Saturday, June 29, 2019

Wetting My Whistle on Queen's Plate Day

After going winless in my Public Handicapper contest plays last Saturday, my attention is turned to Woodbine in Toronto, where the feature is the $1 million Queen's Plate, headlined by a promising three-year-old named Avie's Flatter.

I'm going elsewhere in that one, landing on a 15-to-1 shot that's got some sneaky good efforts in his past performances, and am making Wet Your Whistle my top play in the race prior. I'm an enormous Caribou Club fan and respect his 7-to-5 odds in the Highlander (Race 9), but think he's not necessarily a 6-furlong horse and will want more distance.

We'll see. Without further adieu, my four selections this week, along with a Pick 5 ticket for the Race 9-13 sequence, since I spent the time handicapping the contest card.

Woodbine, Race 9: Highlander Stakes, 4:51 p.m.

Selection: #7, Wet Your Whistle (10-1) -- Won, paid $9.60
Alternates: #2, Caribou Club (7-5) -- fifth; #1, Extravagant Kid (6-1) -- second

One of my favorite horses, Caribou Club is every bit of 7-to-5. Seven lifetime victories, including three Grade 2 wins from June to January, but didn't handle the course in Dubai in March while finishing last of 13 in a $2 million stakes vs. top sprinters. That one's a complete toss -- maybe he also didn't like the travel -- but other than this being a soft Grade 1 field, I have doubts whether Club will like this short a distance and if his closing kick will be effective. That's why I'm turning to Wet Your Whistle. Clearly he's making a major perceived jump in class, but in a field this small where I think 4 of the 9 runners don't stand a chance, I'm willing to back a horse who seems to be learning to settle and had great late kick his last two races vs. softer foes. Perhaps the light bulb has finally turned on for this 4-year-old gelding, who is certainly going to get enough early speed to chase and I think will sit midpack before wheeling home at a price. Alex Cintron makes the trip for Maryland-based trainer Mike Trombetta, who is only 1-for-20 winning graded stakes in 2019, but has a live one here coming off two bullet workouts at Fair Hill. Just too many doubts about El Tormenta bouncing off a top effort in a Grade 2 win earlier this month, and am tepid on the rail horse.

Woodbine, Race 10: Queens Plate, 5:36 p.m.

Selection: #7, Federal Law (15-1) -- 7th; tired late
Alternates: #1, Desert Ride (8-1) -- 5th; #14, Avie's Flatter (5-2) -- 2nd place

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if one of my alternates wins. Avie's Flatter is a deserving favorite off of two restricted stakes wins in Canada last fall and a Grade 3 victory in the Transylvania at Keeneland in April on turf. Particularly in a mile-and-a-quarter race, the wide draw bothers me a bit, however, for a horse that I anticipate wants to be toward the early mix and may need to go a little faster than normal early to secure a good stalking position. In instead landed on Federal Law, who's 11-to-1 on the odds board and showed good tactical ability at times, almost beating Avie's Flatter in November in a good optional-claiming race and winning a 7-furlong Ontario-bred race last month at Woodbine. To me the question with him is whether European jockey Jamie Spencer gets Federal Law to settle into a good stride midpack. If he can, then I think we've got a live long-shot. If not, and the horse is all geeked up and headstrong at the start, my chances of a win decrease. Think Desert Ride's a serious contender here too, as she ran a second faster in her Woodbine Oaks win on June 8 than most of the other boys today ran in their prior races.

Woodbine, Race 12: C$67,500 Allowance, 6:54 p.m.

Selection: #9, Viewfinder (5-1) -- 8th; never really involved
Alternates: #10, Tricky Magician (10-1) -- 7th; involved early, swallowed up; #4, Split My Pants (4-1) -- Won, paid $8.20

I really wanted to make Tricky Magician my top choice, but think the half-year layoff could be a detriment for a three-year-old making is first start of 2019 vs. seasoned foes. I'll use him on my Pick 5 ticket, but not as my top choice. That selection goes to the horse to his inside, Viewfinder. This 4-year-old Michael Keogh trainee makes his second start of the year after a solid off-the-pace third at the same level on June 2. On paper, to me it looks like he made tremendous progress in each race since July 15 and is a horse that's maturing and capable in a deep field. There's a lot of speed in this race, so I'd look for Eurico Da Silva to sit toward the rear, save ground, and make a big late charge.

