Outside of the Breeders' Cup, there are no days in American horse racing that match the depth of quality that comes with the Belmont Stakes card in New York, and this year is no exception. If anything, the absence of a 3-year-old colt going for the Triple Crown allows racing fans to diffuse their attention from the final Classic and truly appreciate the entire day's racing.
The Belmont itself has brought together an interesting group of 14, but the undercard's Just A Game (if the field holds together with a soggy turf anticipated) is a sheer handicapping delight, with an outstanding group of seven fillies and mares. The Woody Stephens has lured the once-beaten California speedster Let Em Shine to New York to take on a top-class field, and other races are equaling tempting.
Last week the Paulick Report got the upper hand in the head-to-head Weekend Bankroll competition with Team Xpressbet, as Clubhouse Ride's $8 win mutual in the Californian gave Ray Paulick a $160 return for his $40 wager. Justin Fabian of Xpressbet had the winning trifecta ($84) in the Penn Mile won by Rydilluc, not quite getting him back to his $100 weekend bankroll.
Here are this week's plays. Let us know who you like in the Belmont and the rest of the weekend's big races!
Xpressbet Handicapper: John ‘Johnny D.' DeSantis, Xpressbet.com
Belmont Stakes, Grade 1, Belmont Park, 1 1⁄2 miles
At this writing, the condition of the Belmont main track Saturday is unknown, but it appears likely that some type of ‘wet' surface will be in play. Will the track favor front- runners or closers? At this point we don't know. What we do know is that this 14-horse Belmont lineup is a challenging handicapping puzzle. We also can be pretty certain that #2 FREEDOM CHILD (8-1) will go to the lead and that #7 OXBOW (5-1) will stalk or force the pace. Trainer Ken McPeek, who calls the shots for #1 FRAC DADDY (30-1), has announced he will send his charge to the lead. Problem is FRAC DADDY doesn't appear fast enough to comfortably get to the lead. #13 UNLIMITED BUDGET (8-1), a filly, probably will need to show speed to escape a wide trip. #12 PALACE MALICE (15-1), who set suicidal early fractions in the Kentucky Derby, won't try similar theft tactics under Mike Smith. Blinkers, added for the Derby, come off for the Belmont. Expect Palace Malice to be stalking a legitimate early pace.
Further back in the field, closers like #5 ORB (3-1), #9 REVOLUTIONARY (9/2) and #3 OVERANALYZE (12- 1) will attempt to save ground while establishing clear running lanes. Even though the Belmont Stakes is a one and one-half miles, don't expect closers to wait until the stretch to make their big moves. Everyone's tired in the Belmont stretch, so look for late-runners to reach contention just off the final turn. #5 ORB's the best horse, no doubt about it, but #12 PALACE MALICE should enjoy a fruitful stalking trip at a great price. Maybe he can hang around long enough to get a share of things.
Woody Stephens Stakes, Grade 2, Belmont Park, Seven Furlongs
This seven-furlong dash on the Belmont Day undercard is usually an interesting race and this year's renewal is no exception! Several former and current California-based speed horses add spice to this deep and contentious renewal. The main handicapping question is: Will the speed dominate or set the table for a closer? #11 LET EM SHINE (3-1) is lightning quick from the outside. However, his last race was a huge performance and now he ships cross-country from Hollywood Park to Big Sandy. Red flags flutter. How much does he have in the tank in anticipation of this taxing seven-furlong test? Not enough, in my opinion. #6 ZEE BROS (4-1) wired the Chick Lang field in Baltimore and must be feared. #10 MERIT MAN (10-1) has some quickness and quality, but was bested by #5 HONORABLE DILLON (12-1) and #7 FORTY TALES (5-1) in the Hutcheson at Gulfstream. Closer #1 DECLAN'S WARRIOR (8-1) has won 4 of 5 and has left a few of these behind in the past. What's a horseplayer to do?
The Play: $22 win #5 Honorable Dillon ($22); $5 exacta box #5 Honorable Dillon, #7 Forty Tales ($10)
Team Paulick Handicapper: Ray Paulick, Publisher
With so much uncertainty over track conditions when this was written 24 hours before Saturday's card, I'm going to focus my entire bankroll on the day's big race and put all of my eggs in the GOLDEN SOUL basket. Runner-up with a strong closing kick in the Kentucky Derby, this son of Perfect Soul (by Sadler's Wells) out of a Mr. Prospector mare will make the last run, just as he did at Churchill Downs five weeks ago. This time, he'll have an extra quarter of a mile to do so and is a fresh horse, having skipped the Preakness and trained well for Dallas Stewart in the interim. Yes, he's 1-for-6 lifetime and has been beaten by Oxbow, Revolutionary, and Orb, but that way of thinking would have shut you out of Belmont winners like Birdstone, Sarava, Commendable and others. The outside post position is of no concern, as Robby Albarado figures to drop him far back early and commence his run on the sweeping turn before the stretch.
A rundown of this weekend's graded stakes action:
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