Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, July 3


Spice Is Nice is obviously supposed to win this race if she gets back to the level of performance that we saw from her in her first couple of starts. She ran away from a field in her career debut like a filly that could have made an impact in the Kentucky Oaks. It was no disgrace losing to Tonalist’s Shape in the Davona Dale, but she then disappointed as one of the favorites in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. The obvious excuse for that performance is her trip, since she was shuffled back heading into the first turn and then was just always out of position behind a slow pace. I readily concede that she’s the most likely winner, but she’s going to be an awfully short price and I’m just a little skeptical that she’ll just seamlessly get back on track here. Her main rival appears to be Say Moi, but I have even less confidence in her at a short price. I know that she’s posted a pair of speed figures that make her good enough to win races at this level, but I didn’t love the field she beat at Churchill Downs last time. Furthermore, her dam was a confirmed sprinter and I’m not quite convinced that she’ll be as effective stretching out to 1 1/16 miles. I want to get a bit more creative in this race, and I’m very intrigued by the California shipper Overjoyed. Neil Drysdale doesn’t ship many runners to New York, but he is an eye-opening 7 for 13 (54%, $4.48 ROI) with all starters on the NYRA circuit over the past 5 years. Almost every starter in that sample was a turf horse, but I like this filly switching back to the dirt. She just got a little lost out there in her only dirt start and Mike Smith didn’t abuse her in the stretch. She improved after that, and she’s really bred to excel on the main track. She’s a half-sister to the multi-millionaire dirt router War Story, as well as Kentucky Oaks runner-up Land Over Sea. Furthermore, I really like the way this filly has been training over the dirt surfaces in California. It remains to be seen if she’s good enough to beat the two favorites, but I think she’s going to outrun her odds.


I don’t typically discuss races with coupled entries, but one member of the Rudy Rodriguez pair – Big Thicket – is likely to scratch and run on Sunday instead. The likely remaining entrant, Yankee Division, is particularly intriguing as he comes back at this level after basically getting eased in his return. If you’re willing to use the muddy track as an excuse for his dismal effort, he merits consideration against this group for the sole fact that he’s going to be loose on the early lead. The TimeformUS Pace Projector shows him clearly in front in a situation favoring the early leader, as he’s quite simply facing a field full of plodders. While I can’t deny that his form prior to the layoff was a little inconsistent, he ran better than it appears in that Feb. 29 performance, as he contested a fast pace. It’s not like he’d be the first Midnight Lute to despise a muddy surface, so I expect him to rebound on fast going. The two main rivals, Danny California and Vintage Hollywood, both go out for Orlando Noda and are also coupled. Yet neither one is a particularly reliable win candidate despite possessing solid overall form. I think both could be around at the finish, but they just so often settle for minor awards. The other two individual betting interests that could attract some support both have some questions to answer. Six Percent ran some races last year that would make him competitive here, but Jimmy Jerkens just has mediocre statistics off trainer switches it’s difficult to improve upon the work of Brad Cox. Bourbon Bay looked like a runner that should easily advance through this level when he began his career, but his form has plateaued recently and I’m not added distance necessarily help him. I wouldn’t discount Dancers for Token at a price as he tries winner for the first time, but I think my top pick will be difficult for any of these to reel in.


Morning line favorite Dalika is simply the horse to beat. She displayed her class facing some nice 3-year-old stakes foes last year, and her 4-year-old debut suggests that she has some added versatility. Turning all the way back to 5 1/2 furlongs off the layoff seemed like a curious move by Al Stall, but this filly handled it with ease, making a strong late run from the back of the pack to win going away. She’s stepping up to face a tougher field here, but she’s beaten rivals of this quality in the past and she should get some pace ahead of her with a few key speeds in this field. Jonathan Thomas sends out a pair of runners in Bridlewood Cat and Escapade. The former tries turf for the first time without much pedigree for this surface. Escapade is a confirmed turf sprinter, but she has to improve slightly on her recent turf form to beat this field. She didn’t get the most comfortable trip at Tampa last time, but she flattened out late and now has to go 6 furlongs. I’ll use her, but I prefer some others. I’llhandalthecash makes plenty of sense as she makes her second start off the layoff. She was going to win her return at Churchill last time when she was totally knocked off stride in mid-stretch. Furthermore, her form from late last year was strong, as she had some trouble in a few starts, particularly on Nov. 23 at Aqueduct. I’m using her prominently, but I actually prefer the winner of that Aqueduct race, Getmotherarose. This Tom Bush filly went down to Gulfstream and put in a couple of excellent performances, overcoming a poor trip to be fourth in the South Beach before breaking through with a graded stakes triumph in the Honey Fox. She’s disappointed since then, but I think you can make some excuses for her. She got a little too rank in the opening stages of the Sand Springs, and then last time she clearly didn’t handle the yielding ground of the Intercontinental. Now she’s bad at 6 furlongs, a distance she has relished in the past, and she should get her preferred firm surface.

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