Woodbine, Race 13: C$62,500 Optional Claimer, 7:23 p.m.

Selection: #12, Killag Katie (8-1) -- 4th after bad start
Alternates: #2, Silent Respect (8-1) -- 7th; also bad start; #3, Sanity (7-2) -- 3rd; lost by about 3

Thought hard about using Silent Respect as my top choice, but think Da Silva has another horse here that he can let comfortably get into stride before surging late to win. I think the horses in gates 5-11 are going to gun for the lead; all are front-runners, letting Killag Katie move toward the rail early and draft behind the front-runners. Tactically I think we're in a better position than Silent Respect, whose rail draw I see as that 4-year-old filly's only detriment. Sanity wouldn't surprise me as the favorite, but I didn't like that mare's last two one-paced efforts.

Pick 5 Play: I'm dabbling in the 20-cent pick 5 that starts with Race 9; believe it'll cost me $19.20

  • 2, 7 with 1, 7, 14 with 8, 11 with 4, 8-10 with 2, 12

Friday, June 21, 2019

Ollie's Candy a Lock in Wilshire: Public Handicapper Picks

A week after nailing a $13.80 winner and three of my alternate selections won their races, this weekend's Public Handicapper card isn't nearly as strong as last week's that featured an intriguing Stephen Foster Stakes evening card at Churchill Downs.

The editors had the unenviable task of slim pickings, and nothing looks all that great on the U.S. thoroughbred circuit, eventually settling on the Grade I United Nations from Monmouth Park, a pair of stakes at Santa Anita and our first time this contest seeing Canterbury Park in Minnesota. All four are on turf, and here I'll do my best to give you identifying likely win prospects in the first three.

I'm likely to pass on the Canterbury race, contingent on weather and my completely lack of familiarity with and interest in that track.

On the season I'm 6 for 27 with a bankroll of +$75.30 on notional $2 win wagers. That's good for 11th nationally of 2,764 players registered and sixth best among NHC Tour players.

Monmouth Park, Race 11: United Nations Stakes, 5:28 p.m.

Selection: #1, Bigger Picture (3-1)
Alternates: #4, Focus Group (2-1); #2, Channel Cat (7-2)

The deeper I dug, the less I really loved anyone here, though Bigger Picture with Monmouth's top rider Joe Bravo is very playable. I don't expect to get 3-1, but think 2-1 or 5-2 is realistic and am not about to kick a $6-$7 win mutuel to the curb as others lose a mythical $2 stabbing in a field where chalk should prevail. With about 25% of selections made, Todd Pletcher trainee Channel Cat is 2-1, consistent with what PH editors Scott Carson and Chris Larmey have said on their weekly podcast about players loving that trainer's horses. Granted, the four-year-old has room to grow vs. more-seasoned horses here [e.g. Bigger Picture is 8], but his ceiling thus far has been two overnight stakes victories at so-so tracks. Bravo puts BP in a great stalking position and gets his 14th win in 41 starts.

Santa Anita, Race 6: Snow Chief Stakes, 6:33 p.m.

Selection: #5, Carnivorous (12-1)
Alternates: #4, Irish Heatwave (3-1); #3, Prodigal Son (12-1)

This isn't a very good race either, and I've got somewhat unusual reasons for backing a 12-to-1 shot who has never run more than 6.5 furlongs let alone Saturday's mile-and-an-eighth distance. The favorite, 5-to-2 Our Silver Oak, isn't worth that price with a 1-for-10 lifetime record, so I'm looking elsewhere. Trainer Jonathan Wong is a monster in Northern California at Golden Gate Fields, but here he's going up against the top SoCal trainers, including three Doug O'Neill runners. Carnivorous is one of 'em. He ran just eight days ago, which gives me some pause, but his two turf tries (second- and third-place finishes vs. $80,000 open claimers; most of Saturday's foes ran exclusively vs. state-bred horses) showed a liking of the grass, and I love sprinters going first time two turns who've shown tactical ability. Abel Cedillo rides, coming down from Golden Gate and a really good turf rider there, plus 30% in 57 starts on grass. If Cedillo can get him to settle behind apparent speed-and-fade types, I think Carnivorous -- with a 4 lb. weight break since last time -- can be first one across the finish line as the others gasp for air and flatten out. The 19-to-1 odds on as of about 11 p.m. ET on Friday are silly. Well worth the shot.

