WEATHER: 75*F, SUNNY
Race 1: Maiden Special Weight, 2yo, 6 Furlongs
WINNER: 6, Meade
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: St. Elias Stable/MeB Racing Stable, Todd Pletcher, Jose Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 3.60/1
FRACTIONS: 22.68, 46.37, 58.56, 1:11.30
As bettors are wont to do, they flocked towards the horse with experience in this race, that horse being Social Paranoia. He was coming off a second-place finish in a maiden race at Gulfstream Park. As such, the other Pletcher in the field, Meade, was almost ignored. He had a good worktab coming in here, and in an interesting move, shipped downstate from Saratoga to Belmont for a spot like this. That was a clue this horse might be the goods.
Twelfthofneverland went right to the lead at the start, but ended up being cheap speed and gave way quickly. Meade prompted the pace two-wide, then moved on the turn and brushed off the challenge of Bronxville in the stretch to hold on to the victory. Social Paranoia sat right behind the leaders, but came up empty and finished third. Road Home was totally dismissed in the wagering, going off at 31/1. Despite that, he showed some good closing speed to get up for second. Expect to see Meade in stakes company at Saratoga next out, and look for everyone else in maiden races of varying quality there.
Race 2: Allowance Optional Claiming (n/w2x), 3yo and up, 6 1/2 Furlongs
WINNER: 4, Gold for the King
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Francis Paolangeli, Charlton Baker, Joel Rosario
OFF ODDS: 4.10/1
FRACTIONS: 22.76, 45.09, 1:08.53, 1:14.81
The complexion of this competitive allowance race was changed when Phi Beta Express, who was supposed to be the early speed, was bumped not long after leaving the gate. This cost him crucial early position, and enabled Gold for the King, who had shown talent but not a ton of early speed, to zoom up to the front and grab control. Phi Beta Express rushed up to contend for the lead, and looked as if he would pounce on the leader turning for home. It was not meant to be, though. Gold for the King brushed him off and drew away to an easy victory, narrowly missing the track record.
The New York-bred gelding was making his second start off the layoff, having finished a disappointing fifth at this level last out. His brisnet figure of 100 was still excellent, and if could improve off that race, he profiled as a likely winner. As it turned out, that theory was correct. Breaking the Rules was well-backed for the Phipps Stable, taking a class drop from the Easy Goer Stakes. However, despite saving ground most of the way, he wasn’t much of a threat to the winner. He ended up passing Life in Shambles late to secure second.
Race 3: Allowance Optional Claiming (n/w2x), 3yo and up, 1 Mile (Grass)
WINNER: 8, American Guru
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Stronach Stables, Jimmy Jerkens, Irad Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 0.70/1
FRACTIONS: 22.73, 45.07, 1:08.22, 1:32.09
On paper, American Guru looked like a standout. His figures were superior, and he had narrowly lost his last race to Voodoo Song, a graded stakes winner. There was no one of his caliber for American Guru to tackle here. If he was able to work out a good trip, he figured to win easily.
Attribute, a speedster from the Danny Gargan barn, zoomed to the lead and set snappy fractions. Adonis Creed sat second and flattened out, while American Guru worked out a trip sitting third, well clear of the rest. On the turn, American Guru made a three-wide bid at the front, but it still didn’t look like an easy task. In the last eighth, however, he finally got by and won going away. Attribute was second, four lengths clear of third-place Nate’s Tizzy. That rival saved ground well behind most of the way, kind of drifted out in the stretch, and got by a fading Adonis Creed for third.
Race 4: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, 1 1/4 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 5, Red Knight
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Trinity Farm, Leana Willaford, Junior Alvarado
OFF ODDS: 1.80/1
FRACTIONS: 24.63, 49.64, 1:13.32, 1:36.60, 2:00.37
It’s no secret Bill Mott and Junior Alvarado have done quite well as a team this meet. This technically was not a Mott/Alvarado situation, because Mott is serving a suspension this week. As such, this horse ran under the name of Mott’s assistant, Leana Willaford. That didn’t throw anyone off the scent, as Red Knight went off as the favorite in the field of six.
Longshot Haul Anchor led the way early, but he was pressed throughout by Gauguin, who was the other Willaford entrant in the field. Once Haul Anchor gave way, Gauguin made his bid two-wide, and took control as they turned for home. Red Knight, meanwhile, was off the inside on the backstretch, then moved wide on the turn in an attempt to run down the leader. Despite the best efforts of his stablemate, Gauguin held sway until the last sixteenth, when Red Knight finally got up to win a closer-than-it-looked photo. I’m the Captain Now, recently graduated from the maiden ranks that he seemed doom to linger in forever, hung in the stretch and ended up third. I’m sure that, for some horses, the “lightbulb” angle is real, but it was not for him.
