06/07/2006 11:00PM

Belmont Stakes field - handicappers' profiles

Email

1 Platinum Couple

OWNER

Team Tristar Stable

TRAINER

Joseph Lostritto

Jockey

Jose Espinoza

DRF Line 50-1

Record 10-2-1-2

Best Beyer 82

STRENGTHS: Dam is a half-sister to Skip Away, and this colt is a half-brother to the stakes winner Dance Away Capote. Sire is a graded-stakes winner. He has a closing style that could suit the distance of the Belmont. Note that he is entered for the Grade 3 Hill Prince on Friday, for the main track only. He will be wearing blinkers for the first time in the Hill Prince or the Belmont.

WEAKNESSES: Well beaten in his last two races and can only boast a stakes win with statebred company. His best Beyer Figures falls short of his rivals' and he would have to find another gear he hasn't shown yet. Works over the course are just okay.

STRATEGY: He is a come-from-behind kind of horse. Blinkers could give him a bit more speed and position. He has done nothing to suggest he can run down the big boys in the lane.

VALUE: Odds will be up there, as they should be. Best value with this horse is to play him on the bottom of exotics.

- Kim Nelson


2 Sunriver

OWNER

Aaron & Marie Jones

TRAINER

Todd Pletcher

Jockey

Rafael Bejarano

DRF Line 4-1

Record 7-3-2-1

Best Beyer 102

STRENGTHS: Consistency has been his specialty. He has finished among the first three in all six of his races on a fast track. He has improved steadily in his recent races. He was third, only 3 1/2 lengths behind Barbaro, in the Florida Derby, then won the Peter Pan by a neck in his last start. The 102 Beyer he earned in that victory is only a point lower than the highest number earned by any member of the Belmont field. He likes this track, with a 2-1-1-0 record, and has enough tactical speed to stay within striking distance of the leaders during the early going.

WEAKNESSES: His lone poor performance came in his only start on a sloppy track. He finished seventh, 9 1/4 lengths behind Barbaro in that race. If he is unlucky and catches a wet track, he would have to run a much better race to contend. Other than that, he has no significant drawbacks.

STRATEGY: Although he was in the rear half of the pack at the first call in each of his last three races, he wasn't very far behind the leader, with deficits ranging from 2 1/2 to 4 lengths. He will have a tactical advantage over the deep closers.

VALUE: Following a win at this track at low odds as the favorite in the Peter Pan, Sunriver is likely to attract good betting support.

- Steve Klein


3 Hemingway's Key

OWNER

Kinsman Stable

TRAINER

Nicholas Zito

Jockey

Jeremy Rose

DRF Line 12-1

Record 7-2-0-1

Best Beyer 95

STRENGTHS: The human connections are his biggest asset. Trainer Nick Zito is no stranger to posting upset victories in Triple Crown events, most notably shocking Triple Crown hopeful Smarty Jones with Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont Stakes. Hemingway's Key captured his first two starts, so there is some talent here. The Preakness distance fit his off-the-pace style, and more distance in the Belmont Stakes should be a plus. Pimlico shippers starting at the Belmont spring meet the past two seasons have a terrific record.

WEAKNESSES: He had trouble in the Lexington (six or seven wide) and the Lane's End (steadied at quarter pole), but received a much better trip in the Preakness. A late-runner in a big field, he will need the proper pace setup and another clean trip to land a major share. There does not appear to be a strong pace in this event, which clearly leaves the deep closers up against it. While he finished third in the Preakness, he was really not close to the top pair and enters this winless in 2006.

STRATEGY: Very simple for this one-run closer: Sit far off the early pace while saving whatever ground he can, and hope there's a lightning-fast pace up front. In both of his 2-year-old victories, he did not show any speed, but finished strongly.

VALUE: Despite his third-place finish in the Preakness, he figures to approach double-digit odds in a big, competitive field. The 12-furlong Belmont Stakes distance should help his exotics chances, and he will be hard to leave off the back end of the exotic tickets.

