Belmont Horses in Focus for Friday, July 9

RACE 2: HEIRLOOM KITTEN (#4)

Supreme Aura is obviously the horse to beat as he returns at the same level at which he won last time. A repeat of that performance will obviously make him formidable against this short field, but he’s not exactly the most reliable favorite. While he’s run a solid set of speed figures since getting claimed by Rudy Rodriguez, he squandered a few good opportunities to win before ultimately coming out on top last time. He got sent off at a generous price that day and he’s going to be a fraction of those odds this time. Furthermore, he got an honest pace ahead of him on that occasion and took advantage, making a wide, sweeping run at the quarter pole. This time the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a No Speed situation, which could work against him. The horse that figures to benefit most from that pace characterization is Heirloom Kitten, who is comfortable racing on the front end. He was part of that quick pace on May 15 that helped set things up for Supreme Aura. He understandably faded in the late stages that day, but he bounced back nicely first off the claim for Rob Atras last time. Rated in a stalking position, he made a nice move to challenge the eventual winner in mid-stretch before settling for second. This time Manny Franco figures to send him to the lead and he figure to be especially dangerous from that position. He’s also handled wet tracks well in the past, and he’s likely to encounter a course with plenty of moisture in it on Friday.

RACE 3: STAR COMMAND (#3)

If this race stays on turf, I want to take a shot against the heavy favorite Love and Thunder. This filly has run well in both U.S. starts but she’s lost each at short prices. She may have found 6 furlongs to be too short for her two back, a race that was dominated on the front end. However, she was supposed to get the job done last time, even despite the fact that she had to wait for room in upper stretch. She’s the one to beat, but it’s unclear if more distance really helps her and she once again finds herself in a race with very little early pace. Made In Italy is a logical alternative as she makes her second start in this country for Graham Motion. However, Motion typically fires with his European shippers first time out so it’s unclear how much this one can be expected to improve. She also seemed suited by the 1 1/4 miles of that last start and now she’s cutting back in distance. My top pick is Star Command, who returned from the layoff with a big effort to finally break her maiden last time out. She had definitely disappointed on a few occasions prior to that, but I was very encouraged by that victory last time. She had to wait in behind horses during the early portion of the race, and it appeared that outside closers had already gotten the jump on her by the time she found room inside. Yet she battled back gamely for the victory, displaying finishing speed that we had never seen out of her before. This time she figures to control the pace up front, and these Shug McGaughey runners usually continue heading in the right direction once he gets them on an upward trajectory.

RACE 5: TOOTSIE’S SONG (#12)

The favorites in this race don’t do much for me. April Antics may be the public choice as she makes her second start for James Ryerson following a decent fourth-place finish in her debut at this level. She had no trouble handling a sloppy track that day and she may encounter similar going here, so that’s all positive. However, she did get a pretty quick pace to close into, and was mostly just picking up pieces at the end of that race. She makes some sense, but I don’t think she has a significant edge over others who will be better prices. One of those is Blind Sight, who switches back to dirt for Mike Dini. Racing for a different trainer, she didn’t run that badly in her second start on dirt back on May 8. She finished behind today’s rival Know It All Red that day, but she undoubtedly had the tougher trip, going wide on the turn and getting spun out into the stretch. She may have just improved with experience and is worth using. Yet my top pick is another second time starter, Tootsie’s Song. This filly wasn’t particularly competitive in her debut at this level last month, but she looked like a horse who badly needed that experience. She broke a bit slowly and proceeded to get extremely rank under Joel Rosario, tugging him up into traffic. She continued to fight restraint for the next quarter mile before ultimately settling down as the field came towards the top of the stretch. She didn’t make much of an impact late, but that early exertion probably took something out of her. This time she figures to show more speed if she can break cleanly, and I expect her to take a step forward for George Weaver, who has been enjoying a solid meet.

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