Santa Anita, Race 8: Wilshire Stakes, 7:36 p.m.

Selection: #1, Ollie's Candy (5-1)
Alternates: #3, Simply Breathless (6-1); #4, Poster Girl (12-1)

It's quite possible Ollie's Candy routs this crew. This isn't a good field. Most of the horses in posts 6-11 aren't playable for me, including co-third choice #11 Tapped, as 6-to-1 is way too short for a five-year-old with two lifetime wins, both on dirt, and that last won in January 2017. Completely not my cup of tea. On the other hand, Ollie's Candy is a four-year-old making her second start this year after a seventh-place (of eight) finish in the Grade 1 Gamely on May 27, a race where replay confirms the jockey hand-rode the horse about the entire race, let her get into a stride before she made up incremental ground very late in the stretch and galloped out well past the other runners, including the powerful Vasilika, who's the gold standard in California. Two bullet works since that race indicates Ollie's Candy's ready to fire, with rider Kent Desormeaux riding a fresh and talented horse who's cutting back in distance and I sense is completely fit. Amazing she's 5-to-1; would be a steal at that price, akin to free money.

Canterbury Park, Race 6: Mystic Lake Mile, 8:52 p.m

As of Friday evening, I'm passing on this race. Too many variables -- a track I never play, 14 horses entered and chance of showers and thunderstorms that could take the race off turf.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Key Weekend Stakes Picks

[Updated Sunday morning with results; Green indicates winner on $2 win mutuel payout]

Despite the chance of jinxing myself for the rest of 2019's Public Handicapper contest, and in the event a racetrack's searching for a racing analyst with a self-effacing style, I'm going to make every effort to break down -- for all 8 of my readers -- the top four U.S. races each weekend as determined by the PH editors.

The format's simple -- a notional $2 win bet, hopefully, to inform your handicapping and also in a bid to advance my current 14th-place standing in a contest with over 2,700 players and the top NHC Tour member gets a free berth to the NHC next February in Las Vegas.

This weekend's plays include three stakes at Churchill Downs and one at Monmouth Park -- an interesting turf sprint where almost half the runners belong to trainer Jason Servis, who has Maximum Security lined up to run on Sunday in his first race back since the Kentucky Derby DQ.

Monmouth Park, Race 10: Honey Bee Stakes, 5 p.m.

Selection: #4, Eyeinthesky (6-1) -- Finished 4th; lost irons at start
Alternates: #3, A Bit of Both (3-1) -- Paid $5.40; #2, Golcanda (scratched)

Nothing deep here. I think A Bit of Both is fastest, setting the pace for two other Jason Servis runners and the rest of the field. Yet I'm not willing to give the win nod, trying turf for the first time. Eyeinthesky gets the dream trip just off Bit's flank, and a repeat of the 5-furlong win at Gulfstream in January is good enough vs. these. Eyeinthesky also has a win at Aqueduct in a $100,000 stake at a slightly longer distance, done on the front end. So I think he's among the more tactical here on a track that plays fast.

Churchill Downs, Race 6: Wise Dan Stakes, Grade II, 8:37 p.m.

