RACE 1: GHOST GIANT (#3)
Nutzforboltz and Catch a Cab would vie for favoritism in this competitive claiming event. The former has not exactly been a win machine during his career, but he does go out for a barn that has been on a roll lately. Over the past two weeks at Belmont, Rob Atras is 6 for 9 (67%, $5.71 ROI). While all of those victories have come on the dirt, I think you still have to respect a contender going out for a barn that’s enjoying such a hot streak. Nutzforboltz is getting needed class relief after facing tougher company last time. However, he could be somewhat compromised by a lack of pace. Catch a Cab has a slightly better running style for this race, but his recent form isn’t as compelling as that of Nutzforboltz. He did have a valid excuse two back when finishing behind that rival after encountering traffic in the stretch. However, it’s hard to make an excuse for his loss as the favorite last time, when he just didn’t have any punch through the lane. I’ll use both of them in some capacity, but I want to look for alternatives. The best option that I can find is Ghost Giant. This gelding made his first start off the trainer switch to David Duggan last time and put in a deceptively strong effort. Going 6 furlongs, he found himself at the back of the pack early, which was the wrong place to be given the slow pace. All things considered, he did well to rally past horses in the lane and arguably could have finished even closer had he not run into some traffic trouble late. It appears that he’s held his form despite the trainer switch. While he’s achieved most of his success sprinting, he ran solid speed figures routing for his prior conditioner, often while facing tougher fields than this one. As long as he can work out a trip from mid-pack, I think he can assert his superiority over this field.
RACE 2: SARATOGA PAL (#5)
Advance Notice surprised many when he won his debut for a $20,000 tag, as his connections showed little confidence in this $350,000 yearling purchase. He earned an unusually strong speed figure for a race at that level, and wasn’t claimed. Given that effort, he was moved way up in class for his second start at this starter allowance level, yet was nevertheless sent off as the favorite. He ran a solid race, contesting the lead early before fading to finish fifth while stretching out to a mile. Ultimately, it may have been the distance and not the class hike that hindered him, so he makes plenty of sense cutting back to a sprint for his third start. I’m not against him, but I do prefer the horse who finished just ahead of him in that starter allowance contest last time. Saratoga Pal edged out Advance Notice in a close photo for third despite getting a less comfortable trip while racing 4-wide around the far turn. I thought he ran the better race, and he too should appreciate this cutback in distance. Saratoga Pal had run deceptively well at Saratoga on August 15 and he followed that up with a smashing maiden win in early September, earning a field-best 106 TimeformUS Speed Figure. That performance was been flattered by runbacks, as the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 11th place finishers all returned to win their next starts. Eric Cancel would be wise to use the aggressive stalking tactics that worked that day, though there is some speed in this field if he elects to come from off the pace again. I just think he’ll be tough to beat if he maintains his current form.
RACE 7: HAMMERIN AAMER (#4)
Control Group figures to be a clear favorite off his recent second-place finish to the improved Flowers for Lisa at a similar level last time. However, that abrupt drop in for the $20,000 tag raised some red flags, and those concerns remain despite his solid effort, since his claim was voided by the vet following that race. He’s obviously the most talented horse in this field on his best day and Orlando Noda appears to have gotten him back into reasonably strong form since claiming him for $16,000 earlier this summer. However, this barn hasn’t been winning as many races lately, so I want to tread lightly with this runner at a short price. Fortunately, there are many viable alternatives. Horses like Attentive and Lucky Ramsey appear to be in strong form right now, though both may do their best running on the turf. Furthermore, they each are deep closers in a race that lacks much pace, so they could be compromised by the projected race flow. American Lincoln has the speed to lead this field early, but he’s difficult to endorse off his poor effort last time out. I want to go in a different direction with Hammerian Aamer. He, too, comes from just off the pace, though he possesses more tactical speed than most in this field. I’m willing to excuse his first start off the claim for Greg DiPrima last time, since he’s never shown much of an affinity for a wet track. Prior to that he had been in decent form for different barns, running multiple speed figures that would put him in the mix. A one-turn 1 1/16 miles is an ideal distance for him, and it’s a good sign that Rosario stays aboard. Furthermore, DiPrima is 5 for 37 (14%, $3.57 ROI) second off the claim over the past 5 years – a stat that has been even stronger for him in the past.