Despite the defection of I’ll Have Another from the Belmont Stakes, and the resulting lack of interest for me personally in the outcome of the race, the undercard of today’s Belmont Stakes is full of high-quality stakes action. I’m going to try and be as brief as possible while going over my selections in each race in Belmont’s pick six.
The Easy Goer S.
My best play of the day is in this race, and its #5 Brimstone Island. His last race was a deceptively great effort in running second to Paynter at Pimlico. Paynter, of course, will run in the Belmont Stakes later today. Brimstone Island was second throughout in the 1 1/16th mile allowance race, and though he was beaten 5 3/4 lengths by Paynter, he was 8 3/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher. He is 4-for-4 in the exacta at 1 1/16th (if you include his maiden-breaking score at 1 mile, 70 yards at Delaware), and while he began his career in claiming company, he has proven that he can handle stakes company. He is 9-for-11 in the money, and his only efforts ou of the top three were his debut at six furlongs, where he finished a well-beaten 4th, and a $260k stakes race at Charles Town. In that race, he was 5th, but was beaten only 2 1/4 lengths and lacked room late. Around Charles Town’s bullring track, the effort is not embarrassing in the least.
The morning line favorite is #6 Teeth of the Dog. His last start was in the Preaknes, where he finished 5th behind I’ll Have Another and Bodemeister. Prior to that, he’d finished 3rd in the Wood Memorial. He is a nice racehorse, but I think he’ll be an underlay and not worth betting in here. #4 Skyring is another horse I find interesting. I think he’ll be on or near the lead, and he has proven to be a very game horse – all three of his career wins were by a neck. If the race comes down to a fight, I’d give him the edge over any of the others.
$2 Win – #5 Brimstone Island
$2 Exacta Box – #4 Skyring / #5 Brimstone Island / #6 Teeth of the Dog
The Truth North Handicap (G2)
This is my favorite race of the entire card. I absolutely love #5 Royal Currier in this spot at 12-1 morning line odds. This horse is in the best form of any horse in this field, and though he’ll be receiving a class test from the likes of G1 winners Smiling Tiger and Giant Ryan, he has faced some good company before. Last time out he was an impressive winner of a 6f stakes race at Belmont (where’s he’s 2-for-2) over This One’s For Phil. He was only four lengths behind Calibrachoa and Caleb’s Posse in the Tom Fool Handicap on March 3rd, and prior to that defeated JJs Lucky Train in the Valley Forge Stakes. On top of being the “now” horse, Royal Currier should be on the lead, perhaps pressed by #2 Crossbow, another interesting longshot but one that has not proven his class the way Royal Currier has.
#3 Smiling Tiger would be the horse to beat on his best form, but his only start this year was a dull one. Two of his best races have been going 7f off of a layoff (though a much shorter break than the one before the Churchill Downs Stakes) – the 2010 Malibu Stakes and the 2011 Triple Bend Handicap. After both of those races he shortened up to 6f and did not replicate his effort. I’m just not sure if we’ll see the best of Smiling Tiger this afternoon.
#6 Giant Ryan is making his first start since competing in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. He had a great streak of races last year, but had a rough trip in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and then ran a fairly average race in Dubai. I’d pick him before Smiling Tiger, but I don’t know if he’s ready to run what I think will have to be a very good race to defeat Royal Currier. Even so, he’ll be my second choice.
#7 Caixa Electronica is my third pick. He ran a flat race behind Shackleford and Caleb’s Posse in the Met Mile, and is coming back on short notice to compete here. I don’t think this will be a problem, although his past races off short rest have not been his best. Prior to the Met Mile he won the Charles Town Classic, and has proven in the past that he is a pretty classy horse.
$2 Win – #5 Royal Currier
$2 Exacta Box – #5 Royal Currier / #6 Giant Ryan / #7 Caixa Electronica
The Just A Game Stakes (G1)
This race is likely to be the chalkiest race on the afternoon, with the two favorites #4 Winter Memories and #5 Hungry Island looking hard to pick against. Winter Memories has proven time and again that she is a top-class turf filly with a breathtaking turn of foot, and after her win in the Beaugay last month, I think she’s back as good as ever. Hungry Island has been in great form, though, and has defeated Winter Memories before, albeit when the latter had significant traffic trouble. Winter Memories has come out on top in their other two meetings. I believe it will be these two to decide it, although #1 Tapitsfly is a nice filly in her own right and finished just a length behind Hungry Island last time out. She is the likely pacesetter and if she’s allowed to do her own thing she could be dangerous.
