Belmont at the Big A Horses in Focus for Thursday, September 15

RACE 4: SHUTTERS (#7)

There is little speed signed on in this New York-bred optional claimer, and that figures to help the cause of Ruse (#3), who looks to get back to the winner’s circle after finishing second in 4 of his last 5 starts. He actually ran quite well despite finishing sixth at this level two back, making the first move into a fast pace while racing 3-wide throughout. He looked like a winner in deep stretch last time, but was unable to hold off the late charge of today’s rival Ghost Giant. He’s the one to catch, and I prefer him to the other horses who have been competing at this level. That includes Grape Nuts Warrior (#1), who benefited from the honest pace when he finished ahead of Ruse on July 15 at Saratoga. He has plenty of races that make him competitive here, and he won over this course last year. I just didn’t want to take him as a potential favorite. I prefer the other Chad Brown runner Shutters (#7). This 4-year-old is stepping up to the N2X level for the first time after winning off the layoff last time at Saratoga. That was his first try against winners, and his first start as a new gelding. He won convincingly despite having some issues during the running. He was off a bit slowly and got rank heading into the clubhouse turn. He continued to race wide for much of his trip and was only able to pull off the victory due to his impressive late kick. He comes into this race still with upside, and can beat this field if able to deliver a more professional performance.

RACE 6: ORANGE FREEZE (#8)

A few contenders in this New York-bred maiden event exit the Aug. 3 race won by Lady Jasmine. Smokie Eyes (#7)closed decently to be second that day, but she never looked to be a serious threat to the winner. It was a decent performance, but she didn’t exactly run to her tote support and likely has to do better to beat what appears to be a tougher field this time. I’m more inclined to take Collaboration (#3) from that affair. She arguably had the easier trip, setting a moderate pace. However, she was going out for a barn that rarely has its first time starters ready to win on debut. This daughter of English Channel seems like a candidate to improve second time out, and her early speed should play well from this inside draw. The most interesting runner from that Aug. 3 affair may be Sweetest Princess (#4), who was off very slowly after lunging at the start. She didn’t do much running after that, but she was somewhat compromised by race flow. This daughter of Cairo Prince has a right to improve and figures to be the best price of the contenders. My top pick is Christophe Clement’s other runner Orange Freeze (#8), who exits a different race. She was no match for runaway winner Recognize on debut, but that rival basically stole the race on the front end while riding the advantageous rail path. Orange Freeze was inside early, but she angled off the rail about midway through the race, and angled widest of all on the far turn to launch her rally. She actually closed well to just miss second considering the overall race flow. She was flattered when Recognize returned to finish a good third in the P. G. Johnson next time out. I expect Orange Freeze to do better with that start under her belt and won’t be surprised if she shows a bit more early speed this time.

RACE 7: JOIN THE DOTS (#4)

I expect Mrs. Green (#3) to attract support as she steps up to face winners for the first time. It took this expensive filly a few tries to break out of the maiden ranks, but she registered her first victory in decisive fashion last month at Saratoga, earning a strong 108 TimeformUS Speed Figure. A repeat of that performance makes her competitive against this group, but the waters are getting a little deeper. Tuscan Queen (#1) makes plenty of sense after rallying for third at this level last time out. That was a reasonably fast race for this condition, and she was finishing best of all after being reserved early. She appears to be back in solid form after a bit of a rough patch dating back to last year, and is logical in this spot. Yet I’m most interested in a couple of fillies who are new to turf sprinting. One of those is Icy Stare Down (#9), who is actually making her turf debut. I find it meaningful that Brad Cox has shipped this filly from Churchill Downs, where there is no turf racing, to New York to get on this surface. While she did start out her career as a promising dirt sprinter, she has enough pedigree to handle grass and looks like one that could handle the transition. My top pick is Join the Dots (#4). This filly tried turf for the first time in her most recent start, going a two-turn mile at Saratoga. I believe she showed some affinity for grass despite failing to hit the board. She was a bit too rank early and proceeded to race wide around both turns. According to Trakus, she covered 40 more feet than the winner and 66 more feet than the runner-up. I don’t mind the turnback in distance for her, since she did win her debut sprinting and seemed to travel so keenly in her turf race. She had trained very well on turf prior to that last start, and I think she deserves another chance.

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