2019 Belmont Stakes: Full-Card Analysis, Selections, and Tickets

Saturday is Belmont Stakes Day, and the folks at NYRA have come up with one of the best days of racing on the planet. The eight Grade 1 races boast a bunch of strong wagering opportunities (especially later in the card), and the day is headlined by the third jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

I’ll get to that first, because I know that’s what a lot of people want to read about. #9 WAR OF WILL and #10 TACITUS will almost certainly be the two favorites in some order, and for good reason. War of Will’s lone losses on dirt have come because of troubled trips, while Tacitus didn’t disgrace himself when third in the Kentucky Derby and is bred to handle this 12-furlong distance.

A lot of people are picking chalky exactas, and I see why. With that in mind, though, there are two bigger prices I need to have on my tickets. #4 TAX was an also-ran in the Derby, but I’m throwing that race out completely. He drew a terrible post and didn’t get his preferred stalking trip over a wet track (which he’d never run on before). There’s much less early speed signed on here, and he could sit an ideal trip just off the pace. He’s bred to like this trip, being by Arch and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, and I think he could bounce back in a big way.

I’ll also need to use #8 INTREPID HEART, and similar to Tax, I think you can draw a line through the last-out effort. Intrepid Heart didn’t break well in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and was never really in the race as a result. The blinkers go on, and I think he could be the one they’re chasing early. 12-furlong races like this are often won on the front end, and it wouldn’t surprise me if John Velazquez was able to dictate friendly terms going down the backstretch.

I’ll be using all four of those horses in some form or fashion, but what about the rest of the card? Well, I’ll be breaking down each race below, as well as offering several Pick Four tickets (there are three sequences, which start in the second, eighth, and 10th races) and a Grand Slam wager near the end.

Enough talk; let’s get on with the show!

RACE #1: We start off with a puzzling race, and given the six-horse field and how chalky the rest of the early Pick Five appears, many players will likely punch the “ALL” button. #5 PRINCIPLED and #6 POTOMAC strike me as the horses to beat, and I’ll be watching the board carefully. Potomac has run two big races in a row, but was claimed last time out by Carlos Martin. Martin may not be a household name, and he may only be hitting at about 10% on the meet, but he’s a capable horseman, and anything close to the last two efforts would make this one tough to beat.

RACE #2: It’s tough to trust many of the runners with lots of experience in this turf route, as they’ve had plenty of chances to graduate. Based on Beyer Speed Figures, #4 NO MANS LAND is the horse to beat, but his history of coming close and not getting the job done doesn’t inspire confidence.

I’m using him, but my top pick is actually #9 UNCLE ARTIE, who stretches out in distance and ran a decent race two back at Keeneland beneath Joel Rosario, who rides him again here. I’m also going to throw in 12-1 shot #8 THE MORMON MAULER, who likely needed his debut and could benefit from a big jockey switch to Luis Saez.

RACE #3: This is the Easy Goer, and the morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race between #4 OUTSHINE and #6 ALWAYSMINING. I prefer the former, who ran a very good second to the possible Belmont favorite two back and lost all chance at the start of the Wood Memorial. In addition to those two, I’m also throwing in #5 MAJID, who has won three in a row since going to the Rudy Rodriguez barn and seems like the main speed.

RACE #4: This is the Grade 1 Just A Game, and it’s the first of back-to-back races with short fields and a heavy favorite I just cannot get past. In this case, it’s #4 RUSHING FALL, a three-time Grade 1 winner and the likely lone speed in this race. I don’t see any other runner in here going with her to set up for the closers, and because of that, I think she wires the field for her eighth win in nine career starts.

RACE #5: It’s disappointing to see the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps only draw a field of five, especially given that the older mare division is quite strong. However, my best bet of the day is here, and it’s a horse that, as good as she is around two turns, has always hit me as even better around one.

#2 MIDNIGHT BISOU is even-money on the morning line, and anything above that would hit me as an overlay. She won the Mother Goose for fun here last year, and all indications are that she’s even better now. I think she’ll sit a perfect stalking trip in this short field, and such a journey would likely result in a fourth consecutive victory.

RACE #6: Now a Grade 1, the Jaipur has drawn some of the top turf sprinters in the country. This includes morning line favorite #8 WORLD OF TROUBLE, but while he merits lots of respect, he’s not my top pick. I don’t think he’ll be alone on the front end here, and that could set things up for likely second choice #6 DISCO PARTNER. He loves Belmont and likely needed his 2019 debut in the Shakertown, which could slightly inflate the price we get Saturday afternoon.

