McLean’s Selections for “Super Saturday’s” at Arlington Park / Belmont Park

2018 Overall 947 races354-352-417
Win % of Top Pick37.40%
Payoff % of Top 3 Picks Overall39.50%

What a wonderful Saturday to be a racing fan. Five wonderful Stakes events are carded at Arlington Park, which is being promoted as its’ “Race to the Arlington Million Day.” Five more fantastic Stakes races are carded at Belmont Park.

Many of the races are on the turf, and most feature some of the best runners in the country right now, all of whom are starting to build their respective resumes towards a qualifying offer to this year’s Breeders’ Cup — to be hosted the first Saturday in November at the world’s greatest racing venue — Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY.

Let’s take a look at today’s Stakes events at both Arlington and Belmont:

Arlington Park:

5th: 5-6-8-3-4-7…G3 American Derby…I will focus on the top three numbers in this sequence, led by the Oklahoma-bred Ezmosh (5). This son of Tizway comes into this race off back-to-back wins since being moved over to the grass surface by trainer Brad Cox. The wins also come after the blinkers were removed for the first two times in this one’s 9-race career. The last race was a standout performance, running away to a 21/2 length victory in the G3 Arlington Classic here, and the rider sports a 6-2-3 record over the last 20 starts. Definitely the one to beat. Captivating Moon (6) could do just that, though. This son of Malibu Moon nearly won the G2 American Turf over a yielding grass course at Churchill Downs on KY Derby Day. Lost by a diminishing 11/2 lengths, while closing from way off the pace. Has hit the board in 8 of 9 lifetime starts, but has 5 seconds. Will need a clean run late, but has talent. Look at the second to Analyze It in the Transylvania. Tap Daddy (8) is an interesting sort, coming from the barn of Steve Asmussen. He won the last race by 61/2 lengths, but that was after it was moved from the turf to a sloppy dirt track. Has won over the grass before, and the son of Scat Daddy would figure to love it. But he is an inconsistent sort. Brilliant or dud type. I bet the 6 to win/place/show and then box the top two numbers solidly in the exacta. I key the 5-6 over all the rest in a smaller version.

6th: 4-13-10-12-5-8-6-9…G3 Modesty Handicap…I am predicting an upset of some proportions in this event, which will be contested over 13/16-miles, by going with Celestial Insight (4). This 5YO daughter of Scat Daddy comes from the barn of Graham Motion, who nearly coached this one to victory in the G3 Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 9 when the mare was making her first start for the new barn. She made the lead late in that one, only to be beaten to the wire by a desperate Lovely Bernadette — who made a late, diving move to the rail. I don’t think that our choice today ever saw the winner that day, and, perhaps, neither did the rider. She gets Florent Geroux in the saddle for this one, and there is not a hotter rider in the world right now. The horse to beat is, without question, Daddys Lil Darling (13). This 4YO Scat Daddy mare has already won over $1.25 million and has hit the board in 12 of 18 lifetime starts. She closed from extremely far back to run third in the G2 New York Handicap last time out, and will get a new rider today, as well, in Brian Joseph Hernandez. But…two things stand out here from a compromising factor. One, this filly is stuck extremely wide in this field and must do a lot of running just to get into contention for her patented late run. Two, she has been out three times this year, and she has not been closer than a length. She will have to improve off those efforts to win. Daring Duchess (10) has three wins in 9 starts at this distance, and is probably the most proficient at the longer grass course that they will run over today. She was second in the Keertana Stakes at Churchill Downs last time out and should be a forward presence. Worth watching in this spot. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then box the top 2 in one solid exacta. I key the top 2 over the rest in a smaller version.

7th: 1-2-6-5-12-11-7-8…The Hatoof Stakes…This one is laden with speedy types, all of whom could compromise each other if they set sail early and engage in a speed battle. That is why I’m going to take a longer shot in here, as well. While the #s 1-2-6 all have great credentials, all of them will want to be either on or close to the lead. So, I will hope that it sets up perfectly for a late run from Colonia (5), which gets my first “dot” of the day play. This one will be making her first start in North America, and, as such, her first start for Graham Motion. He hits with .13% of those making the barn debut and with .24% of those shipping to the U.S. for the first time. This one has not run well over heavy going in the last two start in France, but she will catch a much more fair track today and will get the addition of Lasix for the first time. Jersey Joe Bravo — one of the best grass riders in all the land — gets the ride today and that just may be the ticket. Cool Beans (1), Go Noni Go (2) and Cheeky Cherub (6) all deserve consideration and support. But all three like to either be on, or very close to the lead. They all can’t get there at the same time, and if a duel ensues, it will be compromising. Of the three, I think Go Noni Go is the most experienced, and the most likely to stay the distance. I bet the 5-2 to win/place/show and then box the 5-2 in one exacta solidly and then key the 5-2 over all the numbers listed in a smaller version.