- Art Gropper


4 Bob and John

OWNER

Stonerside Stables

TRAINER

Bob Baffert

Jockey

Garrett Gomez

DRF Line 6-1

Record 10-4-1-3

Best Beyer 102

STRENGTHS: He has not raced since the Kentucky Derby, so he is a fresher horse than some of these. He was up the track there, but note the trouble he encountered, and outside of that race he has been very consistent. He beat a decent field in the Wood despite a forward trip just off some rapid fractions, and in fact this is a field of similar quality. He also proved in the Wood that he can handle an off track, should that condition arise Saturday.

WEAKNESSES: He wants to be up close, and at this extended distance and with a good amount of speed in this field, he may have to prompt some solid fractions. As good as the field seemed to be in the Wood, only one horse of the nine returned to win his next start. His best Beyer Speed Figure came against only four rivals in the Sham, where he prompted a slow pace before drawing off against his overmatched rivals. He would probably need to match that Beyer to win this, and won't get that kind of trip here, it seems.

STRATEGY: He wants to be close up early, that has been proven, but he can't win it if he is involved in any kind of battle through fast fractions. He will use his speed to get position and should be ideally spotted just off the front-runners.

VALUE: Worth using in exotics at 6-1 or so. If he is much less than that he is an underlay given his running style.

- Kenny Peck


5 High Finance

OWNER

West Point Thoroughbreds

TRAINER

R.A. Violette Jr.

Jockey

Eibar Coa

DRF Line 15-1

Record 5-2-2-1

Best Beyer 103

STRENGTHS: In a Belmont Stakes lacking the Derby or Preakness winner, the improving High Finance's 103 Beyer from a May 4 allowance win is not only good enough for top last-race Beyer honors, but is the best single figure in the field. His latest victory places him alongside Sunriver as the lone starters to have triumphed over the Belmont strip, and he also was a March 4 runner-up to subsequent Preakness champ Bernardini. This grandson of 1982 Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo may prove the controlling speed. His recent drills, most notably an outstanding one-mile breeze on May 28, have been superb.

WEAKNESSES: High Finance attempts this classic event directly off a first-level allowance score over a 1-for-5 opponent. The Belmont not only represents his initial two-turn and stakes tries, but his first journey beyond one mile. He was able to set an easy pace en route to his lone victory against winners and now must carry that zip a demanding 12 furlongs.

STRATEGY: Eibar Coa was able to dictate his own terms on the lead in High Finance's last win and will try to do the same in the Belmont. Leading from gate to wire in this race isn't easy, yet this isn't an imposing Belmont field.

VALUE: He will likely be available in the neighborhood of 10-1. Seasoning and class issues don't seem as much a stumbling block on this year's Triple Crown trail (see Bernardini), although a win by this untested colt would still be labeled at least a mild upset.

- Paul Malecki


6 Oh So Awesome

OWNER

Team Valor Stables LLC

TRAINER

James Jerkens

Jockey

Mike Smith

DRF Line 20-1

Record 7-1-2-2

Best Beyer 91

STRENGTHS: He has been running on turf for most of his career, but is bred to appreciate the dirt, being by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Awesome Again, so we likely haven't seen the best this colt has to offer. Though never a threat to win his U.S. debut, he made up nearly nine lengths over a track that was favoring horses racing on or close to the lead. The Team Valor Stable, which raced another European import, My Memoirs, in the 1992 Belmont, owns him. My Memoirs finished a close second to A.P. Indy and ahead of Preakness winner Pine Bluff.

WEAKNESSES: Obviously has never faced a field this good. Neither colt who beat him last time was considered for the Belmont. In France, he endured four losses at minor provincial tracks before winning his first race on the classier Parisian circuit. Though it's still too early to know the extent of his abilities on dirt, his lone dirt Beyer of 91 has been easily surpassed by all other viable Belmont candidates.

STRATEGY: Typically showed stalking tactics in France, but the faster pace of American racing caused him to be farther off the leaders than usual last time. Expecting he will be kept within closer striking range this time.

VALUE: With bettors likely to focus on contenders with stronger domestic form, he will likely start between 20-1 and 30-1, not a bad price for a horse who still has plenty of upside on the dirt.

