by Johnny D
July 3, 2020
Saturday, Belmont serves up a graded stakes pick 4 feast racing fans and horseplayers should consume with delight. Portions aren’t overly generous—there are fields of 8-9-8-8 runners in races 8 through 11, respectively--but the quality is exceptional. Think fine dining versus all-you-can-eat buffet. Michelin stars not tires.
The Grade 3 Poker pops the seal on the deal in race 8 at approximately 5:13 ET. It’s a $150,000 one mile, one turn, turf race topped on paper by multiple Gr. 1 winner millionaire mare Got Stormy against a gang of male foes. Trainer Chad Brown dispatches the lightly raced Grade 1 winner Valid Point as a more than worthy adversary.
The $500,000, Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap is next as race 9. You may recognize the race by its more casual moniker ‘The Met Mile.’ As sweet-smelling a rose by either name, it’s seasonally one of the nation’s top encounters, a sire-making squabble contested around one turn—an inch or two too far for confirmed speedballs and a tad short for dedicated plodders. The race, however, hits racing fans and horseplayers right between the eyes and usually produces an entertaining outcome.
Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie, troubled runner-up in this race last year to Eclipse Award winning sprinter Mitole, returns to right that wrong. He’s the 125-pound starting high weight and will spot rivals from 16 to 128 ounces. Recent Gr. 3 Westchester winner and Belmont track lover Code of Honor will carry 124 pounds, one more than recent Gr. 1 Carter winner Vekoma.
Race 10, third leg of the all graded stakes pick 4, is the $400,000 Manhattan at one mile and one-quarter on turf. Channel Maker, a Gr. 1 winner of over $2 million, shoulders top weight of 122 pounds. Sadler’s Joy, a 7-year-old warrior, with over $2.5 million in the bank also will draw wagering attention. Multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, the dominant force in local and national turf racing, has three runners in the race that can’t be overlooked.
The wager concludes with the 11th race, the $200,000, Gr. 2 Suburban at a mile and one-quarter on the main track. A couple of 2019 Triple Crown race survivors figure mightily as Belmont winner Sir Winston and Kentucky Derby third-place finisher and Belmont runner-up Tacitus meet.
Here’s one man’s humble opinion on how to play this tantalizing quartet of races:
Analysis of this race begins with #7 Got Stormy, a 5-year-old mare with over a million and one-half in the bank. She got good in March of 2019 and proved a force against males in Gr. 1 competition—she won the Fourstardave at Saratoga, was second in the Woodbine Mile and Breeders’ Cup Mile—before winning the Gr. 1 Matriarch against fellow female foes. She returned in Feb. 2020 to lay a huge egg when fourth against females at $.20 to the dollar in the Gr. 3 Endevour at Tampa Bay Downs. She bounced back mightily to miss by a neck to the tenacious River Boyne in the Gr. 1 Frank Kilroe at Santa Anita. Two months off produced another disappointing Gr. 3 effort when #7 Got Stormy was fourth in Belmont’s Beaugay at a mile and one-sixteenth on turf. Which Got Stormy are we likely to see in the Poker? One of the nation’s top mile turf performers of any sex? Or, a mare that struggles in Grade 3 races against females? Regular rider Tyler Gaffalione is replaced by Hall of Fame member John Velazquez, a signal that someone is not happy with the way things have been going—that could be the jock, the trainer or the owner. While #7 Got Stormy is the most accomplished in this field, she’s got some blemishes on her recent resume and it feels as if her connections are attempting to right the ship. We’re not positive she’s as sharp as she once was. Taking a stand against her in this first leg is a big gamble, but it might be a good idea.
#2 Valid Point hails from the Chad Brown stable. In a graded New York-based turf stakes race you almost don’t need to analyze anything else. Use this horse. He’s already a Gr. 1 winner against fellow 3-year-olds last year and has had just four starts overall. He’s been gone since October, but Brown’s great at bringing them back sharp. Unlike the situation with #7 Got Stormy where it feels like they’re trying to get back on track, this appears the perfect spot to begin this colt’s 2020 season on a turf course he likes.
#9 Value Proposition is another Chad Brown trainee in the race. If you’re going to take a shot against #7 Got Stormy, you’d better have this guy in play. He won his most recent start—a $62k/optional claimer, so he’s sharp. That’s his third win in four lifetime starts—two out of three coming on Belmont turf.
#4 Seismic Wave is an interesting possibility. He’s 2 for 2 at the distance and rallied 7 wide last out to be fourth, just one length away from winning. This 4-year-old made some big dances last year in graded stakes races. He could be finding his best stride this year. Jockey Eric Cancel is replaced by the terrific Joel Rosario in here and the latter has ridden the ridgeling five times before, to some success.
#2 Vekoma deserves much respect in here. He’s razor sharp, off a 7 � length Gr. 1 Carter win at Belmont on the slop. It was by far the fastest race of his career. He’s now won five of seven starts and nearly one million dollars in purse money. His only two losses came in the 2019 Fountain of Youth and in the Kentucky Derby. In the former he chased home Code of Honor who’s also in this race. This colt has enough speed to lay close to the early pace and the one-mile distance is no issue. He’s got a funny way of going but he’s all business.
