06/05/2012 8:56AM

The Other Belmont Stakes This Week


What shouldn’t be completely lost in I’ll Have Another’s attempt at racing history Saturday is the strong Belmont Stakes undercard of four graded stakes. I have some preliminary opinions on them –preliminary, because no handicapper should be locked into initial opinions made 96 hours in advance – so let’s take a look.

The Grade 2 Woody Stephens lost a marquee player with the defection of Hansen, so it now looks like Trinniberg will be the strong favorite cutting back to the seven furlong distance at which he won the Swale and Bay Shore Stakes earlier this year. At least I hope he’s the strong favorite, because right now, I’m inclined to bet against him. Although Trinniberg might shake loose early, he got super easy, uncontested leads in the Swale and Bay Shore, and who knows how he will react after getting his head predictably handed to him last time out in a totally unsuitable start in the Kentucky Derby. I’m interested in Hierro, who has always been well regarded, and who responded to a change in scenery with a big win in the Derby Trial most recently.

The other sprint stakes on the card is the Grade 2 True North. Giant Ryan is sure to take considerable action because he won the Grade 1 Vosburgh last fall in his last start at Belmont, but he has something to prove to me. I thought the Vosburgh was run at a point in the card when the track was intensely speed favoring, and I thought Giant Ryan was greatly aided by the bias. Pacific Ocean is intriguing here. He impressed when he won the Vernon Underwood late last year, and though he hasn’t raced since, he will be making his first start Saturday for Rick Dutrow.

Given the current shaky nature of the male turf division, it is no surprise that the Woodford Reserve Manhattan is coming up light for a Grade 1 event. Depending on his price, Brilliant Speed could be a strong play for me. Brilliant Speed, third in last year’s Belmont Stakes, was a creditable third in the Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard considering he had little pace to rally into. He will now make his third start off a layoff while suitably stretching out in distance, and I will take my chances with him against the improved, but still unproven Boisterous, if the odds are right.

The Grade 1 Longines Just a Game Stakes is coming up anything but shaky, and the race favorites are anything but vulnerable. Winter Memories and Hungry Island are those two race favorites. They renew a rivalry of sorts as they traded stakes decisions last year at 3, and they do so in sharp form as both come into Saturday’s engagement off strong stakes victories. But Winter Memories is the more compelling figure even if she will be a considerably lower price than Hungry Island. Winter Memories has a certain, uncommon brilliance about her. The only knock on her is she hasn’t shown how special she is every single time out. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she saw to that matter this season.

There is also a stakes doubleheader Friday at Belmont and the featured Brooklyn Handicap at 1 1-2 miles serves two purposes: It makes sure the teletimer is working for 12 furlong dirt races, an important consideration in view of the next day’s headliner, and it is an early preview of the race we all look forward to in the fall, the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. Kidding aside, this Brooklyn is a great betting race, and I’ll be using Arthur’s Tale. Arthur’s Tale finished third in the Vanlandingham Stakes last time out against better (Trickmeister and Stay Thirsty), is making his third start off the layoff, and has a touch of back class as he was a narrowly beaten second in last year’s Grade 1 Wood Memorial. Arthur’s Tale also strikes me as the type who will like this kind of race.