by Johnny D
July 8, 2021
There’s an entertaining late pick 5 at Belmont Park scheduled for Saturday that includes an interesting Grade 1 sophomore turf double-header. However, the arrival of Elsa has fans concerned. Now, Elsa’s not a Group 1-level filly from Ireland trained by Aiden O’Brien who’ll handle soft turf. We’ve already got one of those in Belmont Oaks Invitational favorite Santa Barbara. This Elsa is a tropical storm making its way up the east coast and has horseplayers dividing attention between past performances and The Weather Channel.
Currently, (Thursday morning), it appears the wet stuff will pull into Belmont Park Friday, leaving the turf course as wet as a duck’s bottom and, while NYRA officials may leave both Gr 1 features on grass, the remainder of the Saturday turf action could be washed away. That’s always a bummer.
So, that in mind, below is one man’s early humble opinion of Saturday’s Belmont Park late 5.
RACE 7 (4:06PM ET) // GRADE 1 BELMONT OAKS ($700K) // 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
#1 CON LIMA (Pletcher/Prat): She’s an interesting one in here for many reasons. First, she’s trained by soon-to-be-inducted Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher; she’s ridden by SoCal riding sensation Flavien Prat; she has early speed and the rail in a race without much other pace; she handles turf with ‘give’ in it; she wins races 6-for-11 with 4 seconds; the only time she has finished worse than third was on dirt in the Gr. 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks behind Crazy Beautiful; she won the Gr. 3 wonder Again last out; she’s an overachieving Texas-bred filly that was purchased for just $15k at the Keeneland November sale. It should be noted that based on form lines she’s no cinch and about even with a couple of others in here. The one mile and one-quarter may not be in her wheelhouse. Can’t think of another long-fused, Texas-bred Gr. 1 winner off the top of my head. Still, she’s got plenty going in her favor and she’s a real trier.
#2 CIRONA (Ferland/Lezcano): We mention her because she arrives from France, where she finished 10th in a field of 17, but less than four lengths behind the winner of the Group 1 Prix Diane at Chantilly. Before that she was second by a head in the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary at this distance over ‘soft’ turf! That’s top-notch company! She’s a Group 3 winner who rarely takes money and, according to the Daily Racing Form, apparently was favored at an unbelievable 17-1 odds in a field of 8 when she won the Prix de la Grotte at Longchamp. That has to be a misprint. Either way, she’ll like the ground soft. The young trainer Christophe Ferland bats around 24%. #5 Santa Barbara will take all the money, but this Euro can’t be ignored.
#3 HIGHER TRUTH (Brown/Ortiz): This is one of those Chad Brown-trained up and comers you’ve seen upset apple carts for years. She’s got 2 wins in 2 tries over the Belmont turf course at this distance. Not bad. A major step up in competition is a concern but the Brown-Jose Ortiz combo hits at an incredible 31% at Belmont and we’ve seen this trainer leap conditions to win Gr. 1 stakes with fillies forever.
#4 SPANISH LOVEAFFAIR (Casse/Gaffalione): She defeated #1 Con Lima in the Gr. 3 Herecomesthebride at Gulfstream in Feb. and was disqualified. She’s finished just behind #8 Gam’s Mission last out in the Gr. 3 Regret. Those efforts are sandwiched around a troubled poor performance in the Gr. 2 Appalachian at Keeneland. In other words, she fits with many of these. Either those fillies all have a shot, or the Euros will have a field day against what, basically, is a Grade 3 group of US-based runners.
#5 SANTA BARBARA (O'Brien/Moore): Following a romping first out maiden score, three subsequent Group 1 starts, including a runner-up effort in the Curragh’s Pretty Polly stakes at this distance last out, point this one out as the most accomplished in the field and probable favorite. She’s trained by Aidan O’Brien and will be ridden by regular pilot Ryan Moore. O’Brien horses take lots of Yankee cash in the states, but his US won-loss record does not warrant the kind of support his runners usually attract. They enter with shiny resumes but don’t always adapt to the US game. So, if you’re looking to take a stand somewhere in the pick five, you could go against the grain and one of the world’s top trainer/jockey combos and leave this filly out of your pick 5.
#7 PLUM ALI (Clement/Rosario): A late-running threat from the Christophe Clement/Rosario collection. She just missed behind #1 Con Lima in the mile and one-eighth, Gr. 3 Wonder Again last out. She has won 3 of 6 and has a nice Belmont turf bullet blowout for this. She won the first three starts of her life and hasn’t been very far behind in three races since.
