The big day has finally arrived. And what a day it is: the card at Belmont is stacked with stakes races. This is as good as it gets, so let's get right to it.
We'll start with the racing surfaces: the turf at Belmont was fair yesterday, but on the main track, there did seem to be an inside-speed bias. Horses on the lead kept going, even after setting early fractions that would normally set up the race for horses coming from behind. That the 1st, 4th, 5th, and 7th races were all won in wire-to wire fashion is proof of this. That said, we expect the dirt to be fair today: these kinds of track biases come and go, and we are not expecting a repeat this afternoon.
The stakes racing at Belmont today is an embarrassment of riches. Here is the lineup:
> Easy Goer, Race 3. 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 mile, dirt, 12:47 pm.
> Grade 1 Just a Game, Race 4. Fillies & Mares 4 and up, one mile, turf, 1:22 pm.
> Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, Race 5. FIllies & Mares 4 and up, 1 1/16 mile, dirt, 2:01 pm.
> Grade 1 Jaipur Invitational, Race 6. 4 and up, 6 furlongs, turf, post time 2:41 pm.
> Grade 1 Acorn, Race 7. 3-year-old fillies, one mile, dirt. Post time 3:22 pm.
> Grade 1 Woody Stephens, Race 8. 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs, dirt. Post time 4:04 pm.
> Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, Race 9. 3 and up, one mile, dirt. Post time 4:46 pm.
> Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap, Race 10. 4 and up, 1 1/4 miles, turf. Post time 5:36 pm.
> Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, Race 11. 3-year-olds. 1 1/2 miles, dirt. Post time 6:37 pm.
Yes, that's nine total stakes, and eight consecutive Grade 1 races. It's almost mind-boggling, but in a good way. So let's get right to it. We're going to go out of order here, with a detailed look at the Belmont Stakes first, and then a shorter capsule for each of the other races. Let's go . . .
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THE BELMONT STAKES
We spent more time than is healthy this week poring over about 25 years' worth of Triple Crown results charts. While doing that, we noticed something: we noted the win odds of both Afleet Alex and Point Given. They were both a bit above even-money. We noticed this because we thought both were absolute cinches in the Belmont -- but we declined to bet either, because we thought their win odds would be too miserly. But looking back, the win payouts -- $4.30 on Afleet Alex and $4.70 on Point Given -- look generous. There is, as our late, great friend Jay Cronley correctly noted, value in every winner, and getting even money on an overwhelmingly superior horse is a very, very good thing.
The main reason we went through all those charts was to look at the historical results of horses who lost the Derby, won the Preakness, and then ran in the Belmont. Put simply: it is very, very good: The horses who ran poorly in the Belmont did so largely for obvious reasons: Oxbow in 2011 was not that good, and Exaggerator in 2016 had won the Preakness under circumstances (a pace collapse in the slop) that did not recur in the Belmont.
War of Will reminds us of Afleet Alex and Point Given. All three lost the Derby with tough trips, all three rebounded with resounding wins in Baltimore, and after today, all three will have won the Belmont impressively. We can get lost in the arcana of handicapping these races, in speed figures and trip notes and pedigree analysis and the like, but sometimes, it's very simple: you bet the best horse. And War of Will is the best horse. We will bet him to win, and we will do so enthusiastically.
Belmont Park Race 11
$100 W on 9-War of Will.
Here are our brief notes on all 10 runners in the race:
1-Joevia (30-1): Will probably set the early pace. But won't be around at the end.
2-Everfast (12-1): His runner-up finish in the Preakness was a bias-fueled mirage; he's not that good. We hate him here. At 12-1, he's the biggest underlay since Goliath. Pass.
3-Master Fencer (8-1): This Japanese horse is interesting, and his run in the Derby was sneaky good. But we think he's not good enough here. Could hit the board, but won't win.
4- Tax (15-1): Pretty consistent horse who is bred to love the 12 furlongs here. A live longshot to hit the board; use underneath in the exotics.
5-Bourbon War (12-1): Appears a cut below the top contenders. Another one whose ceiling seems to be a minor placing.
6-Spinoff (15-1): Looking to bounce back after a disastrous Kentucky Derby. Wouldn't be the first horse to do this, but think the kind of form reversal he'd need is unlikely.