- Vance Hanson


7 Deputy Glitters

OWNER

Joseph Lacombe Stable

TRAINER

Tom Albertrani

Jockey

Edgar Prado

DRF Line 20-1

Record 8-2-1-0

Best Beyer 102

STRENGTHS: Deputy Glitters has a good foundation, with five starts under his belt this year, and he is one of the five entrants who have posted a triple-digit Beyer. Though he was unable to overcome the 14-hole in the Derby, he has tactical speed and he owns the top-rated Tomlinson figure in the field for this distance by far. He has been working sharply over the Belmont dirt for the Preakness-winning stable and he will not have to contend with nearly as many speed horses as he did in the Derby. A cleaner trip from a better post in a shorter field than in the Derby makes it more likely he'll be able to run his race.

WEAKNESSES: His top effort came at 1 1/16 miles vs. Grade 3 company, so there is some question as to whether he can live up to his Tomlinson rating for 1 1/2 miles or be competitive vs. Grade 1 company. He may not be quick enough to make it to the top flight of runners, which he prefers, and can get taken out of his game. Deputy Glitters has also been a disappointment when running over wet tracks.

STRATEGY: He has been most successful when able to set or press the pace, and figures to try to get in the first flight of horses. In the Derby, he was able to make up some ground from off the pace. He may have learned a thing or two from that experience and he won't have to go 11 wide down the lane to challenge here.

BETTING VALUE: After a midpack finish in the Derby he'll probably offer odds in the range of 15-1 to 25-1. Considering he beat the likely favorite, Bluegrass Cat, in the Tampa Bay Derby, it seems there will be good value relative to the risk.

- Eliot Safdie


8 Jazil

OWNER

Shadwell Stables

TRAINER

Kiaran McLaughlin

Jockey

Fernando Jara

DRF Line 6-1

Record 7-1-3-0

Best Beyer 97

STRENGTHS: With a proven superior closing kick, this son of Seeking the Gold should relish the distance of the Belmont, unless he is victimized by a pace that is slowed to a crawl. His rally in the Kentucky Derby to earn a dead heat for fourth place was all the more impressive considering he veered in at the break and had to be straightened out by jockey Fernando Jara. A maturing runner from an underrated trainer, this stretch threat must be respected regardless of the track condition.

WEAKNESS: Jazil may face nemesis Bob and John, and that one has defeated him before despite being caught in a prolonged pace battle. Also, unless there are some reasonable fractions in the Belmont, Jazil may have trouble getting into gear in time.

STRATEGY: With a stone closer such as this, he must lay back for one run and hope there is a battle up front and a clear rallying path. If Jara senses a slow pace, he must move early.

VALUE: Jazil is a runner who never seems to get bet despite his proven passing gear. He will offer value once again and is worth exotic inclusion, especially in minor positions.

- Jim Kachulis


9 Bluegrass Cat

OWNER

WinStar Farm

TRAINER

Todd Pletcher

Jockey

John Velazquez

DRF Line 3-1

Record 8-4-2-0

Best Beyer 101

STRENGTHS: After a couple of somewhat disappointing performances, this colt finally broke through, posting a career- best Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby. His dam's sire won the Belmont Stakes in 1992, so the added ground should pose little problem. Sitting out the Preakness has him fresh for this, and he should be ready to make another move forward. Being trained by Todd Pletcher is a big plus, as are victories over this track at 2. His tactical foot should have him just off the early lead, a style that often works well in this race.

WEAKNESSES: While he ran well behind Barbaro in the Kentucky Derby, he enjoyed a trouble-free trip while some of his Belmont rivals encountered traffic and are likely to have better journeys here. While his performance and pedigree both suggest that the 12-furlong trip is well within his scope, until he actually attempts it, the added ground remains a question.

STRATEGY: Other than High Finance and Double Galore, none of the entrants really has much experience running on the front end. That plays right into his hands, as he shouldn't be too far off of either of those colts, and that could give him first run on his late-running main rivals. John Velazquez will have this guy in just the right spot early.