Selection: #9, Inspector Lynley (6-1) -- Scratched
Alternates: #15 (AE), Parlor (10-1) -- 4th at 33-1; #11, March to the Arch (6-1) -- Paid $23

The winner's coming from the outer posts. I think #4, Hot Springs (10-1), will be overbet as a horse who's 4-for-5 at Churchill and who's quick enough to secure a spot behind runaway leaders Siem Riep and Itinthepost -- the latter could be favorite, but I think is using this first race since August as a tuneup for longer and bigger races later this year. I think both can wilt, and Inspector Lynley is good enough -- and reunites with jockey Jose Ortiz -- and ran well vs. Bricks and Mortar in the Muniz at Fairgrounds in March before winning small stakes at Aqueduct in April. His effort in the Dixie on Preakness Day was disappointing vs. Admission Office, who finished a close second to Catholic Boy, but I'm speculating AO's effort was a top one that'll be tough to repeat, and he couldn't catch a horse (a great one, though) who hadn't run in a long time. Lynley grinds out a win here.

Churchill Downs, Race 8: Grade 2 Stephen Foster, 9:47 p.m.

Selection: #8, King Zachary (12-1) -- 10th of 12, stunk up the joint
Alternates: #4, Seeking the Soul (4-1) -- paid $11.20; #3, Runaway Ghost (20-1) -- 8th of 12

This race isn't my cup of tea but I think an honest early pace sets up for a stalker-closer type at a mile-and-an-eighth. I don't have pound-the-table conviction about King Zachary, but think he's very playable second time off a long layoff that saw him end 2018 with a bad Pennsylvania Derby in September and a decent fourth in the Travers. This one has punched above his weight, but in his second start as a 4-year-old has found a spot where he can track the speed and hope to make it three wins in five tries on the Churchill oval. His 2019 debut in a $100,000 optional-claimer, going a one-turn mile, may be sufficient enough of a warmup for trainer Graham Motion, who has a slightly positive ROI with horses second time in his barn and gets Javier Castellano.

Churchill Downs, Race 9: Grade 3 Regret Stakes, 10:19 p.m.

Selection: #5, Hard Legacy (8-1) -- paid $13.80
Alternates: #11, Princess Carolina (4-1) -- 8th of 11; #10, Gamblin Train (10-1) -- 7th of 11

If trainer Norm Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux see what I see, Hard Legacy will be forwardly placed in an 11-horse field that lacks tempo. It's a bit of pace-handicapping for me here, as I'm less inclined to use tepid favorites Winter Sunset and Varenka, who don't seem particularly fast from the gate and will stalk what I'm anticipating as a dawdling pace.

Replays of Hard Legacy's last two so-so stakes tries showed a horse wrangled back twice to sit mid-pack, where she looked uncomfortable and was subjected to wide trips, including 5-6 off the rail in the Appalachian at a soft Keeneland in early April. If she inherits the lead and can lope around the backstretch in slow fractions, I think she'll have enough in the tank to hold off the closers. Otherwise, #11, Princesa Carolina, gets a dream stalking trip and scores.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Wagers for Belmont Stakes Pick 4 Sequence

Allocating a $97 bankroll to the Pick 4 races ending with the 2019 Belmont Stakes, my fortune hinges on three horses not in the third leg of the Triple Crown -- Hog Creek Hustle in the Woody Stephens (Race 8), Coal Front in the Met Mile (Race 9) and Bricks and Mortar in the Manhattan (Race 10).

A win by Hog Creek Hustle and I may not care much who wins the Belmont.

About two-thirds of my bets are connected to Race 8, a 7-furlong sprint featuring 11 runners in what, to me, looks like a wide open race. Hog Creek Hustle plays prominently, as I think his runner-up finish in the Pat Day Mile -- a race where I made Mr. Money my pick of Kentucky Derby day -- exemplified this horse relishes one-turn races, and I think Mr. Money's going to prove better than today's runners.

