Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, July 9

RACE 5: ANOTHER (#5)

The horse to beat is probably C C Rider, who has simply faced tougher company in most of his turf starts. He earned a series of speed figures last summer that would make him pretty tough to beat were he to repeat any of them here. The problem is that he’s never won on turf, and he failed to get involved in either of his starts on the NYRA circuit last year. I haven’t been that impressed by this horse’s finishing ability, and I’d rather go elsewhere if he’s a short price. I prefer Another – Another, the horse, that is. At first glance his 2019 form looks pretty spotty. He went the wrong way for Bill Mott and has struggled to break through while dropping back into claiming company for the new connections. Yet there are significant excuses to be made for him. He had no chance in that salty November 9 allowance at Aqueduct last year when chasing the pace while racing wide. He dropped down to this level to conclude his 2019 campaign, and he clearly should have won that day. Javier Castellano got him trapped in behind horses at the quarter pole and he just couldn’t extract him from that predicament until it was too late. Another then made one start over the winter at Gulfstream, and he was again the victim of a troubled trip. His journey to the top of the stretch was relatively smooth, but horses fanned out across the track for the drive to the wire and Tyler Gaffalione was forced to steady him in heavy traffic for most of the last furlong. Now he’s back in the care of Mertkan Kantarmaci and he’s realistically placed for this return to the NYRA circuit. If Jose Lezcano can work out a fair trip for him this time, he’s going to be difficult for this field to beat. I could also use a horse like War Film. He would be a real threat to win here based on his May 24 effort at Churchill, and he was compromised by a slow pace last time. I’m not particularly interested in the horses exiting the $50,000 claimer at Belmont on June 14, though I could use Riendo underneath at a big price.

RACE 6: POP A CHOC (#2)

At first glance, it seems like there’s a lot to like about morning line favorite Back Channel. She showed some ability in her debut for Linda Rice, earning one of the highest speed figures in this field, and runners for this barn are supposed to take a massive step forward second time out. If this filly does so, she’s simply going to beat this field. Yet it all just seems a little too obvious – and you’re not going to make money betting the races if you settle for the obvious. I think it’s necessary to take a closer look at Back Channel’s debut performance. She attracted no tote support that day, so it’s not as if much was expected of her. Let’s also remember that she was facing an awful field outside of the heavily-favored winner Primacy, so she was always going to be second by default. She did earn a solid speed figure, but unlike the winner, who closed from last, Back Channel had all the best of it setting a slow pace before failing to kick on in the stretch. She seems decent, but I don’t view her as some kind of formidable favorite in this race. I’m actually more interested in the other filly likely to attract support, Orsay. Let’s not sugarcoat this: She was a massive disappointment as a 2-year-old. The word was out about her prior to her debut at Belmont, having already been scratched as the favorite during the Saratoga meet after acting up. Yet she was dull in that initial start on dirt, unable to even hang on for second after chasing the pace. Chad Brown tried turf despite the fact that she doesn’t possess much damside turf pedigree, but that was a disaster. Now she’s back in a dirt sprint and maybe she is just a trap. Yet Chad Brown has a knack for figuring out these difficult fillies, and she does seem to be training better than ever for this return to the races. I’ll use both of these short prices, but I want to go in a different direction in what I think is a wide open race. My top pick is Pop a Choc. This filly started twice on the turf down at Gulfstream. Her first start was encouraging and then she took a step backwards last time. In both of those races she ran like a horse that doesn’t really possess the turn of foot necessary to compete on grass, so this surface switch is intriguing. After all, she is by Bernardini and her dam was a stakes-quality dirt horse. She is a half-sister to turf stakes winner Airoforce, but even that sibling won the Kentucky Jockey Club on dirt. Some may view this as a move of desperation, but Mark Casse actually has solid stats with this move. Over the past 5 years, he is 12 for 47 (25%, $2.31 ROI) with maidens switching from turf to dirt sprints, excluding off-the-turf races.

RACE 7: WILL SING FOR WINE (#7)

No Word is a deserving favorite. A repeat of his last performance simply makes him the horse to beat. He was facing a much tougher field of mixed-age N1X rivals last time and is now back with straight 3-year-olds. The winner of that last race, Value Engineering, seems like a 4-year-old that could potentially have stakes in his future, and No Word stayed on well to chase him home. He handled the 1 1/4 miles that day, but a slight cutback shouldn’t hinder him one bit. This colt got into some trouble in the stretch of the Pilgrim last year, or else he might have had a graded stakes placing on his résumé. The fact of the matter is that his rivals need to step up their game if they’re going to beat him. One horse who certainly has the upside to do so is On Base. After a green debut, he was far more professional with blinkers second time out at Tampa, displaying improved early speed while seamlessly working his way into contention at the quarter pole. Daniel Centeno had to get after him in upper stretch to finish the job, but this colt leveled off nicely in the last eighth once he was put to the test. He has now had an additional four months to mature as he tries winners for the first time. Distance won’t be an issue, as he’s already gone this far. He does need to get a little faster to beat these, but comes in with more upside than anyone else and should give a good account of himself. I’d consider him as an alternative if he’s a square price, but my top pick is a horse trying the turf for the first time. Will Sing for Wine won a salty maiden event at Aqueduct back in March, but disappointed in his first try against winners last time when unfortunate to land in a tough spot behind the likes of Tapit to Win and Mystic Guide. Now Bill Mott tries turf with him, and there are some reasons to be optimistic about this surface switch. While his dam was a dirt horse, and a very good one, she has produced one minor turf winner. More convincingly, Will Take Charge has blossomed into a solid turf influence, winning with 13% of his turf route starters. He would need to improve on this surface to beat a field of this quality, but he has the tactical speed to get into a good position in a race where trips will be of the utmost importance.

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