2017 Belmont Stakes Roundup (Pt 1/2)

A Closer Look at the Belmont Stakes Races

 Thursday & Friday

 

It is New York’s turn to have its’ own version of Derby Week.  And, just like Churchill Downs, and, to a lesser degree, Pimlico before it, Belmont Park is stacking up its Stakes Races to attract a crowd of both horses and fans to the Big Sandy this week.

 

The festivities get started on Thursday when Belmont hosts its first two stakes races of the week.  In the fifth, the 2-Year-Old fillies will be on display in the $150,000 Astoria Stakes.

 

Three races later, Belmont Park will be putting on the Grade 3, $250,000 Intercontinental Stakes for the older ladies.

 

After that the races are on.  The Stakes Races, that is.

 

On Friday, the track will play host to five more Stakes Races.  And, that’s just getting the fun started before the Belmont Stakes Day on Saturday.

 

So let’s take a closer look at the Thursday-Friday Stakes Card.  Tomorrow, we will zoom in on the Stakes on tap for Saturday. It promises to be a fun weekend of handicapping, wagering, and, hopefully, winning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belmont Park Stakes on Thursday:

 

  • The Astoria: $150,000 for 2YO Fillies going 51/2 Furlongs on the Dirt:

 

  • Sugar Queen, a daughter of Gemologist, was purchased in March of this year at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale for a handy $285,000, or $235,000 more than her daddy’s listed stud fee. And, she gave a good indication of why she was so valued in her first start, running off to a 31/4-length victory in a 5-furlong maiden event at Belmont on May 3.  She accomplished that feat after stumbling at the start.  Trained by Todd Pletcher, who has a win percentage of .29 with 2YOs, Sugar Queen figures to be the post-time favorite.
  • Pletcher has a more personal interest in another one here, though. One Last Catch, was bred by Todd and his father, JJ, and is still owned by that duo.  She went a little slower than Sugar Queen in her career debut, but One Last Catch was ultra impressive.  Breaking from the rail that day, One Last Catch had to stalk and had to wait for an opening on the rail on two different occasions.  But when her chance finally came, One Last Chance took advantage of her one chance and spurted away to an eye-popping 31/4-length victory in a 41/2-furlong race.  She draws the rail again, but already has one under her belt now.
  • Waki Patriot ships up to Belmont after running a tough-luck fourth in the $100,000 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs on May 4. This daughter of the little known stallion Awesome Patriot (who stands for a stud fee of $2,500), was steadied and brushed the rail in the turn for home, yet still finished only 21/4 lengths behind the highly touted Buy Sell Hold, who already has a couple of victories under her belt.  Waki Patriot tuned up with a bullet work out at little Ellis Park, the home track of trainer John Hancock.  This is an outfit you just have to root for and cheer on.

 

  • The Grade 3 Intercontinental: $250,000 for Fillies & Mares 4YO & Up, going 7 Furlongs on the Turf:

 

  • Mississippi Delta – a 5YO daughter of Giant’s Causeway – has won 6 times in 18 starts and has hit the board a total of 10 times. But she has never finished in the top three at Belmont Park.  Until this Thursday afternoon.  This mare ran huge in her last outing in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. Despite the fact that she hit the gate at the start and had to drift 4 to 5 wide on the turn, she still managed to run fourth to Roca Rojo and Believe in Bertie.  All she needs is a little luck to find her way to the winner’s circle on Thursday.
  • Fair Point didn’t get fully untracked in her seasonal debut at Belmont on April 30, running fourth in a listed stakes race. But that was just 6 furlongs, and this closer probably needed that race to tighten the screws for this job.  A year ago, she needed one before she popped the cork and this year may be no different.  If Fair Point comes back to run the race she did the end of 2016, watch out here.
  • Take These Chains, an Irish-bred 4YO filly trained by the master of the turf, Chad Brown, should be and likely will be the prohibitive favorite in this spot. And with good reason.  She has run only three races in her life and won them all – easily.  But it may not be as easy on Thursday, as she steps up to Stakes company for the first time.  She is another one that wants and likes a little speed to chase, and there are a couple that may cut the pace to her liking.  The question is whether or not the class is to her liking.

 

Belm          ont Stakes on Friday:

 

  • The Tremont Stakes: $150,000 for 2YOs going 51/2 Furlongs on the Dirt:

 

  • The male counterpart to The Astoria, this one may be dominated by the same trainer – Todd Pletcher, who has four of the eight entered. The top choice here just may be Pletcher’s Admiral Jimmy, a colt by Jimmy Creed.  This one started out on May 3 at Gulfstream Park and easily dispatched a group of 4 others.  Will face a tougher bunch and more of them on Friday, but this homebred was striking in his debut, running off by 31/2 lengths in a 41/2-furlong try.  And, it could have been more, if not for being throttled at the end.  Went the first half in :44 4/5 seconds.  That is moving some air.
  • Salmanazar is another one here trained by Pletcher, and this one is my personal favorite to capture the Tremont. He broke from the extreme outside when he broke his maiden at Keeneland on April 26.  The horse he beat that day, by an easy 11/2 lengths, was a colt by the name of Cooper Bullet who just came back in impressive fashion to break his maiden at Churchill.  A good one beating a good one deserves to be called a good one.
  • Direct Dial could be the one in here to derail the Pletcher train. And, what a story this one has begun to script.  This Texas-bred – still owned by Ambassador Farish — is by the little known stallion Too Much Bling, who stands for a mere $4,500.  He was trotted to the starting gate for the first time at Keeneland on April 26.  He trotted away from the field of 9 to win by 73/4 lengths.  That’s hard to ignore.

