Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, May 20

RACE 5: SHOTSKI (#2)

I suppose O’Trouble will go favored once again after just barely getting the job done last time as the overbet 4-5 choice. Tony Dutrow, to his credit, is being realistic about this horse’s quality, opting to put him in this conditioned claimer rather than an N2X optional claimer where he’d surely be overmatched. The issue I have is the stretch-out in distance. I’ve never gotten the impression that more ground is supposed to benefit this horse and I wouldn’t want to take another short price to find out whether or not he can handle it. There are a few logical alternatives to consider, but I’m not interested in the ones drawn to the outside. Fast Break has never gotten back to the races he ran for Jason Servis, and Democratic Values rode a rail bias when he won last time. I instead prefer another horse making his first start for a tag. Shotski has yet to recapture the form that he displayed in taking the Grade 2 Remsen as a 2-year-old, but I do think his recent form is better than the results would indicate.  I won’t fault him for running poorly off the layoff in January, since Jeremiah O’Dwyer doesn’t have great stats off lengthy breaks. Since then he’s run well in two starts at Laurel. He got engaged in an honest pace two back, losing only to a pair of horses who are both in excellent form right now. And then last time he got engaged in a four-horse battle for the front end. Unsurprisingly, that race fell apart with Mischief Afoot sweeping by the field from far back. Yet the quality of that race was validated when Mischief Afoot returned to win a fast race on Preakness week. Shotski now gets some slight class relief and he should play out as the speed of the speeds under Luis Saez. Another horse that might be worth considering at a bigger price is Mo Gotcha. I have my doubts about his current form, but he may appreciate stretching back out in distance for Rob Atras. He’s the primary backup for me.

RACE 6: DAZZLE TIME (#6)

Grade 3 Futurity runner-up After Five is still a maiden after four starts despite running well in a couple of tough spots last year. He was arguably best in that Futurity loss but had to settle for second after getting shuffled back inside on the far turn. He subsequently put in a respectable effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, closing for fifth despite a very wide trip. He was understandably bet down to even-money in his return at Keeneland last month, but could only manage to finish second to a talented stablemate after again racing very wide on the turn. This colt clearly has ability and is overdue to get his diploma, but he also figures to be a very short price in a race that contains a few intriguing alternatives. One of those is obviously Newsworthy, who cuts back in distance after fading at this level in April. He actually ran pretty well behind the talented Shaftesbury, but couldn’t hold off the closers late. While this turnback may seem odd at first glance, his dam Sweet Lulu was a pretty fast Grade 1-winning sprinter. He’s worth considering, but I’m more interested in a bigger price. Dazzle Time tries the turf for the first time after showing some improvement in his recent starts. It took him a couple of starts to figure things out, but he’s been pretty consistent over his last three outings, showing speed each time before settling for minor awards. And there are reasons to be optimistic about this surface switch, primarily due to the fact that he’s a son of 22% turf sire Not This Time. His dam never won on the grass but she handled it, and she has produced a turf winner. Furthermore, the dam is a half-sister to turf stakes performer Yate’s Black Cat ($538k). Michelle Nevin’s stats are poor with this move, but this colt still seems worth a shot at a square price.

RACE 8: BLIND AMBITION (#10)

Shekky Shebaz is the kind of favorite that I will let beat me at a short price. I acknowledge that he has plenty of back races that would crush this field, but I wasn’t thrilled with his form since leaving the Jason Servis barn last year. I didn’t think he had much of an excuse in the Troy two back, despite that minor steady in the lane, and he was terrible in the Lucky Coin last time. Christophe Clement has acknowledged that he has soundness issues, but he still figures to get overbet given the success this barn is having, along with the presence of Irad Ortiz. I won’t be shocked if he wakes up off the layoff, but he’ll do it at my expense. I have no major issues with the two horses exiting the Apr. 22 race at this level. Quarky might have been settling for second anyway, as he often does, but he was negatively affected by some debris on the track at the eighth pole. He ran well, and Battle Station also put in a good effort off the layoff. I could also make a case for Holiday Stone to get back into form off the trainer switch to George Weaver. He has plenty of back class and he did put in some good turf sprint efforts for Eddie Kenneally. However, I wish his recent form was a little more consistent. Some might even argue that Ghoul is a good fit for this race based on his running style, but he often takes money at this level and rarely delivers. Given my reservations with all of the shorter prices, I’m taking a shot with Blind Ambition. In a race where so many are in questionable form, this guy could be heading in the right direction as he makes his first start off the claim for the red-hot Orlando Noda barn. While Noda has had all of his recent success at Belmont on the dirt, he doesn’t claim a lot of turf horses. The one prior example that applies to this situation is when he claimed Fig Jelly at Saratoga last summer, in the midst of another hot streak, and got him to run a strong fourth in the Lucky Coin Stakes first off the claim. Blind Ambition has some strong form from the not so distant past, and his last narrow loss was flattered when Vici returned to win last week. 

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