Not to sound like a broken record, but we love the “day before the big day” Friday cards. Breeders’ Cup Friday, Oaks, and Black Eyed Susan Day are long time Thorobros favorites. So we could not be more excited by NYRA’s continued development of the Belmont Racing Festival and in particular, the Friday card. And this year’s is their best effort to date. Full fields all day, highlighted by a late Friday afternoon Happy Hour all stakes Pick 4. It offers the perfect appetizer to a huge Saturday of racing at Belmont. In our typical fashion for these Friday cards, we offer our thoughts below on the late Pick 4 all stakes sequence. With first post of this sequence at 4:42, it’s the perfect opportunity to grab some friends, grab some beers, and fire some Pick 4 wagers.
Bonus: If you get to the track or in front of a TV early, take a shot with the 7 in the 7th—Bird’s Eye View. 30-1.
Race 8: The True North—Grade II–$250,000 (6f Main Track)
Some of the best sprinters in the world battle in this competitive six furlong stakes. The deserving favorite is No. 8 Whitmore. Winner of five straight and a perfect 6 for 6 in his career at the distance. But there are concerns, especially given the short price. He faces a deeper field here than he has in his last two wins and he’s wheeling back on shorter rest than he’s used to. Last time he wheeled back on similar rest, he ran the worst speed figure of his career (granted it was the Derby). That said, he is gutsy and was very impressive running by last year’s top sprinter AP Indian at Pimlico. He is a must use on Pick 4 tickets, but we are not willing to single him.
For a sprint race, this field is not overrun by speed horses. Chief Lion will likely be forwardly placed from the rail. Holy Boss will be near the front but likely sits just off the pace. Green Grato will likely press as well. However, none of those horses are need the lead types. Which is why, at 12-1, to we like No. 9 El Deal in this spot. He draws the far outside which allows Gaffalione to watch the race inside him unfold. On fractions, he is the quickest horse from the gate. He is coming off a new speed figure top, was given time, and has fired a series of solid works, culminating with his most recent effort at Monmouth. Jockey/trainer combo fires at 40%. Some may question his class but he ran a game second to Stallwalkin’ Dude last year. 12-1 morning line and figures to be even higher at post time.
3 Noholdingback Bear and 4 Stallwalkin’ Dude are proven sprinters seemingly on top of their game. The Dude got Bear last race, but Bear was coming off a long layoff. Bear is only 4 to Dude’s 7, so we see Bear as having a higher ceiling here. We expect Bear to be closer to the pace than his last effort and to get first run along with Whitmore.
Two other value considerations, especially if playing exactas and triples. First, No. 7 Roy H had a huge effort last out. It could have been he loved the wet and a bounce could be in store. But he gets time and sprinters are less prone to bounce off a big effort than route horses. Paco and Miller have won 2 of 3 starts the past year. 5 Fellowship seems like a horse without a plan. But we do like the turnback angle, as he exits the Pimlico Special. His last one turn race was a very good effort and earned him a respectable speed figure. He would need his best, but he has potential to pick off horses late.
A: 3, 8, 9
5 and 7 for value
Race 9: The New York – Grade II Stake (1 1/4 Miles, Inner Turf)
This is a great renewal of the New York. A very salty 9 horse field, with some of the best of the best in female Turf horses, trainers and jockeys. Although the race is filled with class from front to back, we were not able to end up with anything particularly clever on our “A” team, ending up with the two Chad Brown runners. As typically happens with Chad Brown on turf in New York, we wouldn’t expect to get too much of a price on either one, but we do think you may be able to get through this race in doubles, pick threes and pick fours by using just those two.
The morning line favorite in the race is Sea Calisi, breaking from the 6 post. Sea Calisis has done nothing wrong since coming stateside, with her only out of the money finish in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, in which she was in third and then was passed by a cavalcade of horses in the shadow of the wire. She appears better than ever based on her win in the Sheepshead Bay in her first start of 2017, and should relish the 1 1/4 mile distance and the Belmont turf, where she has a win, a second and a third in four lifetime starts. Our other “A” team is the “other” Chad Brown Dacita, who also is likely to be the second choice in the wagering. If Sassy Little Lila runs in this spot, and hooks up with Hawksmoor, Dacita should get pace to run at, and she generally seems to find a way to get it done, hitting the wire first in 9 of 17 lifetime starts. She has a win and a second in two starts on the Belmont sod, and two wins and a second from four starts at the distance. Look out for her charging late.