#8 GAM'S MISSION (DeVaux/Beschizza): Another promising filly on a hot streak, including the Gr. 3 Regret last out at Churchill in front of #4 Spanish Loveaffair. She’s won 3 of 4 lifetime starts and has improving Beyer Speed Figs in each start.
Basically, this is a collection of improving US-based 3-year-old fillies against a pair of Euro invaders who have raced well at higher levels. The distance and course condition should favor the invaders, but we think #1 Con Lima has a chance to upset proceedings, if she can control the pace on the front end from the rail. The distance is a concern. #2 Cirona has much in her favor, too.
Use: #1, #2
RACE 8 (4:38PM ET) // GRADE 3 VICTORY RIDE S. ($150K) // 6 1/2 FURLONGS (DIRT)
#1 BELLA SOPHIA (Rodriguez/Franco): A lightly raced filly making just her third start with a win and a second, both at Belmont, has speed but has drawn the rail. Tough draw for this talented filly to turn the tables on #7 Australasia.
#3 MISS BRAZIL (Dutrow/Ortiz): She’s got plenty of early speed and will need to use it from the #3 post. She has 3 wins in 6 starts but failed as less than even money favorite last out when she broke through the gate before the start. She has been favored in her last 4 starts and won the Ruthless Stakes going 7 furlongs at Aqueduct. She is 2 for 2 at this distance—maiden and allowance victories.
#4 OVA CHARGED (Camejo/Saez): The Louisiana-bred enters off a pair of romping victories at Delta Downs and Monmouth in maiden and allowance races, respectively. She’s taking her game to the big time, but it’s always dangerous to overlook an unbeaten runner. She’s fast and will handle a wet track.
#5 SOUPER SENSATIONAL (Casse/Prat): Off since April, this filly was asked to go two turns against Gr. 2 company twice this winter at Fair Grounds without success. She’s back sprinting in here and that’s probably what she prefers because both wins at 2 came going seven furlongs at Woodbine over a synthetic track. She’s been working up a storm at Churchill Downs, including a pair of bullets—a best of 73 four furlongs and a best of 25 five furlongs. If you’re looking for all of that speed to set it up for a fresh, fast-working closer, she might be your cup of tea.
#6 RED GHOST (Ward/Velazquez): She was all out to win the Gr. 3 Miss Preakness at Pimlico last out and now has 3 wins in 4 starts for trainer Wes Ward. Jockey Johnny V. stays here instead of on #5 Souper Sensational. Ward is hitting at an incredible 36% at Belmont this season. She has shown the ability to rate and will need that dimension in this speed-laden field.
#7 AUSTRALASIA (Cox/Rosario): Unbeaten in 6 starts she has dominated Louisiana-bred foes and open challengers alike. Last out she won the Jersey Girl over this track at generous 4-1 odds. She’s got a versatile style and can deliver a potent closing kick when asked. Jockey Joel Rosario returns in the saddle and he is the fourth rider to have won with her. Trainer Brad Cox continues a strong season with 28% winners at Belmont. Beat her to win it.
It’s not often two unbeaten 3-year-old Louisiana-bred fillies clash in a Grade 3 stakes race at Belmont Park, but that’s what we’ve got here. #7 Australasia has to be respected until someone defeats her. #4 Ova Charged has speed and appears to have some quality. #3 Miss Brazil must be considered as she was favored over #7 Australasia and #1 Bella Sophia when they met in the Jersey Girl and the former broke through the gate before the start.
Use: #3, #4, #7
RACE 9 (5:12PM ET) // GRADE 1 BELMONT DERBY ($1M) // 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
#1 PALAZZI (Casse/Gaffalione): He will stretch out to this distance off a closing charge that just missed in the Audubon at Churchill. These waters are a bit deeper.
#2 BOLSHOI BALLET (O'Brien/Moore): Aiden O’Brien hopes this guy can bounce back to the form he had when he won back to back Group 3 stakes in Ireland. A failed attempt in the Group 1 Epsom won’t be held too strongly against him since he reportedly cut his leg early in that race. He was favored over 10 others in the one mile and one-half classic event. He’s been favored in four of his last 5 races. O’Brien runners traditionally are overbet in these US excursions but this one deserves favoritism in here. The state of the cut leg could be a concern but it’s doubtful the colt would have made the trip unless he was good to go.
#3 SAFE CONDUCT (Serpe/Lezcano): He’s 2 for 3 on turf and that’s grand but these are tougher than he’s ever faced. He’s got enough speed to be close early. He finished fourth to #4 Sainthood last out but that was over a sloppy main track.