Race 5: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, 1 Mile
WINNER: 9, Exulting
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Godolphin Racing, Kieran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado
OFF ODDS: 4.40/1
FRACTIONS: 22.74, 45.40, 1:09.94, 1:35.42
Exulting broke roughly in his last race, and didn’t do too much. In the race prior to that, he contended for the lead and ended up second. Bettors reasoned if he could break cleanly here, he would have a shot. He was one of several that got action in a wide-open affair.
Nigel’s Destiny, coming off a win against $40,000 claiming company, went right to the lead and was pressed by McLaughlin’s other entrant, Mr. Dougie Fresh. While both of those rivals were starting to tire on the turn, Exulting made a big four-wide move for the lead. He took control entering the stretch and did not look back to win by almost three lengths.
Runner-up Wine Not saved ground the whole way and made good ground on the outside in the stretch to score second. He was making just his second start in the past 10 1/2 months. Nigel’s Destiny hung on OK in a race where no one really wanted to close, ultimately getting third.
Race 6: Dwyer Stakes, 3yo, 1 Mile
WINNER: 7, Firenze Fire
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Mr. Amore Stable, Jason Servis, Irad Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 2.75/1
FRACTIONS: 23.53, 45.98, 1:09.82, 1:33.74
Going into the Kentucky Derby, Mendelssohn was the hype horse, coming off a big win in the UAE Derby. After a rough beginning, he showed little and finished well up the track. Bettors still believed in him, and after being odds-on in most of the wagering, he went off at 3/2. Noble Indy and Firenze Fire had also run in the Kentucky Derby, and they received moderate support in the wagering.
Noble Indy went right to the lead, and was pressed by Mendelssohn through some tough fractions. After a 22.45 second quarter, Noble Indy gave way, and Mendelssohn made his move for the lead. Firenze Fire stalked the leaders two-wide, then launched a powerful four-wide move for the lead and pulled away emphatically, winning by nine lengths in a time almost two seconds faster than the n/w1x allowance horses had run the same distance in. Seven Trumpets, who saved ground early and made a mild move two-wide on the turn, grinded past Mendelssohn late to finish second. Firenze Fire became the first horse, outside of Justify, to exit the Kentucky Derby and win.
Race 7: Belmont Sprint Championship, 3yo and up, 7 Furlongs
WINNER: 1, Limousine Liberal
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Katherine Ball, Ben Colebrook, Jose Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 1.85/1
FRACTIONS: 22.22, 44.84, 1:08.88, 1:21.83
Two of the classiest sprinters in the country clashed down the stretch, and it ended up being a great showdown. Whitmore, coming off a near-miss in the True North, stalked the leader from the inside, then made a daring move up the rail entering the stretch to grab the lead. In doing so, he bumped with fading leader Shaft of Light, who in turn came out on Limousine Liberal, in the midst of a three-wide rally.
Whitmore ended up getting clear in the stretch and set about the task of running down Eye Luv Lulu, who inherited the lead once Shaft of Light gave way. Both Whitmore and Limousine Liberal made strong rallies down the center in the last eighth, passing the New York-bred leader and engaging in their own battle. Ultimately, Limousine Liberal prevailed, winning by a scant neck. It was a strong showing from both horses, and both figure to be players wherever they go at Saratoga. I would not be surprised to see Eye Luv Lulu step back down to the state-bred level after this one, where he figures to clean up.
Race 8: Belmont Oaks, 3yo, Fillies, 1 1/4 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 6, Athena
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Michael Tabor/Mrs. John Magnier/Derrick Smith, Aidan O’Brien, Ryan Moore
OFF ODDS: 10.40/1
FRACTIONS: 23.88, 48.26, 1:11.97, 1:35.42, 1:58.71
As noted on here in the past, sometimes horses just fall through the cracks. That was the case here, with Athena going off at 10/1 despite a grade 1 placing over in Europe. She finished third in the Pretty Polly Stakes a mere six days ago, but Aidan O’Brien saw it fit to send her over here, with top jockey Ryan Moore coming over for the mount.
La Signare, who won the Wonder Again Stakes going gate-to-wire, tried the same strategy here, going right to the lead and setting a modest tempo. Fellow Americans Significant Form and Toinette rated just in behind. On the turn, Mighty Scarlett, who had been pressing two wide, and ground-saving Thewayiam, both moved after the leaders. Toinette gave way quickly, while Significant Form was bottled in towards in the inside. All this played into the hands of Athena, who rallied four-wide on the turn and exploded in the stretch to win it handily. Thewayiam got up for a narrow second over Chipolata, who saved ground most of the way.
