09/27/2013 1:00PM

Belmont: DRF Plus handicapping report for September 28, 2013


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Race 1

Live Longshot

FOURSEVENTEEN (#11, 6-1): He’s run several races on the Widener course that would do some damage and the grass has been favoring his stretch-running style of late. Had excuses in both starts at Saratoga. -Dave Litfin


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Race 2

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Race 3

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Race 4

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Race 5

The Beldame is the first of five Grade 1’s to be run at Belmont on Super Saturday, and it features an enticing matchup between to best older mare in the country, ROYAL DELTA (#4, 3-5) and the likely champion three-year-old filly when all is said and done for 2013, PRINCESS OF SYLMAR (#2, 2-1).

Royal Delta deserves top billing here, as she looks to defend her Beldame title before going on to Santa Anita to likely shoot for a third straight Breeders’ Cup Distaff (yes, it’s called the Distaff again this year, finally), though I guess there is a chance that she tries for the Classic this time. For a mare who has endured some high profile defeats throughout her career - there was her second career start way back in 2011 at Tampa; last years Personal Ensign at Saratoga where she seemed flat and settled for second best; the pair of unproductive trips to Dubai; and that puzzling effort in the Fleur de Lis back in June - Royal Delta has actually been remarkably consistent over three full seasons on the track. She has won 12-of-20 career races, including six Grade 1’s, finished 2nd or 3rd in three other Grade 1 events, and, of course, has dominated the last two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. What makes her so tough at this stage of the game, and what is going to make her tough on Saturday, is the high rate of speed she can carry over long distances. Royal Delta appears to be in a prime position to add to her resume on Saturday, as the field just did not come that strong, and she figures to be controlling the action up front.

That race shape figures to make things tough on the 3yo Princess of Sylmar, a highly talented daughter of Majestic Warrior who is one tough trip away from entering the Beldame on an eight race win streak, including three straight big Grade 1’s vs. her fellow sophomores. Make no mistake, she is a very good horse, and is not hopeless vs. Royal Delta, but it is not going to be easy, especially if that one is controlling things up front.

I know upsets happen, but the other four entered here are in very tough and will need something odd to happen to wind up being newly minted Grade 1 winners on Saturday.


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Race 6

Think the Kelso all boils down to how you feel about GRAYDAR (#2, 7-5), Todd Pletcher’s gray 4yo who has won 4-of-5 career starts, and was among the top handicap horses in the country after a pair of graded stakes wins earlier this year. The problem with taking Graydar at a short price on Saturday is that he has not run in almost six months due to surgery to remove ankle chips after his win in the New Orleans Handicap, and the fact that the only time he has run in NY also came off of a layoff at this distance, and it is the worst performance of his career, by far. He can clearly win this race, but he’ll likely need something close to his best race to do so, and to me there are other options in here at better prices, which makes Graydar a horse I’m trying to beat on Saturday.

The second choice on the ML is the Robert LaPenta entry of EASTER GIFT and JACKSON BEND (#’s 1 & 1A, 5-2). Jackson Bend is a nice horse who has made over $1.7 million in his career, and is in the midst of a comeback of sorts after going off form last summer and briefly being considered for stud duty. He ran well to be second best in the Grade 1 Forego last out at Saratoga, and has races to get back to which would make him a major player in here, but it is his entrymate that interests me more in this spot. Easter Gift has appeared to be a horse heading in the direction of some better races all year long for trainer Chad Brown; unfortunately, he’s had some trouble putting races together. He returned from a short layoff with a much-the-best win in the Mountainview Handicap at Penn National on June 1st, but then missed almost three more months before resurfacing at Saratoga. I thought he ran very well that day despite ultimately settling for second best, and think that effort should have him set up well for the Kelso. Unfortunately, he is coupled in the wagering with Jackson Bend which kills any value he may have offered in here.

I’m going to instead try to get SOUPER SPEEDY (#5, 7-2) to upset Graydar, assuming he goes off at a better price than the entry. Souper Speedy took some time to develop after beginning his career with promise, and he appears to have put things together returning to NY this spring. He paired up 105 Beyers in winning back-to-back sprints (he was justly elevated to first in the sloppy Jaipur after being badly carried out and bumped by stablemate Big Screen through the stretch), and his two efforts at Saratoga are better than they may appear on paper. In the Grade 3 Marvin, it appeared briefly after the start that no one was going for the lead, so you can’t blame Jose Lezcano for making the decision to send Souper Speedy after it; unfortunately, a couple of other riders came to the same conclusion, and he wound up in a three-way speed duel all the way around to mid-stretch. Souper Speedy survived the duel, but he had nothing left to hold off the closers and settled for 4th. His narrow decision over allowance foes last time may be viewed somewhat skeptically, but he was rated that day and, of course, the pace really was a crawl, with runnerup Say No More fairly walking along on a :45.3 half-mile split. Souper Speedy was game to close that horse down at the end, and considering the pace, it was another strong effort for him.

