Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, May 14

RACE 3: PENALTY (#1)

The two classiest runners in this race are Kanthaka and Chewing Gum, but I don’t need either of these horses at relatively short prices. The former hasn’t won a race in over 3 years and was pretty lackluster in his return at Keeneland last time. Chewing Gum looked to be on the cusp of winning some turf sprint stakes last year, but never was able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him. The horse to beat is probably Maxwell Esquire. This New York-bred has been on an upward trajectory over the past year, and looked to be in excellent condition when he returned from the layoff last time, running down an inferior field to win with much greater ease than the 3/4-length margin would indicate. The waters definitely get deeper here, and he has to stretch out to 7 furlongs, a distance that appeared to push him to his limit when he tried it last fall. That said, he does make sense for a very hot barn. Christophe Clement also has first time U.S. import Reux. This horse’s career got off to an uninspiring start, as he was forced to drop in class through his 2-year-old season, only breaking his maiden at a lesser French track. However, he came alive when returned to action in last year, winning 3 of his last 4 starts in summer 2020. Those last two victories came since he was gelded, and the most recent of those (over all-weather at Deauville) was a stunner, as he inhaled his rivals while never being asked. Plus the Timeform Rating for that effort puts him in the mix here. Clement isn’t known for his prowess with foreign shippers first time in this country, but he’s already won with a couple such runner in New York this spring. I almost put him on top, but I decided to side with the horse who could be the biggest price of all in this competitive affair. Penalty hasn’t been too lucky in the trip department in his last couple of starts. He lost all chance in that Gulfstream affair in February when he clipped heels heading into the clubhouse turn and really wasn’t persevered with thereafter. A similar incident occurred last time, as he found himself in tight quarters coming under the wire the first time. He now he cuts back to 7 furlongs, a distance that he handled pretty well when he tried it here last July, finishing just a neck behind today’s rival Chewing Gum. His closing style may not suit the race flow with so little speed signed on. Yet his recent form is better than it appears and he figures to be a square price.

RACE 6: ALLURED (#1)

Hammerin Aamer is clearly the horse to beat as he drops in class slightly while making his second start off the claim for Wayne Potts. He may not have been winning last time, but he had to alter course in the stretch when his rider had trouble working him into the clear, and probably should have at least been second. His overall form has been fairly solid when competing in these lower level claiming races so he figures to be tough again. The inclination may be to give Ekhtibaar a chance to turn the tables given his superior tactical speed, but I’m starting to get a little tired of this horse after trying him a few times earlier in the year. He just doesn’t have the early zip that he once possessed, and he also doesn’t show much heart in his races, often giving up without much of a fight. I prefer others if he’s a relatively short price this time. My top pick is Allured, and I fully admit to being swayed by the hot barn. As of this writing, Orlando Noda has won with 9 of his last 19 starters on dirt, with Pier Forty adding to that tally in Thursday’s first race. Clearly runners for this barn are performing at a high level right now, which was not yet the case when Allured made his seasonal debut back in April. He finished last, but he ran much better than the result would indicate. He completely blew the start when he threw his head, breaking about two lengths behind the field. From there, he advanced into the race and made a menacing move in upper stretch before shutting down. That was a good prep to get him fit, and he should be ready for another step forward here. He has back class and he’s dropping to an appropriate level.

RACE 9: JADE’S DREAM (#9)

There are a couple of runners coming out of second race at this level on April 17 won by Bricco. Ghostmon ran well in his turf debut that day, closing willingly through the lane to get up for second. He had some minor turf pedigree so it wasn’t a huge shock that he handled it that day. The problem is that he was 10-1 last time and now he could be favored, though he’s obviously a contender. I prefer a different rival out of that race. Jade’s Dream did not get the savviest ride from Manny Franco in his return to turf that day. He had shown speed in all of his prior turf starts, with some success. Yet Franco was totally unaggressive coming out of the gate last time, allowing half the field to pass him in the opening furlong. Jade’s Dream wound up too far back in the early going, made a premature move on the backstretch, and then got shuffled back again coming to the top of the stretch. He actually finished well when he finally got into the clear, but the race was over at that point. He’s better than that and I would imagine he’ll be on or near the lead this time with Kendrick Carmouche taking over the reins. I would also use Voliero off the claim for Mike Maker, though I wasn’t thrilled with his return last time. The more interesting horse out of that race may be Eight Weeks Long, who was always in traffic last time while never able to be maneuvered into the clear under Eric Cancel. He’s a horse who can be green at times, but he has more ability than he showed last time.

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