Race 9: Suburban Stakes, 3yo and up, 1 1/4 Miles
WINNER: 10, Diversify
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Lauren and Ralph Evans, Rick Violette, Irad Ortiz
OFF ODDS: 6.00/1
FRACTIONS: 23.47, 46.18, 1:09.65, 1:34.00, 1:59.84
Boy, does Diversify love Belmont Park. Coming into this race, he sported a gaudy 5-for-7 mark over this track, and was exiting an impressive gate-to-wire win in the Commentator Stakes going a mile. He had lots of early speed on paper, but there was the question of if he could cross over from his outside post and gain early command.
As it turned out, he could. With California shipper Dr. Dorr not hustled early, Diversify managed to get to the rail, where he encountered pressure from his outside in War Story and Zanotti. On the far turn, both of those rivals began to give way, and Diversify opened up. Neither Dr. Dorr nor Brooklyn winner Hoppertunity could get anywhere close, and Diversify jogged through the stretch, winning by 6 1/2 lengths in a very impressive final time. The Lieutenant and Discreet Lover both rallied from behind to mop up and finish second and third at big prices.
Incidentally, both Diversify and Mind Your Biscuits have been talked about as Whitney contenders. Could we see the two favorites in one of Saratoga’s biggest races be New York-breds? Hmm…
Race 10: Belmont Derby, 3yo, 1 1/4 Miles (Inner Grass)
WINNER: 7, Catholic Boy
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Robert LaPenta/Madaket Stables/Siena Farm/Twin Creeks Racing Stable, Jonathan Thomas, Javier Castellano
OFF ODDS: 5.10/1
FRACTIONS: 24.47, 49.20, 1:13.38, 1:36.75, 1:59.28
The local prep for this race, the Pennine Ridge Stakes, was one of the stranger races anyone’s seen around here. Analyze It was bet down to heavy favoritism, and looked as if he was clear late, but Catholic Boy surged back on him and got the win. Given Analyze It’s strong form prior to that race, bettors thought that it couldn’t happen again, and made him the slight 2/1 favorite. European invader Hunter Horn was the slight second choice, with Catholic Boy at 5/1.
Catholic Boy went to the lead early, with Analyze It stalking him second, getting a great trip well clear of the rest. Entering the stretch, Analyze It pounced and started to inch clear of Catholic Boy. It looked as if he would finally turn the tables and win the biggest grass race for 3-year-olds in the country. Except, it didn’t play out that way. Catholic Boy, for the second race in a row, came back on him in the last sixteenth of a mile. He ultimately prevailed by a head.
For something like that to happen once with two horses is strange enough. But two races in a row, with the same horse resurging each time? Madness. Some on twitter were saying this could be a great rivalry, but so far, Analyze It has shown no interest in actually beating Catholic Boy. Once he gets to the front, he tends to stop cold. Anyone who rides him in the future will have to make a perfectly timed ride, so that these kind of debacles don’t happen again.
As for the rest: Hunter Horn hung a bit late and finished a clear-cut third. Penn Mile winner Hawkish was wide throughout and was a non-threatening seventh. My Boy Jack, who was inexplicably bet down to 5/1 (the same odds at Catholic Boy), was well off the slow pace and never stood a chance.
Race 11: Maiden Claiming $40,000, 3yo and up, NY-bred, 6 Furlongs (Grass)
WINNER: 9, Dream Passage
OWNER/TRAINER/JOCKEY: Jim and Susan Hill, Brian Lynch, Joel Rosario
OFF ODDS: 0.95/1
FRACTIONS: 22.20, 45.33, 57.19, 1:08.85
Dream Passage had lost many, many races in a row on the grass against NY-bred maiden special weight company. So, reasoned everyone, he should do better dropping into maiden claiming company. Sent off at 4/5, he rated off Jonathan Thomas first-timer Dove Shoot, and when that one tired, popped out of the pocket and happily cruised to the wire. Both Ghost Giant and Wild William covered much more ground than Dream Passage, but finished just 1 1/2 lengths and 2 1/4 lengths behind him, respectively. Both are worth keeping an eye on for next time. Dove Shoot finished fourth on debut; nothing to be embarrassed of. Given the very hot hand Jonathan Thomas has been playing on the grass, that horse should make more noise next out with a race under his belt.