Belmont & Laurel Park: The Value & The Vulnerable Saturday Stakes Spectacular, By Paul Hundley

Hello once again everyone and welcome to the DOUBLE V! There’s a ton of Stakes action this week, so I thought I would just focus on those today. Also, you may have to excuse the name of the column today, because I’m not sure how much “value” we’ll find, or how many favorites are vulnerable! In other words, today is just a regular handicapping column. Let’s get into it!

BELMONT PARK

RACE 7 The Vosburgh Stakes G1: 1-Stalllwalkin’ Dude still tries extremely hard, but his days s a legitimate threat to the top sprinters are probably over. His last two wins have been in restricted stakes, and last out Joe Bravo eschewed Dude’s usual off the pace style for more of a stalking trip in the G1 Forego, which did not work out well. Drew the rail that day at Saratoga, and he draws it again here. As of this writing, the rail has done very well so far this meet at 6F, but early speed has done better. His saving grace in here is there is a lot of early speed, so it’s possible he could benefit from a meltdown, but I see the SHOW spot as the best case scenario for the David Jacobson trainee. 2-El Deal, the probable favorite for you know who?, has certainly come a long way quick after being transferred over to Navarro after 2 straight off the board finishes with his previous trainer. Did run a career high BRIS Speed figure last out in G1 Vanderbilt Handicap. Never challenged in that last race on the front end, which I certainly think he will today. Inside draw doesn’t hurt though, since he will be going to the front from the gate opening, and if he is indeed the speed of the speed, then the 2 hole is an asset, as is Castellano riding. 3-Green Gratto was one of 6 beaten by El Deal in that Vanderbilt race, and since his 54-1 upset of the G1 Carter Handicap on Wood Memorial Day, has been off the board 4 straight, beaten a combined 35 lengths. Still has good early speed, but has only 1 win at Belmont in 16 tries, add to that Kendrick Carmouche is struggling at this meet, it all adds up to a PASS for me, but his early speed could determine how fast the early pace goes. 4-Takaful is another with early speed, and in my opinion, is the fastest early of this bunch, and I think the cutback to 6F makes sense. Has ran twice at this distance, won both will relative ease by a combined 14 lengths. Note his debut came at Belmont in an 8 length romp. 5-Mr. Crow does have good early speed as well, but showed last out he has the ability to sit just off the lead and still run well, something the other speedballs in here have not done as of yet. Is trained by Pletcher, and is very lightly raced, so should be live today. Still, a major step up in class from entry level Allowance foes. 6-Celtic Chaos has done well at Belmont and is 6 of 7 in the money at 6f but purely versus New York Breds. Has only one triple digit Bris speed figure, and that’s just not going to cut it here. Like Stallwalkin’ Dude, will want the pace to meltdown. Has been in good form however, with 8 straight in the money finishes, but again, none versus graded company. 7-Weekend Hideaway has also been facing mainly New York Bred foes, though has dipped his hooves in the deep end a couple of times to mixed results. Luis Saez jumps off to ride Mr. Crow. Does have a good record at Belmont, and is decent at today’s distance. Would benefit from an off track, as 5 of his 12 wins have came on those. Draws outside, which should help with traffic trouble, and does have a nice stalking style. Has fired 3 bullet works in a row, but then again has nearly always trained well. Would need an improvement in speed figures and/or an off track to have a chance today..

My top pick is TAKAFUL, followed by EL DEAL and MR. CROW. I’ll be using all 3 in my late Pick 4 play.

RACE 8 The Pilgrim Stakes G3: 2 year olds going 8.5F on the turf! Oh boy, not my specialty. However, I love a challenge! 1-Desert Stone was 2nd in debut at Spa, making a nice run late while lugging in, which is understandable considering it was his first race and it was two turns no less. No doubt has the breeding to excel on turf, at long distances. His sire and Damsire’s average winning distance are both at 1 mile at least. His Dam has produced 4 turf winners already, seems like this one will make it 5, but will it be today? Jose Ortiz replaces Luis Saez on the mount. 2-Morrison broke maiden in slop in his debut by 17 lengths, but only beat 3 others. Tried a state bred sprint Stakes and G3 With Anticipation last out, both with less than good results.. Trainer Joe Sharp is 21% 2nd turf race. Robbie Albarado replaces Irad today. 3-Stolen Pistol is also entered for Joe Sharp, and broke Maiden at Saratoga before a decent midpack effort at Kentucky Downs in a $350K Stakes. Puts Blinkers back on today, so Pistol may be a bit closer to the pace than his first two tries on the green. 4-Seabhac was 4th beaten just 2 lengths in the aforementioned With Anticipation, and is FT Blinkers today for the Toddster(21%), so it’s possible this one may sit a little closer as well. Saez jumps on here. 5-Voting Control ran a HUGE Bris speed figure in debut almost 3 weeks ago for Castellano/Brown, beating the highly touted Blockade in the process. Did have a fast pace to run into that day, nonetheless hard to ignore. Brown 26% 2nd turf race. 6-Maraud won debut for Pletcher at ‘Toga at the beginning of the month by 2 lengths over the 1, making a nice late charge from the outside post despite not having a fast early pace to run into. 7-Looking Ready may possibly be the controlling speed in this race, depending on whether he takes to turf. Disappointed last out as the 4/5 favorite in a sprint Stakes at Finger Lakes. Trainer Bruce Levine is only 1 for last 40 though with horses making turf debut, but on the plus side Irad Ortiz rides. 8-Evaluator was also in the With Anticipation, getting off to a bad start for the 2nd time in as many starts as the 5/2 favorite. If he can get off to a better start this time, certainly appears as dangerous as any in the field.

