09/05/2008 4:31PM

Back to Belmont



4:30 pm: So sue me. I took three days off from y'all after 41 consecutive days of posting, but now it's back to work and horseplay at Belmont, where the 38-day Fall Championship meeting began today. After 1-2 shot Lost Going Home won the opener for Mike Hushion -- back-to-back NYRA winners since he also won Monday's Getaway Race upstate -- we had four straight upsets combine for a $26,400 early pick-4, the last two legs of which were the first two legs of the pick-6, which already has a good chance of carrying over into Saturday's storm-threatened Garden City/Ruffian card.

The main track and turf courses are fast, firm and quick, with sub-1:10 clockings on dirt and grass in three of the early races. In the 2nd, a good-looking 2-year-old Baffert firster, Ventana, won his debut by five lengths in 1:09.90. A $410k 2yo-in-training purchase by Mike Pegram, the Toccet colt was jammed up inside early, moved out and up to within a length of a 44.68 half-mile, then drew off through the stretch.

One race later, Frankel returnee Les Grand Trois, beaten favorite in the '07 Malibu and unraced since March, was a disapponting third at 6-5 in a N3x allowance won by frontrunning Knight's Cross ($9.40) in 1:09.12. Then Billy Badgett firster Elusive Bluff lit up the board in the 4th at $67.50 in a one-mile juvenile grass race.

I haven't really gone a whole 96 hours without making a multirace wager. I decided to play Wednesday's closing-day late pick-4 at Del Mar, and I didn't get much action for my intricate 12-ticket play: in the first leg, Delta Storm at 42-1 ran down Black Seventeen to win the Pirate's Bounty, and all 12 tickets went to an early grave. Even in retrospect, I can not make a plausible case for the winner.

Today's LP4 at Belmont is going only slightly better. Hepcat ($7.50) was an A in the first leg, coming out off a brutal early duel against stronger at Saratoga last time out, but I had to go to the C list to survive on-a-roll James Bond and Turnupthevolume ($27.20) in leg 2, so it's down to a 4,8/1,7,10 to crawl home for a buck.

The closing-day tracks at Saratoga Monday and Del Mar Wednesday were almost identically quick, with Vineyard Haven's 1:23.40 in the Hopeful getting a Beyer of 84 and Midshipman's 1:23.35 in the Del Mar Futurity receiving an 85. Both figures are subpar for the year's first two Grade 1 races for 2-year-olds, though the winners were making only their third and second career starts respectively.

5:00 pm: Here's the Grade 1 lineup for the Belmont meet. With the BC in California this year and on a mystery surface, it's unlikely that this year's Belmont results will correspond as closely to the BC outcomes:

So much for that pick-4 play, as 2-1 Diamondrella came flying late to catch my two in teh featured Positive Gal Stakes. But there's definitely a $38,907 carryover for tomorrow: In the nightcap, the 2,4,7 and 10 are covered for 5/6, and 4/6 is good with anyone else.

Diamondrella worked five times at Saratoga but did not race there and today she showed why: All the turf sprints at Saratoga are 5 1/2 furlongs and she really needs six or more to be at her most effective. She trailed early but moved last and best to get up through a very quick final quarter. Diamondrella, a 4-year-old Rock of Gibraltar filly, who races for Castletop Stable and is trained by Angel Penna Jr., was timed in 1:08.09.

I'll be out at Belmont tomorrow, weather permitting. The last legs of Gustav and Hanna are supposed to hit Long Island tomorrow afternoon, which is why the G1 Garden City was carded as the 3rd race, to avoid a possible washout. The Ruffian goes as the 9th and Indian Blessing is expected to run rain or shine, given her romp in the Monmouth slop in last year's BC Juvenile Fillies. [Update 9/6 11 am: Indian Blessing scratched.]