Blink and you may miss him. The speedy Shancelot runs against Omaha Beach today at Santa Anita.
Blink and you may miss him. The speedy Shancelot runs against Omaha Beach today at Santa Anita.|NYRA / Chelsea Durand

Horse Racing: Garrity picks Saturday Stakes at Belmont Park, Keeneland and Santa Anita in the final prep weekend for the Breeder's Cup

His first post time is 4:15 pm EDT.

Chris Garrity


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It's a coast-to-coast smorgasbord of top-level racing today, as this is the last of the big day of Breeders Cup prep races. Belmont, Keeneland,and Santa Anita will run six Grade 1, four Grade 2, and two Grade 3 stakes; it's just a tremendous lineup. We can't cover them all, but we will look at as many as we can, so let's get right to it. We expect fast dirt and firm turf at all these tracks; let's go.

Belmont Park. Race 8, 4:15 pm ET

Grade 2 Hill Prince Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3-year-olds

A good field of nine drew into the Hill Prince. We like a literal and parimutuel outsider here: 3-Taos. This colt ships to New York from France, where he has been running well, including a solid fourth in a Group 2 race at Deauville in August. This horse checks a couple of handicapping boxes that we look for in Euro imports in grass stakes races: he's trained by a top conditioner (Jean-Cloude Rouget), and he's run better on firmer rather than softer turf (he won a listed race at Toulouse in April on a course rated firm). The thinking here is that a sharp trainer will bring the horse to the U.S. to get the firm turf that they rarely get in Europe. We think that Taos has a big shot here, and because American bettors are unfamiliar with him, he's a positively juicy 15-1 on the morning line. We will bet him to win. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 8, $30 to win on 3-Taos.

Belmont Park. Race 9, 4:50 pm ET

Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Stakes, 1 1/2 miles, turf, 3 & up

This race is a highlight of the Belmont Park fall meeting, partly because it's such a great race, one with a great and rich history, and partly because of who it's named for: Joe Hirsch was a legendary turf writer for the Daily Racing Form, a towering figure in the history of the sport, and a mentor to many, many others. It's fitting that such a great race will be run today in his memory.

The field of the Hirsch came up a bit short, with only seven runners, but as the old saying goes, the entrants make up in quality what they lack in quantity. There isn't a bad horse in this group.

While it's a strong field, there is one thing that is glaringly missing: any speed whatsoever. The runners are all slow early/fast late types, and while that closing style is what one typically wants in a turf runner -- most turf races are won by horses coming from off the pace -- when a field is filled only with stretch-runners, the pace can be very, very slow, and these slow-paced races can create chaotic results.

It is for this reason that we are picking a price here: it's 6-Ya Primo. We have been on this Chad Brown trainee since he came up from his native Chile earlier this year, but so far, his American racing career has been a disappointment: He was a good second in the Bowling Green at Saratoga in July, but then he ran a terrible race in the Sword Dancer, setting the pace and fading badly to finish last. This kind of form is normally not something one wants to hang one's hat on.

But there are a couple of reasons to think that he may be sitting on a big race today. One is that this is his third start in this country, his third start in his current form cycle, and this is sometimes when horses deliver a peak effort. The other reason is to us more important: He's the only runner in this race with any early speed whatsoever. We see him making the lead while setting absurdly slow fractions, and that will turn the race into a half-mile sprint where he has a head start. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 9, $30 to win on 6-Ya Primo.

Belmont Park. Race 10, 5:22 pm ET

Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, 1 mile, dirt, 2-year-olds

A field of seven will go to the post in the Champagne, and it's a great race, from both a sporting and wagering perspective. We think the race, at least as far as picking a winner is concerned, comes down to two runners: 8/5 morning line favorite 3-Green Light Go, and 5/2 second choice 7-Tiz the Law.

We prefer Green Light Go. Tiz the Law could not have been more impressive breaking his maiden at Saratoga in August, earning a 90 Beyer Speed Figure, but he had an absolutely perfect trip in that race, and we expect him to find the waters a lot deeper today. While we have concerns about Green Light Go's ability to go longer distances -- he may be a bet-against in the Breeders Cup Juvenile in three weeks -- we think today's mile distance will not be an issue, especially since one-mile races at Belmont Park are run around one turn. We expect a huge run from Green Light Go today, and we will bet him to win. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 10, $50 to win on 3-Green Light Go.

Keeneland. Race 7, 4:29 pm ET

Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

There'a very deep and evenly matched field of nine in this race, but we like 8-Chalon. This 5-year-old mare and Arnaud Delacour trainee is as consistent as they come: in each of her last seven races, she has earned a Beyer Speed Figure between 91 and 93. This defies belief, frankly, as these horses are living, breathing animals, not machines. We think that her usual effort will be good enough to take this one, and we also think that her stalking style will help her: she should sit just off the pace, and win the race with a move at the top of the stretch. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 7, $20 to win on 8-Chalon.

