Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, October 16

RACE 3: A BIT O’IRISH SASS (#1)

It’s worth watching the tote board to see if any of the first time starters are live, but I think the two fillies with dirt experience are the ones to beat. La Urbana may go favored after showing speed in her debut. This daughter of excellent juvenile sire Into Mischief broke like a rocket and contested an honest pace for 5 furlongs before fading in deep stretch. She has to negotiate an extra half-furlong this time. While some will assume that Steve Asmussen always improves his second time starters, this barn is just is 4 for 29 (14%, $1.12 ROI) with maiden second time starters in dirt sprints at Belmont and Aqueduct over the past years. I’m using her prominently, but I prefer her main rival A Bit o’Irish Sass. This Rick Schosberg trainee was dismissed at 12-1 in that same race La Urbana exits. She broke about a length slowly and settled towards the back of the pack early. She then launched a sustained rally on the far turn and continued to make up ground into the lane, finishing best of the also-rans despite hanging on her wrong lead. That’s been a somewhat productive affair, as third-place Blame It On Mary returned to finish third in a stakes with an 89 TimeformUS Speed Figure, and 9th-place Stay Home Mama beat claimers next time out with a 58. She figures to benefit from that experience, and the extra half-furlong should help. Among those first time starters, I’m actually most intrigued by Vallarand, who may be a higher price. This daughter of excellent debut sire Maclean’s Music has some turf pedigree on the dam’s side, but her workouts look fast and it may be meaningful that this barn has reached out to Jose Ortiz.

RACE 4: ORPHEUS (#9)

All of the main contenders in this confusing $12,500 claimer have their flaws. That’s certainly true of potential favorite Business Cycle, who will attempt to stretch out to a mile in his first start off the claim for Orlando Noda. He was in this stable before last March and he ran well going this distance while narrowly losing as the odds-on favorite. His form has undoubtedly tailed off since then, so he has some questions to answer as he stretches out again. However, this barn can certainly improve horses and it’s a good sign that Irad Ortiz takes over the reins. From a class standpoint, the runner taking the biggest drop may be Direct Order. He was no match for an improved Flowers for Lisa last time. Yet he at least validated the improved form that he showed at Parx in his previous starts. He’s certainly good enough to compete here based on that form, and just needs a little pace to close into if he’s to be effective. I prefer him to those who have been competing at lower levels, like Autostrade and Mills. However, I’m going in a different direction for my top pick. Orpheus has been racing out of town at Monmouth Park since returning from a layoff this summer. While some might be dismissive of that form, he was actually facing tougher fields than this in two of those three starts, both last time and on July 19. The one time that he was placed appropriately, he responded with a solid runner-up finish on July 31. He may not be in the same form that he carried throughout last winter for Michael Tannuzzo, but this horse can obviously still put in competitive efforts at this level. Furthermore, he’s likely to get his preferred wet track with rain in the forecast on Friday.

RACE 8: RATIONAL CHOICE (#2)

The focus here is squarely on those with experience, as second-time starters figure to attract the bulk of public support. Ten for Ten and Savoy exit the same 6-furlong maiden race at Saratoga won by Team Merchants. Another first time starter from that heat, Speaker’s Corner, took all the money that day and finished between them. Yet he returned last week to break his maiden with an improved effort, earning a 102 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Between Ten for Ten and Savoy, I slightly prefer the Shug McGaughey runner. This grey colt overcame a slow break to finish clear of Savoy, and the added distance is supposed to help both of them. Ten for Ten is out of a half-sister to Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin, as well as graded stakes winner Creative Cause. Shug McGaughey doesn’t have the best stats in this situation, as these runners tend to be underlays. Yet I still think this colt possesses talent. Savoy also has a right to improve in his second start, but I’m actually more interested in Chad Brown’s other horse Rational Choice. This son of Candy Ride wasn’t facing such a deep field in his debut at Belmont last time, but he should have gotten plenty of foundation from that race. It’s a tough ask for 2-year-olds to debut going a mile, and this colt was relentless, staying on well throughout to get up for second, albeit far behind the impressive winner. Chad Brown has excellent statistics with second time starters, especially among those that debuted going long. While this colt’s immediate damside pedigree is modest, his second dam is a full-sister to Street Cry, so there’s potential for him to relish added ground. Plus, progeny of Candy Ride win 20% of their starts on off tracks.

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