8th: 4-9-7-5-1-3-6-2…G3 Stars & Stripes Stakes…I key on the top 2 numbers in this listing, led by Arklow (4). This one has hit the board in 6 of 12 lifetime starts for trainer Brad Cox, and he has been beaten solidly in the last two tries. But the last race came against some of the best grass runners in the country right now in Yoshida and Beach Patrol in the G1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, and the previous one was against Synchrony — who we will highly tout in the next race here today. Arklow is a deep closer and will need some racing luck and room, but this son of Arch has both the talent and the pilot to get the job done here today. Caesar (9) is my most likely candidate to spring the upset, if there is one to be had in this spot today. This French-bred colt has run four times in this country and has a win, a second and a third to show for his efforts to date. In his last start, he went 2 miles in the G2 Belmont Gold Cup, losing by just a length. Today, he shortens up to 11/2 miles, and he won the Laurel Turf Cup at that distance last September. The trainer is winning at a .21% clip with 110 runners this year, and has won with .22% of the last 640 grass runners. This one will close late, as well. I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then box the 4-9 in one exacta. I key the 4-9 over the rest in a smaller version.

9th: 3-11-4-9-6-10-7-12…G3 Arlington Handicap…This is my first single play of the day, as I will key on Synchrony (3), a 5YO son of Tapit who is trained by Michael Stidham. This one, too, will get the services of Joe Bravo, and the man is simply one of the best grass race riders in the world. They have combined to run three times this year, with two wins and a third on the scorecard. The third came in the last race, when he was beaten by Yoshida and Beach Patrol in the G1 Turf Classic. Before that, he easily bested his competition down at the Fair Grounds in two Graded Stakes events. In those two races, he beat some good ones in Arklow and Mr. Misunderstood. He will be closing from mudpack, and should find this crowd to his liking. Divisidero (11) should be the main competition, and he has run a couple of good ones to start the year. The third try off the layoff has been a good thing for this trainer, who hits with .23% of those kind. But this one was shifted from the barn of Buff Bradley after he had won two G1 Stakes for these owners. I can’t root for them, no matter how good the horse is. Compass Zone (4) may offer some value to the ticket, if he can step up into the Stakes company for the first time. Has a 2-1-1 record in five starts this year, and all have been with Geroux in the saddle. May surprise some at 8-1 ML odds. I bet the 3 to win/place/show and then key the 3 over/under all the numbers listed in various amounts. More with the 11. Less with the 4-9. Even lesser with the 6-10-7-12.

Belmont Park:

6th: 6-4-7-3-2…G3 Dwyer Stakes…This race may be one of the highlights on a card full of Graded Stakes events that are rated much higher. But this one marks the N.A. return of Mendelssohn (6), and all the fanfare will go along with this one. The last time the world watched this one run, he was hammered early and often and essentially eliminated in the first 50o yards of the Kentucky Derby. He was bet down to odds of $6.80-to-$1 that day, and looked unbeatable to some after his 18-length victory in the UAE Derby. Never took to the slop at Churchill Downs, either, but last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner is now back and being pointed to this year’s BC Classic. So, for the immediate future, dirt is his course. And, it will be interesting to see how he handles a dry surface today. If he is anywhere close to the horse that trainer Aidan O’Brien thinks that he is — then he should dominate this crowd today. We shall see. Noble Indy (4) will be making his first start since a troubled trip, as well. Owner Mike Repole has bought out his partners after the Belmont Stakes, where the owner feels like his horse was compromised at the start by a “blocking back” in Restoring Hope. For the record, if the owner thinks he was “troubled,” then he should watch the replay of the top choice’s run in the Derby. Then he would know what “trouble” truly is. But…the blinkers go back on and the horse shortens up to a mile today and both of those things should help this son of Take Charge Indy. The question is he good enough. I wonder. Firenze Fire (7) will be making his first start since running 11th to Justify in the Derby, as well. He has not been close in the last three tries, but he does get back to a distance (2-for-3) and a track (1-for-1) that he prefers. Not without a chance. If there is to be an upset in this one, though, it may come from Rugbyman (3), a talented son of Tapit, and runner-up to Prince Lucky in the Easy Goer Stakes in his last run. This one broke his maiden by 14 lengths just two starts back and then nearly pulled off the win in his first Stakes race ever. On the improve. Fast. And, furious. Watch out. I bet the 6-3 across the board and then box those two in the exacta. I key the 6-3 over the rest in a smaller version.

