With very little in the way of significant storylines, this year’s Belmont is most appealing not to the casual fan, or to the sports fan tuning in to see a Triple Crown attempt, but to the hardened horseplayer who goes in search of the elusive property known as value. With a field of 12 and no heavy favorite, this is an instance where that can certainly be found.
The question is, how do you find it, and what kind of knocks are you willing to forgive? Morning line favorite Irish War Cry’s best race is probably good enough to win this, but when he’s bad, he’s VERY bad, and he appeared to be going best of all with three furlongs left in the Derby before hitting a wall going into the stretch. Lookin at Lee is an honest, hard-trying horse who will be the only thoroughbred this year to run in all three Triple Crown races, but he hasn’t won in a LONG time, and deep closers seldom win the Belmont. Meanwhile, the saga involving Japanese invader Epicharis took a weird turn earlier this week, when it was revealed he’s battling an ailment in one of his feet, and he was scratched Saturday morning.
My top pick involves some forgiving, but there’s also plenty of nice things to say about him. That’s Tapwrit, who will attempt to give trainer Todd Pletcher his second win in a Triple Crown race this season and third career triumph in the Belmont. He’s by Tapit, who has sired the winner of this race in two of the last three seasons, and he runs like a horse who will appreciate as much distance as possible. When last seen, he was a non-threatening sixth in the Kentucky Derby, but he had plenty of trouble in that race, not unlike his run two back in the Blue Grass.
He’s by no means a top pick I’m in love with, but when Tapwrit’s right, he’s very good. He’s one of four horses I’ll be using in multi-race exotics, as I’ll also be including Gormley, Irish War Cry, and Senior Investment. Gormley has trained like a Belmont horse for months, while Irish War Cry’s prior strong efforts can’t be ignored and Senior Investment seems to be getting better and better with experience and added distance.
The Belmont anchors a phenomenal card in New York, one that features ample wagering opportunities and lots of star power. I’ve got three multi-race tickets below, as well as analysis, and without further ado…
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
20 bets, $10
This Pick Five is, essentially, a Pick Four. Songbird makes her 2017 debut in the payoff leg, the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, and she towers over her competition. If I can get there and potentially turn a $10 investment into, say, a 10-1 price on Songbird (assuming the Pick Five pays $110), I’ll gladly do that.
Thebigfundamental will be a fairly short price in the opener off of two solid outings, but I couldn’t ignore Wild About Deb, who likely needed his last start off a long layoff. His best is quite good, as evidenced by three top-three finishes in graded stakes company (most notably a third-place effort behind Connect in the Pennsylvania Derby), and 12-1 is way too big a price.
I’ll take a similar approach in the second leg, the Easy Goer. West Coast seems like a solid favorite, and it definitely helps that he does not need the lead, as this race seems loaded with early speed. However, second-time starter Wicked Macho intrigues me. He didn’t have it easy in his debut at Churchill Downs, where he prevailed by a head over a next-out winner, and he’s worked lights-out since then for trainer Mark Casse. This is an aggressive spot, but there’s plenty to suggest this horse could be ready for the challenge. A quick look at his female family shows third dam Stick to Beauty, a stakes-winning blue hen whose presence is felt in the female families of Grade 1 winners Dayjur, Maplejinsky, Point of Entry, Violence, Tale of Ekati, and Pine Island.
The Brooklyn struck me as a two-horse race before the scratch of Send It In, which means Tu Brutus will be a very short price. I can’t go against him, despite Gary Contessa’s subpar record in graded stakes races on dirt in the past five years (he’s 0-for-28). Meanwhile, the fourth race of the sequence is the Grade 1 Acorn, and I spread out. Abel Tasman merits respect, for sure, but I can’t help thinking she may want more ground and/or two turns. She got a dream setup in the Kentucky Oaks, and this is a very solid group (even after the scratch of Tequilita).
That leads us to Songbird, whose lone defeat came in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Not only does she tower over this field on talent, but she also figures to benefit from the pace scenario, which is very light on early speed. This doesn’t figure to be a Pick Five payoff that’ll set records, but again, if I can get to Songbird and treat it like a win bet with enhanced odds, I’ll be very happy.
$1 Grand Slam: Race #7
24 bets, $24
For those not familiar with this wager, the Grand Slam is a bet where at least one of your horses in each of the first three legs must finish third or better. You then get paid if a horse you play in the last leg wins, and you can build up winning combinations along the way. For instance, this ticket I’m playing could potentially be alive for an $8 valuation to three horses in the Manhattan if each of the horses I use finishes in the top three of their respective races.
I don’t play the Grand Slam much, but cards like Saturday’s are good times to do so. Given all of the possible combinations, this will likely pay handsomely, especially if some favorites finish off the board.
American Anthem figures to be favored in the Woody Stephens, and I’m using him, but my top pick is Wild Shot. Wild Shot was on the Kentucky Derby trail for a while, but has shown to be much better in races contested around one turn. This was affirmed on Derby Day, when the son of Trappe Shot rated behind fast fractions and rolled home clear by four lengths in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile. A similar setup could present itself here, as there’s lots of early speed signed on.
I’m going against morning line favorite Roca Rojo in the eighth, the Grade 1 Just a Game. I fail to see why she should be favored over horses like Dickinson (whose recent win streak includes a Grade 1 win over the brilliant Lady Eli) and Celestine (last year’s runaway winner who’s 2-for-2 in 2017). I’ll use Roca Rojo in the Pick Four for security, but here, I’ll stick with the other two I’ve mentioned.
Sharp Azteca is my best bet of the day not named Songbird. There doesn’t seem to be much early speed alongside him in the Met Mile, and I think he could shake loose and roll home. However, a longshot intrigues me underneath, and for that reason, I had to also use Tom’s Ready. His return off a long layoff was quite good, and his one race here at Belmont was a win in last year’s Woody Stephens. If someone goes with Sharp Azteca early and provokes a pace meltdown, or if Tom’s Ready simply improves in his second start of the year, I think this 15-1 shot stands a big chance of hitting the board and upping the potential payout.
Finally, I’ll go three-deep in the Manhattan to close things out. Time Test is 5-1 on the morning line but may be significantly less than that come post time. His European form is extremely sharp, and he likely needed his last race, which came off a 10-month layoff over a very wet turf course he probably didn’t care for. I’ll also use Dixie winner World Approval and Turf Classic winner Divisidero, the latter of whom could benefit if Beach Patrol, World Approval, and a few others set a fast pace.
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8
36 bets, $18
I think you can play a small ticket into a big pool and, potentially, come back with a nice score. I did include Roca Rojo simply because the ticket was pretty skinny elsewhere, and I singled Sharp Azteca. There aren’t any huge prices here, but the field sizes and guaranteed pool are such that, if this gets home, we could see a payout in the $200-$300 range. For an $18 investment, that’s just fine!