RACE #7: From a betting perspective, out of all the undercard races, I’m most excited about this one. This is the Grade 1 Acorn, and it features Kentucky Oaks winner #1 SERENGETI EMPRESS. I’m against her here, as I think it’s highly unlikely she gets gifted another perfect trip (as she did last time out).

#7 GUARANA is actually the morning line favorite, and while there’s a chance she’s good enough, this is only her second career start, and her lone race came over a sloppy, sealed Keeneland track. I want the second and third-place finishers from the Grade 2 Eight Belles, #4 BELL’S THE ONE and #8 QUEEN OF BEAS. Both are closers, and in a race full of speed, a pace meltdown seems likely. They’ll both be prices, and they’ll both be featured prominently on any multi-race exotics ticket I play.

RACE #8: Like the Jaipur, the Woody Stephens is now also a Grade 1, and I think Chad Brown holds a very powerful hand. #4 COMPLEXITY makes his 2019 debut after a long layoff, but he’s been working very well, and this seven-furlong distance should hit him right between the eyes. Meanwhile, stablemate #1 HONEST MISCHIEF would benefit from a fast pace, which seems very likely. The rail draw isn’t ideal, but he’s bred to be very good, and the last-out Beyer of 97 ties for the highest in this field.

RACE #9: Many would argue that the Grade 1 Met Mile is actually the best race on the Belmont Stakes Day program, and I can’t disagree. It features several of the top older horses in training, and I believe that, if one of the logical horses wins, that horse is in the driver’s seat for Horse of the Year honors at this point in the season.

#2 MCKINZIE has been pointed to this race for months. Bob Baffert could’ve shipped him to Dubai, but he kept him stateside, and when Baffert works backwards, he doesn’t lose often. This route should be perfect for him, and I think he’s definitely the horse to beat.

In multi-race exotics, I’ll also use #3 MITOLE and #7 FIRENZE FIRE. Mitole stretches out to a mile after successfully handling seven furlongs last month, while Firenze Fire looks like a world-beater at Belmont and certainly has home-course advantage. At any rate, this is a fascinating race, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

RACE #10: The Grade 1 Manhattan is the traditional lead-up for the Belmont, and this year’s renewal features #8 BRICKS AND MORTAR, likely the best turf horse in the country. He’s won four in a row, including two Grade 1 races, and if you want to single him, it’s understandable.

I loved #9 EPICAL before he was announced as a scratch, and I’m more than a bit bitter about not getting the chance to throw him in in hopes of him getting loose on the lead. If you’re looking for an alternative to Bricks and Mortar, I’d use #3 ROBERT BRUCE, who was beaten just a length in this race last year despite a strange trip. When he’s right, he’s very good, and he may not have cared for the wet turf course he got last time out.

RACE #12: They carded two races after the Belmont, and the first of those is a tricky optional claimer going long on the grass. I’m using the two bookends, and I think the most likely winner may be a square price.

That’s #10 BIRD’S EYE VIEW, who likes this turf course and has a substantial amount of back class. He’s run up against plenty of stakes-quality opposition, and I think his tactical speed will allow him to sit a perfect trip. I’m also going to use #1 PRIORITIZE, who almost certainly needed his last start and ran third in last year’s Grade 2 Hill Prince at this route.

RACE #13: We finish with the Grade 2 Brooklyn at the marathon 12-furlong distance. Unlike the Belmont, I think there may be a bit of speed signed on here, so my top pick is #6 ROCKETRY, who has shown a rare ability to make up ground going this long. He got very good near the end of last year, and if he channels that form, I think he’ll be the one they have to hold off late.

I’ll also use several of the other logicals, as #1 MARCONI, #2 CAMPAIGN, and #7 YOU’RE TO BLAME are all contenders in good form. This wound up a very intriguing betting race, and your guess is as good as mine with regard to which horse winds up favored.

MULTI-RACE EXOTIC TICKETS

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #2

R2: 4,8,9
R3: 4,5,6
R4: 4
R5: 2

9 Bets, $4.50

Either play it for cheap action early in the card, or punch it a few times to increase the potential payoff. I’m not sure how much this’ll pay, but I’ve at least left some room to beat a favorite or two early to squeeze whatever value I can out of the sequence.

