Otherwise, since a few friends asked, I will be more than happy as a huge thoroughbred racing fan for California Chrome to take home the Triple Crown, but as a bettor pored over the past performances last night and landed on Samraat as my upset selection.
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I have to admit that $20 of my wife's hard-earned dollars are already wagered on Chrome ($10 win, $1 exacta above the other 10 entrants), but likely in the wrong place in a rare gamble for Mrs. NJ Horseplayer.
As an equity research editor I recognize that past performance does not dictate future success, but in reviewing Belmont Stakes dating to 2007, winners by and large were within the top 5 throughout the race and a few lengths of the front-runner. In addition, Da'Tara won wire-to-wire at 38-to-1 in the year that 1-to-4 Big Brown pulled up, while Paynter (2012) and Dunkirk (2009) almost won start to finish.
Accordingly, there is precedent for the big shocker and a front-running type prevail at a mile-and-a-half.
Samraat, at 20-to-1, fits the bill and is a reasonable value, and in my opinion will be dismissed for wise-guy horses like Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, who turned in credible Triple Crown performances but seem far more comfortable well off the pace, which in my view will not work on Saturday.
Trainer Richard Violette was wise to rest Samraat after a taxing winter campaign that produced two Grade 3 victories and a hard-fought second in the Wood Memorial.
I sense the connections simply took the shot at Kentucky Derby glory as many would, and subsequently skipping the Preakness was much needed. The horse responded with a second best-of-15 work on May 18 and was stretched out with two 1-mile breezes in preparation for the Big Sandy.
The appeal, to me, in upsetting California Chrome is that Samraat, as shown in the Gotham, can turn on the jets out of the gate and then settle a bit to track a leader. Or simply take the lead and win at two turns, as in starts prior to the Gotham. Plus, hot-riding Jose Ortiz (winner of Friday's Grade 2 True North on 9-to-1 Palace) has no horses between his and California Chrome to contend with from the gate, as runners 3-through-6 all appear to be slow breakers.
I am dismissing potential early runners Tonalist (post 11 and another wise-guy horse) and maybe even General a Rod (post 10) as threats in light of their outside posts and questions I have about their class and fitness, respectively.
Tonalist's win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, to me, was against a weak field the week after all of the better three-year-old contenders ran at Churchill, while General a Rod likely needs a rest.
Accordingly, my hopes for Samraat hinge on two factors -- either getting the lead from Chrome and not relenting to him in the stretch, or forcing Chrome toward the rail, where in light of Chrome's picture-perfect stalking wins in the Derby and Preakness I have questions about whether he wants to run inside.
In other words, better race riding than the outstanding stewardship that Chrome's jockey Victor Espinoza has shown thus far.
Perhaps a tall order, but one I am willing to gamble.
Ideally, Samraat will take a straight line out of the gate and force the outer "speed" horses wide, then squeeze Chrome toward the rail into the first turn.
A stumble at the gate would kill my chances, but at 20-to-1 against 3-to-5, that's a given anyway.
My picks, in order, are Samraat, California Chrome and Wicked Strong.
I have yet to place my Belmont Stakes wagers, but have already invested a meager $24 in the Pick 3 and Pick 4 culminating in the feature.
Kaigun (15-to-1), in Race 10 (The Knob Creek Manhattan), is a key for me in the Pick 3 sequence to cash anything meaningful. A close second to lawn wunderkind Wise Dan in the Makers 46 Mile in April and a game and hard-closing fourth in the Turf Classic on Derby Day signal to me this 4-year-old is vastly improving, and third off the bench can certainly keep moving forward on Saturday.
In Race 9, I expect Palace Malice to win but give Shakin It Up an outside shot at 6-to-1, anticipating the added eighth of a mile will suit this sprinter well, and he can close into any pace, as evidenced by winning the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita last December.
I have no strong convictions about Race 8, the Just A Game Stakes, and went 5 deep.
- $0.50 Race 8-11 Pick 4 Ticket: 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 over 1 over 1, 9 over 2, 7, 9 ($15 total)
- $1.00 Race 9-11 Pick 3 Ticket: 1, 4, 13 over 9 over 2, 7, 9 ($9 total).
Good luck to all horseplayers on Belmont Stakes day, and be sure to reach out if you're at Monmouth on Sunday!