So it's my maiden voyage to the Belmont Stakes in person, as my good friend Peter Rogers is playing in the high-stakes handicapping challenge and invited me as his guest, presumably for great karma.
This year's edition of the Belmont has eight entrants slated to enter the gate for today's 6:44 p.m. post time.
I sense all the win bets will go toward #1 We the People (2-1) and #6 Mo Donegal (5-2). The latter's likely to be post-time favorite after sitting out the Preakness following his fifth-place Kentucky Derby finish from the no-chance-to-win rail position. The horse will be fresh and showed a good late turn of foot in winning both the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and Remsen at Aqueduct. NYC bettors will hammer him at the betting windows but the win odds should be propped up a bit but the big pool size.
We the People is a toss, for me, at least as a win proposition. I think his win in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 14 was in much shallower water than here, though the field isn't great.
I'm taking a flier on #2 Skippylongstocking. He's 20-1 but I don't think should be. I love the jockey change to Manny Franco from Junior Alvarado, who in my opinion did nothing but get this horse in trouble in his last two starts. A clean break and position off the primary and lone "speed" horse in the race -- We the People -- should put him in the mix; and past history has shown it's difficult to come from the clouds to win the Belmont in the fashion that #4 Rich Strike used to win the Derby at 80-1.
My betting will be largely around #2 Skippylongstocking and the Ortiz brothers Jose and Irad, as Belmont's sweeping turns and 12-furlong distance are unique, so home field advantage helps. The other New York-based riders have lesser mounts and so I'm excluding them from win and exacta wagers.
#2 Skippylongstocking (20-1): The horse has yet to win a stakes race in 10 lifetime tries but I felt ran credible efforts in the Wood Memorial (3rd) and Preakness (5th) to merit consideration. In both efforts Alvarado carried Skippylongstocking wide onto the track and lost valuable ground. That played into him getting cut off a few times in the stretch of the Preakness by a tiring horse and maybe cost him third. I'd be all over this one were it a rainy day based on pedigree but will take a stab here as I think Franco will attend to the pace earlier and the horse hasn't done anything really wrong in stretching out to longer distances from the one-turn affairs he won.
#6 Mo Donegal (5-2): There'll be no value as a win bet unless the horse stays at 5-2, which I don't see happening. Plus, outside of a bad Derby draw, he did get beaten and outridden by a $160+ horse from the "also eligible" list. That's concerning to me for a prospective favorite. Beyond the rail draw, Mo Donegal had no real trouble in the Derby. Maybe home court advantage helps this time, and I'll use in exotics wagering, but for me he's no shoe-in.
Hits the Exacta-Trifecta
#3 Nest (8-1): The lone filly in the field. I don't think we're looking at a Rachel Alexandra here, but Nest acquitted herself well in the Kentucky Oaks, finishing second to Secret Oath. She got 5 weeks rest for this and I think can get the distance. I just wonder if she's good enough to win.
#5 Creative Minister (6-1): This will be the wise guy horse, going off 4-1/5-1. I picked him in the Preakness and am not bitter in any way about the outcome. I just feel he got a clean look at winning the race and just was a cut below. I'm not sure what changes in 3 weeks since the Preakness, where he got a dream trip and just couldn't close the deal. Will use underneath.
#1 We the People (5-2): I'll use him defensively on my tickets. Everyone's fired up about a 1-turn win in the slop in the Peter Pan, but really who did he beat that day? I sense he'll lope along on the lead for some time and begin to fade in the stretch, maybe good enough to hang on for a minor award. Watch the first half-mile time for clues. If it's 49 seconds-plus, he'll have a shot to lull the rest to sleep. Anything below that I think there's a danger he's out of the money.
#4 Rich Strike (7-2): I'll tip my cap when he wins. I just don't see it. Dream trip in the Derby and a rider not particularly familiar with the track configuration. And for a dead closer the Belmont can be tough, and his two lifetime wins were both at Churchill Downs, so we'll see if he's a horse for course.
#7 Golden Glider (20-1): Maybe wins a minor award considering the Ghostzapper pedigree. Can probably run all day, but how fast? Looks like a midpack runner and maybe a carousel horse type.
#8 Barber Road (10-1): My ax to grind here is his speed figures look a cut below most and he's 0-5 as a 3-year-old. Plus removing the blinkers on a horse with no speed entering a Grade 1 is curious. Perceived rider upgrade to Joel Rosario but I'm not sure the horse's regular rider did anything wrong to merit losing the mount. To me this is a Grade 3-type horse.
Horse to Watch on Undercard
Race 8, Jaipur Stake, #13 Gregorian Chant: Most of his success has been at Santa Anita but I love the outside draw and how he performed in the Eddie D last October from a difficult rail post on the downhill turf at SA. Lost to some tough customers there and I think could pop third start off a layoff.