Certainly Voting Control rates the first look in here, though you do have to wonder if he was aided by that pace in debut. Going with MARAUD to Win, followed by VOTING CONTROL and STOLEN PISTOL. Using those 3 plus #8 EVALUATOR in the Pick 4.

RACE 9 The Beldame Invitational G1: The retirement of Songbird further crippled what is probably the least deep division in all of racing; the female handicap division. Only one of the entrants in here has won a G1, and that was accomplished in her last start. 1-Elate is who I’m referring to. She parlayed her narrow defeat to 3 year old filly division leader Abel Tasman in the Coaching Club Oaks into a dominant 5 length win in the 10F Alabama last out, in which she was further flattered with IT TIZ WELL coming back to win the Cotillion over Abel Tasman. Now she tries the older division for the first time, but as we already just said, there’s not a ton to be fearing. Ran the highest BRIS speed figure of anyone in this race last out in that romp. Fear the regression, but I also believe she may be just getting better. Has never raced at Belmont, closest she has came to a race like today was her debut in one turn mile at Aqueduct, in which she destroyed that field by 12 lengths. 2-Verve’s Tale won a restricted stakes last out at Saratoga, and did win the G3 Comely last year at Aqueduct, has never been ITM in 3 starts in a G2 or G1. While she is 4-2-2-0 at today’s distance, has not had the same success at Belmont (5-0-2-1). Joel Rosario rides for the first time. Also should mention Barclay Tagged is 1 of last 57 in Graded Stakes. 3-Bishop’s Pond may be the wild card in this race. For some reason this 5 year old daughter of Curlin spent her first 20 career starts on turf, before finally trying the dirt last out at Delaware. The result was a gate to wire 4 length win, and even though that was an open allowance, Trainer Jason Servis saw fit to take a shot here. If she decides to go to the front as in her previous race, she may prove tough to catch with the lack of speed to press her. 4-Presumptuous is an 0 for 14 maiden who will be trying to pass as many tired horses as possible in hopes of collecting a check. Stranger things have happened I suppose.  5-Money’soncharlotte may be able to put pressure on Bishop’s Pond, and is in great form with 4 consecutive wins , 3 in Stakes including the G3 Molly Pitcher 2 back. Does have a win at Belmont. JRV aboard. 6-Bombshell comes in off a 4th in a minor Stakes at Laurel going 7F, but seems to be better at longer distances and could possibly also be up very close early.  Gets a bit of an acid test today in class.  7-Eskenformoney has certainly been battle tested over the years, and is still a solid if not spectacular earner for the Pletcher barn. Has never been G1 quality, but then again the majority of this field isn’t either.

Taking BISHOP’S POND to upset ELATE here, and using VERVE’S TALE to round out the Triple. Using only the first two however, for the Pick 4.