Hog Creek Hustle's connections took a shot at the Kentucky Derby trail, finishing a game and late-running second to Preakness Stakes winner War of Will in the Grade 3 LeComte in mid-January before another similar fourth-place run in the Grade 2 Risen Star. His jockey in those two races (Florent Geroux) is more of a sit-and-pounce type, whereas today the horse reunites with southeastern-based rider Corey Lanerie, who rode him to a pair of two-year-old victories and more forwardly so in last month's second-place Pat Day Mile. To me, the cutback to seven furlongs is perfect, and I'm willing to stake my success this afternoon to #8 Hog Creek Hustle. I'll use him prominently, with #1 Honest Mischief and #11 Wendell Fog in small "saver" tickets.
When talking Hogs on Belmont
Day, it starts and ends with our
most beloved Hogg

Race 9, the Metropolitan Handicap, is the real feature today -- best race on the card, though I'm not as enamored with some of the runners. I think the winner comes from the inside three posts, and I landed on 6-to-1 Coal Front (#1), who isn't the sturdiest horse (been sidelined several times, including a 14-month layoff from Sept. 2017-Nov. 2018), but he's 3-of-3 since, including wins at three distinct distances (7 furlongs, 1 mile and a mile-and-a-sixteenth). I think he's going to hold his morning-line odds, and if he wins he'll spice up multi-race-wager payouts. I'm exclusively playing two Pick 3's starting with this race, one with my stronger picks and the other spreading out a bit more for coverage.

I'm going back to the well as I did on Derby Day with #8 Bricks and Mortar in the turf feature -- Race 10, the Manhattan. He'll be a single on most of my tickets, with #1 Raging Bull in my savers. The scratch of front-runner Epical is significant, in my opinion, and could entice second-choice, #10 Channel Marker (9-2), to forge to the front and try to win it on the lead and set slow fractions, in essence trying to lull Bricks and Mortar to sleep. Yet that strategy didn't work in the Turf Classic on Derby Day, and I think it won't here on a turf course that should play a bit firm. Bricks and Mortar is a bit of a "free square" in my Pick 3 and 4 tickets, so if he doesn't win many of my bets will be shot.

Unless I score something nice with my Race 8 daily doubles and trifecta wagers, I'm going light on the Belmont, since Tax is a tepid win selection for me -- the opposite of my bullish sentiment toward Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, and my analysis as War of Will as best in the Preakness. I will only play a small exacta and trifecta, and will mainly increase the increment a bit if I score decently on Race 8-10 wagers.

Good luck to everyone playing this afternoon on what's a gorgeous day for the Belmont Stakes!

2019 Belmont Stakes Day Wagers ($97 Bankroll)

Race 8, Woody Stephens Stakes, 7 furlongs on dirt (4:04 p.m. ET post) = $66 Total

[Wager with dollar value, selection = total out-of-pocket cost]
$4 daily double: 8 with 1 = $4
$1 daily double: 8 with ALL = $9
$1 daily double: 1 with 1, 2, 3, 9 = $4 (saver ticket)
$1 daily double: 11 with 1, 2, 3 = $3 (saver ticket)
50-cent trifecta: 8 with 1, 11 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 = $4
50-cent trifecta: 1, 11 with 8 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 = $4
50-cent trifecta: 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 8 = $10
50-cent Pick 4 (my "Hog" single): 8 with 1, 2, 3, 7, 9 with 1, 8 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $20
50-cent Pick 4 (first saver ticket): 1, 4, 6, 9, 11 with 1 with 8 with 4, 6 = $5
50-cent Pick 4 (second saver): 1 with 1, 2, 3 with 8 with 4, 6 = $3

Race 9, Metropolitan Handicap, 1 mile on dirt (4:46 p.m. ET post) = $14 Total

$3 Pick 3: 1 with 8 with 4, 6 = $6
$1 Pick 3: 1 with 1, 8 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $8

Race 10, Manhattan Stakes, 1.25 mile on turf (5:36 p.m. ET post) = $8 Total

$3 daily double: 8 with 4 = $6
$1 daily double: 8 with 6 = $1
$1 daily double: 1 with 4, 6, 9, 10 = $4

Race 11, Belmont Stakes, 1.5 mile on dirt (6:37 p.m. ET post) = $9 Total

$1 exacta key box: 4 with 6, 9, 10 = $6
50-cent trifecta: 4 with 6, 9, 10 with 6, 9, 10 = $3

Friday, June 7, 2019

2019 Belmont Stakes Pick: Tax

The Triple Crown season wraps up with a mile-and-a-half race that none of these three-year-olds has experienced and likely won't again, running on the "Big Sandy" in the 2019 Belmont Stakes.

