Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, June 18

RACE 1: SKY QUEEN (#2)

Sneer and So Darn Hot figure to vie for favoritism, having faced each other in a similar spot at Gulfstream over the winter. Sneer earned a 92 TimeformUS Speed Figure that day, which is the highest number in this field and a repeat of that performance would make her pretty tough to beat. Yet what happened to her last time? The obvious excuse is the sloppy track, though she handled a good, sealed track well enough in her career debut in January. The fact that there’s no drop in class is a positive sign and she lands in a good spot here. Sneer has the tactical speed to take advantage of this rail draw and she’s gone this distance before. Too Darn Hot was no match for today’s Sneer when she made her debut back in March, staying on evenly for third after lagging towards the back of the pack in the early going. She tried the turf in her second start and actually got a decent trip in a race where some others had trouble. Now she moves back to dirt, which seems logical given that her dam preferred this surface and she’s a half-sister to Grade 1 Ballerina winner Come Dancing. She obviously has a right to take that next step forward, but she needs to show a bit more early interest this time. Looking beyond these two, some may be interested in Thankful, who has a right to improve on dirt given her pedigree, and Yellow Brick Road, who was well-supported in her debut last year. Yet the lightly raced filly who intrigues me is Sky Queen. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for her debut, as she didn’t look totally fit that day and wasn’t really persevered with in the stretch. That run propelled her forward, as she was far more competitive in her second start, stalking the pace before getting run down by Tonal Vision, who returned to finish a decent third in an N1X allowance here last week. That 73 TimeformUS Speed Figure last time doesn’t make her too formidable here, but that race may be stronger than the speed figure indicates in light of runbacks. She has the tactical speed to get the right trip, and she’s bred to excel with added ground as a half-sister to Demoiselle and Gazelle winner Miss Sky Warrior.

RACE 7: WINSTON’S CHANCE (#5)

Its All Relevant is the horse to beat in this spot on the heels of his facile win at this level back in March, which earned him a career-best 120 TimeformUS Speed Figure. He’ll be almost impossible for this field to catch if he repeats that kind of performance. The return to a one-turn configuration shouldn’t pose much of a problem, especially in light of the Pace Projector, which is predicting that he will be on the early lead in a situation favoring the front-runner. The one reservation I have with regard to this horse is class. He beat a relatively weak group last time, especially when you consider that heavy favorite Patagonia ran a bizarre race, clearly not at his best that day. Perhaps this race isn’t much tougher, but it’s a deeper group, and I just don’t fully trust Its All Relevant to hold his form. The obvious alternative is I Love Jaxson, who has been in raging form for Linda Rice. He’s won 5 of his last 6 starts while moving up the class ladder all the time. This will be one of his toughest assignments yet, but that 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure he earned last time puts him squarely in the mix, and his versatile running style should allow him to adapt to any kind of pace scenario. I believe he’s dangerous. Yet my top pick is a horse that I cannot resist. I’ve always been a fan of the Finger Lakes-based gelding Winston’s Chance, though I have taken issue with the way he’s been managed on a few occasions. While he’s enjoyed most of his success at his home base, he has been compiled a modest list of achievements in his trips to NYRA over the past several seasons. Yet this time he comes into a NYRA start for a new barn, having been transferred to David Donk over the winter. Donk is a decent 5 for 33 (15%, $3.47 ROI) off trainer changes over the past 5 years, but more importantly he actually wins his fair share of races here, which is not true of his prior conditioner. Furthermore, I love that he’s bringing this horse back in a dirt route. For whatever reason, his prior trainer kept trying to turn him into a sprinter even though he has clearly run his best races going longer. The fact that he gets a rider switch to Luis Saez is an added bonus, as this upgrade might be equal to the trainer switch in terms of importance.

RACE 8: SUMMER AT THE SPA (#12)

If Astoria Kitten improves in her second start off the layoff, she’s going to be tough for this group to handle. This Danny Gargan trainee showed promise as a two-year-old, impressively breaking her maiden over this course and distance with a solid speed figure. She hasn’t been quite as effective in two subsequent starts around two turns, but she was asked to face open stakes company each time. She figures to appreciate this return to New York-bred competition. The one reservation I have is the pace setup. While the TimeformUS Pace Projector isn’t predicting a fast pace, there is a fair amount of speed signed on. Astoria Kitten ran her best race when she was able to set an uncontested early pace, and that might not happen here. A couple of her main challengers are coming off maiden victories. Morning Colors figures to attract support as she makes her state-bred debut after beating open company first time out at Tampa. While the runner-up and third-place finisher did return to win, one did so on dirt and the other only improved her speed figure marginally. That said, this filly put forth a professional performance and should be competitive here with any kind of step forward. Yet I prefer the other debut winner at a slightly better price. Summer At the Spa won her only start when in Jimmy Toner’s barn last year, closing from the back of the pack to get up at 25-1. She felt like one that wasn’t really cranked up to win first time out, and only got the job done because the pace fell apart. She also gave the impression that she’s not a true sprinter, and added ground should be to her liking. She sold for a $125,000 at auction following that debut win, and now returns in the colors of Ralph Evans for Jonathan Thomas. This new barn is 8 for 30 (27%, $2.43 ROI) first off a trainer switch on the turf and also does well off layoffs. She drops the blinkers and adds Lasix for her return. The other horse I’d throw into the mix at a price is Amos. I know she’s never won on the turf, but she’s arguably run some of her best races on this surface, and her last race, in which she had a bit of a trip, should have served as a useful prep.

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