RACE 10 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: We close out the Stakes, Pick 4 sequence, and the day of racing at Belmont with a nice field assembled for the renewal of the Hirsch Turf Classic. 1-Money Multiplier finished 2nd to the 4-Sadlers Joy last out in the G1 Sword Dancer at the Spa. Double M is 3rd off the layoff for Chad Brown (25%) and has ran wel both of his races in 2017, winning the G2 Monmouth Stakes on Haskell Day. Ran in last year’s race which was contested on a yielding surface, taking a bad step and never factoring in the small field. Has been the runner-up multiple times in G1’s, will today be the day he finally breaks through? 2-Converge, at one time last year in his 3 year old campaign, looked very promising, winning the G3 Palm Beach, but never seemed to improve off of that. They tried blinkers, now they’re taking them off. Hard to see him being a factor. 3-Oscar Performance, the top 3 year old turfer in the country, steps up to face older for the first time, and may be leading the way early if his past races are any indication. Has already won 3 G1s, and he’s done it all WITHOUT Lasix, except for 1 start, which happened to be the worst performance this career. Is 3 for 3 at Belmont, but has never been past 10 F before. 4-Sadlers Joy won his first G1 last out, and has been very consistent, going 5-1-3 in last 9 races, 6 vs Graded company. Will be coming late with Julian Leparoux in the reins. Another HUGE plus for Joy is that he has an excellent record at the 12F distance (4-3-1-0), the other 10 entrants COMBINED have ONE win at the 1 1/2 mile trek, though most have not attempted it yet.  5-Beach Patrol comes in off his Arlington Million win, and this will be his first try at today’s distance. Imagining Rosario will probably sit right behind or next to “Oscar” early on. Has only been out of the money once in his last nine races, unfortunately that time was at Belmont in the Manhattan. Has not won at Belmont, and has to show he can takes his performances at Arlington with him elsewhere. 6-Ascend won that Manhattan 3 back at 27-1 for Graham Motion on Belmont Stakes Day, but has had 2 off the board races since. Joe Bravo replaces Jose Ortiz in the irons today. May have been a victim of the post in the Million last out, and he does seem to like Belmont (4-1-2-0). Still, hard to see him today. 7-Channel Maker is another 3 year old trying older for the first time today. Won the Breeders Stakes last out at Woodbine at today’s distance, the only horse besides Sandler’s Joy to have a win at the distance. However, none of his other turf starts indicate he is ready for this field. Up against it IMO. 8-Mekhtaal makes second start in the U.S., having also come out of the Million race. Also switches to Graham Motion and gets Lasix(24%). Is a Group 1 winner in France, and a GRADE 1 today isn’t out of the question. Was another who may have been hindered by the post. 9-Fanciful Angel is another who makes 2nd consecutive start in the U.S. coming from Europe, shocking the bettors coming in 2nd to Beach Patrol at 73-1. Makes first start for Chad Brown (29%) and switches to Irad. Not sure what to make of him. 10-The Grey Gatsby seems past his prime, though he has been facing some of the best in Europe lately. Gets Lasix for the first time for Dermot Weld. Thinking it may take more than Lasix today.  11-Tricked Up was claimed from Chad Brown last out in a n3l event in which he was 8th/10. Hasn’t been past 8.5F until today. Will be charging late if at all, and might fry the tote board should he win.

I’m thinking MEKHTAAL, with a better post today and FTL, might be the play here. SANDLER’S JOY has been too consistent to leave out, and rounding out the top 3 we have the horse for course, OSCAR PERFORMANCE. Rounding out my Pick 4 ticket for this race is 1-MONEY MULTIPLIER.

So my Pick 4 ticket looks like this: 2,4,5/3,5,6,8/1,3/1,3,4,8  a $48 investment!

LAUREL PARK

You may be asking why I’m also doing Laurel Park today, and the reason is simple; it’s COMMONWEALTH DAY! If you don’t know what that means , basically it’s a day devoted to races that used to be run in the great state of Virginia. Virginia is often referred to as a “Commonwealth”, hence the name. Plus, with the rapidly declining foal populations in the state since Colonial Downs stopped running 4 years ago(estimates say the foal crop this year was 1/5th of what it was 5 years ago), there may not be too many more of these days left. So there’s 5 races for Virginia Bred/sired horses, and 3 Graded Stakes of races that used to be run at Colonial Downs under different names.

RACE 1 The Bert Allen Stakes 1 1/16 miles (Turf): 1-Special Envoy won a similar race to this 2 back in the Edward Evans, following that up with a dominating 8 length win on soft turf in the Hansel. Arnaud Delacour is just on fire right now at Laurel, 31-13-4-3, 42% ! Jockey Daniel Centeno is riding 26%. Likes Laurel obviously, and his record at the distance 11-4-3-1, is strong. Since Centeno jumped back aboard, has adopted a front running style he hadn’t showed before. Nothing not to like here, except his odds more than likely. 2-Runninginthevale was 4th in this race last year, and his last two efforts have been sprinting. Tried dirt before that, and has 6 straight out of the money finishes. Is 0 for 7 at Laurel, 0 for 3 at the distance. Could cause some concern for probable favorite if he goes back to his front running style he displayed in turf routes last year. A pace presence, but can’t rate a contender. 3-C.B. Bodemeister is 1st off the claim for Wayne Potts(24%) and hasn’t been seen since July at Delaware. Will be making only 2nd turf appearance in his career, and though certainly is arguably the most well bred horse in this field, he needs to prove it to me on the track. Will let him beat me. 4-Popsracer hasn’t been on the green since he was in Northern California last year, before being transferred to the east coast. Did have a nice 2nd his last try on turf Ina starter allowance race at Golden Gate, so really curious why it took them so loto get him on turf this year. Did have a win 3 back on synthetic at Presque Isle, but I’m not sure what we’ll be getting today. 5-Max James adds blinkers and loses his manhood today. Is first off the claim for Flint Stiles(20%) and gets Horacio Karamanos to ride. Has not had success so far on grass, but with the changes coming in today is not out of the question. 6-Speed Grace has been beaten by Special Envoy twice this year already, soundly. Is coming off a gate to wire win last out in an open allowance. Hard to see him turning the tables today, but Speed is a 3 year old and has only raced 9 times, so there’s still room for improvement. 7-River Date may pose the biggest threat to “Envoy”, though he’s never been on turf. 1st off the claim for Mike Maker (20%) is coming from open claimers on the tough New York circuit to try Virginia Breds. Is another with good early speed in here, assuming he can convert that speed to turf. Maker is 3 for 4 at the Laurel meet, so win he sends a horse here, you know it’s a win contender.
I think 1-SPECIAL ENVOY decides to sit 3rd or 4th in here off the other speed and pounce in the stretch. The Laurel turf has played very fair, not favoring any running style. Like NY Invader RIVER DATE for place. Show horse is FTG MAX JAMES.

