Belmont Horses in Focus for Sunday, October 31

RACE 3: LOVE THAT FACE (#8)

Love That Face is obviously the horse to beat as she returns from a lengthy layoff, and I believe she’s a likely winner against this crew. It took her a while to come around early in her career, but she took a huge step forward late in the winter, earning a strong 96 TimeformUS Speed Figure to break her maiden in March. That’s proven to be a strong affair, as the second through fourth place finishers all returned to win their next starts with improved speed figures. A repeat of that performance will obviously make her tough for this field to handle. However, it’s not a good sign that she disappeared for so long after that career-best effort. The positives are that she looks like the lone speed in a race where the TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a situation favoring runners on the lead. Her connections are also taking advantage of the claiming waiver off the layoff, as she’s not offered for the $30k tag. She’ll be tough if she shows up, but there are a couple of alternatives to consider. I’m not optimistic about the chances of possible second choice Shanes Pretty Lady. This filly has always been a bit of a plodder, so the pace could work against her here. And her lone start for Tom Morley at Saratoga was awful. The class drop may help, but I get the sense she’s heading the wrong way. I have similar concerns about Stimulus Check, who handled dirt earlier in her career, but has been uncompetitive in 3 starts since returning this year. The trainer switch to this low-percentage barn seems like a bad sign, as it likely means she’s on the cusp of being shipped to a lower-level circuit. Perhaps an interesting longshot to use underneath is Handle the Truth. She beat a decent field two back, and last time was wide against a rail bias when spotted too ambitiously. She’s now dropping to the right level and could pick up pieces late.

RACE 4: DIAMOND COLLECTOR (#6)

Ambassador Kelly seems likely to take money in her debut for Todd Pletcher. This daughter of Pioneerof the Nile is out of Grade 1 Spinaway winner Rachel’s Valentina, who is of course the daughter of the great Rachel Alexandra. The dam has had just one other foal to race, Alejandro, who is officially winless in 6 starts, but did cross the wire first on one occasion, actually beating Masqueparade. Todd Pletcher is 10 for 35 (29%, $1.63 ROI) with 2-year-old firsters in Belmont dirt sprints from 6 to 7 furlongs over the past 5 years. This filly appears to be working fairly well for her debut, and Irad Ortiz gets aboard. Given the lack of appealing options among those with experience, her biggest rivals seem like the other firsters. Radio Days shows some quick workouts for her debut, but she was second-best in that Oct. 9 gate drill and seems more turf inclined as a half-sister to Bowie’s Hero. Union Lake has been working well for John Terranova, but his dirt first time starters often need a start. My top pick is Diamond Collector. This filly went for $320k as a yearling and must be a looker, since that’s a lot of money to pay for this fairly modest pedigree The dam earned her only victory routing on turf and was best on that surface, while second dam Model was a turf and synthetic specialist who was Grade 1-placed. Carlos Martin is 4 for 32 (13%, $1.11 ROI) with first time starters in dirt sprints over 5 years. Yet notably he is 7-2-1-2 (29%, $5.54 ROI) with debut runners for this owner. The filly appears to be working well for the debut.

RACE 6: STARFRONT (#4)

Aunt Kat is clearly the horse to beat in this weaker of the two division of the Pumpkin Pie. She had her 3-race winning streak snapped in the Shine Again last time when she was run down by the classy Bayernness. Yet Aunt Kat got away with moderate fractions that day and was simply second-best as the odds-on choice. This time a couple of others could have something to say about the early pace of this race. This filly has been the beneficiary of some very fortunate setups when she’s earned her biggest speed figures, and doesn’t have as much margin for error as it may appear at first glance. I think there are reasons to be skeptical of this favorite at a short price. Victim of Love returns from a brief layoff after disappointing as the favorite in the Bed O Roses this summer, when she set the pace over that sloppy course before fading late. She previously she had run some of her best races on this circuit, twice winning the Grade 3 Vagrancy and even collecting a Grade 1 placing in the 2020 edition of the Ballerina. Yet Todd Beattie is just 3 for 42 (7%, $1.70 ROI) off 90 to 180 day layoffs on dirt over the past 5 years. She’s a major player here if she’s back in top form, but there are some question marks. My top pick is the lightly raced Starfront. She looked like she could be something special when she made her debut here over a year ago, easily wiring a field of maidens with a strong 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure. She was understandably bet down to heavy favoritism off the long layoff last time and disappointed. Yet she was unable to make the lead after a slow break, and ran into a rival who put in a career-best effort. Perhaps she needed that start to shake off the rust, as it does seem like a good sign that Brown is taking a shot in a stakes off that loss. She’s been working very well out of that race, and I expect her to produce a much better effort this time.

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