Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, May 5


There is quite a bit of pace signed on in this N1X allowance going 6 furlongs on grass. The TimeformUS Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace with 3 horses vying for the early lead. The quickest of them all may be #10 High Front, who ships up from Florida for Jonathan Thomas. This 3-year-old was a very impressive debut winner back in January, dominating a field of maidens on the front end. He went down to defeat as the 2-5 heavy favorite in his second start, but he was a little unlucky that day, as he broke slowly and got shuffled back early. Breaking from the outside post this time, he figures to get a clear run to the front end. I think he’s dangerous, but I don’t always trust that 5-furlong form from Gulfstream to translate to New York. The horse to beat, in my view, is #7 Kawhi Me a River. This colt is a little unlucky to only have a single turf victory on his resume, as he’s had minor trouble in all three of his losses on this surface. He was unwisely rated after an awkward start in the Carle Place two back, and then last time found traffic when trying to rally in deep stretch. However, he’s coming back off the bench now, and John Terranova is 0 for 18 off 120-240 day layoffs on turf over 5 years. The good news is that he can take advantage of the projected favorable pace setup. Though that’s also true of another runner who will be a bigger price. #6 Supply and Demand has only made one start on the turf during his career and most will view it as a mediocre effort. However, I felt that the Widener turf had gotten a little speed-favoring during that final day of last year’s spring/summer meet. This gelding actually rallied well into a moderate pace, finishing just a half-length behind fellow closer Big Package, who would be an obvious favorite against this field. He’s achieved mixed results on dirt since then, but I like that Dutrow is now going back to turf. He’s a true closer in a race loaded with speed, is working well for this return, and gets reunited with his last winning pilot Javier Castellano.


#4 Witch Hunter has to be considered the horse to beat in her current form. She got pulled up mid-race in her first start on this circuit last December, but has been perfect since then after returning from a brief layoff. She wasn’t facing the strongest N1X field two back, but finished with a flourish, closing down the center of the track to win going away. And she was even more impressive last time as she easily dispatched of some overmatched rivals in that starter stakes. She’s getting a class test here, as this is the toughest group she’s met so far in New York. Yet distance isn’t an issue and Charlton Baker tends to keep horses in form once they get good. Among the more intriguing alternatives to this favorite are a pair of layoffs runners, #2 Brattle House and #3 Pay Grade. Both started out in the Christophe Clement barn, though Brattle House is now returning for new trainer Paulo Lobo. She looked promising early on, but her last effort was lackluster. Alvarado rode her very gingerly that day, and she has subsequently been off for a long time. Lobo has had some success off trainer switches recently, but I think she’d need to take step forward to beat this field. I have similar feelings about Pay Grade, who is still with Clement. She also is coming off a poor effort when last seen, and Clement is just 4 for 44 (9%, $0.42 ROI) off 150-300 day layoffs on dirt over the past 5 years. My top pick is #1 A Bit o’Irish Sass. This filly got pretty good last summer, breaking her maiden impressively before taking advantage of a short field in the NY Oaks. She didn’t fare as well in the Fleet Indian and was subsequently put away for the year. Her return sprinting in February wasn’t quite as bad as it looks, as she had a bit of a trip. She then showed improvement on the stretch-out last time, but probably cost herself the win by trying to lug in through the stretch. That’s a tendency she’s displayed before, so drawing the rail here should benefit her. I would love to see Trevor McCarthy get aggressive and send her to the front, tactics that worked for her last year.

RACE 9: DAUNT (#12)

This finale, an optional claimer for 3-year-olds, might be the best race of the day. Eleven are entered for turf, and at least a few of them appear to be stakes quality. I view #3 Napoleonic War as the clear horse to beat and a deserving favorite. He didn’t earn much of a speed figure in his career debut at Tampa, but he closed well into a glacial pace to share the victory that day. He was no secret second time out when stepped up into the Grade 3 Transylvania. He finished fourth, but there’s an argument that he could have won with a different trip. He had good position early, but steadily got shuffled out of position on the far turn when blocked behind a tiring rival. He finished gamely once steered into the clear, but others had gotten the jump on him. If he can build on that effort, he’s going to be a handful here. I strongly prefer him to the other runner who could vie for favoritism, #8 Treasure King. This Todd Pletcher colt is undefeated after two starts, but I don’t think he was beating the strongest fields in Florida. He got a nice 105 TimeformUS Speed Figure last time, but that number feels high for the horses involved. I’ll let him beat me, especially with so many other appealing options signed on. George Weaver is another trainer with a pair of entrants. #5 Ohtwoohthreefive isn’t without a chance as he drops out of the Woodhaven. However, he’s had plenty of chances and others appear to have more upside. His stablemate #4 Heat’s On Zap could fall into that category. He showed very little on debut but took a huge step forward at Aqueduct last time, upsetting a heavy favorite in a gate-to-wire score. He has to stretch out now, but he showed talent last time and is bred to go this far. I’m going in a different direction. #12 Daunt showed real promise as a two-year-old, and may fly under the radar as he returns from a layoff for the low-profile Robert Ribaudo. He was a professional winner of his second start, slicing through the pack to beat a nice field, which included the subsequently stakes-placed Fort Washington. He then took another step forward in his final start as a juvenile, closing to be third in the Awad against some legitimate horses. He felt like one that would benefit from further maturity last year, so I’m hopeful that he’s ready to fire off the layoff, and I think I’ll find out at a fair price.

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