It's the day before the big day at Belmont Park. Unlike the first two legs of the Triple Crown, where there are significant and historic stakes races the Friday before -- the Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes are before the Derby and the Preakness, respectively -- Belmont lacks a clear Friday feature race. But the folks at the New York Racing Association have more than made up for it by stacking the card with a quintet of stakes races on today's card, and it really is a rich and varied slate of racing at its very highest level. It's a great day to be a handicapper, and it's a great day to be a fan.
There's also good news on the weather front: both Friday and Saturday are expected to be absolutely perfect on Long Island. The turf will be firm, the main track will be fast, and everyone will be happy -- Belmont will be the place to be the next two days. Let's go . . .
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The first Friday stakes race at Belmont is the Bed of Roses, a Grade 3, 7 furlong dirt sprint for older females. It goes as Race 5 (2:58 p.m. Eastern). Seven are entered. The 2-1 favorite is 3-Chalon, an Arnold Delancourt trainee who has been amazingly consistent. She's finished first or second in her last eight starts, going all the way back to the fall of 2017. She fires every time, and she has a huge tactical advantage in this race.She's got much more natural early speed than any other runner. On a Belmont main track that was slightly speed-favoring yesterday, we think she will be out in front, loping on the lead, and we don't think that any of the horses will be able to get her. We love this filly in this race, and will bet her to win enthusiastically.
Belmont Race 5
$40 W on 3-Chalon
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Race 7 (4:09) is the $150,000 Tremont Stakes, a 5 1/2 furlong main-track sprint for 2-year-olds. Eight are entered, and the heavy favorite is 2-Maven, who's trained by Wesley Ward, and who's 7/5 on the morning line. This one looks like very nearly a walkover: Maven's first start, a maiden win at Aqueduct in April, was exceptionally fast, especially for a 2-year-old in April, and going by speed figures, he is something like 8-10 lengths faster than the rest of the horses in here. He would have to lay a total egg to lose this one, and we don't see it. We see him winning the race at miserly odds, so we'll sit back and watch, and will not make a play in this one.
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The Grade 2 True North is Race 8 (4:42), and it's a 6 1/2 furlong dirt sprint for older horses. This is a great race. The key horse in here, at least from a handicapping standpoint, is 3-Catalina Cruiser. This John Sadler trainee looked like something special last year, winning his first four starts, all in Southern California, in very impressive fashion, putting up some eye-catching speed figures in the process. He was good enough to go off as the 9/10 favorite in the Breeders Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs last November, but he ran very poorly, finishing a distant sixth. Now he's back after a layoff, and he ships East for this race.
Catalina Cruiser is a talented horse who was visually impressive in his races last year, but we are against him. He earned big figs in SoCal beating up on short fields filled with weak horses. The first time he faced stiff competition, which was in the Breeders Cup, he fell apart, like our old Hollywood Park pal Tony D. used to say, like a two-dollar watch. We cannot take a short price on him here, as this field is filled with horses who are capable of giving him more than he can handle. He looks to us like the day's biggest underlay.
We like 7-Whitmore. This 6-year-old gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect is also coming off a bad race, in a sprint on the Kentucky Derby undercard, but we are willing to give him a pass on that one, as it was a ridiculously tough field, and 7 furlongs is not his best distance. Here he cuts back to 6 1/2, he's been absolutely tearing up the racetrack in his morning workouts, and he looks to us like he's sitting on a gargantuan effort. With Catalina Cruiser likely to attract a lot of attention at the windows, we think that Whitmore will be a more than fair price, so we will bet him to win at 7/2.
Belmont Race 8
$40 W on 7-Whitmore.
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Next up is the New York Stakes, which goes as Race 9 (5:15). It's a Grade 2 for fillies and mares 4 and older at a mile and a quarter on the turf. This one is easy. The Chad Brown-trained 8-Homerique, a 4-year-old filly who won the Grade 3 Beaugay at Belmont a month ago, is as close to a sure thing as there is in racing. She oozes class, and has an insuperable edge in late pace; we will bet her to win with both fists. She's 6/5 on the morning line, and may be even shorter, but we will bet her anyway.
Belmont Park 9
$50 W on 8-Homerique
Belmont Races 9-10
$25 Double, 8 (Homerique) with 6 (Raa Atoll)
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The Grade 2 Belmont Gold Cup is the last stakes race of the day on Lawn Guyland. It's Race 10 (5:48) and it’s very interesting. It's a two-mile turf marathon for older horses. There's a horse we like very much in here, and it's 8-Raa Atoll. This 4-year-old has an unbelievably good turf pedigree: he's by Sea the Stars out of a Sadler Wells mare. We think he's simply better than the rest of the field here. His 6-1 morning-line price would be manna from heaven if it holds up, but we think it won't. He will get bet, and will go off shorter. But that won't stop us from betting him to win, and we are also going to go back to race 9 and bet the New York Stakes/Belmont Gold Cup Double.
Belmont Race 10
$40 W on Raa Atoll
That's all for today. Good luck at the windows, and enjoy the racing -- the next two days at Belmont are as good as it gets.