The race is completely wide open, in my opinion, and includes a few long-shots with a viable chance of upsetting Preakness winner War of Will (2-to-1 second choice) and favorite Tacitus (9-to-5) -- both perched outside in a field of 10.

In a bit of a coinflip scenario, and in the spirit of our tariff-happy president, Tax is my pick to win the Belmont Stakes.
"Tax will make you richer
than ever before.

Local trainer Danny Gargan isn't a household name like three-time Belmont Stakes winner Todd Pletcher, who'll saddle two runners and has a legitimate contender in Spinoff, but gets one of the best jockeys in the nation -- Irad Ortiz -- to ride Tax.

For my money, it's a significant rider switch and one that could pay dividends at 15-to-1 if Ortiz recognizes the value of securing the third or fourth spot down the backstretch and keeping Tax, a grinder type, close to front-runners who'll fade.

Speaking of money, I'll post my race-day wagers on Saturday, keeping to the normal $100 limit, in the event you want to circle back for some suggestions. As you know, the Maximum Security cost me a $1,000+ profit in the Derby, and my published Preakness wagers weren't winners, though my pick of the day at Pimlico won pretty easy and I had a $110 profit that afternoon. So I'm about even in Triple Crown races thus far.

In the meantime, here's my ranking of the full field of 10 in the 2019 Belmont Stakes. Feel free to comment below or Tweet me @NJHorseplayer.
  • #4, Tax (15-1): Toss the Kentucky Derby effort, where he was post-compromised and didn't show much in the slop. I wasn't a fan of him that afternoon, but think he's a potential win contender in the Belmont. Getting jockey Irad Ortiz is a notable benefit, as is a post with slow gate horses to the stalls on either side and cheap speed at the rail. I think he's going to be forwardly-placed and sit off Joevia, probably second or third unless Ortiz finds trouble, and could find himself on the lead at the mile mark, at which point it'll be a question of stamina. I think he's got enough distance pedigree to make it happen. Tax's win in the Grade 3 Withers, where he easily outran Belmont rival Sir Winston, was credible enough to fit here, as he took to the distance, withstood a slight check in the stretch, and gutted it out to the wire. I like grinder types in this race and am not sure we'll get 15-1, but will bet as a win contender. NJ Horseplayer selection to win the 2019 Belmont Stakes.
  • #6, Spinoff (15-1): This morning line is completely silly. Alright, as expected, Spinoff wasn't a factor in the Kentucky Derby. He got passed late by a 22-to-1 shot in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby and flopped in the Kentucky Derby with a wide post on a sloppy track that perhaps he didn't enjoy. But trainer Todd Pletcher gets top rider Javier Castellano on a horse who'll be toward the lead -- a tactic that works in the Belmont. The Louisiana Derby race was super productive, with War of Will, Sueno and Mr. Money in that field and all going on to big accomplishments. I may use Spinoff on a small ticket in the win spot but absolutely will have him across my tickets underneath. An upset contender who'll at least hit the board. The only drawback in putting him a peg below Tax is the lack of a stakes win (graded and non-graded).
  • #10, Tacitus (9-5): No doubt he'll go off as the favorite, but a hot early pace was a common thread in all of his races and I'm not sure Tacitus will get that in the Belmont. The widest post isn't much of a concern for a runner who'll likely sit midpack into the backstretch and look to make a mid-race move against the leaders. Another common thread is Jose Ortiz's aggressive rides. In his win in the Wood Memorial, Tacitus came in on runner-up Tax quite a bit in the stretch, though without much contact. It was more of a progressive move into Tax's space, steering his opponent tighter to the rail and holding on late. In the Kentucky Derby, he was jostled a bit early -- who isn't in a 20-horse field -- but settled and made a decent move to finish third by DQ, though I think he potentially fouled Master Fencer down the lane, interfering with his path. I think Tacitus is a must use on tickets, but I'm not picking him to win. Wouldn't shock me if he crossed the line first, but at some point, his good fortune -- like the perfect trip in winning the Tampa Bay Derby -- has got to run out. Using underneath. 