$2 Win – #4 Winter Memories
$2 Exacta Box – #1 Tapistfly / #4 Winter Memories / #5 Hungry Island
$2 W/P/S – #1 Tapistfly
The Woody Stephens Stakes (G2)
The favorite in this race is #1 Hierro, who last time out defeated Paynter in the Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill while running a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. He’ll be facing known speedball #6 Trinniberg, who finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby after pressing Bodemeister through fast fractions. Back to his preferred one-turn races, Trinniberg should come back strong. He won both of his 7f races this year by daylight – the Swale by 6 lengths and the Bay Shore by 3 lengths. He’ll be the pacesetter, though #3 Il Villano may try to pressure him early. If he does, the horse that could be well-poised to overtake them both is #9 Currency Swap, who will be my selection. He is 2-for-2 at 7f, and his only bad race was the 1 1/8 mile Illinois Derby. He actually defeated Trinniberg in the 7f Hopeful Stakes as a two-year-old, and I feel that one turn races will end up being his best game. At 8-1 on the morning line, he seems like a solid play to me.
$2 Win – #9 Currency Swap
$2 Exacta Box – #1 Hierro / #6 Trinniberg / #9 Currency Swap
The Manhattan Handicap (G1)
My pick in this 1 1/4-mile turf event in #2 Boisterous. He’s a consistently solid runner who is 2-for-2 at the distance and 4-for-6 on the Belmont turf course. I expect him to be stalking 2-4 lengths off of #7 Hudson Steele early and being in a good position to pounce late. #4 Desert Blanc, however, will be a major threat. He was only a length behind Boisterous in the Fort Marcy last time out in his first start in the United States. He broke a step slow in that race and is likely to improve in his second start for Chad Brown.
#6 Brilliant Speed is the other horse I think is worth considering in this spot. He has proven to be a classy turf horse, and I think the 1 1/4 distance of the Manhattan Handicap will suit him well. His best lifetime Beyer came in the 1 1/2-mile Breeders Cup Turf, where he finished third to St Nicolas Abbey and Sea Moon. He also finished third in last year’s Belmont Stakes, and ran a deceptively good race in the Kentucky Derby as well, despite finishing 7th. He ran a solid third in the Turf Classic on this year’s Kentucky Derby undercard, and I think the extra furlong will be very beneficial to him.
$2 Win – #2 Boisterous
$2 Exacta Box – #2 Boisterous / #4 Desert Blanc / #6 Brilliant Speed
The Belmont Stakes (G1)
Hearing the news of I’ll Have Another’s retirement was one of the most disappointing things that has happened to me in a while, but it does make the Belmont a terrific betting race. My opinion is that there are 5 horses that can possibly win – #1 Street Life, #3 Union Rags, #5 Dullahan, #9 Paynter, and #4 Atigun. Street Life is probably my top pick, though I am hoping that the rumors of his maturity indicate he’ll be more forwardly placed than he has been in the past. Dullahan will have similar challenges to overcome, and though he has proven that he is a consistently classy horse, I still have my doubts about him. Of course, he could settle all of those doubts today.
Union Rags has a long stride that is tailor-made for the Belmont track config, and he can be reasonably tactical, but the 12 furlong distance is a massive question for him. If he can get the distance, then he’ll win. Paynter has been good so far and he might get the perfect trip sitting just behind Unstoppable U.
Atigun is probably the horse I’ll bet, though. I think of the 5 I listed, I am the most confident that he will bring home a check. I think he’s very likely to hit the board, though I don’t really think he’s talented enough to win. He’s just the kind of horse that tends to be able to win this kind of race – one-paced, something of a grinder, and although Istan wasn’t a router by any means, Atigun is out of a Dynaformer mare and his 4th dam is a 1/2 sister to Somethingroyal (the dam of Secretariat), and is by Secretariat’s sire Bold Ruler. He’s honestly the only horse I feel confident in, and my confidence is simply that he will run well. Since he’ll likely be around 30-1, I think he’s well worth a show bet at the very least.
$2 W/P/S – #4 Atigun