Belmont Horses in Focus for Sunday, September 27

RACE 1: PURE BODE (#3)

Gaelic Gold seems like the horse to beat after facing slightly better fields in her two most recent starts at Saratoga. She had to negotiate her way through traffic when closing to be third on July 22. While she got a clear run into the race last time, she was compromised by a slow pace in a race dominated on the front end. Micromillion, who closed to be fourth in that spot, returned to win her next turf race with an improved speed figure, so there’s reason to believe this filly can move forward again. However, she finds herself in another race that lacks pace. I’m using her prominently, but I didn’t want to accept a short price on a deep closer. My top pick is the speedy Pure Bode. She couldn’t quite keep up with the pace in her sprint debut, but she showed vastly improved early zip on the stretch-out last time, rushing up from the outside post in a 12-horse field to press eventual winner Data Analytics. She was turned away by that rival in upper stretch but nevertheless stayed on well to be part of a blanket photo for second. This half-sister to Pure Sensation looks like the controlling speed this time and is arguably getting some class relief in this smaller field. The other horse that I find somewhat intriguing is the first time starter Twice a Lady. This expensive yearling purchase has taken a little while to get to the races but she has an excellent pedigree for turf. The dam was a multiple Grade 3 winner on grass and won at distances ranging from 1 1/16 miles to 12 furlongs. She’s produced 4 foals to race and all of them are turf winners. However, Mike Maker’s first time starters sometimes need a race.

RACE 5: PRINCESS FAWZIA (#8)

Robin Sparkles is clearly the horse to beat on the basis of that 109 TimeformUS Speed Figure that she earned in her lone turf start at Saratoga. Yet it’s not just the TimeformUS number that makes her a standout as the 90 Beyer she earned for that race is right in line. It was just an extremely fast race for the level when measured against the other 5 1/2-furlong races on that card. The problem is that, even if the number was arrived at legitimately, it may not be predictive of future form. Three horses from that race ran back in another maiden claiming event here on Friday, and they all regressed significantly. Runner-up Bonus Baby did break through the gate prior to the start and another also ran bolted on the turn. However, third-place finisher Dream Chasing had a fair trip and she was never a factor against that weaker field while significantly regressed on the speed figure scale. Robin Sparkles may just get in front of these and keep going, and her recent effort on dirt suggests that she’s maintained strong form. I’m just not sure that she has as much margin for error as it seems at first glance. I want an alternative, and the best option appears to be Princess Fawzia. This filly shows up every single time and always puts forth a competitive effort. While she was beaten at a short price last time, she undoubtedly ran the best race that day as she pressed a fast pace and just failed to hang on in a race that fell apart in the final furlong. While she’s gone longer than this in her recent starts, I actually think the slight cutback to 7 furlongs should benefit her. She has plenty of natural tactical speed but she’ll be content to stalk the likely pacesetter Robin Sparkles.

RACE 9: POP A CHOC (#3)

This boils down to a two-horse race between the pair of grey fillies, Mrs. Danvers and Pop a Choc. The former may possess more natural talent, but she’s become very difficult to trust. Mrs. Danvers looked poised to make her presence felt against stakes horses earlier this year after her encouraging return in which she chased home the accomplished older filly Indian Pride. However, her two performances since then have signaled a slight regression. She lost as the 2-5 favorite when returning on short rest in that July 9 allowance event. She was undoubtedly compromised by a stumble at the start, but she then caused trouble for herself thereafter, getting too rank while attempting to rush up into traffic on the backstretch. I won’t hold her loss in the Grade 1 Test against her, and she will certainly appreciate this drop in class. However, I’m skeptical that she can get the one-mile distance given the tendencies she’s shown in recent starts. I prefer her main rival Pop a Choc. The Pace Projector is predicting that this filly will be in front in a situation favoring the early leader. No one else in this field possesses the speed to go with her, so John Velazquez should be able to dole out comfortable fractions. She, too, has to prove that she can handle added ground but she’s shown enough stamina going 7 furlongs with more taxing pace scenarios. Her recent speed figures are slightly faster than those of Mrs. Danvers and if she merely holds her form I think she’s going to be difficult to run down.

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