Belmont at the Big A Horses in Focus for Sunday, September 18

RACE 1: MONTEPULCIANO (#2)

This is one of two one-mile maiden dirt events for two-year-olds on this card, with this race featuring the juvenile males. There are a few runners in this line-up who took money on debut at Saratoga, and they all have a license to improve on the stretch-out with that experience under their belts. Ohana Honor (#1A) obviously makes sense after closing up the rail for second when he made his first start going 6 furlongs. He has a pedigree to stretch out and looks like one that can improve, though he’s going to be a short price as part of a coupled entry. Expected Value (#6) is another who ran well on debut and could step forward, though Chad Brown does not have strong statistics with these types of stretch-outs. I’m most interested in a couple of second time starters who disappointed on debut at the Spa. One of those is Skellig (#3), who was all the rage when he got bet down to 7-5 in his first start in mid-August. However, he ran like a colt who just needed the race, as he was never really engaged while racing wide most of the way. Watching his workouts, he gives the impression of one who should want to go longer, even though his pedigree doesn’t necessarily say that. John Terranova is 9 for 36 (25%, $2.64 ROI) with maiden second time starters on dirt over the past 5 years. My top pick is Montepulciano (#2), who is also looking to rebound after getting beaten as the favorite on debut. He made his first start on turf, and didn’t run quite as badly as his last-place finish might suggest. He was far too aggressive in the early stages, setting an unreasonably fast pace in a race that ultimately collapsed late. I also wonder if turf is really the right surface for him. He has a versatile pedigree, and he’s trained very well on the main track at Saratoga since that debut. I expect him to show speed from the inside under Jose Lezcano  and he may just take them all the way up front.

RACE 3: ROSIA BAY (#2)

Chad Brown holds a strong hand in this one-mile turf race for maiden fillies. Veronica Greene (#8) is arguably the horse to beat off her last performance. She showed marked improvement on turf, coming with a nice late run after working out a decent trip from mid-pack. She just couldn’t catch winner Jane Mast, who may have some quality. Two horses have already come back to win out of that race, including fourth-place Herington Rocket. She’s a deserving favorite, but she faces a real rival in her stablemate Kinchen (#7), who returns from a lengthy layoff. The barn thought enough of this filly to give her a shot in the G2 Miss Grillo last year as a maiden. She put in a solid effort to be second that day, finishing ahead of highly regarded stablemate McKulick. She bviously had talent last year, and should fit well amongst this group with routine improvement off the layoff. Chad Brown is 20 for 62 (32%, $2.50 ROI) with maidens off 180+ day layoffs in turf routes over 5 years. They both make sense, but I’m most interested in a bigger price. Rosia Bay (#2) faced some good ones in both career starts earlier this year. She closed mildly to get up for fourth in her debut behind Walkathon, who would reel off 3 consecutive victories, including a win over McKulick in the G3 Regret. The second and third-place finishers also returned from that race to win with improved speed figures. Rosia Bay wasn’t quite as effective at Belmont last time, but she seemed to lose focus when suddenly dropping back on the far turn. She did reengage in the stretch, and actually ran the fastest final eighth of anyone in that field before galloping out strongly. She now returns with blinkers added and still has some upside.

RACE 9: MAJESTIC GLORY (#1)

I liked Pebbles morning line favorite Gina Romantica (#12) last time when she won the Riskaverse at 14-1. She had trained deceptively well on turf prior to that race, and showed a real affinity for that surface, unleashing an impressive turn of foot to get the job done. However, she also got a great trip and ride from Flavien Prat, as the early pace was quick and she saved ground on both turns. Now she’s going to be a much shorter price despite getting mired outside in post 12. She can obviously win, but I have to look elsewhere this time. The only other horse that I would want from the Riskaverse is Faith in Humanity (#4), who arguably ran just as well as the winner considering the pace. She was sitting much closer to those early fractions and made the first move to take over in upper stretch before the closers came charging late. She had shown promise in her debut at Monmouth, and I was impressed with the way she handled the step up in class. She still has upside and is drawn well towards the inside. There are a couple of interesting new faces from Europe in this spot. Miss Carol Ann (#9) goes out for Graham Motion, who has excellent stats with his European imports. However, her overall form isn’t quite as strong as that of Majestic Glory (#1). This Todd Pletcher runner had shown some talent as a 2-year-old, winning the G3 Sweet Solera Stakes, displaying a nice turn of foot to finish ahead of Wild Beauty, who would go on to win the Grade 1 Natalma at Woodbine. While she hasn’t been successful since then, Majestic Glory was facing much tougher company in her final two starts as a juvenile. She got back into form off the layoff in April when finishing just behind Wild Beauty in another Group 3 event. She ran poorly at Epsom last time, but she just seemed to lack the stamina for that demanding uphill finish. She seems like one that should appreciate the one-mile distance in America, and she’s drawn perfectly on the rail in this large field.

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