Belmont Horses in Focus for Thursday, May 12

RACE 5: SHASTA STAR (#7)

I’m not wildly against the two favorites in this race, but I don’t think either one is completely trustworthy at short prices. #1 Anonymously clearly has to rebound from her current string of poor results, but you can make some obvious excuses for her. She was simply going too far in those two route attempts, as she’s a pure sprinter. She didn’t run well in her lone turf sprint at Gulfstream this winter, but that was a stakes field. She’s getting class relief that she needs, but still has 9 seconds to go along with her 3 career victories, so it’s not as if she’s the most convincing win candidate regardless. #4 Weekend Fun may look more appealing off her last race, but I’m not sure we can trust it. Though she was only beaten a few lengths by superior horses, she still finished clearly last of the 7. Horses who were up on the pace seemed to fare best last time, so perhaps she was just carried along by sitting in third early. She’s a little tough to strongly recommend off her prior turf form, and she figures to take money on the class drop. I want to go in a different direction with #7 Shasta Star. This mare is as honest as they come, having won 8 times while hitting the board in 21 of 29 career starts. She always seems to show up with a good effort regardless of pace or trip. That’s even been the case with surface, as she seems to run over anything. For all that versatility, she’s made just one turf start during her career, which is surprising considering that it was one of her best races. She was a deceptively convincing winner of that one grass start back in 2020 at Kentucky Downs, powerfully striding away from a claiming field after setting the pace. Notably, that performance was vastly superior to her surrounding dirt form at the time. Now she’s trying grass again off a series of improved dirt races, and appears to have been claimed for this surface switch by Bob Klesaris and the new connections.

RACE 7: NUCLEAR OPTION (#3)

Half of the field entered for turf are coming in off extended layoffs, including morning line favorite #5 Maxwell Esquire. This horse’s best race would make him pretty tough for this field to handle. He’s already beaten this allowance condition, which is why he’s competing for the $62,500 tag. I would think he’s a candidate to get claimed for that amount given his strong form from last season. He didn’t get the right pace setup in the Aqueduct Turf Sprint last time, and prior that did well to finish in a dead heat with today’s rival #1 Fauci. Both of these make sense as they launch their 2022 campaigns, but I don’t need either at relatively short prices off layoffs. The most reliable option with recency is #2 Artemus Citylimits, but I can’t pick this horse on top. He’s gotten good trips in more than a few of his recent starts and just can’t seem to seal the deal. He’s always right there in the stretch of his races, but too often settles for a minor award. That attribute was on full display last time when he appeared to have that Keeneland race won and just refused to go by the eventual winner. All of the aforementioned runners make sense, but they’re the three favorites and I want to get a little more creative. #3 Nuclear Option hasn’t tried turf that much during his career, but he has run well over grass on occasion. Among his turf performances are a couple of allowance wins at Arlington, one of which earned a 112 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Yet what’s most interesting about him is this private purchase and trainer switch to Jamie Ness. He’s exiting a barn that was winning at a low percentage, and Ness has been having some newfound success outside the confines of Parx lately. Over the past 5 years, Ness is 8 for 30 (27%, $1.98 ROI) first off a trainer switch on turf, which is better than expected for a trainer known for his work with dirt horses. This gelding has tactical speed and figures to be a square price.

RACE 9: SUCCULENT (#12)

Morning line favorite #7 Out of Sight is clearly the horse to beat as she makes her second start off the layoff. She ran very well in her return last time, as she set a deceptively fast pace over a course that was rated firm but playing closer to good or yielding. She earned a strong 98 TimeformUS Speed Figure for that runner-up effort and anything close to that number could make her too tough for this field to handle. On the other hand, she’s had plenty of chances and will be a short price in a race where some others do have upside. #3 Pave My Way could attract some support for the hot Noda barn, but I wasn’t thrilled with her turf races last year. I picked #2 Sals Dream Girl when she was fourth at 30-1 last time, but I thought she got a perfect trip and would have to step forward as a 3-year-old. I think some of the more interesting new faces may be stretching out or trying this surface for the first time. My top pick is #12 Succulent, the other entrant for David Donk. She didn’t get much of a speed figure for her turf debut last month, but I thought she closed well that day after a slow beginning and wide trip. She ran her last quarter in 23.47 seconds in a race that mostly held together up front, finishing best of all. I don’t mind the stretch-out and like the rider switch to John Velazquez. I’d also want to use #5 Sweet Maeve at a bigger price. She figures to get ignored here going out for low-profile connections. She was meant for turf in her debut last year, but ran pretty well on the main track, overcoming a very slow start to make some progress midway before flattening out. She’s by decent turf influence Vancouver and returns as a 3-year-old with a chance to improve.

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