Our “B” team also has two members, number 4 Kitten’s Roar and 2 Suffused. Kitten’s Roar ended up a hard-charging 4th in the Jenny Wiley last time out, and was very wide. With a better trip, and with more ground in front of her, we think she stands to improve. Plus, we are banking on Mike Maker having this race as a target for her, which hopefully will result in her best effort. At 12-1 on the morning line, the price is right. Suffused ran the race of her life in finishing second to Sea Calisi in the Sheepshead Bay last time out. She had to pick her way through the lane, and perhaps with a cleaner trip may have a shot at that rival. She gets Jose Ortiz back in the irons, which is a positive, and gets a distance that she loves (three wins and three seconds in seven starts).
Final note: if Sassy Little Lila scratches (she is entered on Saturday as well), Hawksmoor stands out as being loose on the lead, and is worth a hard look.
Race 10—Belmont Gold Cup Invitational–Grade III ($400,000 2 Miles Turf)
It’s 5:45 on Friday night, you are already an hour into Happy Hour, a great weekend has begun. Life is good. Then Belmont throws you this 2 Mile gem and life is great! A true test of stamina, not just for the horses but for the handicappers as well. A very tough race to solve given the unusual U.S. distance and the flock of European invaders. We even have a pair of steeplechase horses from renowned Irish trainer Willie Mullins—one of which is turning back a mile and getting a 50 lb weight break (that’s like getting a golden retriever off your back). Bottom line, this race requires more guess work than the typical race. A favorite could very well win, but given all the questions, this race provides the ultimate green light to swing for the fences.
Betters Be Warned: As an added bonus, NYRA has a sneaky double, $300k guaranteed, with this race into the Belmont. Given how open both contests appear, this could be a lucrative proposition.
There are six Euros in here, and we think the winner likely comes from this group. Which one? We may play all six to be safe. But if forced to pick, we give the edge to Wall of Fire. Yes, the distance is a concern. But this horse appears to be on the rise, and at four years old, has room to improve. His trainer seems keyed on using this race to get an automatic berth to the Melbourne Cup in the fall, so we expect him to be amped for his best effort. By all reports, he handled the ship very well. He adds Lasix, which maybe helps him get the 2 miles. Add a top big race jock in Flo Geroux and an 8-1 price, and he gets our top pick. We like both Mullins horses next. We know both will get the distance. No. 12 Wicklow Brave figures to be closer to a slow pace and could get first run. However, No. 5 Clondaw Warrior will be the longer odds of an uncoupled entry (a favorite angle) and has a solid U.S. effort last year. His biggest problem, it’s been a loooongg time since he’s seen the winner’s circle in a flat race. No. 3 Now We Can finished second in this race last year. His form seems a little off headed into this race, however, so we will use defensively at best.
Of the Americans. Taghleeb is the most logical. This barn won the race last year and knows how to train a horse to get the two mile distance. We will likely take a flyer as well on our all-time favorite angle lone speed! No. 8 Roman Approval figures to have the lead. How long can he hold it is the question? He’s four for six at Belmont and at 20-1, we’ll hope he gets brave and hangs on at the end.
A’s: 4, 12
B’s: 3, 5, 8, 11, 10, 13
Belmont Double Thoughts:
$5 DD 3, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13/7
$2 DD: 4, 11, 12/ 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 12
Race 11 – The Bed O’ Roses – Grade III Stake (7f on Main Track)
This is a fun way to finish a great day of racing at Beautiful Belmont Park. There are a number of ways to go in here, but ultimately we settled on two horses as our As. First, we landed on Lightstream, who got caught wide on an off track in the Humana Distaff on Derby Day, which was not the best part of the track that day. Further, this is the second of a layoff for Lighstream, which is a 20% angle for trainer Brian Lynch. Lightstream is 4 of 6 in the exacta at 7 furlongs, which is a specialist’s distance. We look for JJ to get her home at 7/2 on the morning line. We also like number 3 Indulgent for Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin. Indulgent is turning back 1 furlong off of a subpar effort at a mile in the slop. But if she runs back to her start two back where she narrowly lost at today’s 7 furlong trip, she could be a handful. We are hoping that Irad can find a ground saving trip and then get first run at the pacesetters.
The B team in this race has three members. First we have number 4 Quezon. She has the most consistent Beyer speed figures in the race, and is 2 for 2 at the distance and 7 for 8 in the money at Belmont Park. She hasn’t caught a fast track since last summer at Saratoga, but any of her recent efforts should put her right in the mix. Number 9 By The Moon has the fastest last-out race, and is second off the layoff, which is a 27% angle for trainer Michelle Nevin. But By The Moon is only 1 for 8 at this 7 furlong distance, and that led us to demote her to the second team in this heat. Finally, number 7 Mia Torri projects as the leader out of the gate, and she might be out there all alone. She has won three of her last four starts, all of them racing on or near the lead. If she gets loose, she may just steal it at 10/1.