It’s rare to find elite Thoroughbreds who are as versatile as Catholic Boy (#1), who seems equally proficient on dirt and turf. He is now stretching back out to the distance at which he earned both of his Grade 1 victories last year, and that’s an advantage in a race where many of his rivals prefer either shorter or longer trips. It never hurts to draw the rail for this unique configuration at Belmont. While he can be effective from anywhere, he may find himself right up on the pace with no confirmed front-runners in this field. This Jonathan Thomas trainee looked better than ever in that June 23 drill and appears to be coming into this in peak form. The one concern is that he doesn’t have as great of a speed figure edge over this field as many might assume.
I believe the main danger to the favorite is PRESERVATIONIST (#2). This lightly raced 6-year-old finally gets an opportunity to face graded stakes foes after working his way through his allowance conditions. He showed talent right from the start, but a number of physical setbacks prevented him from ascending to this level sooner. His connections have been very patient, and that approach is now paying dividends. He returned from the layoff looking better than ever last time, slipping through inside over a sloppy track that he doesn’t necessarily love and defeating the very good Expert while displaying an improved turn of foot. He now must stretch out to 1 1/4 miles, but there’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and he’s a robust horse who appears physically suited to it. His last TimeformUS Speed Figure of 119 is actually one point higher than the best dirt number Catholic Boy has earned. At anything close to his 5-1 morning line, I think he offers value.
There are a few others who have a chance to work their way into the mix, but I prefer them as backups and underneath in exotics. Pavel (#11) is certainly good enough to compete with these on his best day, but he’s not the most reliable horse and 10 furlongs is often farther than he prefers. The opposite is true for Marconi (#4) and Rocketry (#3), both of whom have excelled at longer distances. I also want to throw in Wooderson (#7) as he steps up in class. He’s yet to run fast enough to compete against a field of this quality, but he’s bred to relish added ground and his early speed could make him very dangerous in this largely paceless affair.
Exacta Key Box: 2 with 1,4,7,11
Trifecta: 1,2 with 1,2 with 3,4,7,11