#3 McKinzie should have won this race last year but he and jockey Mike Smith ran into some traffic issues. That’s to be expected, after all, they were in New York. They’re back for redemption this year with trainer Bob Baffert again calling the shots. This 5-year-old horse is a multiple Gr. 1 winner who showed his fitness by winning at a short price in the Gr. 2 Triple Bend at Santa Anita last out. The Beyer Speed Figure was not close to his better efforts, so one could approach him with a tentative posture. However, he’s difficult to ignore in here.
#5 Code of Honor comes off a workmanlike half-length tally in the Gr. 3 Westchester—his first race since November’s disappointment in the BC Classic. This colt loves Belmont—3 wins in 4 starts—and has a first and a second out of three one-mile starts, all around one turn. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, a veteran Big Apple conditioner, knows what kind of horse it takes to win this race. Expect a top performance.
#7 Mr. Freeze is a new face to Belmont Park, but he’s no stranger to one-turn mile races where he’s 2 for 2. He’s got enough speed to be close up in a great striking position. He’ll be a price and a huge separator if he happens to fire over this surface.
Trainer Chad Brown will saddle three runners in this race: #1 Instilled Regard, #2 Rockemperor and #5 Devamani. None can totally be discounted. This race is a bit of an old-timer’s game featuring two runners who’ve earned over $2 million—7-year-old #4 Sadler’s Joy at $2.5 million and 6-year-old #6 Channel Maker at $2.1 million. Of the remaining six runners, there are two 6-year-olds and one 7-year old.
#4 Sadler’s Joy was fourth in this race in 2018 and ran well in the Tiller June 4 at Belmont, but he’s just 1 for his last 7 starts and a weak 1 for 11 on Belmont turf.
#6 Channel Maker was fourth in this race last year and hasn’t put it together this year, finishing fourth, eighth and eighth in three 2020 starts.
While no one stands out in here, #2 Rockemperor seems the most attractive off a narrow loss to the highly regarded United in the Gr. 2 Charles Whittingham at Santa Anita. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez subs for the sensational Irad Ortiz, Jr., who remains with stablemate #1 Instilled Regard, winner of the Gr. 2 Fort Marcy over this course last out. Must use both of these Chad Brown-trained runners.
#7 Dot Matrix is a 7-year-old with 10 wins from 33 lifetime starts. He was second last out in the Tiller at Belmont, two lengths in front of #4 Sadler’s Joy. He’s not without a chance at a price in a wide-open event.
Ever wonder what happens to the previous year’s Triple Crown headliners? Some of them end up in the Suburban: 2019 Belmont winner #6 Sir Winston meets Kentucky Derby fourth (placed third via DQ) and Belmont runner-up #1 Tacitus.
In 2019, #6 Sir Winston parlayed a Gr. 3 Peter Pan runner-up finish into a Gr. 1 Belmont Stakes triumph. He returns to the scene of his most prestigious success for the second time—he was a well-beaten second against #8 Moretti in the Flat Out stakes last out June 11 over a sloppy track. He has a grinding, off the pace style that excels at Big Sandy where he’s been first once and second twice in three tries. However, at this mile and one-quarter distance, instead of the mile and one-half Belmont journey, we’ll favor #1 Tacitus over Sir Winston in this rematch.
#1 Tacitus hasn’t won a race since April 6, 2019, but don’t hold that entirely against him. He’s faced some of the best of his generation and some salty older runners. He was second in the Gr. 1 Belmont, Gr. 2 Jim Dandy and Gr. 1 Travers, as well as third against elders in the Gr. 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and fifth in the Gr. 1 Saudi Cup. Last out he was fourth in the Gr. 2 Oaklawn Handicap. Before all that, He knocked down three wins in a row— a maiden, the Gr. 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Gr. 2 Wood Memorial. Blinkers go back on for the Suburban. He’s not a ‘win’ type, but he’s got three workout bullets in his Suburban holster and deserves top billing.
#4 Mr. Buff is a hard-knocking New York bred that likes to win races. He’s tried similar foes at this level before and come up well short, but you’ve got to love his speed and his winning attitude. He might be a worth a look as a possible upsetter on larger tickets.
#8 Moretti takes a big step up in class, but he’s sharp 4-year-old, with two wins in his last two races. He hails from the Todd Pletcher barn, hitting at 24% this meeting. There’s a decent amount of speed in here, so it’s doubtful he’ll be able to take this field wire-to-wire like he did last out in the Flat Out, but he’s 3 for 9 lifetime with 3 seconds and one third. One could include him in the mix on saver tickets.
Race 8) #2, #4, #9
Race 9) #2, #3, #5, #7
Race 10) #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, #7
Race 11) #1
Total Ticket Cost) 2,4,9/2,3,5,7/1,2,4,5,6,7/1 = $36 for $0.50
Take care of each other! Race On!