Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, April 23

RACE 2: BIG LITTLE RISK (#4)

Saratoga Flash seems like the horse to beat as he returns to New York-bred company for Barclay Tagg after trying open foes at Gulfstream in February. This son of Laoban was well-meant in his career debut last summer at Saratoga, but he could never get involved that day as the even-money favorite. It took a long time to get him back to the races, but he indicated that turf may be his preferred surface in that recent Florida start. He chased a moderate pace that day and just wasn’t quite good enough while beaten by some rivals who have shown ability. He’s worked well since then and figures to be tough if able to take another step forward second off the long layoff. The other two runners who figure to attract the most support are both first time turfers. B C Glory Days will get bet off consistent dirt speed figures, but he really doesn’t have much grass breeding. Brody’s Cause is 0 for 12 with turf starters thus far and his dam’s family is compose primarily of dirt routers. Clever Fellow has a bit more pedigree for grass, but it’s not a great sign that Chad Brown has targeted him solely at dirt races so far in his career. It’s also concerning that he’s now 5-years-old and is just making his fourth career start. I want to go in a different direction with Big Little Risk. His turf start last fall wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t get the most comfortable trip that day. He switched over to dirt for his second career start in January and showed significant improvement. Despite breaking awkwardly and getting steadied at the start, he advanced into a contending position willingly. He looked like a threat to win in upper stretch but could never quite extricate himself from the pocket until it was too late. Moving back to turf off that performance might seem like a curious move, but I think this son of Big Brown can handle either surface. He should be a generous price in this field for the capable H. James Bond barn.

RACE 4: OCALA DREAM (#9)

Chad Brown has two of the most intriguing entrants in this New York-bred maiden special weight, sending out a pair of first time starters with credentials to be effective in this spot. The one who figures to attract more support is Multiple Expansion, a $50k daughter of Tourist, who is winning with 16% of his turf route starters. Her dam was unsuccessful on turf, but there’s plenty of grass breeding in the second generation as her dam is a half-sister to turf stakes winner Dynamic Cat. The one issue is that she’s unlikely to be much of a price with Irad Ortiz named to ride. Grape Nuts Warrior arguably has the better pedigree for turf, since she’s by 15% turf route sire Vancouver out of Grade 3 turf winner Testa Rossi. Chad Brown is 3 for 13 (23%, $0.99 ROI) with first time starters in NY-bred turf routes over 5 years. It appears that this pair has been working in company, and it would hardly be a surprise if both can run. Yet I tend to go gravitate towards runners with experience in these situations, and there are a few that intrigue me. Bernardino makes sense based on his turf races from last year, but I’m not sure how much more improvement we’re going to get from this now 6-year-old. Bar Fourteen has plenty of turf pedigree stemming from his dam, but the distance is a concern for a gelding who has shown so much speed sprinting on dirt. At a big price, I’d even give a look to first time turfer Lucky Brody for Orlando Noda. Brody’s Cause hasn’t been much of a turf sire yet, but this colt has the strongest damside turf pedigree in the race. I’m using most of these, but my top pick is Ocala Dream. I thought this colt showed ability in his grass debut last summer at Saratoga. That race did not feature much early pace and he found himself outrun at the back of the pack early while racing wide for much of his trip. He was finishing on best of all at the end despite being a massive longshot in that race. It wasn’t the strongest field but he was facing open company there. Now he meets New York-breds and gets a positive rider switch to Junior Alvarado for his 3-year-old debut.

RACE 7: AMISTAD (#13)

The two most logical runners in the main body of the field are That Quality and Ultimate Irony. Yet I have my reservations about the former Jonathan Thomas-trained runner. That Quality showed turf ability at the start of his career, winning his debut at Monmouth like a horse that could have stakes in his future. However, he showed a tendency to get a little rank that day, and that flaw only became exacerbated in subsequent outings. He ran off on the lead in his most recent turf start at Tampa in April 2020, fading to be second behind stakes winner North Dakota. He’d be formidable here if coming off that performance. The problem is that there have been issues since then, and now the connections are basically giving up as they drop in for the $30k tag. Thomas does have great statistics going synthetic to turf, but I can’t trust this horse at a short price. Ultimate Irony is a little more appealing since he seems like a natural fit at this level. He broke his maiden for a $30k tag and ran competitive against starter allowance company at Fair Grounds. This drop in class as he transitions to New York seems like the right move. I’m using him prominently, but there are some bigger prices that interest me. One of those is first time turfer Ohyoudidntknow. He’s run much slower in his dirt starts, but I think he could handle this surface switch. Bernardini isn’t a great turf influence, but his dam was a turf/synthetic runner who has produced turf-winning foals by Will Take Charge and Bodemeister. I’m using him, but my top pick is actually drawn on the also-eligible list. Amistad stretches out on turf for the first time in his career after making four starts sprinting on this surface. The inclination might be to say that he’s purely a turf sprinter based on the fact that he’s been successful in those races. However, he’s shown much more versatility on dirt, posting similar speed figures at both sprint and route distances. He’s bred to go longer, and I think he deserves a chance to stretch out on turf, especially given that his lack of early speed often puts him at a disadvantage in sprints. He should have gotten closer last time, but his rider didn’t motivate him to start his move until it was too late. I think he’s capable of better as he gets a switch to Junior Alvarado.

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