 

  • The G2 True North Stakes: $250,000 for 4YOs & Up going 6 Furlongs on the Dirt:

 

  • Whitmore, who was one of the “hot horses” before the 2016 Kentucky Derby, has found a nice niche in the sprinter’s ranks. Since finishing a disastrous 19th of 20 in that Derby, Whitmore has been returned to the races by trainer Ron Moquett.  His first try was in December of 2016, which Whitmore won.  It was the first of five straight victories – the last two coming in the G3s.  In his career, Whitmore has now raced 6 furlongs on six separate occasions.  He is undefeated at the distance.  Gets his first try at Belmont Park on Friday. On paper, it looks to be more of the same.
  • Noholdingback Bear wants a little pace to run into and certainly will get that on Friday. If his jockey can keep him out of trouble (and that may not be possible) then he could have a chance.
  • Stallwalkin’ Dude doesn’t miss many dances. He won on his return trip from Dubai, and that’s tough to do. But his calling card is Belmont.  Ten tries here with 4 wins, two seconds and two thirds for over a half million in earnings on this oval.  Home field advantage?

 

  • The Grade 2 New York Stakes: $500,000 for Fillies & Mares 4YO & Up going 11/4 miles on the Turf:

 

  • Suffused, born and bred in Great Britain, has found her stride on this side of the great divide. Since coming to America in 2016, she has raced 9 times – winning four, with three seconds and one third.  Not bad.  She had back-to-back wins to start this year, but got caught napping in her last on a very yielding course.  She gets a new jock on Friday, and, in my opinion, gets to return to an old, familiar location – the winner’s circle.
  • Sea Calisi, a French-bred, beat Suffused in their last race – the G2 Sheepshead Bay at Belmont. And, this one is a bear of a horse.  She has four lifetime starts at Belmont with two wins, a second and a third.  But get this?  The rider in her last gets off to ride another horse in here and she has only one win at this distance in four tries.  This millionaire filly will give it all.  She does every time.
  • Dacita, a Chilean-bred mare by Scat Daddy, makes this Stakes a true international, United Nations affair. This one does prefer this distance and picks up her regular rider in Irad Ortiz, Jr. – who rode Sea Calisi in her last.  In her last four starts, she has won two by a couple of bobs and run second twice in a couple of bobs.  Another that should be right there at the end.

 

  • The Grade 3 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational: $400,000 for 4YOs & Up going 2 Miles on the Turf:

 

  • Taghleeb, a hard-grinding 6YO now, has never won on the Belmont Park grass, but has never lost going 2 long miles on the grass. One will give on Friday.  He normally stays near the back of the pack and makes one huge run in the stretch.  Was too close to the pace in his last after a bobble at the break and that may have cost him his closing kick.  Figures to make a huge run in his third race back off a layoff.
  • Now We Can is an 8YO and is 0-for-2 in his two starts this year overseas. But he did ship to Belmont for this very race a year ago and he nearly pulled off the upset, finishing a closing second to Da Big Hoss.  He went into last year’s version much sharper than he does this year.  So, Father Time may have spoken.
  • Irish-bred Red Cardinal comes into this marathon off a victory at the distance – in Germany. He will get his first start in the States on Friday, but is sharp right now.  This son of Montjeu is bred to run all day, and bred to run well.  He may just do both.
  • Renown, bred in Great Britain, comes into this one off three straight wins. Wants to be close to the pace and that may help on Friday, in a race that does not boast a ton of front runners.  Will be on the lead or close thereto for awhile.  But he’s never been farther than 11/2 miles.

 

  • The Grade 3 Bed O’Roses Invitational Stakes: $250,000 for Fillies & Mares 4YO & Up going 7 Furlongs on Dirt:

 

  • High Ridge Road, trained by Linda Rice, is much better than her last two races would indicate. You can throw out the G1 Madison, when she was bothered and run so far wide throughout.  Her last race was another peculiar run, in the slop, which she has handled before.  Figures to get a better trip on Friday and if she does, look out.
  • By the Moon ran a huge one from just off the pace in the G3 Vagrancy at Belmont on May 5, but she excels on an off track. If she gets a dry track, she may not be good enough to beat High Ridge Road – who nabbed her in two straight before.  She does love Belmont, though, and she will get the first jump on the rest of them.
  • Lightstream is not as accomplished as the previous two, but does like this distance, with three wins in six starts at the unusual 7 furlongs. This closer must get the perfect path to have a shot, but she does get HOF rider JJ Castellano, and he is capable of finding the right door.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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