06/05/2009 1:02PM

HandiGambling the Belmont


Saturday's HandiGambling 136 exercise will be the Belmont Stakes.   

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan."   Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. 

The same rules for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness HandiGambling exercises will apply for the Belmont.  There is a Brooklyn Handicap/Belmont Stakes (Friday/Saturday) Daily Double wager for those so inclined.  You can spend the $100 in any fashion.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place.  The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are.  I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought process about wagering, it would be appreciated.

With all due respect to MINE THAT BIRD, I'm going to try and beat him in the Belmont with two horses that skipped a date with the plucky gelding in the Preakness.

CHARITABLE MAN was the most promising juvenile I witnessed during the 2008 Saratoga season, and the sky seemed the limit for the son of Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid after his efficient score in the Grade 2 Futurity during the Belmont Fall Championship meeting.  Unfortunately, a saucer fracture to his left shin ended his 2-year-old season as well as his Kentucky Derby dreams.
He didn't run well in his three-year-old debut in the Blue Grass, but it's quite possible he was rusty off the six-month layoff, and he may not have handled Keeneland's polytrack surface.  His win in the Peter Pan allayed fears that he wasn't the same horse after the injury.  Although Charitable Man's trip in the Peter Pan wasn't overly taxing - he tracked the unrateable speed of pacesetter Hello Broadway and inherited the lead on the turn - he showed some class by flicking away the late-kickers despite being relatively close to those hot fractions. 
It could be argued that it was Rachel Alexandra's tactical advantage that bested Mine That Bird in the Preakness.  The filly blew the race wide open with three furlongs to go, and played "catch me if you can" with the rest of the field.  The same scenario may occur in the Belmont, only with Charitable Man playing the role of the filly.  Charitable Man has good early speed.  If he's not on the lead heading into the backstretch, he figures to be tracking the pacesetter, and Alan Garcia may go for the throat midway on the final turn.  If he is able to open up on his rivals at that point, the onus is on Mine That Bird and friends to come get him.  That task may not be easy.

DUNKIRK made an eye-catching four wide sweep to poke his gray head in front at the quarter-pole of the Florida Derby only to be turned back by the classy Quality Road in the lane.  He was battling a speed bias that day, and although he was shooed away by the winner late, he kept on to his task to finish second-best with ease.  He was one of the hype horses in the Derby despite his inexperience, and the journey was disastrous.  Dunkirk reportedly grabbed a quarter during the cavalry charge into the first turn, and didn't have an easy trip at all over the sloppy going.  Blame his inexperience if you will, but the circumstances surrounding his trip are reason enough to discount the poor running line.  It could be argued that Dunkirk has the most natural talent of any Belmont entrant, and he shouldn't be ignored as the likely third choice.

As for the rest of the field:

Chocolate Candy (#1) boasts a wonderful pedigree, but he failed to take advantage of a closer-friendly Pro-Ride surface in the Santa Anita Derby, and still must prove himself over dirt.  I like this horse - his race in the El Camino Real showcased his determination - but he needs to take a step forward to win this.

Mr. Hot Stuff (#3), like Chocolate Candy, has a beautiful pedigree and is unproven on dirt.  The full brother to 2008 Travers winner Colonel John is still very green.  While he should handle this distance, he is another performer that must improve to pull off the upset.  I think he has the potential to be a solid horse later in the year, if not in 2010.

I tried to make a serious case for Summer Bird (#4) as a win candidate, but ultimately relegated him to a minor award.  He rallied nicely and galloped out well in the Arkansas Derby after breaking poorly and racing four wide on the final turn, but he was aided by a hot pace up front that day, and was late to change leads.  His Derby wasn't bad, and he has upside potential.  I like the rider change to Kent D., and the addition of blinkers may entice Summer Bird into the race a bit quicker.  He has a chance here.

Luv Gov (#5) needed 10 tries to break his maiden, and his only win came over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.  The Preakness try wasn't very promising, and he is hard to endorse in this spot despite a sire line that emphasizes stamina.

Mine That Bird (#7) proved that his 50-1 shocker in the Kentucky Derby wasn't a fluke with his bang-up performance in the Preakness.  Speed figure fans will note that his last two races are faster than anything the rest of the field has ever run with the exception of Dunkirk's Florida Derby, but I just don't like playing one-run closers, and he'll have his work cut out for him if the leaders steal away entering the final turn.  He's become a very likeable horse, and he should make his presence felt in a positive way.

Flying Private (#8) didn't have the easiest trip in the Preakness when a rallying fourth, and the race was certainly an improvement off his last-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.  Flying Private used to show early speed, and I won't be surprised in the least if Julien Leparoux has his mount closer than expected going into the clubhouse turn.  Although eligible for a 'n2L' allowance race, Flying Private's Preakness was solid, and he isn't completely out of this.  Plus, Olivia Katherine Duckworth, the handicapper that selected Mine That Bird to win the Kentucky Derby, sticks with number eight.

Miner's Escape (#9) may be one of those Mineshaft runners that needed time to figure the game out.  After five bad losses to start his career, the Nick Zito-trained colt has now won two in a row against much-weaker competition.  He has speed, and should be prominent from the start.  The similarities to Da'Tara, last year's Belmont spoiler, are striking.  Both are Mineshaft colts trained by Nick Zito with early speed. 

Brave Victory (#10), a son of Lion Heart, may not want to go this far.  He rallied for third in the Peter Pan, but was aided by the hot pace up front. 

Here are my HandiGambling plays:

$50 Win -  Charitable Man (6)
$25 Exacta Box -  Dunkirk (2), Charitable Man (6)

Best of luck to all.