VALUE: He's probably the favorite or at the very least the second choice in the wagering. It's often unwise to back a runner being asked to do something for the first time at a short price, so it's difficult to recommend a win bet at roughly 3-1. More value is likely to be had in exotics, both on top and underneath.

- Steve Grabowski


10 Double Galore

OWNER

Myung Kwon Cho

TRAINER

Myung Kwon Cho

Jockey

Mike Luzzi

DRF Line 50-1

Record 5-1-0-1

Best Beyer 90

STRENGTHS: He has got speed in a race that did not come up with a lot of speed. He is lightly raced with some upside for trainer Myung Kwon Cho, whose claim to fame might be the maiden Nationalore, who banked more than $300,000 while never winning a race. He did finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Although this colt has won a race, he still draws comparisons to Nolan's Cat, who finished third as a maiden in last year's Belmont.

WEAKNESSES: Maiden win to Grade 1 race says it all. His Beyer Speed Figures are below all but Platinum Couple's. He is no cinch to get the distance.

STRATEGY: Go fast and hope no one runs with him early. That's not so far-fetched as you may think. If his competitors view him as inferior, then they are apt to let him do whatever he pleases up front as he poses no threat. Right or wrong, it may enable this colt to get the early lead. n VALUE: Second-highest price on the board sounds great and all, but only if he can hang on for a slice, which seems unlikely. The class jump and added distance look to do him in well before the eighth pole. No play in our book.

- Scott Ehlers


11 Steppenwolfer

OWNER

Lawana & Robert Low

TRAINER

Daniel Peitz

Jockey

Robby Albarado

DRF Line 5-1

Record 9-3-2-3

Best Beyer 98

STRENGTHS: Steppenwolfer is coming into the Belmont relatively fresh. He has worked three times at Belmont in the five weeks since his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, most recently an eye-catching six furlongs in 1:10.20 last Friday. A deep closer in most of his races, look for him to be not so far back this time with the pace of this 1 1/2-mile race likely to be slower than early fractions in the Derby. His super work shows he is coming into this race at the top of his game, and a fresh horse is more likely to have success at this marathon distance than one who has battled recently. His sire, Aptitude, captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup over this track in 2001, and Steppenwolfer seems to handle it very well.

WEAKNESSES: His reputation as a deep closer may deter a few backers, as the Belmont is often won by a horse with more tactical speed, seeing as the slow pace that sometimes develops hinders a close-from-the-clouds type.

STRATEGY: Look for Steppenwolfer to settle mid-pack in the Belmont, depending on how fast the early fractions are. The sweeping turns of Belmont should favor his closing style. The homestretch gives him plenty of time to get up.

VALUE: Look for Steppenwolfer to be second or third choice behind Sunriver and Bluegrass Cat at somewhere between 9-2 and 6-1.

- Bill Howard


12 Sacred Light

OWNER

Amerman Racing Stables LLC

TRAINER

David Hofmans

Jockey

Victor Espinoza

DRF Line 12-1

Record 7-1-1-2

Best Beyer 99

STRENGTHS: Trainer David Hofmans brought a horse to the Belmont one other time. That horse was Touch Gold, who ruined Silver Charm's bid for the Triple Crown in 1997. Sacred Light has been on the board when facing horses like Brother Derek, Point Determined, and Bob and John. His only bad race was the Santa Anita Derby, where he stumbled badly at the start. Last time out, he couldn't catch Nolan's Cat in a Derby Day allowance race at Churchill Downs, but he was closing fast. He has worked three times since that race, including a six-furlong workout at Belmont June 6.

WEAKNESSES: Sacred Light's only win came via disqualification at Del Mar when he was a 2-year-old. Since then, he has been on the board in graded stakes, but he would look much better coming into this race if he could have at least won the Churchill allowance race.

STRATEGY: Sacred Light gets stronger the farther he goes. He'll have the best chance of keeping his momentum and passing horses late if his rider can keep him to the outside of horses in the stretch.

VALUE: When Touch Gold won this race in 1997, he had much stronger credentials than this horse does. Sacred Light will be a good value. He was 8-1 in the five-horse Santa Anita Derby and has a chance to upset this field at longer odds today.

- Kristin Sadler