$1 Grand Slam: Race #7

R7: 2,4,7,8
R8: 1,4,9
R9: 2
R10: 8

12 Bets, $12

I enjoy playing the Grand Slam at NYRA tracks when the payoff leg features a very heavy favorite. If you keep a chalk or two out of the money along the way, it’s essentially an enhanced-odds win bet (provided you get multiple tickets going, which is essential). That’s what I’m going for here, and hopefully I can get some value out of Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 1,4
R9: 2,3,7
R10: 3,8
R11: 4,8,9,10

48 Bets, $24

I like this sequence a lot. There are no singles in some big fields, and there’s room for some prices to shake things up. With how big the pool’s going to be, I had to take a swing here, and I’m happy with this $24 ticket that could pay stacks if Tax gets home.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #10

R10: 3,8
R11: 4,8,9,10
R12: 1,10
R13: 1,2,6,7

64 Bets, $32

The last two races of the card may get lost in the shuffle, but they’re good betting races that don’t have clearly-defined favorites. This makes the final Pick Four of the day a very attractive sequence, one where I’ve got plenty of coverage for a reasonable amount of money.

Analysis, Selections, and Tickets: Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita (1/6/18)

We’ve come to the first Saturday of the new year, and with it come two intriguing programs at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Gulfstream has an assortment of ungraded stakes races on the docket, while Santa Anita will host two graded events, one of which features Kentucky Derby points for the top four finishers. I’ve got two multi-race tickets at each track, so let’s get going!

GULFSTREAM PARK

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 10,11
R2: 2,3,6
R3: 3,5
R4: 3,5
R5: 4,7,8

72 Bets, $36

If you believe in the axiom, “Pace makes the race,” the outside two horses look like the ones to beat in the Saturday opener. There’s a lot of early speed signed on, and this race appears to set up for closers #10 FAN BASE and #11 LITTLE BALTAR. The outside posts give me some pause, but so many horses inside of them need the lead, and I think those runners will be backing up late.

I thought the second race was very interesting. I don’t like #7 ROYAL HOLIDAY or #8 ALIEN INVASION, both of whom may not want two turns. My top pick is #2 FLYING LIBERTY, who exits a minor stakes race and won at this route three back. I’ll also use #6 COMETIN, who likes this turf course, and I’m also throwing in #3 WICKED BOY, on the off chance he replicates his two-back effort beneath new jockey Jose Ortiz.

The third is the Limehouse Stakes, and I’m intrigued by #3 PIVEN, who ships in from Woodbine. Usually, that’s not an angle I like, but he’s been working very well lately, and if he runs to those drills, he’ll be very tough. I’m also using #5 EMPIRE POWER, who may be the controlling early speed in this short field.

I’m also two-deep in the fourth, where I’ll use a pair of class-droppers. #3 WHAT POWER last ran for a $35,000 tag and goes out for the red-hot Marcus Vitali barn, while #5 SPORTSCASTER has a number of solid races over this turf course and won in his last start at this level.

The payoff leg is the Glitter Woman Stakes, and I’m three-deep in what turned out to be a fascinating field. #4 CICATRIX and #7 ELEVENSES both romped in their debuts for trainers whose first-time starters aren’t always fully cranked, so they definitely merit consideration. I’m also using #8 FOXTROT SALLY, who may have simply not wanted two turns last time out in the Grade 2 Golden Rod. Javier Castellano’s presence is a positive, and we may get a bit of a price given the recent dud.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #8

R8: 5,6,10
R9: 8
R10: 3,6
R11: ALL

72 Bets, $36

With 42 entrants across four races, there’s plenty of room for this to pay pretty well, even if shorter-priced horses find the winner’s circle. The first three legs may be formful, but if we get to the last leg, we’ll hit, and hopefully for a nice chunk of change.

The eighth is a seven-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds, and we may see some of these horses on the road to the Kentucky Derby. #6 LIFE’S A PARLAY debuts for Todd Pletcher, and this $725,000 auction purchase is bred to be a good one. With that in mind, though, some of the workouts are pretty slow, so I want a bit more coverage than just him. #5 COVE BLUE has shown ample early speed and should relish the cutback in distance, while #10 ORBED probably needed his debut and should improve at second asking, especially with the added furlong.

I’m excited for the ninth, as there’s a 9/2 shot I really like. #8 ANDINA DEL SUR rallied impressively in her debut, and that race has proven to be a live one given the next-out winners it has produced. Every part of her pedigree says she wants to go two turns, and there should be plenty of early speed in here to set up for the kick she showed in her unveiling. I’d be very happy if we got the morning line price.

Like most people, I think the 10th race, the Mucho Macho Man, is a two-horse race. #3 DAK ATTACK was one of the most impressive 2-year-olds in the country last summer before going to the sidelines, and #6 MASK was a sharp first-out winner for Chad Brown. I’d be pretty surprised if the winner wasn’t one of those two runners.

