06/24/2013 3:25PM

Belmont Park: $248K carryover card anchored by Lion Cavern Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Hardened Wildcat (above) faces Big Business and Strapping Groom in the Lion Cavern.

After going unhit Saturday and Sunday, a two-day, $248,140 pick-six carryover awaits bettors Wednesday at Belmont Park, with a nine-race card highlighted by the $100,000 Lion Cavern, an overnight stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Six older sprinters entered the Lion Cavern, carded as race 8 and thus the next-to-last leg of a pick six that gets under way with race 4 at 2:38 p.m. Eastern.

The familiar refrain “pace makes the race” will figure prominently in the Lion Cavern, because Hardened Wildcat, the slight 2-1 morning-line favorite over Big Business, is a late-runner in a short field without much early speed.

Hardened Wildcat burst on the scene early in his 3-year-old season, winning three in a row on Aqueduct’s inner track for Chad Brown, capped by a last-to-first score in the Fred “Cappy” Capossela Stakes.

Freshened after four subsequent defeats, Hardened Wildcat returned in April to garner his third-level allowance condition with a 101 Beyer Speed Figure.

In his next and most recent start, Hardened Wildcat trailed by a dozen lengths early in the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap and finished strongly to wind up a clear second behind Sage Valley, who was notching his fourth straight win.

[PICK SIX CARRYOVER: Get Belmont Park past performances]

“He was a little far behind, but that’s him,” Brown said. “He’s a come-from-behind sprinter. He made his move . . . we were just second best.”

On paper, Hardened Wildcat’s two main foes are Big Business and Strapping Groom, who are uncoupled for leading trainer David Jacobson.

Jacobson shook off a mild slump with a five-win weekend that extended his lead over Brown to 34-21. His just-claimed Strapping Groom is in position to dictate the pace, following a sharp try to just miss first time out in nearly 11 months.

Big Business has compiled a gaudy 7-3-0 slate from 10 starts on the circuit, including a sweep of his four starts at Belmont. He lugged in noticeably through a hard-fought victory June 2.

Leave of Absence and Smash, who dead-heated under third-level allowance conditions May 31, knock heads again. Saturday’s Charm, a no-factor fourth behind those two as the favorite, can contend if he rebounds from a nose loss in the Tom Fool Handicap two starts ago.

Assuming Mother Nature’s continued cooperation, the pick six is a manageable 6x8x8x10x6x10 as follows:

Fourth race: Cay to Pomeroy is the one to catch and beat if he runs to his first race as a gelding June 8, but he has yet to run two good races in a row. Longfor the City must cope with faster fractions advancing from an off-the-turf maiden win in the mud.

Fifth race: Crackerjack Jones, second at 4-5 in his May 4 unveiling, looms a likely single and the shortest price on the card for Mike Hushion, the meet’s top percentage trainer at 10 for 30 (33.3 percent).

Sixth race: Casting a wide net may be necessary to snag the winner of this optional claimer for New York-bred fillies and mares on grass. Lady’s Lunar Luck, Schillerette, and Wholelottashakin seem the likeliest suspects.

Seventh race: Budget-minded tickets will focus on Chance Encounter and Delightful Dawn, but horse-for-course Jolienne also is in with a chance, particularly if it rains.

Ninth race: Best of luck in this inscrutable cash-out leg, a bottom-level maiden claiming turf sprint where any among Antone Suavey, Slimshady, Poppy’s Watching, Lakota Freud, or Saguaro Blossom might prevail.