Keeneland. Race 8, 5:04 pm ET

Grade 1 First Lady Stakes, 1 mile, turf, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up

The First Lady came up incredibly strong this year; it's a sensational field, the best of the day. There's a full field of 14, and if you changed the title at the top of the past performances, it would pass as a Breeders Cup race very easily. This is horse racing at its absolute best.

We are going with another European import, and another big price, in this one: it's 13-Just Wonderful, who's trained by Aiden O'Brien. This 3-year-old filly has been running at the highest level, Group 1 races in Ireland and England, but she is another runner who looks to be better on firmer turf, as was proved by her lone U.S. start, the Belmont Oaks in July, when she finished a valiant second after a trip that was tough for her from a pace standpoint (the early pace was slow, which played against her late-running style), and from a trip standpoint (she was wide the whole way around the course). She appears to us to have improved, and matured physically, since July, which makes her a major threat to take this race at a big price. We will bet her to win at 12-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 8, $40 to win on 13-Just Wonderful.

Keeneland. Race 9, 5:39 pm ET

Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders' Futurity Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, dirt, 2-Year-Olds

The embarrassment of riches continues, as here is is another very, very good Grade 1 race, this for juvenile colts going 8 1/2 furlongs on the Keeneland main track. While this field does not appear to be quite as good or as deep at the field in the Champagne, it's nevertheless a very good race, to watch and to bet. The ten runners all appear to be talented.

10-Gouverneur Morris is the 5/2 morning line favorite, and while he's a good horse, the post position draw did him no favors; we think that breaking from the 10 post virtually eliminates him from win contention. Watch how he runs, as he might be a good pick in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, but in this one, he's a play-against.

We like 8-Ajaweed. This colt, trained by Kieran McLaughlin for the Shadwell Stable, broke his maiden in a one-turn mile at Belmont Park last out, but we think the added distance today will favor him: he's by Curlin, who is a strong sire in two-turn dirt races, and in his maiden win, he showed a very impressive ability to sit off a fast pace and finish strongly. We expect the shape of this one to play right in his wheelhouse: we see him sitting midpack, behind a solid early pace, and winning the race with a strong stretch move. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 9, $20 to win on 8-Ajaweed.

Keeneland. Race 10, 6:15 pm ET

Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile, 1 mile, turf, 3 & Up

Here's another race that's deep enough to pass for a Breeders Cup race. There are 14 entrants in the Shadwell, and it's a skullbuster of a race to handicap: the race lacks a clear favorite, and there are horses coming into it from all over the place, racetracks hither and yon, and to try to dope out a winner, one needs to be able to try to figure out how they will run on the first Saturday in October in Kentucky.

We like a European import, 10-Vintager. This 4-year-old gray gelding is not exactly a win machine, with 4 wins from 13 career starts, but three of those wins have come at today's mile distance. In a race where the top American starters appear to be a cut below true Grade 1 ability, we will look for an outsider to come and take the prize in the Shadwell. One more reason to like this horse: Trainer Charlie Appleby has brought five horses to the U.S. from Europe this year -- and three of them have won, a remarkable 60% strike rate. We will be cheering for him to make it four out of six, because we will be betting on Vintager to win at 10-1. The bet: Keeneland, Race 10, $30 to win on 10-Vintager.

Santa Anita Park. Race 9, 7:55 pm ET

Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, 6 furlongs, dirt, 3 & Up

Due to a desire to keep this post shorter than the sequel to War & Peace, we are going to look at only one stakes race at Santa Anita today, but it's a good one: it's a Grade 1 sprint at 6 furlongs on the dirt, and it features the return of 2-Omaha Beach, who was the early Kentucky Derby favorite before being scratched a few days prior to the race.

A horse like this would normally earn favoritism based on name recognition alone, but that's not the case today, as the freakishly fast 3-Shancelot drew just outside of him. Shancelot, like Omaha Beach a 3-year-old colt, entered the Beyer Speed Figure stratosphere winning the Amsterdam in July at Saratoga, an effort that earned him an otherworldly Beyer fig of 121. This was the highest figure any horse has earned, at any distance and on any surface, in several years. He finished second as the heavy favorite

We think that a lot of players today will be betting Omaha Beach on name recognition, and on class -- he's undeniably a high-class colt -- but we think he is very vulnerable in this spot: he's never run this short before -- his shortest previous race was at 7 furlongs -- and he's absolutely never run against a horse as freakishly fast as Shancelot. We think Shancelot is a terrific play, even at a relatively short price, because the presence of Omaha Beach will inflate his odds higher than they should be. Shancelot should be 1/5, but we may get even money, or close to it, because of all the money that will be bet on Omaha Beach. We think that makes Shancelot an overlay, and it's a reminder that not all overlays are 15-1 -- even a horse at odds-on can be an overlay if he's overwhelmingly superior, as we think Shancelot is in this race. We will bet Shancelot to win at 4/5, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $75 to win on 3-Shancelot.

That's all for today. Enjoy the racing -- it's a sensational day -- and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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