Friday, June 8, 2012

Belmont Stakes Thoughts, Undercard Picks, Other Stakes

The racing world was shocked this morning with the news that Derby & Preakness winner I'll Have Another has been withdrawn from the Belmont Stakes due to an injury. He hurt himself within the last two days of his training. The expected massive disappointed crowd will have 5 stakes appetizers (4 graded) to watch before the now deflated main event. This stakes run the gamut from sprinting on the dirt to long-distance routing on the turf. This blog will offer some brief thoughts about them, then the big race itself, then a brief word about the stakes action at Hollywood Park.

The first stake on the Belmont Stakes card is the Easy Goer Stakes for three year olds going 1m & 1/16th. Created to fill the hole in the all stakes P6 caused by the moving of the G1 Acorn to Memorial Day weekend. This race could be a barometer for the Belmont, as Teeth of the Dog comes out of a 5th place finish in the Preakness. Brimstone Island comes out of a 2nd in an allowance race on the Preakness undercard that Belmont Stakes entrant Paynter won. Skyring completes is his own triple crown, as he ran and won races on both the Derby and Preakness undercards. This race is a tough call because horses come in from several different races, making it hard to judge class levels. This blog has chased Skyring through victory and defeat in the past, but this is his 9th race this year, and sooner or later it has to catch up to him. This blog will pass on offering a selection.

The first graded stake on the card is the True North Handicap (6 furlongs). Five of the eight entrants have won a graded stakes in the last year. Giant Ryan won the Grade 1 Vosburgh last year over this very track. After a failed attempt over in Dubai, he comes back to the states in this race. Smiling Tiger is the morning line favorite in his second race back from an eight plus month layoff. He usually runs better first off the layoff than in the 2nd race back, but he ran very poorly last time out. Hamazing Destiny broke a twenty month losing streak last time out winning the G3 Maryland Sprint Handicap. Like his stablemates Skyring & Belmont entrant Optimizer, he is completing the undercard triple crown. Royal Currier has made his connections a nice living picking off ungraded stakes, but can he handle the step up to graded company this time? This blog is skipping this race as well, as it is a real headscratcher.

The Just A Game is the first Grade 1 on the card and the first leg of the guaranteed $1 million Pick 4. This blog is going to take a stand both against Winter Memories and Hungry Island. Winter Memories has many, many fans as she has overcome some questionable rides to win with a late flourish.But this blog feels she is better around two whole turns than the one-& 1/16th turn the one mile distance is run at Belmont. She figures to be once again at depressed odds. The stand against Hungry Island is a tenuous one as she just won a nice turf stakes on the Derby undercard at this distance. This blog just has a hunch that she will regress on the turn back to from two turns and off a career best race. The two who will be on the Pick 4 ticket are Wallis (the pick) and Sylvestris. Wallis comes off a 5 month layoff after tiring going slightly further in a Grade 3. The cutback to one-turn and to a flat mile will definitely help her. She has an abbreviated worktab but her trainer C. Clement has good numbers off the layoff. Sylvestris stretches off a smashing win over this course going seven furlongs last out. Mike Smith picks up the mount and appears to be on the improve.

The G3 Woody Stephens (7 furlongs) is so hard to handicap that this blog suggests that the reader use as many as he/she can afford. (It's so hard the blog can't even come up with token analysis!)

The Grade 1 Manhattan brings together an interesting lot, including a Southern California invader. The speed of this rather paceless race figures to be Hudson Steele. Coming off a win in the Grade 2 Dixie last out, he stretches out further than he has ever ran before in ten furlongs. His trainer Todd Pletcher has won many Grade 1 in his career, but this race has alluded him. The tenth furlong figures to be his downfall based on his sire, though with the possible easy fractions he could set, it may be within his grasp.Omayad (Chi) is the Southern California invader, choosing to go here instead of staying home for the Charles Whittingham Handicap under the same conditions (but a smaller purse). He won multiple grade 1 races in his native Chile. He had a solid comeback race in his North American debut last time out, though the 3rd place finisher lost a claiming race next time out and the 4th place finisher was well beaten in the American Handicap. This blog feels that Omayad might be the best horse going forward but not today. Brilliant Speed comes out of a good third behind an easy lead gate-to-wire winner in the Woodford Reserve on the Derby undercard. That race looks to be very strong in spite of the winner's trip. He has three snappy workouts since the race and he is the pick.

The complexion of the Belmont Stakes changed with the scratch of I'll Have Another. The probable crowd size will dramatically shrink with no triple crown in the line, which will help the chances of one horse in particular. Paynter is the one horse I thought had the talent to beat I'll Have Another in the Belmont if you had asked me three weeks ago. My biggest reservation with him is that after see him school multiple times over the winter live (and on video before the triple crown races is that he doesn't seem to be all there mentally. Maybe it is his lack of seasoning or he is just that type of horse, but he seems to let little things affect him. This is bad news as he will need all the energy he can save for the grueling twelve furlongs. Union Rags will be heavily backed by his rabid fan base, but this blog's feelings have not changed about him since the Derby. The same reasons this blog did not like him in the Derby (distance, inability to handle traffic) still apply. He will via for favoritism with Dullahan. Dullahan has only two wins, both on Polytrack, but closed with a rush to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. He seems to fit the mold of a classic "Garbage Collector" type. The term was created after this writer's betting of Denis of Cork, who ran 3rd in the Derby and 2nd in the Belmont in 2008. In both of those races, this writer was certain going into the respective races that Denis of Cork would finished where they ended up finishing, and played those races accordingly. This blog will be playing Dullahan in the same way, keying him for 2nd. For a bomber, Atigun might be worth a flier. He is bred to be okay at the distance, comes off a win and has been training at Belmont for the last month.

Possible $1m guaranteed all stakes Pick 4 ticket:
Leg 1: Wallis, Sylvestris
Leg 2: ALL
Leg 3: Brilliant Speed
Leg 4: Atigun, Paynter (for now)
Cost: $20 (for a .50 base)

Patrons who head out to Hollywood Park to watch the Belmont Stakes there via simulcast will get to see three stakes, including the Grade 1 Whittingham Memorial Handicap. Two-time defending champion Acclamation goes for 3rd win in a row, but he will have to get through Slim Shadey (who is the pick and the best bet the whole weekend for this blog), who comes off a good 2nd in the Woodford Reserve on the Derby Day undercard. Two stakes for three year old grass fillies are also on tap. Possibly the best 3yo turf filly in the nation Lady of Shamrock headlines the 1m 1/8th G2 Honeymoon Handicap, a prep for the G1 American Oaks next month. Three races later, the turf sprinters get in the act with Manhattan Beach Stakes.


So there is a look at the action on a big day of action. It is not as epic a day as it was looking it would be, but nonetheless a day filled with stakes action. Good luck folks.

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