RACE 3: SCARF IT DOWN (#9)
Earned Success seems like the horse to beat in this spot as he takes a nosedive down the class ladder from $40,000 into this $10,000 event. While that sounds drastic, the reality is that this horse has been running speed figures that suggest he probably belongs at a lower level, so Linda Rice is probably just being realistic and admitting that she made a bad claim. If he shows up, he’s the most likely winner, but he’s going to take plenty of money and there are some others to consider. I’m most interested in horses that are shown closer to the lead on the TimeformUS Pace Projector because I don’t see a ton of speed in this race. That makes horses like Liam Lets Go, off the Rob Atras claim, and Majestic Affair, who needs to get back on track, both somewhat interesting. Yet my top pick is a horse who figures to be rallying from just behind those runners. Scarf It Down has made two starts since the claim by Orlando Noda back in January. I thought he ran closed well to be third two back at Aqueduct, just failing to get by Liam Lets Go for second. He didn’t have the most comfortable trip that day and nevertheless finished strongly. And then last time at Churchill Downs he found himself in a salty field at a higher level and ran better than it might appear rallying up the rail to be fifth. I think his overall form is solid and he’s in deceptively strong form for the current barn. He’s also a horse who once had more tactical speed than he’s displayed in his recent starts, so I’d like to see Dylan Davis have him a bit closer to the pace this time.
RACE 4: MIDNIGHT WHISKEY (#3)
Mr. Buckley’s debut was solid, especially when you consider that his trainer Ray Handal is 0-for-41 with first time starters, much less encouraging than his 5-for-21 (24%, $1.28 ROI) record with second time starters in dirt sprints. This horse was no match for impressive debut winner The Last Ace, but he stayed on well for second despite racing wide over a track that seemed to favor the rail path. The pedigree is certainly there for him to do better as he’s related to stakes winners Eye Luv Lulu and Tricky Zippy. He’s one of the ones to consider, but others figure to offer more value. There are a number of intriguing first time starters in the mix, and that list is topped by Winners Laugh. His dam was a stakes-winning dirt sprinter and she has produced a very talented runner in stakes winner Amundson, who runs in the 6th race on this card. Trainer Horacio DePaz is 12 for 47 (26%, $1.90 ROI) with first time starters in dirt sprints over 5 years. I’m using him, as well as fellow debut runners Blackjack Davey and the longshot Majestic View. Yet my top pick is a second time starter. Midnight Whiskey’s debut effort is better than it looks on paper. He broke about a length slowly and was aggressively hustled up to battle for the lead. He was still in the mix at the quarter pole before fading late, and winner Gandy Dancing looks like one that might be bound for NY-bred stakes. The Asmussen barn doesn’t have the greatest stats with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints at Belmont over 5 years, but Asmussen does well with this move out of town. This colt’s speed could prove more dangerous against this inexperienced field and he figures to be a fair price.
RACE 6: THE RIGHT PATH (#6)
This is a highly competitive affair in which you can make a valid case for just about all of the runners in this field. Yet there are some questions to be answered by the two horses likely to attract the most support. That’s especially true of Instagrand, whose form has seemingly left him so far since returning as a 4-year-old. There’s no denying that he once possessed great ability, but it’s been a rocky road over the past year or so and he just wasn’t performing at his optimal level for Don Chatlos. Now he lands in the barn of Chad Brown, and perhaps that will make a difference. Yet you have to wonder what kind of trip he’s going to work out in a race with so much speed. That’s also a concern for his main rival Amundson. This New York-bred does his best work on or near the lead, and it’s hard to envision him securing the front end with horses like Tribecca and Ready to Escape in the field. Based on raw ability, Amundson is arguably the best horse in this race, but Jorge Vargas will have to walk a fine line if he’s to get him to the winner’s circle this time. I think this is a spot where we can get a bit more creative, so I want to take a shot with The Right Path at a bigger price. He’s spent the majority of his career contesting dirt routes, but I actually like him turning back in distance. He was so impressive to start off his career in a 6-furlong maiden event at Aqueduct as a 2-year-old, beating the Carter favorite Performer that day. And from there on out they just continually kept trying to make him go longer distances. He needs to run a career-best speed figure to beat this field, but he’s making his first start as a 4-year-old and the Jorge Duarte barn has been off to a hot start so far at Belmont Park. I think he’ll be charging late at a price.