2017 BELMONT STAKES ROUNDUP (PT 2/2)

Part two of Gene McLean’s look at the Belmont Stakes. Gene provides a breakdown of key races and how they will run. Be sure to read part one.

2nd: 3-7-5…Easy Goer Stakes…Rarely do I ever look at betting a maiden winner in their very next start against winners. It is a difficult condition to climb. Here, I not only look but sound the alarms as this one jumps from MSW to Stakes Company. But does so with authority. Wicked Macho (3) just so happened to break his maiden by beating a horse named Ntestinlfortitude – and remember that name for later this summer. That one, trained by Dale Romans, has won two in a row since that loss, both by open lengths at Churchill Downs and both very impressively. Wicked Macho comes into this one with the least experience, but, in my book, the most talent. I go next to West Coast (7), a son of Flatter who brought $425,000 at sale. Trained by Bob Baffert, this one made the lead in the G3 Lexington Stakes late, only to have the victory snatched by Senior Investment – who shows up later today. He is on the improve. I also will include Local Hero (5). Tough luck in his last at Pimlico, when the rider (Florent Geroux) got him into all kinds of trouble, having to check repeatedly. Complete throw out. Gets new rider today and should. I bet the 3 to win/place and then box the 3-7-5. I wheel the 3 over/under the “all button.”

4th: 5-7-4-1-3…G2 Brooklyn Invitational…On paper, this marathon looks like it could shape up as a 2-horse race, but races are not run on paper – unless you consider synthetic (of which I am NOT a fan). Tu Brutus (5) has been ultra impressive since arriving in this country this year from Chile. He is a Chilean-bred, but is by Scat Daddy – one of the best stallions of his generation. This one nearly won the Excelsor in his first North American start and off a layoff, but, to do that one better and prove that run was no fluke, Tu Brutus came right back to win the Flat Out Stakes at 1 ¾ miles on this track. That run back makes him very tough again today. Sent It In (4) got a ridiculous Beyer Speed Figure of 119 in beating Tu Brutus by a narrow ½-length in the Excelsor. And, the son of Big Brown has two wins in three starts this year. But, in my book, he has to “bounce” off that career high race and come back to earth and the field, just a tad today. If that is the case, I think it may allow War Story (7) to make a serious bid, too. He ran a huge one in the Charles Town Classic, losing by two necks to Imperative and Matt King Coal. The latter came back to win impressively this week. I bet the 5 to win/place and then key over/under all the numbers above. I also bet one exacta of 5-7 over/under the “all button.”

4th: 3-1-8-5-7…G1 Acorn Stakes…What a nice race this has turned out to become, as far as entries go. And, some intrigue, too. Abel Tasman (3) is the obvious newsmaker in the crowd, coming off a huge win in the KY Oaks (my selection – at $9.20-1). But what is interesting is that trainer Bob Baffert brings her back in this one, going only a mile. She is backing up a full furlong. But I don’t think it will matter. Since Baffert has gotten her, he has equipped her with blinkers and she seemed like a different girl in the Oaks and she has already won at this distance. Mike Smith is in the saddle and he is the best. Union Strike (1) is 8-1 ML, but I think warrants a serious look in here. She gets another furlong today, and I think she will relish the extra distance. She was a fast-closing second to Benner Island in the Eight Belles at Churchill and just beaten a head. Look out today. Salty (8) was highly touted going into the Oaks, but it was apparent that she didn’t like the mud from the get go in that one. Maybe overly touted that day, but she still can run – evidenced by her impressive 41/2-length victory over a suspect field in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Gets a better footing today and may look to make amends – but she had better bring her “A Game.” I bet the 3 to win/place – again. Very nice filly here. I wheel over/under the numbers above in the exactas and I key her in all the horizontals (pick 3s, 4s, 5s, etc)…Bet of the Day – Abel Tasman.

5th: 5-5-5-5-5 (you get the picture)…G1 Ogden Phipps…This marks the return of the great Songbird (5) – once defeated by a nostril hair to the great Beholder in one of the most memorial races in the sport’s history – the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Songbird is back for her 4YO campaign and this is a Welcome Back Party. She only has 11 wins in 12 lifetime starts and over $3.7 million in earnings. Great to have you back, grand lady.