7-Sir Winston (12-1): Winner of the Peter Pan at Belmont figures to get a lot of betting support, which we like: he won't win, and will inflate the prices of the horses we like. Big underlay.
8-Intrepid Heart (10-1): Gray son of Tapit appears to be rapidly improving, and will need to be to contend here. Not impossible, but we prefer others.
9-War of Will (2-1): Looks to complete the Preakness/Belmont double. The pick.
10-Tacitus (9-5): An obviously talented horse who has a chance here. We just think he's a cut below War of Will. A War of Will/Tacitus exacta would not be a surprise.
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The Easy Goer came up with a short field, and one that on paper looks weak. Favorite 6-Alwaysmining, who finished 11th in the Preakness as a mammoth, 6.6-1 underlay, looks to rebound here as the 6-5 favorite. We prefer the Todd Pletcher trained 4-Outshine, who looks to rebound after a disastrous Wood Memorial. But we don't like him, or this race, enough to make a wager on it.
The Just a Game field also came up short, with just seven runners, and the heavy favorite in here is 4-Rushing Fall, who's trained by Chad Brown. This race sets up almost perfectly for Rushing Fall, and she'll be very, very tough to beat. But we will take a pass on making a bet on her at less than even money.
The Ogden Phipps looks like a match race, and the odds reflect that: 1-Come Dancing (6-5) and 2-Midnight Bisou tower over the rest of the field. We give the edge to Come Dancing, but the fact that Come Dancing drew the rail, and Midnight Bisou drew just outside her, gives Midnight Bisou a tactical edge. One of them will win; we just don't know which. This is another race we will watch rather than bet.
The Jaipur has a field of nine, but one of them stands out: 8-World of Trouble. This Jason Servis trainee is a win machine; she has won 8 of 12 career starts (and has hit the board in 11 of them). She is even money on the morning line, and figures to win this one at an even shorter price. We will pass on betting this race.
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The Acorn drew a field of nine, and is a fascinating race. 7-Guarana is the 2-1 favorite, even though she's only run once: she's favored because she won her first career start -- a maiden race at Keeneland in April -- by almost 15 lengths, blowing away the field and earning a big speed figure. She could be the real deal. But we are going to go with a long shot here. This race screams pace meltdown, because there are many front-running types in here, and (this is important) none of them appears to be fast enough to get an uncontested early lead. This means they may all run too fast, and that will set the race up for 6-Proud Emma, who's the best late runner of the group. This is a stab, but we're getting 20-1 on Proud Emma, so will bet her to win and root for a suicidal speed duel up front.
Belmont Park Race 7
$20 W on 6-Proud Emma
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The Woody Stephens is a terrific race, with a very good field. 9-Mind Control is a strong play here. Seven furlongs is probably his optimal distance, and he should be able to sit behind what looks to be a very, very fast early pace, and pounce late. We will bet him to win at 5-2.
Belmont Park Race 8
$30 W on 9-Mind Control
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Many grizzled railbirds have been saying all week that the Metropolitan Handicap (aka the Met Mile) is the race of the day, and it's hard to argue with that. This field is as good as we've seen in a race in many, many moons. There are some seriously good horses in here, and many intellectually stimulating handicapping questions to ask. Is 1-Coal Front the best dirt miler in the world? Can freakishly fast 3-Mitole carry his speed a mile? Can 4-Thunder Snow win a major race anywhere outside of Dubai? These are all good questions, but we like 2-McKinzie in here. He has struggled in longer races, but this one-turn mile should be right in his wheelhouse, and as he showed in the Alysheba last month, and in the Malibu at Santa Anita in December, when he's good, he can beat anybody. We'll bet McKinzie at 5-2 to win the Met Mile.
Belmont Park Race 9
$30 W on 2-McKinzie
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The Manhattan is a great race, and the field in this edition is excellent: these are some of the best turf horses in training. We like both 8-Bricks and Mortar and 10-Channel Maker, who are both in top form and who are both serious threats to win the race. We have a hard time separating them, so we'll take the easy way out and box them in the exacta.
Belmont Park Race 10
$20 Exacta Box 8,10
That's all for today. Enjoy the sensational day of racing. And as always, good luck at the windows.