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. 

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