6th: 3-4-10-6-2…G3 Jaipur Stakes…Pure Sensation (3) has never been beaten at Belmont Park, and never has been beaten at the distance. Got a start in the Grade 3 Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs and was caught wide in a 5-furlong event. Goes another 1/8th today and that will suit him just fine. I give the nod here in a tightly bunched group. Green Mask (4) has raced three times this year with a win and two seconds and has been dynamite at shorter distances. Figures to like an extra bit of ground, since he likes to close, but who knows – only one win in five starts at this distance. Stormy Liberal (10) ships in from Santa Anita, where he has become a hero down the hill course. This one was claimed last year for $40,000 and has caught fire on the Hill. Can he translate that to a flat 6 furlongs? Undrafted (6) is another that needs a little luck, coming from way back. Had a nice win at Keeneland in an allowance that drew a stakes field. Don’t sniffled at that race. Or this horse. Disco Partner (2) is another deep closer with a shot. I’m going to be the 3 to win/place and then bet the 3-4-10 in one exacta box and 3-4-6 in another.

7th: 8-7-11-1-3-10…G2 Woody Stephens Stakes…My Bet of the Day comes here. I have loved American Anthem all year, even when his trainer Bob Baffert was pushing the Triple Crown button and the horse was pushing back. I think he has found his niche right here – one turns. Comes into this with a nice win in the G3 Laz Barerra over a suspect field. But he has the talent to beat these today. Wild Shot (7) put it all together on Derby Day to win the Pat Day Mile. Backs it up a notch to 7F today, but seems to be another that flourishes under one turn. Anything close to that race and he will be very tough today. Petrov (11) is another who chased dreams of a Triple Crown run, but got hung up with the last furlong. Now, returns to one-turn for the first time since January. I bet the 8 to win and place and then wheel over/under all the numbers used above.

8th: 2-1-5-7…G1 Just A Game Stakes…Irish-bred Roco Rojo was all out to get up in a final, desperate stride and inch of a nose to nip Believe in Bertie in the G2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend. It was her first start of the year and apparently she needed it. If she improves off that race, she will be tough again today. If she bounces an inch, though, she will get swamped out of the boat in a tough field. Dickinson (1) comes into this one at the top of her game with three straight Graded Stakes wins. She backs up to a mile today, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue, since she has won both her starts at this distance and her only start at Belmont. A tough one to go against here. Celestine (5) is pure speed and will look to get the jump from the get in this one She loves a mile, too, having won 6 of 8 at this distance and all three tries at this track. If you throw out her race in the Breeders’ Cup last fall, which isn’t her best distance, then she hasn’t run a bad one since 2015. Look out. Antonoe (7) is a French shipper who got a race under her belt here at Keeneland for trainer Chad Brown, who excels with these types. Can’t dismiss. I shake it up a bit here and go with Dickinson (1) to win, place, show and key over and under all the numbers.

9th: 9-5-12-11-7-8-6-3…G1 Metropolitan Handicap… Another betting favorite for the day is another shipper that comes from the Baffert barn in Mor Spirit (9). Apparently, this one has gotten real good since he got off the Triple Crown trail of a year ago. And, he seemingly likes the backup in distance, too. He’s run three straight fantastic races – all with Beyer Speed Figures over 100 – and his only losses in the lat four has come to the likes of Hoppertunity and Mind Your Biscuits – two of the best in the game right now. Not any of those in here today. Sharp Azteca (5) ran a good one in Dubai, and that was the only time he has been beaten at this distance in five career starts. He hasn’t run a bad race since he broke his maiden in February 2016. Gets a jock change today, picking up a speed rider in Paco Lopez. Will gas from the gate. Awesome Slew (12) is a deep closer and has run five good ones in a row from the outskirts. Has to get a clean trip and has a jock who likes to find tons of trouble. Tommy Macho (11) is a steady one for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Economic Model (7) is a good one, too. But the most interesting horse in the race is Mohaymen (6), who was supposed to be a superstar. He has won nearly a million in purses, but has not won since he captured his fifth straight in the Fountain of Youth last year. Shows up here with a lot of buzz. What to do? I bet the 9 to win/place/show and key over/under all the numbers above. I then take an “all button” – 9 exacta to cover a bit.

10th: 4-7-6-3-1-2…G1 Manhattan Stakes…Time Test (4), bred in Great Britain, shipped her and picked up Chad Brown, and they nearly picked off the G3 Fort Marcy in the career North American debut. Probably needed that one off a long layoff and now gets JJ Castellano. Watch out. My personal favorite will forever be Divisidero (7), the always-trying 5YO who is trained by my friend Buff Bradley. He likes to come with a closing run – and wide. If he can get a clear run, he will try. And, I will be rooting for him – unabashed. Potemkin (6), a German-bred, ships in from France for trainer Andreas Woher and gets Lasix for the first time. Has the numbers to be right there, too, and will close with a burst. World Approval (3), Beach Patrol (1) and Wake Forest (2) are all veterans on this side of the pond and all have talent. I bet the 7 to win/place and show and then box the 4-7-6 strong and then cover with a 4-7 exacta over “all button.” And, I turn that around, as well.

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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