Friday, June 8, 2018

2018 Belmont Pick: Blended Citizen

It's hard to knock the champ, and Justify's special, but there are too many parallels to the 2014 Belmont Stakes to ignore, and partly behind my selection of Blended Citizen to win the 2018 edition.

In the third leg of the Triple Crown four years ago, California Chrome -- like Justify -- was drawn to the inside; Justify will break on Saturday from the rail in a field of 10 and is the 4-to-5 favorite. 

Much as I think an inward draw was detrimental to Chrome, I think it could make Justify work harder if jockey Mike Smith decides to gun to the front to ensure a trouble-free trip and put the three 30-to-1 front-runners' hopes to bed -- Free Drop Billy, Restoring Hope and Noble Indy.

Just like in the 2014 Belmont, a horse whose connections bypassed the rigorous first two legs of the Triple Crown series appears to be a threat. 

This time around it's 15-1 Blended Citizen.

Four years ago, Tonalist was a lightly raced horse who entered the Belmont Stakes off a win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont, which is the week after the Kentucky Derby and differs in that it's run at just one turn. 

The Peter Pan's also shorter at a mile and one-eighth, but to me it's a useful race in handicapping who can upset Justify and serves as a viable prep race on the same exact track, perhaps supporting the "horse for course" notion.

If it's not Blended Citizen, I see a slight chance of Vino Rosso winning, but otherwise think it'll be Justify securing the second Triple Crown for trainer Bob Baffert in four years, which would be remarkable.

For my money it's a three-horse race, and so my analysis and selections below are with that in mind.

Belmont Stakes Field

  1. Justify (4-5): This guy's a stud. Well, in a year or so he'll technically be a really valuable stud on the farm, but for now he's heads above the competition. I'm not buying into the naysayers who've knocked his wins as being slow by historical standards. Justify is one of the few to essentially win the Kentucky Derby wire-to-wire, and he did enough on a tiring track to secure the Preakness. The only question is whether he's simply just too gassed late to win again for the third time in five weeks and on the lead for a mile-and-a-half. I'm using him in the win and place positions on my tickets but think he might get collared late.
  2. Free Drop Billy (30-1): Three extremely fast workouts coming into the Belmont tell me he's going to gun for the lead with Justify, but I think he's inferior by comparison at longer distances and sense he'll be a credible 6-7 furlong horse when all's said and done. Pass.
  3. Bravazo (8-1): Candidly I'm not sure what to make of him. I regret excluding him from my Preakness exacta and trifecta wagers, but will only use in the 3rd and 4th spots in my trifecta and superfecta tickets as I think he'll be forwardly placed -- usually a favorable tactic in the Belmont -- and stick around but not have enough late to win.
  4. Hofburg (9-2): I'm only using him 3rd or 4th at best in my bets, perhaps against my better judgment, as I endorsed him to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby and he'll be the "wise-guy" selection among the TV "experts" on Saturday. Yet, the horse named Mississippi that he beat by a wide margin in finishing second in the Florida Derby in late-March flopped in a stakes last weekend. As a son of Tapit, Hofburg should relish the distance, but I'm just not buying as a win-place candidate.
  5. Restoring Hope (30-1): An early runner who's in well over his head. Pass.
  6. Gronkowski (12-1): I'm a Jets fan. Enough said. Pass. (Seriously, though, hard to endorse a horse who's doing a lot of things for the first time -- trying a dirt track, running in the U.S., stretching out beyond his 1-mile limit thus far.)
  7. Tenfold (12-1): Almost got second in the Preakness, but I want to see this son of Curlin do more than beat claimers, which has been his ceiling to this point. Using 3rd-4th.
  8. Vino Rosso (8-1): His efforts in the Wood Memorial and Sam F. Davis in the prep races make him a viable candidate to improve off a tough 9th-place trip in the Kentucky Derby. Two good works for top trainer Todd Pletcher make him very useful, and I wouldn't talk anyone off betting him as a winner, though Vino's not my cup of tea. Well, wine. Using 2nd-3rd.
  9. Noble Indy (30-1): Early pace presence who, in my view, could wear Justify down just enough to help a horse like Blended Citizen but won't find the winner's circle himself. Will flatten out after about a mile. Pass.
  10. Blended Citizen (15-1): I've already heard several competent public handicappers say this one's race times aren't on the level of Justify's, yet he's got wins on all three surfaces -- grass, synthetic and dirt -- including one over this track, and is a grinder. The replay of the Peter Pan provides some clues on what we might expect, and is a credit to California-based trainer Doug O'Neill's ability to prep his horses. Until that race, Blended Citizen showed zero early speed from the gate and mostly settled toward the rear. Now, that style tends to be more conducive to success on grass and synthetic tracks, but not necessarily in the Belmont, where most winners generally are forwardly placed, as the track's very tiring. To me, Blended Citizen showed that he's capable of at least staying within 3-4 lengths of the leaders, and replays on his prior race reveal that he's got a tireless late kick. A pair of victories two grades below the Belmont Stakes certainly don't make him a world-beater, but he can get it done. The NJ Horseplayer selection to win the 2018 Belmont.

Probable Wagers

As I've bypassed the third leg of the Filly Triple Crown, I'm going slightly above my $100 bankroll, with $40 of Pick 4 and 5 wagers and about $70-$75 specifically on the Belmont. If you want to use my picks as a benchmark, clearly you can decrease the base-wager values on a smaller budget.

My success or lack thereof hinges squarely on Justify and Blended Citizen finishing one two, and I've got some backup coverage in the event that Vino Rosso runs second.
  • Race 11: $10 Win-Place 10 = $20
  • Race 11: $20 Exacta 10-1
  • Race 11: $5 Exacta 1-10
  • Race 11: $1 Trifecta: 1, 10 with 1, 8, 10 with 3, 4, 7, 8, 10 = $12
  • Race 11: $1 Superfecta
    • 1 with 10 with 8 with 3, 4, 7 = $3
    • 1 with 8 with 10 with 3, 4, 7 = $3
    • 10 with 1 with 8 with 3, 4, 7 = $3
    • 10 with 8 with 1 with 3, 4, 7 = $3
    • 10 with 8 with 3, 4, 7 with 1, 3, 4, 7 = $4
  • Race 7: $1 Pick 3: 1 with 3, 6, 7 with 1, 3, 9 = $9
    • Not going heavy here; fields too deep, though I like Madison's Luna a lot at 8-1 in Race 7, the Woody Stephens Stakes, and will single to start the sequence. 
  • Race 8: 50-cent Pick 4's
    • 7 with 1, 3, 9 with 1 with 1, 10 = $3
    • 6, 7 with 1, 3, 9, 10 with 1, 8 with 1 = $8
    • 3, 7 with 1, 3, 4, 9 with 1, 2 with 10 = $8
  • Race 8: $3 Daily Double 7 with 3, 9 = $6
  • Race 8: $1 Daily Double 3, 6 with 3, 9 = $4
  • Race 9: $4 Daily Double 3, 9 with 1 = $8
  • Race 9: $1 Daily Double 4, 10 with 1 = $2
  • Race 9: $2 Exacta Box 3-9 = $4
  • Race 9: $1 Exacta Key Box 9 with 1, 4, 10 = $6
  • Race 9, the Met Mile: 20-1 Warrior's Club

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