7th: 1-6-2-3-4…G2 Belmont Sprint…My top pick in this spot is Limousine Liberal (1), who ran hard and a solid third to Bee Jersey in the G1 Metropolitan Mile in his last try. Before that, this one won the G2 Churchill Downs at today’s distance of 7 furlongs on Derby Day. This one has a 4-2-1 record in 9 starts at the distance, and, despite the valiant effort last time out, does not want any part of that far to go. The drop back should help, and I don’t think this one has ever been better. Should find a nice stalking position early on and be mighty tough with Jose Ortiz back in the saddle after a one-race break. Favorable Outcome (6) has not been close in any of the last four, really, despite a second as the odds-on favorite last time out. But he has a nice 0-1-2 record over this track, and he may have woken up a bit n the last one while stalking the leaders. This one has talent, evidenced by his win in the G2 Swale Stakes in 2017. Beat Three Rules in that one. Is he ready to return to favor? Whitmore (2) is a veteran sprinter, with deep roots and quality to bear. But does he like 7 furlongs. Only one start at this distance, and that was two starts back when he ran fourth in the slop at Churchill Downs. He loves to close, and the distance should be right up his ally. But…I bet the 1 to win/place/show and then key the 1 over/under all the rest.

8th: 6-5-7-1-9-3-8-2-4…G1 Belmont Oaks…What a race…and a bettor’s dream…I will focus on the top three numbers here, led by the European invader Athena (6). She certainly can get the distance of 11/4-miles, and her third place run in the Group 1 in Ireland in the last start shows that she has the quality. Gets Lasix for the first trip to the States today, and is teamed up with Aidan O’Brien’s go-to rider Ryan Moore. She should convert well to American soil, if not deported as an illegal alien before the race. The horse to beat, I think, is Toinette (5), whom I love in this spot, as well. Trained by the veteran Neil Drysdale, this one has won three in a row and looks to be getting better and stronger with each start. She will stretch out from 11/16-miles to 11/4 today and that is a concern, but she is a closer and one would think she could relish the added ground. La Signare (7) ran second to Toinette just two starts back and then came back to win the G3 Wonder Again in her last start. Switched running styles dramatically from a late closer to a lead pony, and it will be interesting to see where trainer Brian Lynch instructs the rider to do here today. A talented one, though. I bet the 6-5 across the board and then box those two solidly in one exacta. I key the 6-5 over/under the 1-9-3 in one exacta, and then key the 6-5 over (only) the 8-2-4.

9th: 4-2-8-5-10-7…G2 Suburban Stakes…I will focus on the top 3 numbers in this race, as well, led by Tapwrit (4). The 2017 Belmont Stakes winner tuned up for this one with his 2018 debut on June 3 here. He went 11/16-miles that day and ran a nice third, while stalking the pace much of the way. He certainly needed that race for conditioning, and I think could use the added ground of today’s 11/4-mile distance. The trainer hits with .25% of those making the second start off this type of a layup, and that’s with 363 starters. Nice series of works since the last race indicates that this son of Tapit may be ready to return to glory. War Story (2) is trained by Jorge Navarro, and it is very difficult for me to support a horse from this barn. But this 6YO gelding has returned from the Pegasus World Cup debacle –where he was trounced by the great Gun Runner — to run three nice races in a row. Has a win and a second in two previous runs over this track, too. Hoppertunity (8) never seems to run a bad race, yet he rarely wins back-to-back races. Won the G2 Brooklyn Stakes impressively last time out. So? I bet the 4 to win/place/show and then box the top 3 in the exacta. 

10th: 4-7-9-3-5-8-6…G1 Belmont Derby…Once again, I will concentrate on the top 3 numbers in the listing, led by the European invader Hunting Horn (4). This Irish-bred runner, trained by O’Brien, comes into this one off an absolute butt-kicking 41/2-length victory int he Group 3 Hampton Court at Royal Ascot. He will get Lasix for the first time today, with the N.A. debut, and he gets the services of Ryan Moore, who has ridden him to victory before, as well. Looks to be a serious threat here. Cathlolic Boy (7) has been “my boy” ever since I first laid eyes on him before the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar last year. I loved his chances on the Triple Crown trail earlier this year, but they went awry, and now he is back to turfing it. What a win in the G3 Pennine Ridge last time out. Wow. Looks back on his game now. My Boy Jack (9) is another “looker” and he certainly has run well on both the grass and the dirt in the past. His fifth in the KY Derby was much better than it looks on paper, and his closing rush will certainly benefit him today. I think he can add some real value to the mix today. I bet the 4-9 across the board and then box the top 3 numbers in one exacta. I key the top 3 over the rest in a smaller version.

Good Luck & All the Best/Gene

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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