Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, October 1

RACE 3: ERNIE BANKER (#6)

Likely favorite South Africa showed marked improvement in his second start off the layoff when getting back to dirt last time. He used his ample early speed to fight his way to the front before getting run down by impressive winner Saratoga Pal in the lane. A repeat of that performance obviously makes him the horse to beat and his early speed should be an asset in a race that lacks any other front-running types. That said, he still has to get 7 furlongs, which is no guarantee given the way he faded last time. On the other hand, he should get to set a far more moderate pace. I’m using him prominently, as I prefer him to another rival that could attract public support. Tackle lost as the 3-5 favorite last time on the turf and now will attempt to switch to dirt. He certainly has some dirt pedigree, as Flatter is more of a dirt influence and his dam, though herself best on turf, has produced multiple foals that have excelled on dirt, including Grade 2 Illinois Derby winner Recapturetheglory. I won’t be shocked if he handles this surface, but he’s not the kind of runner I’d want to bet at a short price. I prefer the returning Ernie Banker. This gelding’s debut was pretty encouraging, as he made a solid late rally past a few rivals to get third despite racing greenly. That 90 TimeformUS Speed Figure is pretty strong for a 3-year-old in the winter and he’d be a major player here if he could improve on that performance. Something obviously went wrong second time out as he was eased early in the race after traveling poorly. Now he returns as a new gelding after having trained forwardly up in Saratoga for most of the summer.

RACE 4: THE J Y (#2)

Graded On a Curve is obviously the horse to beat following a pair of strong efforts to kick off his 4-year-old season. After impressively breaking through his N1X condition off the layoff he finished a strong second at this level at Saratoga, only losing to subsequent stakes winner Rinaldi while well clear of the rest of the field. A repeat of that performance will make him difficult for this field to beat, but he is facing some legitimate rivals. Rapt has run a number of races during the past year that put him in the same league as Graded On a Curve, but he just doesn’t win very often. Klickitat showed improved form at Saratoga and has the speed to be prominent throughout, though he’s getting a major class test. I could use both of those but I think the best alternative to the favorite is The J Y. This Mark Hennig trainee appeared to return in top form in June. While he only managed to finish fourth that day, he was unwisely rated behind a slow pace and locked in behind horses for much of the stretch drive. After that he was just in too tough against Grade 2 winner Cross Border in the Lubash, fading after chasing the pace. This is a more suitable spot for him and he figures to get a favorable stalking trip over his preferred Widener turf course, where he has achieved all three of his career turf victories. Furthermore, he handles some give in the ground and there is rain in the forecast earlier in the week.

RACE 8: INFRINGEMENT (#1)

Irish Constitution is a threat to wire this field as she drops out of the Grade 1 Spinaway into this New York-bred affair. She was determined to win her debut at Saratoga, in which she vied for the lead and just edged a game runner-up in a stretch-long duel. Both fillies who finished directly behind her that day returned to win, so that was a legitimate effort. She was no factor in the Spinaway last time, but things went wrong right from the start as she broke inward from her rail post and was unable to make the lead. I expect her to run much better here, but it’s possible that others have caught up to her in their development over the past couple of months. Furthermore, she still has to prove that she can get 7 furlongs in a race where others have already been successful going longer sprint distances. No Mo’ Spending seems like her main rival as she steps up to stakes company after breaking her maiden in her third career start. I’m a little skeptical of the speed figures that were assigned to her Aug. 5 effort, as most of the runners who were successful in that race have returned to regress on the speed figure scale. She ran fairly well going 6 1/2 furlongs last time and seems like one that shouldn’t have a major issue with added ground, but she still has to improve to beat the favorite. I want to go in a different direction. Infringement picked up a minor stakes placing when closing to be a distant third in the Seeking the Ante last time. She stumbled at the start and was sluggish and green traveling down the backstretch, carrying her head high while losing contact with the field. Ultimately she settled into stride and finished decently to pick up pieces late. It was a subtle improvement on her debut at Belmont, in which she bested a mediocre field. She obviously has to run much faster to win this race, but I like the way she’s progressing and she’s supposed to relish added ground as a daughter of Temple City.

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