Belmont Horses in Focus for Sunday, October 17


In the Belmont opener, Pay Grade figures to take all the money due in part to the fact that she’s simply disappointed fewer times than the rest. She had to work harder than expected to win two back after getting a good trip, but she put in a better effort last time when third in the Fleet Indian Stakes. She was on the lead in both of those starts, but I wonder if she’ll get a bit more pace pressure this time from the pair of rivals drawn inside of her. She’s clearly the one to beat, but I prefer another. Cartwheel made her first start off the claim for the underrated Mertkan Kantarmaci barn last time, and nothing went right for her. She was off a step slowly and then got squeezed back soon after the start, putting her in last down the backstretch. She continued to race wide thereafter on a day when the rail was the place to be at Belmont. Her fourth-place finish isn’t nearly as bad as it seems. I expect her to get a much more aggressive ride from Jose Lezcano this time provided that she breaks cleanly and I believe she’s a major threat to the favorite.


Devil Or Angel figures to go favored here after running well in both starts. However, he’s gotten great trips each time and just hasn’t quite been able to get it done. He couldn’t reel in the leader in his debut after saving all the ground on the hedge. While he did have some trouble in deep stretch last time and may have been best, he also got another fantastic trip up until that point. He can win, but I prefer some others. I also don’t want Hezastonecoldfox, who got to set a moderate pace last time while riding the rail, which may have been a slight advantage. Plus he was 53-1 then and he’ll be a fraction of that price here. I’m interested in a couple of others. Sandrone arguably ran just as well as Devil Or Angel in his debut. He didn’t break that sharply and then made an eye-catching wide move into contention on the far turn before flattening out. That was a deceptively strong performance and he can improve second time out. My top pick is Buckortwo. I had tried this horse in his debut and he just ran like one that needed a race. Michelle Nevin doesn’t always have them cranked up for their first starts, and he was wide most of the way in a race dominated by horses that had inside position. He’s bred to have some ability as a half-brother to good turf sprinter Dancing Buck, and I think we’re going to see a better effort out of him this time.


Robin Sparkles is obviously the horse to beat in this spot, but she’s been short prices against stakes company a few times this year and has yet to win a stakes on the turf. She did perhaps go a little too fast in the early going of that Caress, which helped set things up for the very talented Caravel. And she had a right not to like the yielding turf two back in the Smart N Fancy. She bounced back with a solid effort last time at Laurel and a repeat of that performance may be good enough here. Yet she has to deal with some other speed and there is a bit of rain in the forecast. I think she probably deserves to be favored, but I wouldn’t want to take too short a price on her. I believe Too Sexy is dangerous. Is it possible that she’s just turned a corner at the end of her 4-year-old season? She’s pretty hard to support based on her form prior to the last race, but she took a huge step forward that day. She sat off a moderate pace and just rocketed home through the stretch. I would hardly be surprised if she stepped right up to beat stakes foes off that performane. My top pick is Introduced. This mare’s form to start the year was a little spotty. She returned from the layoff with a good effort in the License Fee, finishing just a length behind Robin Sparkles. Although she then disappointed twice out of town, she appeared to get back on track this summer at Monmouth, winning her last two starts in gritty fashion. She is stepping up to face a tougher field this time, but Jorge Duarte is on a roll this year. Over the past 4 months, Duarte is 9 for 23 (39%, $5.27 ROI) with all of his turf starters, and he’s won with a couple of runners at NYRA during that time. Introduced also has the right running style, in that she can sit just off the pace but won’t be left with too much to do.

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