Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, April 30

RACE 6: A BIT O’IRISH SASS (#5)

Possible favorite Irresistible Girl followed up a fourth-place finish in her debut with a third, then a 2nd, so she’s seemingly ripe to get that maiden diploma this time. While her speed figures look relatively consistent, her performances have evolved more than the numbers indicate. She was never really a threat in her debut, and actually improved in that Feb. 14 affair, as she chased wide against a rail bias before getting overtaken late. She was perhaps a little disappointing to lose as the favorite last time, but was flattered when winner Summer Brew returned to beat N1X foes last week. I’m using her prominently, but I’m more interested in another player at a bigger price. A Bit O’Irish Sass returns from a layoff as she makes her 3-year-old debut for Rick Schosberg. She was off to a mildly tardy start in her debut last September but made good progress thereafter, closing best of all through the lane to be fourth despite staying on her wrong lead. She figured to step forward second time out, and she did improve her result. She got more involved in the early going, but couldn’t produce that same finishing kick in the slop. Her speed figure for that race was a mediocre 79, but that may have been a stronger race than it appears, as all of the horses who have run back improved their figures next time out. One of those was winner Vacay, who ran 9 points faster winning a stakes in her next start. This filly should be right there with routine improvement. The other horse that I would consider prominently is first time starter Cali Fitz. This daughter of California Chrome is out of a Grade 3-placed dam and is a half-sister to a sprint winner. The works look solid enough, and Jorge Abreu is an exceptional 11 for 27 (41%, $4.34 ROI) with first time starters in dirt sprints over the past 5 years. 

RACE 7: CREED (#2)

Highest Honors is an imposing presence in this allowance affair as he makes his 5-year-old debut after missing the entire 2020 racing season. He looked like he could be any kind as a 3-year-old after collecting his second straight victory in the 2019 Curlin, beating a pair of talented rivals in Endorsed and Looking At Bikinis. He was bet down to 13-1 in a wide open edition of the Travers and didn’t fare badly at all, splitting the field in sixth with a 122 TimeformUS Speed Figure. However, that was the last time we saw him, and now he returns from a 20-month layoff. Chad Brown is 8 for 23 (35%, $2.29 ROI) off layoffs of 360 days or more on dirt over the past 5 years. You can’t dismiss anything from this barn right now, but I also wouldn’t want to take a very short price on this type of horse. Another runner with some class returning from a layoff is Liveyourbeastlife. This colt has been an overachiever right from the start. He won his debut for a tag, and has been ambitiously placed ever since. It originally looked like his connections were mismanaging him, but he eventually rewarded their faith, finishing a game second behind subsequent Dubai World Cup winner Mystic Guide in the Jim Dandy. I won’t hold the Preakness against him, and now he returns in an appropriate spot for a barn that has been on a tear through early 2021. I’m using both of these, but my top pick is another layoff runner, Creed. This well-bred son of Honor Code looked on his way to the major summer stakes targets last year before his campaign was derailed by injury. Following months of rest, he finally made his return last month at Gulfstream, curiously going 6 furlongs. Unsurprisingly, he was outrun early and only hit his best stride when the race was ending before galloping out well in front. It all had the feel of a tune-up for a horse who clearly wants to go longer. Now he’s back at the right distance for the notoriously patient Shug McGaughey. He needs to produce the best effort of his career to win here, but that’s hardly out of the question for a runner with such apparent upside.

RACE 9: SWEET MELANIA (#9)

I’ll be interested to see how the public bets this race, because I wouldn’t want to accept too short a price on my pick, though I do believe she’s the horse to beat. Sweet Melania is the type of runner I would typically look to avoid, especially as a favorite. She’s done her best work going two turns on turf and now she’s attempting to translate that route success into a turf sprint. The move doesn’t work that often, but I actually think she’s a perfect candidate for a turnback. She possesses plenty of tactical speed and she has a habit of getting leg weary in the last furlong of her route races beyond a mile. She handled one turn when she impressively won the Wonder Again last summer, and she has a pedigree that suggests shorter distances should suit her. She’s by 15% turf sprint sire American Pharoah out of a dam who was a precocious sprinter early in her career. She’s also been successful coming from off the pace, so I’m not worried about her getting a little outrun in the early stages. She’s my top pick, but I respect the other fillies likely to attract support here. Lady Lawyer obviously needs to rebound from a poor effort last time, but I think sprinting is a more natural fit for her. She’s training well for her return and this barn has been sending out nothing but live runners on the turf in New York. I also think She’s My Type is dangerous off the layoff for Christophe Clement. She displayed a nice turn of foot in that Coronation Cup victory last year, and I won’t hold her poor effort at Kentucky Downs against her. I respect both of these alternatives, but I just think Sweet Melania has a bit more upside as she shortens up in distance.

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