For what they're worth, here are a couple of opinions for some of the major stakes races at Belmont for today and tomorrow:

Hill Prince:

AFFIRMATIF may be heavily played based on his connections and gaudy speed figures, but he beat a very weak field last time at Pimlico, and did so despite finishing up on his wrong lead.  He's talented, but still a bit green, and he may have to rate just a bit with other speeds entered to his inside.  A hot pace works to CONSERVATIVE's advantage.  He won his maiden on grass at Gulfstream three back, then gave a nice effort in the Lexington over polytrack in his most recent appearance.  He was in and among horses for most of the way at Keeneland, angled six wide on the far turn, was bumped by the winner in upper stretch, and still finished decently for second.  Conservative has been working like clockwork for Shug McGaughey.  If he handles this soft turf course, his late run will make him a tough customer.
Selections:  Conservative, Affirmatif


DELOSVIENTOS, a true stayer, will take a lot of money based on his previous record at 1 1/2 miles, but his last race wasn't very good over sloppy going at Belmont, and I wasn't impressed with his loose-on-the-lead win on New Year's Eve at Aqueduct.  There figures to be some pace to keep Delosvientos honest in the Brooklyn, and that may set things up for EA.  Trained by the red-hot Tom Albertrani, Ea went to his knees at the start of the Schaefer at Pimlico three weeks ago, then ran in and among horses for the first three furlongs.  Ea finished evenly to dead-heat for the place, but seems like a plodding type that has a prolonged rally in his arsenal.  This will be his first start over wet going, and his first race over 10 1/2 furlongs, but he has really improved with blinkers, and gets a chance to add to Albertrani's gaudy stats in graded stakes races this year.
NITE LIGHT only ran three times in 2008, and found the 1 1/16 miles of the Frisk Me Now a bit short at Monmouth in his seasonal debut.  The winner of that race absolutely freaked, giving Nite Lite no chance, but it was a solid prep for this Todd Pletcher-trained son of Lite Light.  He has some tactical speed, and shouldn't be ignored at a decent price.
Selections:  Ea, Nite Light

Just a Game:

FOREVER TOGETHER will be a single on the Pick 6 tickets of many handicappers.  She's obviously the horse to beat in the Just a Game, but there's no price to be had here, and I'm very intrigued by one of her challengers.  MY PRINCESS JESS showed a great deal of natural ability earlier in her career despite being hard to handle coming out of the starting gate.  While she still pulls hard in the initial furlong or so, she's relaxed much better with maturity,and I was very impressed with her recent win in the Beaugay.  My Princess Jess rated behind the leaders, made a three wide bid on the turn, and wasn't really urged until midstretch by Cornelio Velasquez.  Once Corny told her to go, she dropped the hammer on a field that included a pair of next-out winners.  My Princess Jess may sit a nice trip off likely pace factors RAW SILK and CAPTAIN'S LOVER, and may get the jump on Forever Together turning for home.  Whether she's good enough to beat the champion is questionable, but she's a good risk at a solid price.  Captain's Lover was a wise $27,000 yearling purchase by the powerful Team Valor syndicate, and she earned championship honors in her native South Africa in 2007.  She beat males on grass in France two back before running an even fourth in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.  She was entered in the Prix Perth in November, but reportedly flipped in the saddling ring and injured herself.  This isn't the first time she's acted up prior to a race, and it will be interesting to see how she handles the big crowd.  She has some ability, and shouldn't be discounted.
Selections:  My Princess Jess, Captain's Lover


JUSTWHISTLEDIXIE has won five in a row, and should be very dangerous at a short price in the Acorn, but she's missed some time since her most recent start on Marcy 27 due to an abscess in her left front foot.  I respect her greatly, but I think that FUNNY MOON is the real deal for Christophe Clement.  She adores wet racing surfaces, and there still may be moisture in the track when the fillies enter the starting gate for the Acorn.  Last time out, she pushed the pace while three wide on the far turn, and looked very sharp drawing away from next-out winner Solo Piano in the stretch.  I think she's eventually going to be a graded stakes performer at longer distances, but she handles a flat mile, and should get a solid pace to attack.  Her price should be acceptable as well.
Selections:  Funny Moon, Justwhistledixie


A tough race that features some grizzled veterans, but I'll go with a relative youngster in COWBOY CAL.  I have to admit that I've never been a big fan of the four-year-old (his habit of drifting out in the stretch is particularly vexing), but I can't argue with his results.  He's cracked the exacta in 10 of 13 starts, and was dead-game last time out at Churchill Downs when dropping a heartbreaker to Einstein, arguably the top older horse in North America at the moment.  The outside post position is annoying, and Cowboy Cal will likely have to rate off some other speeds, but he usually gives a good account of himself.
Selections:  Cowboy Cal


Charles Whittingham:

I'm a huge fan of ARTISTE ROYAL, and am expecting him to turn the tables on MIDSHIPS in the Whittingham.  Artiste Royal failed in his last two races, but he is a true 10-furlong specialist, and neither of those races were at 1 1/4 miles.  He is 6-15 at the Whittingham trip, and 1-15 at all other distances.  He showed off a sparkling turn of foot to win the San Marcos three starts back, then was stopped cold when rallying down on the rail in the Kilroe Mile on March 7.  Last time out, he missed the break by three lengths, and gave up a major tactical advantage to the speedy Midships.  Midships may feel some pressure from stretchout sprinter LIQUIDITY on Saturday, and a pace battle plays right into Artiste Royal's hooves. 
Midships seems like a need-the-lead sort, and his last two wins came at longer distances.  If he is able to relax early, he'll be very tough to down.  GLOBETROTTER is making his third start off an injury-induced layoff.  He has ability, but will be tested for class in this Grade 1.
Selections:  Artiste Royal, Midships, Globetrotter


More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.

Enjoy the racing.