This week the Public Handicapper editors give us a challenging Pick 4 sequence at Belmont Park, capped off by a Grade 2 Suburban that's stacked for the Stars and Stripes Festival.
I'm skipping the first one -- Race 7, the Belmont Oaks Invitational -- as I've got no feel for a 9-horse field with three European shippers and one from Japan, and where one of trainer Chad Brown's trio (5-to-2 favorite and speed ball Newspaperofrecord) is vulnerable and may be a setup scenario for his other two runners, neither of which I love. I'll skip on making a selection there.
Otherwise here's my thoughts on Races 8-10, including my pick of the day -- #10, Cordmaker, in the Suburban -- who has a chance to blow up the tote vs. a prohibitive 9-to-5 favorite.
Belmont, Race 8: Nerud Stakes, 5:05 p.m.
Selection: #3, Warrior's Club (10-1)
Alternates: #4, Nicodemus (6-1); #8, Pat On the Back (4-1)
My half-dozen readers will know I've got a thing for Warrior's Club, who got me to February's National Horseplayer Championship (NHC) with a 23-1 win last April at Keeneland. Yet this guy is 0-for-10 since -- somewhat alarming, though I like his post position and that I think he's freshened (2-month layoff) and could secure the rail pretty easily. If he's not within two lengths of the lead coming into the stretch, he's cooked and we'll know early whether he's got a chance to win. Outside of #9 Promises Fulfilled (the 2-to-1 morning line favorite), I think there's not much legitimate early speed in this 9-horse field. The widest draw hurts his chances, as he'll really have to gun for the lead. Lower-caliber horses like #5 Killybegs Captain and #6 Bon Raison (both 15-to-1) may gun it too, setting up a scenario where whichever of the four horses closest to the rail gets an opportunity for a golden, ground-saving trip and wins. Tactically, Warrior's Club is best-suited, with rail horse Majestic Dunhill a dead closer, #2 New York Central more of a stalker type, and #4 Nicodemus somewhere in between. Public Handicapper players have Warrior's Club at half his morning line, but I think real-money bettors will toss this D. Wayne Lucas trainee and we could get 10-to-1. Warrior's Club is an honest runner that's 5-for-32 lifetime, including 2 wins at today's distance. A modest early tempo that makes it harder for the closers to make up late ground puts Warrior's Club right in the mix.
Belmont, Race 9: Belmont Derby, 5:44 p.m.
Selection: #5, Plus Que Parfait (15-1)
Alternates: #13, Digital Age (9-2); #12, Demarchelier (6-1)
I'm not going to overthink this one -- a 14-horse field with several serious turf runners at a mile-and-a-quarter. As much as I panned this guy in my Kentucky Derby analysis, I'm going with long-shot Plus Que Parfait this afternoon, trying turf a second time after his third-place debut on the grass last July at little-known Ellis Park in Kentucky. From there it took two more tries to get his debut win on dirt, followed by the usual silliness of anyone with a half-decent horse campaigning their horse for the Kentucky Derby, whether suited for the dirt of not. This guy got into the Run for the Roses by virtue of a win in Dubai in March, then ran a better-than-expected 8th of 19 in the Derby. He got a full four weeks of rest from published works after that and has since posted two on turf that signal he'll eventually be pointed full-time to the grass and will be fresh here. The horse he beat to the wire in the Derby -- Win Win Win -- did similar, impressively winning (albeit at a shorter distance and vs. less-accomplished horses) a black-type stakes on July 4 on the Belmont turf, and at 4-to-1 odds. Based on the Public Handicapper odds (as of 11 a.m. ET) of 16-to-1, I'm pretty confident Plus Que Parfait will at least hold his 15-to-1 morning line, and at that rate I'm willing to take the plunge on a horse who faced much tougher (Maximum Security, War of Will, Country House, Hog Creek Hustle...Win Win Win) than his turf-focused foes, including the Chad Brown runners.
Belmont, Race 10: Suburban Stakes, 6:18 p.m.
Selection: #10, Cordmaker (12-1)
Alternates: #4, Marconi (6-1); #3, Rocketry (8-1)
Catholic Boy is rightfully the clear favorite (9-to-5) -- $2 million winner, top-flight victories on turf and dirt, rail draw today off a relatively easy win on the grass on Preakness Day. Yet the pace is going to be honest at today's mile-and-a-quarter distance, with my alternate selection Marconi on a three-race winning streak and a horse that maybe has finally figured things out after a fruitless three-year-old campaign and will be breathing down Catholic Boy's neck. I really like an outsider here -- 12-to-1 Cordmaker, who's completely dead on the Public Handicapper board at about 30-to-1. I'm shocked that 4x the number of people like #11 Pavel instead. Cordmaker is an off-the-pace invader from Maryland for little-known (to New York players) trainer Rodney Jenkins, who shrewdly picks his spots if based on 6 wins in 14 tries this year when shipping from his Laurel-Pimlico base. Cordmaker comes into today off a 7-furlong win on June 16 at Laurel vs. Race 8 entrant Majestic Dunhill and with a better trip would have won the Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 17. In that race the horse got completely bottled up and made an eye-catching 8-wide run in the stretch before simply running out of room; he finished third vs. Tenfold. This afternoon he draws wide on Belmont's quirky 1.25-mile configuration but moves with ease, and I think will benefit by following also-ran early pacemaker #9 Realm out of the starting gate. To me, this son of Curlin has a major chance for an upset. Completely surprised the PH editors didn't give this one a closer look, and that contest players have basically dismissed. All the better for me, I suppose. Ideally he's going to sit midpack, get into his stride and come rolling home late.