2017 Belmont Stakes Day Picks, Tickets, and Analysis (6/10/17)

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

R1: 6,7
R2: 3,7
R3: 5
R4: 1,3,5,7,8
R5: 5

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

R7: 7,8
R8: 1,5
R9: 5,8
R10: 3,4,7

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

R8: 1,2,5
R9: 5
R10: 3,4,7
R11: 2,3,7,8

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!

2017 Kentucky Derby Analysis, PLUS Three Pick Four Tickets

I’ve never been accused of mincing words, and I’m not going to start now. Friday was, um…NOT a good day for yours truly. On Twitter, I likened it to the start of the Drago/Rocky fight in Rocky IV, when the big Russian is beating the daylights out of the champ. Hopefully, Saturday is akin to the second half of the fight, where Rocky comes back, beats the giant, and ends the Cold War.

I’ll start by analyzing the main event, the 2017 Kentucky Derby. It’s one of the most wide-open renewals in recent memory, with every single horse seeming to have some sort of redeeming factor and massive flaw. You’re likely to get a square price on whichever horse you like, and the exotics wagers figure to be very enticing as well.

My top pick is Classic Empire. It’s by no means a top pick made with tons of conviction, or with a proclamation that he can’t lose. However, he overcame a tough trip to win the Arkansas Derby over a solid group. He was shuffled back, raced between horses most of the way around the track, and came flying late in such a way that it convinced most Saturday’s distance will not be a problem. If he can negotiate a comfortable trip (always the biggest ‘if’ in any Derby), I think he’s the horse to beat.

Having said that, I’ll be going five-deep in all multi-race exotics wagers I play. Three of the other horses are ones who will receive plenty of support at the windows. Always Dreaming is undefeated around two turns, McCraken loves Churchill Downs and should improve off the Blue Grass, and Irish War Cry’s record fits the mold of a Derby winner if you can toss his unconscionable clunker in the Fountain of Youth.

The fifth horse I’m using is my price horse, the one who would potentially make Saturday a very good day for me. That’s Tapwrit, and if you’re willing to throw out the Blue Grass, his huge price doesn’t make much sense. The 10-furlong distance should fit him like a glove given his pedigree, he’s won over a wet track before, and he turned in a flashy workout at Churchill last week leading up to the Derby. I want every bit of him at his likely price, even after his lousy race at Keeneland last month.

With all of that in mind, let’s shift gears to a few Pick Four plays for Saturday. These are posted with the same caveats as Friday’s: These tickets assume all races carded for the turf course stay there. If they get rained off, updated versions of my tickets (or advice to pass the sequences entirely) will be posted on my Twitter page.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 2,4,7,8
R3: 1,5
R4: 1,5,6,7
R5: 1

32 bets, $16

This isn’t an expensive ticket, and I really like this sequence. The first and third legs are strong betting races, and I’ve got confidence in the second and fourth legs. Flashy Jewel will likely go off shorter than his 8-1 morning line in the third, and I think he’s the lone speed horse in the race. Part of me wanted to single him, but Rocket Time possesses considerable back class and merits respect coming back to a track he loves.

The fifth race features a major spot play, assuming we stay on the grass. Forge ran a strong race in his American debut last month at Keeneland, which doubled as his first race since September. He’s run up against some very tough European competition, and he faces an optional claiming group that doesn’t appear very imposing. I’ll gladly take 7/2 if I can get it, although that’s another morning line that seems very generous.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #5

R5: 1
R6: 5,7
R7: 1,6

48 bets, $24

Forge starts off this sequence, and then things get tricky. Finest City and Carina Mia head this year’s Humana Distaff, which features some other strong sprinters, and I’m hoping I can skate through only going two-deep. I’m also only going two-deep in the Distaff Turf Mile following the scratch of Miss Temple City; Linda’s been working well for Ian Wilkes, and Roca Rojo goes out for Chad Brown.

This brings us to the Pat Day Mile, which gave me headaches of increasing intensity every time I looked at it. I can make cases for almost every runner in what’s now a 12-horse field, so I’m hitting the ALL button. I know I’m going to get some heat for this on Twitter, but the fact is that I have absolutely no confidence in any opinion I could present here, and given that I can come in well under my soft budget ($40) by using each runner, that’s what I’m going to do.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #9

R9: 2,4,7,10
R10: 2
R11: 2,6,8,9
R12: 5,14,15,16,17

80 bets, $40

In one of several animated Twitter discussions on Friday, I mentioned that I really like Pick Fours that act as glorified odds boosts on short-priced horses. Everyone wants to catch a big price, sure, but if you can take a heavily-bet favorite, single that horse in a Pick Four, and beat a favorite or two along the way, the sequence essentially turns into an odds boost. If said single is 4/5 and jogs after you play it to win, you won’t get much of a rate of return. However, if a $40 Pick Four ticket like this one hits and returns $300 or so, all of a sudden, you’ve turned that 4/5 into odds closer to 6-1. That’s value, and that’s my strategy here.

My single comes in the 10th race, the Churchill Downs. Masochistic burned me in his 2017 debut, but there are plenty of reasons to back him here. He’s easily the top early speed on paper, and if the track is playing to speed (as it often does on Kentucky Derby Day), he’s going to be very difficult to beat. This is not an easy sequence, and you need to single somewhere so as to spread in the other three legs. There are worse horses to do that with than a horse that could make an easy lead in a race without much other speed.

We dissected the Derby above, so I’ll go through the other two legs here. In the American Turf, I prefer closers Big Score and Good Samaritan, but if one of Oscar Performance or Conquest Farenheit gets away, they may be tough to catch. Meanwhile, in the Woodford Reserve, I most prefer Beach Patrol, although he’s no cinch in a wide-open betting race. Divisidero is 2-for-2 at Churchill, and both Bal a Bali and Enterprising (subbed in for the scratched World Approval) are good enough to win on their best days as well.