fast track today, and we think that is the surface she prefers. She has an edge in speed figures, she has an edge in class, and the projected race shape -- she's a closer in a field with plenty of early speed -- and she's by far the likeliest winner. She's an obvious pick, so her odds will be short, but we'll throw a token win bet on her anyway, at her 6/5 morning-line price, as a celebration of the return of racing at Monmouth, and the fact that this is a harbinger of summer. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 10, $10 to win on 5-Forever Liesl.

Out West at Santa Anita, the Santa Barbara goes off as Race 5, with a post time of 6:06 pm. It's fillies and mares 3 and up going a mile and a half on the grass. It's a short field of six, but there are some salty runners in here, including 1-Animosity, 2-Causeforcommotion, and 5-Giuliana. But we like another runner in here, the Irish-bred 3-Kodiak West. This 4-year-old Irish-bred filly is trained by Neil Drysdale, our old Playa del Rey neighbor, and she's had a couple of nightmarish recent races, with so much traffic trouble that her running lines are misleading: they distort the fact that she is a very capable runner. With only five other runners to deal with here, we think she should get a clean trip, and we think that's all she needs to win this one. We see her sitting just behind the pacesetters, and taking over the race in the stretch. We will bet her to win at 6-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 5, $25 to win on 3-Kodiak West.

That's all for today. Good luck at the windows.