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Rachel lost, opportunity gained
The day after this year's Kentucky Derby, Rachel Alexandra was being pointed by her owners at the time to the Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes Day card, June 6.
So, we not only have to thank the filly's new owner Jess Jackson for switching gears and permitting her to show her stuff in the Preakness Stakes, we have him to thank for turning the Acorn into a more competitive race.
After all, wouldn't Rachel have been a prohibitive 1-20 favorite to win the Acorn, against a very short field? Now this Gradeo1 stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile around one turn still might have a dominant favorite in Justwhistledixie, but the race will not be a walkover. In addition, and perhaps more importantly from my standpoint, the absence of Rachel Alexandra from the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes seems to have cleared the way for one of the best pace-oriented betting plays of the year. But more of that later, as we look at each of the six graded stakes on the 13-race Belmont Stakes card.
(Probables for these races were listed by the New York Racing Association before actual entries and post positions were to be set.)
* Grade 2, $250,000 True North, 3-year-olds and up, six furlongs:
Probables include Desert Key, Disco's Son, Fabulous Strike, Kodiak Kowboy, Per Incanto, Silver Edition, and Sixthirteen.
Fabulous Strike, one of the fastest horses in training, always commands respect in a graded sprint and should appreciate the turnback to his favorite six-furlong distance after weakening in his latest, which came at seven furlongs. Kodiak Kowboy was spinning his wheels in the outside lanes on the sloppy track at Churchill Downs on Derby Day and can do better. Silver Edition rebounded from a wide trip in the same Churchill race with a good second at Pimlico, and Desert Key, second in a strong optional claiming allowance sprint at Belmont on May 6, could improve off that effort. I plan on using all four in my multi-race exotics.
* Grade 1, $400,000 Just a Game, fillies and mares, one mile, turf:
Probables include Captain's Lover, Carribean Sunset, Diamondrella, Forever Together, Modern Look, and My Princess Jess.
The Jonathan Sheppard-trained Forever Together won the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at 1 1/4 miles last fall with a devastating rally, and won her 2009 return in a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes at Keeneland Aprilo11. While a mile seems a tad short for her, she does have two wins and a third in three tries at this distance to recommend. Nevertheless, if she proves to be vulnerable, the upsetter could be the Bobby Frankel-trained European import Modern Look, who won a Group 2 mile in France last summer and was a bit rank when second with good overall speed in a modest stakes in March at Santa Anita. Modern Look has promising recent workouts at Belmont to suggest a smoother performance on or near the pace.
* Grade 1, $300,000 Acorn, 3-year-old fillies, one mile:
Probables include Be Fair, Devotee, Doremifasollatido, Dream Play, Funny Moon, Just Jenda, and Justwhistledixie.
In the absence of Rachel Alexandra, Justwhistledixie has credentials that are hard to go past. Winner of her last five, which came in New York and Florida, including a pair of Grade 2 stakes this year, Justwhistledixie graduated over the Belmont track last October. Scratched from the May 1 Kentucky Oaks by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, she has come back with two good five-furlong drills at Belmont.
The wild card could be Doremifasollatido, the New York-bred winner of the Grade 2 Matron stakes over this track last fall. Having run only one poor race in six career starts - in the BC Juvenile Fillies on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita last fall - the Jimmy Jerkens-trained miss gained needed conditioning when second in a swiftly run sprint stakes over this track May 15.
* Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens, 3-year-olds, seven furlongs:
Probables include Hello Broadway, Hull, Munnings, Regal Ransom, and This Ones for Phil.
No throwouts here, as Hull is unbeaten in four career starts, including a good win in the 7 1/2-furlong Derby Trial at Churchill Downs April 25. Hello Broadway went too fast before fading in the nine furlong Peter Pan and may be more effective at this shorter distance. Regal Ransom made a brief move in the Kentucky Derby and also might fit with these. This Ones for Phil, second in the Withers, has several very good races since Rick Dutrow took over his training in January, and Munnings was a game second while racing in the slower outside lanes on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill, May 1. Splitting hairs, I slightly prefer This Ones for Phil on the turnback to his best distance.
* Grade 1, $400,000 Manhattan, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles, turf.
Probables include Better Talk Now, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Gio Ponti, Grand Couturier, Interpatation, Lauro, and Premium Gold.
While the 10-year-old gelding Better Talk Now continues to try top turf company, he has not won in two years. Grand Couturier, a two time winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, has not been out since the BC Turf last fall and may be prepping for a three-peat at the Spa. Otherwise, the Todd Pletcher-trained Cowboy Cal and the Billy Mott-trained Court Vision rate very close together off several good performances, and Gio Ponti, a winner at this distance last summer, seemed much improved for Christophe Clement after his strong late run to win the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita on March 7. I'll be using all three in my multi-race exotics.
* Grade 1, $1 million Belmont Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/2 miles.
Probables include Brave Victory, Charitable Man, Chocolate Candy, Dunkirk, Flying Private, Luv Gov, Miner's Escape, Mine That Bird, Mr. Hot Stuff, and Summer Bird.
No doubt, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is a dangerous stretch threat, and jockey Calvin Borel - back aboard the Derby winner - has a unique opportunity to score a personal sweep of the Triple Crown after his super winning rides aboard this gelding in the Derby and Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. But all of the other horses scheduled to compete in this 12-furlong event are stretch-running types too, including highly regarded Dunkirk, Chocolate Candy and the lightly raced Summer Bird. That is, except for the classy Peter Pan winner Charitable Man, who is a son of 1999 Belmont stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid and should have things his own way for most of the journey and be difficult to catch.
Charitable Man, expertly handled by Kiaran McLaughlin, flashed considerable promise winning the Futurity over this track last fall, but was injured and needed time to recover. So, after overcoming his physical setbacks during the winter and turning in a poor race in the Blue Grass Stakes on the Keeneland Polytrack, Charitable Man now is ready to take the best in this division after a convincing victory in the nine-furlong Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont May 9.
I like Charitable Man to improve still another notch in his third off a layoff and believe he will win the 2009 Belmont by open daylight over Chocolate Candy and Mine That Bird. Aside from a win bet at modest odds, I plan to use him as a trifecta and superfecta key and to anchor my plays in the $1 million-guaranteed pick six and the $1 million-guaranteed pick four, which will conclude with this annual classic.