Garrity's Saturday Stakes picks 3 at Belmont, Monmouth's Long Branch, Santa Anita's San Luis Rey
A terrific card at Belmont Park is the highlight of the day on the national simulcast calendar. We have three plays there, plus one each at Monmouth Park, where it is opening day, and Santa Anita, for a five-pack of Saturday stakes action. We expect fast dirt and firm turf in all races, so let’s go.
Belmont Park, Race 5, 3:07 pm ET
Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes, 1 ⅜ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
A field of eight lines up for the Grade 1 Man o’ War. We tried to find a way to beat the favorite, 2-Warren Point, but we just can’t: he simply looks too good. He is a Godolphin colt trained by Charlie Appleby, connections who have made it a habit to win the biggest turf races on the New York circuit, and both the 11 furlong distance and the firm going appear to be right up his alley. We don’t think Warren Point will have much trouble beating this nondescript group of American runners, and while his price will be relatively short, we think that he’ll be a reminder of one of our handicapping axioms, that there is value in every winner. Look for him to gallop comfortably early, and to blow the race open late. He is 9/5 on the morning line, but will be shorter at post time; we will bet him to win anyway. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 5, $50 to win on 2-Warren Point.
Belmont Park, Race 6, 3:40 pm ET
Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Olds
An interesting group of nine 3-year-olds lines up for the Peter Pan, a race that is worth attention in its own right, but also because at least one or two of these runners will be in the field for the Belmont Stakes in four weeks. We are not overly enamored with any of the shorter-priced entrants, so we are going for a price, in the form of 3-Game Change, who spent the winter at Gulfstream Park, where he did manage to win one of three starts, a maiden race in February, but did not otherwise make anyone think he is the second coming of Seattle Slew.
But we think he is better than his running lines might indicate: in all of his races in Florida over the winter, he had the misfortune of trying to close into slow early paces, which is tough anywhere, but is especially difficult on Gulfstream’s dirt course, which generally favors speed. We think he will do much better today, and we view it as a positive that his trainer, Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, has entered him here, rather than an allowance race, which would be a much more logical spot. We will bet him to win at 20-1. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 6, $40 to win on 3-Game Change.
Monmouth Park, Race 8, 4:05 pm ET
$100,000 Long Branch Stakes, 1 mile 70 yards, 3-Year-Olds
An octet of sophomore colts goes to the gate in the Long Branch, the featured race on opening day at the Jersey Shore. We’re all in on 1-Slip Mahoney, who has been running against the big boys, the Gotham and the Wood, both Kentucky Derby preps at Aqueduct. He was not a match for the horses he faced in those contests, but should find the company here much less imposing. Look for him to prevail with a pace-pressing, ground-saving trip from his inside post position. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 1-Slip Mahoney.
Belmont Park, Race 9, 5:18 pm ET
Grade 3 Runhappy Stakes, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 4 & Up
The Runhappy drew a field of six. One of them, 2-Beren, comes from the barn of trainer Butch Reid, who is based at Parx in suburban Philadelphia, and who doesn’t ship to New York much – but merits attention when he does, as he does not make the trip up the New Jersey Turnpike without serious intent. Beren is sharp, having hit the board in seven consecutive races going back to last fall, and should get an ideal trip here, sitting just behind the pacesetters early, moving to the front around the far turn, and holding off the stretch runners late. We will bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Belmont Park, Race 9, $40 to win on 2-Beren.
Santa Anita Park, Race 9, 8:11 pm ET
Grade 3 San Luis Rey Stakes, 1 ½ miles, Turf, 4 & Up
Eight older turf marathoners line up for the San Luis Rey. It is no secret that the turf horses in Southern California, as a group, have been pretty terrible of late, which has us eyeing 2-Planetario, a 5-year-old, and relatively fresh face, who began his career in his native Brazil, where he won a couple of Group 1 stakes. He made his debut last year, when something evidently went amiss, as he’s been on the sidelines since June; but if his trainer, Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, thinks he’s ready for stakes company, then so do we. We also like the fact that he’s already won at the distance, something the rest of the field cannot say: four of the other seven runners have never run this far before, and the other three have a combined 0-for11 career record at a mile and a half. Add it up, and Planetario looks the best; we will bet him to win at 6-1 odds. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 9, $40 to win on 2-Planetario.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.