I’ll also mention that PRAETEREO (#3, 15-1) is a horse I’m going to try to get into the mix, at the very least as an under key in exactas & tri’s, as he has been badly compromised by the pace of his most recent efforts, which makes him an interesting longshot to include somewhere.


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Race 7

The Vosburgh drew an evenly matched field of eight, with a lukewarm ML favorite in JUSTIN PHILLIP (#2, 3-1). I get why he is favored, and understand that he can win this race, but Justin Phillip is just a horse that I am happy to bet against anytime he is a short price, as he been been a very unreliable horse throughout most of his career. I am of the opinion that his Grade 1 Vanderbilt win two back isn’t as strong a race as it may appear, as the two favorites in that race (Gentlemen’s Bey & Delaunay) failed to show up with their best races.

Perhaps the most dangerous horse in the race in Doug O’Neill’s California invader PRIVATE ZONE (#8, 4-1). Private Zone was a bit of a hard luck horse toward the end of his 3yo season, doing the dirty work in four straight stakes races only to come up short at the end. He returned from a trip to Dubai and finally found his way to the winners circle vs. restricted stakes horses, but he didn’t make it easy on himself that day either; after making a relatively easy lead and putting his competition on the chase, he appeared to idle once in the stretch and almost allowed the eventual runnerup in the race to take the race from him. Private Zone is perfectly drawn outside here, and ultimately just may have much more speed than his rivals in this spot. That makes him very dangerous, though he will have to run hard for the full six-furlongs this time.

I think this is a pretty uninspiring group of older sprinters this year, so I’ll be taking seriously the chances of any 3yo stepping up in these races through the fall, and FORTY TALES (#1, 7-2) fits the bill here. He is a deep closer, who has certainly gotten the right set up’s in his races all spring & summer with one fast & contested pace after another in front of him, but it’s to his credit that he’s taken advantage to post wins in the Derby Trial, Woody Stephens, and Amsterdam. We’ll see if this pace comes back to him a bit late, but he feels like a bit of an underlay in this race.

I’m going to take my chances with THE LUMBER GUY (#5, 8-1) and hope that Mike Hushion has him back to his best after a lost voyage out in California earlier this year. I don’t mind that he ran, and lost, to NY-breds up at Saratoga off the layoff, because he appeared to need that race, and I’m hoping that him dueling and then getting tired in the stretch is exactly what Hushion was looking for to get him tight for a title defence in this race. He has appeared to work very strongly up to this race, and if’s he’s back to his best, I think he’s better than these horses. 8-1 on the ML line feels like excellent value, so I’ll be betting The Lumber Guy to win, and playing him mostly with Private Zone in the exotics.

Spot Play

STRAPPING GROOM (#4, 5-1) is a speedy, Grade 1 winner with consistently good Beyers and yet is a price due to his past days in the claiming ranks. – Byron King


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Race 8

The Flower Bowl features a double tough entry from Richard Santulli and Alan Goldberg of TANNERY and LAUGHING (#’s 1-1A, 8-5). Laughing has never been better than she is right now, with wins in all three starts this year, including both of the major races for older filly & mare turf horses up at Saratoga. She appears to be the clear speed in this race, and should prove tough to catch - assuming she sees out the 1 ¼ distance. I would actually prefer to play Tannery in this spot, as I think she remains a bit underrated and will have no problem with the distance of the Flower Bowl, but being coupled with Laughing makes liking her irrelevant.

I don’t have a good opinion in the race against the entry, which I expect to be hard to beat, but if I had to take a shot against them it would be with SOMALI LEMONADE (#3, 8-1). I haven’t been her biggest fan throughout her career, but she did appear to finally break through with an improved race at Parx two back, and she had an absolute no chance trip behind Laughing in the Ballston Spa, a race that saw the pace hold together from start to finish.