#4 SAINTHOOD (Pletcher/Rosario): He had the edge on #3 Safe Conduct last out when the Pennine Ridge was switched to the main track but now they meet on grass which this fellow will try for the first time. He’s been highly regarded by his trainer since he first raced in January and used a runner-up finish in Turfway’s Jeff Ruby Steaks to vault him into an 11th place Kentucky Derby finish. Pletcher is 25% going dirt to turf but just 13% first turf.
#5 DU JOUR (Mott/Prat): Transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to Bill Mott, this colt is co-owned by his former trainer’s wife Natalie. Unbeaten in his last 3 starts, this colt showed a new dimension in winning from off the pace in the Gr. 2 American Turf at Churchill on Kentucky Derby day. In four turf starts he has 3 wins and 1 second. Jockey Flavien Prat is unbeaten on the colt and returns in the saddle. The mile and one-quarter distance is a concern but the colt’s American Turf performance suggests it won’t be why he loses.
#6 HARD LOVE (Thomas/Franco): A recent allowance sport at one mile and one-eighth has this fellow pointed here. He’s got enough early speed to either set or force the pace in here. Winner of 3 of 4 stars with a second, he’s 2 for 2 over the Belmont turf in a short career that includes very little to criticize. Trainer Jonathan Thomas has been hot (25%) at Belmont this season. One question centers around the fact this this will be the ridgeling’s first graded stakes race and it’s difficult to knock out a Grade 1 right out of the box. Still, jockey Manny Franco can handle one up front and this guy might have that advantage.
#7 TOKYO GOLD (Kobayashi/Velazquez): This French-bred and raced invader won a one mile and three-eighths Group 2 last out in Italy against 13 foes. Before that he won back-to-back mile races in France in July and September of 2020. Don’t know exactly where he fits in here, but he gets Johnny Velazquez and handles ‘soft’ turf. Would demand big odds.
#8 CELLIST (Arnold/Leparoux): This son of Big Blue Kitten ought to be part of the early pace. He barely defeated #1 Cellist last out in the Audubon at Churchill when he stole the race on the front end through slow fractions. Before that he broke slowly in an allowance race but overcame it, made the lead and was nailed late. If you like him you probably need to like #1 Palazzi, too, and vice-versa.
#9 HIDDEN ENEMY (Asmussen/Saez): He’s another coming out of the Audubon at Churchill and he had no pace to run at in there. He had a much better pace setup in the Gr. 2 American Turf taken by #5 Du Jour and closed well while wide. It took him a long time to break maiden but it appears he will appreciate the added distance. Question is, How good can this non-winner of one be?
Based on form, #2 Bolshoi Ballet ought to have an edge in here. However, there are reasons to wonder if he’s in the best possible shape. The pace ought to be honest with #4 Sainthood, #6 Hard Love and #8 Cellist possibly keeping things lively. #5 Du Jour cannot be dismissed from just off whatever early pace develops.
Use: #2, #5
RACE 10 (5:44PM ET) // MAIDEN SPECIAL WEIGHT // 7 FURLONGS (TURF)
This race could come off the turf, so we've included analysis & selections for both surfaces.
#3 RANGER FOX (Terranova/Rosario): Has speed and, if this race is on turf, will break from the rail—not the best spot over what probably at best will be soggy turf. He’s been close in his last two and will take plenty of money. He can win but he’s worth challenging.
#5 ALBAAN (Pletcher/Saez) - MAIN TRACK ONLY: He moves from Churchill Downs and trainer Dan Peitz to Belmont and Todd Pletcher. He’s been gelded since his last and has improving Beyer Speed Figs in all three starts. Pletcher is 25% racing horses entering his barn for the first time. Jockey Luis Saez hits at 22% with Pletcher. He’s a threat on the main.
#7 BIG CASTLE Levine/Gaffalione): First time starter from low-profile, snake bit 0-26 barn of Bruce Levine. Two works are of interest, both at five eighths from the gate in 1:00 3/5 and 1:01 2/5. Price should be right for this sneaky-looking first-time starter.
#1 MY BOY COLTON (Jerkens/Cardenas): Has some quick half-mile works, but may need more in here.
#8 MIGRATE (Mott/Alvarado): Mott’s good with these kinds of runners—second out after a seven-furlong turf maiden try that split the field. The colt was off slow in his debut against #3 Ranger Fox and closed ground late while looking like he was just figuring things out. He must be used. He can run a bit.
#1A LEMON DROP ROAD (Jerkens/Lezcano) - MAIN TRACK ONLY: If this race is switched to the main track, this guy has to be considered off a runner up effort going six and one-half furlongs June 25. He’s fit and been second at the level twice.