  • #9, War of Will (2-1):  It's hard to knock the only horse who's running in all three Triple Crown races. Will ran a valiant Kentucky Derby and good enough to hit the board if not win, though we all know what happened. Two weeks later he bounced back to win the Preakness at a dismissive 6-to-1, but in the polar opposite fashion of his race at Churchill, everything went Will's way in Baltimore as he won by a length and a quarter. That said, he beat a 64-to-1 shot who I think got lucky that day (Everfast) and won't be a factor here. This guy has guts and will attend to the pace, though I have doubts about his stamina at this point of the campaign, running his sixth grueling race in since Jan. 19 on a racetrack where experience helps. In that light, rider Tyler Gaffalione doesn't have a ton of experience on the big Belmont oval where timing your one big move is everything. I'll play him second through fourth on my tickets and wouldn't be surprised if he wins, but will keep him strictly underneath. 
  • #3, Master Fencer (8-1): I sense he'll go off below his morning line and as the third betting choice for those who dwell on the late run he showed in finishing in the top half of the Kentucky Derby field. One could argue he ran a better race than Belmont favorite Tacitus as it looked to me that he was bumped off stride a little as the latter one bumped him outward mid-stretch. It was a very credible race, so five weeks away from the track should help this Japanese import. The biggest questions for me are whether he'll try coming from the clouds again -- generally not a favorable Belmont proposition -- and if he's classy enough, sinning two races against weaker foes and getting into the Kentucky Derby by default when the winner of the win-and-your-in race in Japan wasn't Triple Crown nominated. I'll consider using him primarily at the bottom of my trifecta, and maybe the second spot of exacta bets.
  • #5 Bourbon War (12-1): As predicted, a wise-guy horse in the Preakness who showed little and in somewhat of a sign of desperation was trying blinkers for the first time. Trainer Mark Hennig removes the blinkers for the Belmont and gets Mike Smith, a three-time Belmont winner since 2010, though all those horses were more forwardly placed than what Bourbon War has shown in an unimpressive stakes campaign. Maybe the horse takes to a new jockey, but in my view it's a negative that his rider in the last five (Irad Ortiz) went to Tax. Pass.
  • #7 Sir Winston (12-1): At the least this is a similar path for jockey Joel Rosario, who spoiled California Chrome's Triple Crown bid in 2014 aboard Tonalist, who came out of the Peter Pan Stakes much as Sir Winston does this year. The difference is that Winston's tactically disadvantaged as a deep closer, which to me won't work other than potentially hitting the bottom of the board. Winston's three-year-old campaign has been far from impressive, with several off-the-board finishes in three Derby preps before an also-ran second in the Peter Pan, a 5-horse field that wasn't so good. I just don't see it happening for a horse whose two wins were at age two at Woodbine in Toronto. Pass.
  • #8, Intrepid Heart (10-1): The other Pletcher runner comes in off a so-so third (of just five runners) in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes and is lightly raced. I'm not a fan of trainers making equipment changes in Grade 1 races. The addition of blinkers and addition of rider John Velazquez tells me he's likely to challenge War of Will for a better lead position into the first turn and could serve as a rabbit for Spinoff. If nothing else he'll be in it for a mile before fading. Pass.
  • #2, Everfast (12-1): I'm still a little sore over the Preakness Stakes outcome, where Joel Rosario settled his horse 18 lengths off winner War of Will in the backstretch before ambling home for a surprise second-place finish at 29-to-1. Yet if you watch the replay, this horse was never catching War of Will and, to me, got lucky. That and the Grade 2 Holy Bull effort are the only races that fit the profile of a horse that can hit the board in the Belmont, and for a horse that has never shown early speed I don't think the rider switch to Luis Saez helps. Pass.
  • #1, Joevia (30-1): This one's prep was a win in ungraded stakes at Monmouth Park vs. 3 others, including a runner that broke down before the stretch. That and his speed-and-fade in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in April, won by Tacitus, tells me he'll be the rabbit for about three-quarters of a mile before bringing up the rear. Or, based on two wins on a wet track, connections will be doing a rain dance until the race is run. Pass.