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Race 9

Imagine a strong entrant from the Ramsey’s in a Grade 1 turf race anywhere in the U.S; now imagine two of them, in the same race this time, with BIG BLUE KITTEN and REAL SOLUTION (#’s 2-2B, 8-5) coming together after splitting the duties on August 27th and returning home with a pair of Grade 1 wins in the Sword Dancer and the Arlington Million. It goes without saying that this entry should be taken seriously and it’s difficult to imagine a serious multi-race play where they aren’t used somewhere.

I am going to take a shot against that entry with SLUMBER (#4, 6-1). Bill Mott hasn’t been able to get much racing out Slumber since he arrived stateside back at the end of 2011, but when he has appeared on the track, he has shown plenty of ability. I’ll take it as a positive sign that he’s finally putting races together, and his win first back from an extended layoff at Saratoga left a strong impression. If he’s as good as I think he is, Saturday may be the time to get on him at a square price.

I’ll also include NUTELLO (#3, 8-1) in my play, as he appears to be an obvious candidate to improve in his second start over here, this time with Lasix on. He was a bit hard to handle in the Sword Dancer when settling for 3rd behind Big Blue Kitten and Twilight Eclipse, both of whom he meets again here, but with all of the speed signed on in this race, he should be able to settle much more comfortably in the early stages, which may make a big difference for him.


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Race 10

Race 10 is the main attraction on Super Saturday, the Grade 1 $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and it could hardly have come up a better race with the two top older horses in NY taking on two of the better 3yo’s in the country.

CROSS TRAFFIC (#8, 5-2) is the ML favorite and has appeared a major talent since arriving on the scene earlier this year. To this point, he is a head and a neck away from being an undefeated winner of both the Met Mile and the Whitney; heady stuff for a horse who has only made five career starts. It looks like he is in a position to clear to the early lead in the Gold Cup, and then it will come down to how comfortable he can get up there and how well he handles the 1 ¼ miles. It is at least a little disconcerting to go back and watch the way he was drifting around at the end of his Whitney win, and that came after he made an easy lead through a very moderate first quarter mile. It will pay to pay attention to how the track plays between Friday and Saturday, as the rail has been very strong since racing returned to Belmont Park, and if it remains that way, Cross Traffic could be at a big advantage.

He’s not the ML favorite in the race, but to me FLAT OUT (#6, 3-1) is the horse to beat as he goes for a remarkable three straight wins in this race. His merits are obvious, everyone knows by now that he does his best running at Belmont Park, and he figures very tough to hold off in here, especially if Cross Traffic takes some pressure and struggles with the distance.

The two 3yo’s stepping up in here both deserve serious consideration, though it won’t be easy for them to beat both of the horses already mentioned. I’ve been won over by PALACE MALICE (#7, 4-1) who has turned out to be the best of his crop to this point in the year (at least in my opinion). His Belmont win was an underrated performance without an easy trip, and he really appeared to step up his game at Saratoga. Considering the trip that he endured in the Travers after being put behind the eight ball at the break, he likely ran the best race that day and emerged as a very unlucky loser of that race. He’s a major threat on Saturday, though I do wonder what kind of trip he’ll get in this race, and what kind of price he’ll be. I think there is a scenario where he winds up racing closest to Cross Traffic throughout, and eventually having to go after that horse, which, to me, would be far from an ideal trip.

That is part of the reason why I prefer ORB (#2, 9-2) this time. He’s going to be able to sit back early and make one run, which may play well in this race (unless the track continues to carry inside runners), and I think his Travers was an under-discussed good effort, and a bounce back to a good race for Orb. He feels like a better price than his fellow 3yo this time, so I’ll go to him with Flat Out as my major two, and use both Cross Traffic and Palace Malice as backups in a terrific running of the Gold Cup.

Live Longshot

RON THE GREEK (#1, 12-1) gets more distance and, perhaps more importantly, should also get a much better race flow after chasing controlled fractions in both the Woodward and the Whitney, and catching a speed-biased strip in the Foster; that could enable him to move way up off those efforts, as he’s almost certainly better than those last couple of Beyers might indicate. –Kenny Peck


Vulnerable Favorite

CROSS TRAFFIC (#8, 5-2) comes off a win in the Whitney but he was all out to last despite a loose lead going nine furlongs there. He has an extra eighth of a mile to deal with here and he’s also likely to face at least some pressure. Taking a relatively short price on a speed horse going farther than he ever has is never a good idea. –Kenny Peck

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Race 11

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