If we get through those three legs, we’re assured to hit this wager. I needed to buy the Saturday finale because I didn’t have a clue, and judging by the morning line odds, I’m not alone. The 7/2 favorite is a horse that has been beaten a total of 33 1/4 lengths in two lifetime starts. The 4-1 second choice trailed in his debut and was beaten more than 24 lengths at odds of 32-1. If you’ve got conviction, good for you. I certainly don’t, and if we get to this point, I’ll be rooting for pari-mutuel chaos.

SANTA ANITA

$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1

R1: 5
R2: ALL
R3: 3,7,8,10
R4: 1,5,12
R5: 6

96 Bets, $48

My initial feeling is that the Pick Five sequence that kicks off with the Saturday opener could wind up a bit chalky. The bookends feature popular singles, and hopefully, we can get a price or two home in the middle legs.

At first, I wanted to play against #5 MIDNIGHT SWINGER in the first. She’s dropping in class after losing her last eight races. However, the more I looked at this race, the more I disliked her opponents. #8 ROAD TEST was beaten by that one two back, #2 TIZ ADORE is 1-for-12 and has had many chances to break through, and #9 QUINN MURPHY hasn’t won since being claimed this past summer. It’s a “hold your nose” single, but that’s where I’m going.

Singling twice allows me to spread elsewhere, and I need to hit the “ALL” button in the second race. This is a bottom-level claiming event featuring horses that seem to take turns beating one another. I can’t back any of these horses with conviction, so I’ll use all eight and hope for a price.

I’m also going pretty deep in the third. This is a maiden claimer, and I can’t get too excited about any of these, either. #8 PSYCHEDELICAT may go off favored, and his Beyer Speed Figures are such that I need to use him, but he’s 0-for-12 and has never so much as run second. Of the four I used, I most prefer #7 CONFIRMED, who just missed when dropping down to this level last time out, and #10 PATH OF EXILE, who drops down in class and is eligible to improve second off the layoff for trainer Michael McCarthy.

If #12 RANCOR had gotten a better post, she may have merited a single. She did everything but win in her turf debut at Del Mar, when she was a length behind next-out stakes winner Ippodamia’s Girl. A repeat of that race would make her tough, but she’s parked way outside, so I need to use two others. #1 PAVED was third that day, and #5 EVER SO TRUE exits the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante, where she was beaten just three lengths.

The fifth is the Grade 3 Sham for 3-year-olds, and it features one of the top Kentucky Derby prospects on the west coast. That’s #6 MCKINZIE, who was put up in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity. He’s worked very well since then, and if he runs his usual race, he’s going to be incredibly tough to beat.

$0.50 Pick Four: Race #6

R6: 5,6,7,11
R7: 6,7,8,9
R8: 1
R9: 4,6,7,10,12

80 Bets, $40

I thought the Pick Five was pretty chalky. The late Pick Four? Not so much. I think this has the potential to pay very well, and my ticket spreads in three legs while singling a 6-1 shot in the other one.

We start off the sequence with a maiden claimer, and I’m not overly impressed by many of these runners. Of the four I used, the two I like most are #5 IMPECUNIOUS, who ships down from Golden Gate, and #11 KARMIC AFFINITY, who’s been working well ahead of her debut and draws a cushy outside post.

The seventh is the Grade 2 San Gabriel, and while the cast of characters may be a bit underwhelming, the evenly-matched nature of it makes for a fun betting race. I’m four-deep, and one horse I used figures to be a big price. #9 FREE ROSE ran just once in 2017, but he’s done very little wrong over the course of his career. That one race was a solid fourth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, where he finished just two lengths behind Bal a Bali. If he’s right, I think he’s got a big shot.

My single comes in the third leg, a seven-furlong claiming event. #1 KISS MY LULU seems like the race’s main speed, and inside speed has been very good in these extended sprints so far this meet. I’m tossing the two recent races over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface, as she’s much better on conventional dirt. If she breaks well, she could get an ideal setup, and because of that, I really like her.

If we’re alive going into the finale, we’ll be five-deep. #10 INSTANT REFLEX isn’t a bad favorite, but she’s never run down the hill before, and that’s a major concern. I’ll use her, but I need coverage elsewhere. The longshot that has to be on my ticket is #7 PHANTOM PROTON, who was beaten less than four lengths in a fast race at this route two back before running into the talented Painting Corners last time out at Del Mar. There’s plenty of speed to set up for her late kick, and the presence of top downhill rider Corey Nakatani is a huge plus.