05/31/2010 12:00AM

Plenty of angles to choose from on Belmont Day


If you are a pace-oriented handicapper, front-running First Dude probably will be an attractive play in the Belmont Stakes on June 5. Among the 12 horses scheduled to run in the 1 1/2-mile classic, First Dude has the best early speed and the most overall speed. This could be a lethal combination for such a long race that frequently has been decided by the horse who can set and control a relatively leisurely pace. That said, First Dude's 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his gallant Preakness effort ranks only a shade better than Ice Box, who earned 100 for his Derby performance, Fly Down who won the Dwyer with a 99 Beyer, and Make Music for Me, who earned a creditable 97 while running fourth to Derby winner Super Saver.

If you are a class handicapper, you probably will try to separate the Nick Zito trained pair of Ice Box and Fly Down, both of whom have credentials that could be worth serious betting money.

At face value, Ice Box probably will get extra credit from many players for his Florida Derby win March 27 and his sudden late move for second money in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 1. After all, he did overcome serious traffic issues to fire his strong Derby rally. In fact, Ice Box's performance has been widely rated as the single best effort in the Derby. Yet, before we call Ice Box the classiest horse in the field, Fly Down's visually impressive rally to win the Dwyer Stakes over favored Drosselmeyer at Belmont on May 8 certainly suggested a deep reservoir of class, something that he may be ready to build upon.

Despite those finely tuned points, perhaps you believe that Belmont Stakes handicapping must also include pedigree issues. Then it will be hard to fault Ice Box, who is by Pulpit, a highly regarded son of 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy out of stakes-winning Spice Island, a daughter of the 1994 Belmont winner, Tabasco Cat.

The longshots in the field also have some handicapping points in their favor: Drosselmeyer has finished fourth, third and second in three straight graded stakes and just might be sitting on a peak performance for Hall of Fame trainer Billy Mott. Uptowncharlybrown also has a pair of in-the-money finishes in graded stakes this year and is eligible for improvement now that he is in the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin, one of America's most talented horsemen.

Game on Dude, who improved smartly to beat a weak field in the Lone Star Derby on May 8 with a creditable 95 Beyer Fig, could take another step forward for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert not only trained Point Given to win the 2001 Belmont, but he has trained eight other winners of Triple Crown races since 1997. Even Interactif, Stay Put, Stately Victor, Dave in Dixie and the seemingly overmatched Star Spangled are bred to handle long distances and might find favor with 12 furlongs.

Given all of the possibilities and various handicapping approaches that could lead in different directions, there is every possibility that the relative odds will be fair on most contenders in all wagering pools. Thus, I will look forward to using the Triple Crown trifecta wagering strategy I outlined in this space on May 22. That is, I will use two separate layouts, keying one that qualifies on pedigree, class and his Derby trip -- Ice Box -- with the other accenting Fly Down, who has given strong hints of class while running almost as fast as front -running First Dude.

If the Zito horses finish one-two or one-three, I will not cash. But if one of them wins and the other falls out of the top three, there are plenty of price possibilities that could lead to a juicy trifecta score.

Beyond the $1 million up for grabs in the 142nd Belmont, there is an excellent undercard of five additional graded stakes worth $1.6 million. Horseplayers who have been paying attention to the stakes on Triple Crown racing dates as well as races on the cards with Derby preps likely will be armed with horses who caught their attention, myself included. In fact the six stakes on this traditionally great card make up the Belmont Day pick six. Race by race, here are the horses I will use, pending scratches and radical changes in track conditions.

Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn, one mile for 3-year-old fillies.

I like Amen Hallelujah to handle a deep field in her return to a favorable one-turn distance. Among those scheduled to compete are Buckleupbuttercup, Champagne d'Oro, Dances With Ashley, Indian Burn, Much Rejoicing, Quiet Temper, Seeking the Title, and Streaker. Of these, I will find room to include Streaker, Dances With Ashley and Buckleupbuttercup on my pick six layout. Each was a sharp winner in a one-turn race in her most recent outing.

Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan Handicap, 1 1/4 miles on turf for 3-years-olds and up.

While 2009 turf champion Gio Ponti will be trying for a repeat score in this race, I like Take the Points as a possible upsetter in his first start since his fifth-place finish in the Dubai Duty Free March 27. Take the Points steadily improved during 2009 and still has upside. So, I will use both Gio Ponti and Take the Points on my multi-race tickets. Others in the probable field include Expansion, Grand Couturier, Interpatation, Jet Propulsion, Just as Well, Pinckney Hill, and Strike a Deal.

Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game, one mile on turf for fillies and mares.

Proviso, a solid turf mare trained by Billy Mott, certainly deserves points for her victory over males in the Kilroe at Santa Anita two months ago. But so does Phola, a strong-finishing winner of the Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill on Derby Day over a rain softened course. With the speedy graded stakes winners Dynaslew and Speak Easy Gal likely to be in the field, both Proviso and Phola should have the set-ups they need to fire their best.

Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens, seven furlongs for 3-year-olds.

The question in this race is whether you can trust the speedy Eightyfiveinafifty after his erratic performances this year. Even in his last outing -- when heavily favored -- Eightfiveinafifty broke poorly, rushed up quickly to take the lead, and faded to fourth in the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 24. If you believe in this horse, Eightfiveinafity is a probable single in the pick six. If you have your doubts, than D' Funnybone certainly is a logical win threat, while the Risen Star winner Discreetly Mine could benefit from the turn-back in distance, as could multiple stakes winner Conveyance. Two other possible starters are Thank U Phillipe and Quiet Invader. Shaking this all out, I will let Eightfiveinafifty prove himself to me and will favor Bob Baffert's Conveyance slightly over Discreetly Mine should they go. I also will use D' Funnybone.

Grade 2, $250,000 True North, six furlongs for 3-year-olds and up.

The 2009 Met Mile winner Bribon holds a huge edge in class, but seems strangely placed at a much shorter distance than he has preferred in the past. So, if you think you can beat him on that angle, you will have to chose among Checklist, Custom for Carlos, Fantasy Free, Gato Go Win, El Brujo, Elusive

Warning, and Formidable. None seems to hold a convincing edge. Therefore "all" will be on my multi-race tickets in a race that will test many different handicapping theories, the same way we probably can justify different potential outcomes for this year's Belmont Stakes.