#9 EVERESTING (Joseph Jr./Ortiz): He’s fit but he’s had chances, including a runner-up effort going one mile on turf at Gulfstream for a $50k tag. Trainer Saffie Joseph is a red-hot 32% at Belmont this season and 29% with Jose Ortiz with limited starters.
#10 READYSEEKGO (Antonucci/Saez): Colt has trouble first out after taking no money. Would surprise.
#11 DEREGULATION (Brown/Franco): Makes second start for Chad Brown and was just a few lengths behind #3 Ranger Fox back in May. Seven furlongs and outside draw are OK for this one. Brown is 26% off a layoff and 25% with maiden second-time starters. Manny Franco combines with Brown to bat 21%.
Race ON Turf Use: #3, #8, #11
Race OFF Turf Use: #1A, #5, #7
RACE 11 (6:16PM ET) // CLAIMING // 1 1/16 MILES (TURF)
This race could come off the turf, and if that happens players are advised to pay particular attention to the Main Track Only Runners that might draw in. Scratches will affect how this race is run, so we haven’t offered any Main Track analysis or selections.
#3 SOGLIO (Noda/Castellano): Notable trainer change to 22% Orlando Noda who is 21% first off the claim. This former stakes threat may have some spark left in his 7-year-old frame. If he does, Noda will find it. Javier Castellano is not one of Noda’s go-to jocks. Veteran gelding has worked every 7 days for this, a positive sign.
#4 MANDATE (Potts/Ortiz): Moved from Todd Pletcher to Wayne Potts three starts back and has disappointed in two starts at higher levels. He returns to the claimed level in here where he was second by a head and a neck in front of #5 Rejected Again. This 4-year-old gelding usually races wide and that won’t help him. He’s 0-5 on Belmont turf.
#5 REJECTED AGAIN (Maker/Saez): Drops back to a live level when third, beaten just a neck behind #4 Mandate and Attentive. Trainer Mike Maker is great at spotting this kind and it appears the 21% trainer has this one aimed toware the winner’s circle. Colt’s likely to set the pace but it’s the holding on part that will worry supporters. Jockey Saez a sparkling 25% with this trainer and all systems appear on ‘Go.’
#6 COUNTER OFFER (Atras/Franco): A new face to Belmont this season, this gelding has been chasing $35k ‘beaten’ runners at Gulfstream. Trainer Rob Atras (22%) grabbed this one for that price three back and drops him into a likely spot. The 5-year-old’s 3-for-24 win record is a concern, but he’s not out of it entirely.
#7 OUTRAGEOUS BET (Chichakly/Hernandez): This 7-year-old races for low-profile connections and is 0 for his last 14. He’d be a surprise.
#8 ACKER (DiPrima/Lezcano): He drops to the level of his last victory at Del Mar in November. Over his head in two starts this year for low-profile connections, he has some sort of attraction in here. Not much, but the drop could interest longshot seekers.
#9 CASTAGNO (Kantarmaci/Cancel): This 4-year-old gelding has been racing at this level and not really making much noise. He has speed but hasn’t been able to hang on. He’s not totally hopeless but is a reach.
#10 HONORABLE HERO (Toscano/Silvera): This 5-year-old gelding is 3 for 30 lifetime and 0 for his last 13. He may show speed but that’s about it.
#11 NOBLE THOUGHT (Rodriguez/Rosario): This 8-year-old gelding attracts jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Gustav Rodriguez is 1 for 1 with the jock and 1 for 2 overall in 2021. This one was claimed for $25k three back by the trainer’s brother Rudy and Gustav is listed as co-owner. Rosario did win with this horse for $40k on turf at Aqueduct in November. A pair of wins in 6 starts at Belmont and 2 wins in 8 outings at the distance suggest this one could fit in here.
#12 BORU (Miceli/Davis): This 6-year-old gelding was very consistent when racing in California in 2019 and 2021. He won his first start at Belmont in May, was dropped in price off that score and was claimed by current trainer Mike Miceli for $25k. He was beaten just a length for $40k last out at this distance over this track. He’s a bit interesting off that consistent Cali form.
#5 Rejected Again figures to set the pace in here and take this field as far as he can. There are some interesting ways to go after that. #11 Noble Though has some things to like; #4 Mandate and #12 Boru are possible inclusions as is #3 Soglio. Many ways to go.
Use: #3, #5, #11
Larger Tickets Use: #3, #4, #5, #11, #12
BELMONT SATURDAY LATE PICK 5 TICKET
Race 7: 1, 2
Race 8: 3, 4, 7
Race 9: 2, 5
Race 10: 3, 8, 11 (OFF TURF USE 1A, 5, 7)
Race 11: 3, 5, 11