This is it, folks! Barring something unexpected happening in one of next weekend’s Woodbine stakes, this weekend marks the final Breeders’ Cup prep race action – and it definitely marks the final weekend of Win-and-You’re-In action.
Let’s have a look at the five big races at Belmont Park this weekend.
We start off with the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes (Race 4, 6:58) a race that very much looks like it should go to #4 JACKIE’S WARRIOR, the undefeated Steve Asmussen-trained two-year-old. He does have to go an extra furlong here but I doubt it will stop him. He’s the fastest horse with the best form and he might also have a pace advantage.
Moving on to the Grade 1 Frizette (Race 5, 7:30), we have the fillies’ equivalent of the Champagne and things do look a bit more competitive. I like #2 CANTATA, another Asmussen trainee. Despite the high-profile flop of Calibrate last weekend, Asmussen second-time starters typically improve, and if this one does I think they will all be running for second. There are others with faster pace figures signed on and that’s OK – she’s shown the ability to pass horses and that may well come in handy here.
Later in the card, we get back to stakes action with the Grade 1 Flower Bowl (Race 8, 9:14). I like a horse at a price in #4 LA SIGNARE. Earlier in her career this one was very keen early in her races and it’s understandable that connections stopped trying to stretch her out. But this season she’s been a lot more relaxed early on and I think she’s ready for this 10-furlong test. She should get a great trip from the second flight, her figures and form put her right there and best of all, she’s going to be a big price. You might even be able to grab double-digit odds early in the betting.
Next up is the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup (Race 9, 9:48) and I think the day is here when #4 TACITUS gets his elusive Grade 1. He’s a divisive horse and I can’t really blame any who are tired of his act but the fact remains that he’s the fastest runner signed on here, there are none in here as good as the one who beat him last time, and he really wants this 10-furlong distance. I’d feel even better if there were definitely a horse to run with Happy Saver early, but that’s also why I’m expecting to get odds-against or at least even money on a runner with such obvious credentials.
The next WAYI race comes in the middle of Sunday’s card with the Grade 3 Futurity (Race 7, 9:12), a 6-furlong turf sprint. Wherever you land in here, you are going to want a price, and as of this writing we don’t even have morning lines. I’ll mention three runners and let readers use their judgment depending on what the books are offering. I’ll also be a guest on Sky Sports Stateside on Sunday (as well as Saturday) if you want to tune in there to here my up-to-the-minute thoughts on this one and all the Belmont races.
The first I’ll mention is #7 BRIGHT DEVIL, late of the Andrew Balding yard, currently in the care of Mark Casse, owned by Team Valor. We have seen Team Valor over the years select a number of runners who are well suited to American racing and this one was well thought enough of to contest the Chesham at Ascot and run in the Group 2 Superlative (albeit not very well) for previous connections. Simply a wild card with a possible class edge but I’d want something near 6-1.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Wes Ward holds a strong hand in here. Of his three, I prefer #8 TRADE DEAL, who showed the ability to sit and pounce going farther at Kentucky Downs. Should get a great trip here once again. His stablemate #2 AFTER FIVE is another to keep an eye on should the price drift too high, but I am concerned he’ll be too far back.