RACE 3 The Brookmeade Stakes: Going to give 2-ARMOIRE another shot here. I’m not sure how you blow a 4 length lead in the stretch to Sweet Sandy, but I see her sitting just off of Zenbennie, Queen Caroline and Northern Eclipse early on. She’s 3 for 3 ITM at the distance, and has been pretty consistent her whole career save for one bad race at Aqueduct. 1-NORTHERN ECLIPSE may be the fastest early coming from sprints and has a great record at Laurel (7-4-1-1). Won the Camptown 3 back vs a similar class as today. 4-QUEEN CAROLINE is the probable and deserving favorite, but is carrying 4 lbs more than Armoire today. Feargal Lynch takes the mount today for Michael Matz.

RACE 7 The Commonwealth Oaks G3: Hard to ignore the last race of 7-TAPERGE, who earned a 100 BRIS speed figure last out going 11F in an OC at the Spa. Yes, may have benefited from a fast pace, but has shown ability to close into slow pace as well. Nik Juarez and Chad Brown are the connections. 3-RYMSKA may give as a CHADxacta here, as the 3 year old French bred lass was last seen winning the G3 Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream in February. Chaddster knows how to bring horses in off long layoffs to run big, and I expect nothing different from her. Has done very little wrong other than when she ran into New Money Honey a couple of times. 1-PROUD REUNION won on the European style Kentucky Downs course last out for almost as much of a purse in just an Allowance race. Ashley Castrenze rides for the 2nd time in the horse’s career. Assuming she will have her off the pace to begin with. 8-CHUBBY STAR and 9-FLOWER FASHION, an import for Clement, are not without a chance in here.

RACE 8 Baltimore)Washington International Turf Cup G2: UGHH! What a horrible and long name for the former COLONIAL TURF CUP, a race that in the past has been won by the likes of English Channel, Showing Up, Paddy O’Prado to name a few. Of course, I should mention all of those winners were when the race was for straight 3 year olds and used as a prep for the Virginia Derby. Anyways, this race today hardly resembles the original concept, going from 11F to just a Mile. Love the late kick 4-CATAPULT showed last out. Should be well set up in here chasing what should be a brisk pace. Is already a minor stakes winner but could add this G2 today. 2-PEOJECTED could complete another CHADxacta here, as he takes blinkers off for CB. Does have a bit of seconditis at the distance (5-0-3-0). Ran 2nd in the Dixie to Woodbine Mile hero World Approval back on Preakness day. 7-BLACKTYPE should be coming off the pace as well and has a win on the course. Also has a respectable record at the distance (8-2-2-2) 8-SPECIAL OPS comes in for Maker having won last 2 virtually going gate to wire in both. Has turned into a nice 50K claim. 5-RING WEEKEND has a lot of back class but the former G1 winner seems to have lost a couple of steps.

RACE 11 The Commonwealth Derby G3: Kittens Joy, English Channel, and Go Between have won this race in the past, when it was The Virginia Derby. 4-VOODOO SONG seems to have a big pace advantage here. Has won 4 in a row since being claimed by Linda Rice for $40K and has become a G3 winner. Is unbeaten on turf and will be tough to run down. 1-FINAL COPY won the Breeders Stakes last out going longer last out and has been in the exacta 4 straight at Woodbine. Is concerning his only try outside Woodbine on turf was a 14 length defeat at Tampa. 5-PROFITEER ran great off the layoff at Saratoga and should definitely appreciate 9F. Has ran only one bad race, his 8th at Keeneland. 3-JUST HOWARD has won 3 in a row and seems to be the top local hope. Is by former Virginia Derby winner English Channel, who also sired the top pick.

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