Note: This piece was written before the announced scratches of Chub Wagonand Micheline
Between the wagering opportunities available on virtually every race Friday at Belmont and the depth of the competition, horseplayers will find the word special taken to a new level. Focusing in on the latter portion of the program, three consecutive graded stakes races offer players the chance to take advantage of some vulnerable favorites and hedge up to the first ten dollars on win wagers through the money back specials that abound.
Race 7 is the Grade 2 True North at six and a half furlongs where 1-Firenze Fire and 2-Flagstaff will vie for favortism. While both horses are talented and deserving of respect, there are reasons to think they can be beaten. Firenze Fire at age 6 rarely runs two winning races in a row and comes off a win at Belmont against easier in the Runhappy. His connections have already expressed concern about the weather should the track come up anything other than fast, and the inside post does him no favors. Flagstaff is the only Grade 1 winner in the group, that win coming just barely in his last start when he held on by a nose over Lexitonian at seven furlongs. Now the 7-year-old has to trim back distance and hope to get equally lucky in a field that lacks a clear pace scenario and under less than an ideal set up.
With surprisingly little true speed in a graded sprint, Flagstaff may well find himself battling with several others looking for early position. 7-Phat Man exits the same race as Flagstaff and while farther back than was ideal, had trouble getting into the race flow yet still managed to wind up beaten less than a length and a half. He benefits from the move to Belmont—a track he has won over in the past, where the wider, sweeping turns may afford the late runner more time to get going. The move to Rosario and an outside post are also pluses.
Phat Man is a key horse for me in all exotics including the Pick 5 which begins with race 7 (I may also include 2-Flagstaff and 5-Looking At Bikinis depending on scratches, changes and weather conditions), and at 6-1 on the morning line, he’s a win bet as well as a perfect Money Back Special play.
Race 8, the Grade 3 Bed O’Roses for fillies and mares at seven furlongs kicks off a .50 Pick 4 and is another great chance to beat the favorite. 6-Chub Wagon enters the race undefeated in six starts, the most recent of these just 20 days ago at Pimlico in the Skipat. While I love to watch undefeated horses, I also like to bet against them. Very few horses win three in a row at any level, much less seven in a row with most at the highest (stakes) level. This will be far and away the toughest test of the Pennsylvania-bred filly’s career.
Chub Wagon showed a new dimension last time sitting off the pace, but with the return to seven furlongs and no one else faster early, she most likely is going to lead early—which puts a target on her back. 5-Victim of Love with Rosario is the only graded stakes winner in the group, coming off a win in the Grade 3 Vagrancy last out. Undefeated at Belmont, she’s likely to get first run at Chub Wagon and will be my top pick and play in the race, but for all multi race tickets and for the Money Back Special I’ll also take a shot with 4-Bayerness (10-1) who was recently scratched from a similar stakes race in Kentucky seemingly in favor of this spot. The filly won an allowance on the slop in Louisville in her 3-year-old comeback race and has been carefully managed by former Chad Brown assistant Cherie DeVaux, who would seem to have her eye on getting a graded stakes win for her charge.
Finally, the Grade 2 New York for fillies and mares at 1 ¼-miles on the turf runs as the ninth race on the program, kicking off the last Pick 3 of the afternoon and certainly contingent on the weather. Still, softer ground often leads to upsets and provided the race remains on the turf offers some tremendous betting opportunities.
5-Harvey’s Lil Goil and 7-Mean Mary are likely to take the lion’s share of the wagering, and it’s worth noting that both are horses with tactical speed. Mean Mary’s connections have stated she prefers firmer ground—which isn’t likely, and while Harvey’s Lil Goil has run well over a variety of conditions and courses, neither horse will get an easy or soft time up front. There is an abundance of speed in this group. From a multi race wagering standpoint, this would be a spread race for me, using as many horses as possible, with an emphasis on horses that can come from off the pace.
Heading that group would be the Money Back Special play 3-Micheline, who makes her third start of the season looking to rebound off a disappointing effort at Keeneland perhaps due to the shorter distance (one of her best efforts came in the 1-5/16 mile Dueling Grounds Oaks). Regally bred by Godolphin and trained by Mike Stidham who is, after years in the business, having a breakthrough season, Micheline has taken a while to come around but may finally be reaching her full potential.
I’ll also use Irish invader 9-Thundering Nights who has performed well on soft and heavy ground and as this is one of those rare instances where Chad Brown runners may well be high odds, I’ll be looking to include 2-Virginia Joy and 4-My Sister Nat , both fillies who have demonstrated a late turn of foot and affinity for longer distances. If we get past the favorites in this one, the day will be special indeed.
Celebrate Belmont Stakes week with Cash Back for 2nd or 3rd on all races at Belmont Park on June 4th & 5th!