Belmont Horses in Focus for Monday, July 4

RACE 7: BALLYDOOLEY (#2)

The short prices in this optional claimer are a little tough to swallow. That’s especially true for #3 Artemus Citylimits, who just seems to have developed an aversion to winning races. He’s finished in the money in every start since his last victory a year ago, but he just consistently fails to get the job done despite working out good trips. I don’t dispute that he possesses the best form in this field, but he’s just hard to support from a win perspective. I also have some reservations about #6 Maxwell Esquire, who looks like the clear second choice. He defeated Artemus Citylimits two back when getting a good setup from off the pace. However, he didn’t look like himself in his first start of the claim for Linda Rice last time, never hitting his best stride in a race that was won from off the pace by Voodoo Zip. He has to do better here, though he is getting some class relief. #4 Fauci is another coming out of some tough races, but I didn’t like his effort last time when he came off the bridle a long way from home. I don’t see a ton of speed in this race aside from Artemus Citylimits, and I won’t be surprised if his connections try to get him off the pace here based on the way he coughed up leads in his last two starts. That could make #2 Ballydooley dangerous on the front end. I know he comes in with form that doesn’t quite stack up against the rest, but Michelle Nevin is bringing him back off the layoff in an ambitious spot. He’s a horse who showed steady improvement last year and proved dangerous any time he was left alone on the front end. It certainly doesn’t hurt to get Joel Rosario aboard and Michelle Nevin has been in the midst of a very strong meet.

RACE 8: HOP PICKER (#4)

A solid case can be made for 5 of the 6 runners in this field competitive maiden field and even outsider Dolce Sera ran a competitive race at this level three back. The horse to beat is probably #5 Precursory, who earned a solid speed figure when finishing third at this level last time. She’s already proven she handles the one-mile distance, which is a question for some others in here. She ranged up like she might win last time but just flattened out a bit in the late stages. Perhaps that’s why Bill Mott adds blinkers for this third start, and she shows a nice workout over the training track last week. Todd Pletcher has a pair of entrants, though I’m a little skeptical of both. #6 Quotabelle didn’t finish after showing speed last time, and could play out as the pacesetter on the stretch-out. #3 Don’t Overlook Me finished better than her stablemate last time and is bred to go longer. However, she’s been a disappointment in both starts and is overdue to show some ability. Of the runners stretching out, I’m more convinced by #1 Demandsrespect. She closed well after getting outrun in the slop last time, and is out of a high-quality dam that could handle a mile. My top pick is #4 Hop Picker, who actually cuts back slightly from 1 1/16 miles. She was disappointing as the 2-5 favorite that day in a race that looked very weak for the level. However, she had been off for 3 months since her promising debut and ran like a filly that might have needed the start. She traveled well early, showing improved tactical speed, but just got tired at the end. She’s since been put through a much more rigorous series of workouts than she had coming into the last race, so I’m expecting a step forward. She’s bred to be a good one, and I doubt we’ve yet seen the best from this McGaughey runner.

RACE 9: COINAGE (#4)

#2 Annapolis would have been the favorite in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, but was forced to miss that race with a minor issue. He made his belated return in the Penn Mile last time and ran better than the result would indicate. That turf course was a bog, and produced some chaotic results. This guy closed determinedly over that demanding course, and should have gotten plenty of fitness out of that performance. Pletcher understandably opts to go for this easier spot rather than trying the G1 Belmont Derby. If he still possesses the talent we saw from him last year, he’s going to be a handful. The wild card in this field is #5 Boston Tea Party, who steps up into stakes company right off his debut. He was a well-kept secret that day, going off at 11-1, but he delivered in a big way. He traveled strongly while racing 3-wide and took over impressively at the head of the lane. Tony Dutrow’s barn has really come alive during the past several weeks and he’s not shying away from throwing this guy into a tough spot right off that debut win. I’m more interested in the other recent maiden winner #7 Double Clutch, who is ambitiously spotted here after breaking his maiden at Keeneland. He got a great trip, but I liked the way he burst clear from that field late. Rusty Arnold is high on this horse, and he’s bred to be a good one as a half-brother to Gear Jockey. A couple of runners exit the G2 American Turf at Churchill Downs. #6 Smokin’ T ran pretty well that day and came back to just miss in the Audubon. He’s not impossible here, but I prefer the other one from the American Turf. #4 Coinage faded late in in that spot, but I don’t want to be too hard on him for that effort. He didn’t break that sharply and got very rank under Florent Geroux while making a premature move up to contest the pace while racing wide into the clubhouse turn. I like that he now gets Luis Saez back aboard, which is significant for a horse that can be difficult to ride at times. This one-turn mile should suit him well, and he figures to be a square price in the face of some runners with more apparent upside.

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