2011 Belmont Stakes Card Replays
By The Editors
Happy Belmont Stakes day! We’ve asked our contributors to share their thoughts on the graded races on the Belmont Stakes card along with the replays and links to the results charts.
G1 Acorn Stakes
1 Mile 3-year-old Fillies
Race 6 | 2:34 PM ET
By Teresa Genaro
On paper, the Acorn looks like a veritable walkover for Turbulent Descent. She’s the only Grade 1 winner in the field; she’s won two at that level and finished second in a third, while only one other starter, Her Smile, has even started in a Grade 1, and she finished 11th in the Kentucky Oaks.
But stranger things have happened than an odds-on favorite being beaten in a big race, and those strange things can often at the racing anomaly that is Belmont Park.
Not only does Belmont have the only 1 ½ miles track in the country, but it’s also got a singular surface: it’s not called Big Sandy for nothing, and the configuration of the track combined with its deep, sandy surface have not uncommonly combined to defeat horses who on paper couldn’t lose.
Turbulent Descent shipped in on Tuesday, so while she’ll have galloped over the track several times, she won’t have worked over it, something that some trainers consider essential to win here. Earlier this week, Scott Sherwood, president of Blinkers On Racing Stable, who owns Turbulent Descent in partnership, noted that the filly arrived at Santa Anita just a few days before the Las Virgenes to get feel a for the surface, without working out over it. He didn’t mention that that race, her first start on dirt after three wins on synthetics, was her only loss. It was also her only try at the Acorn’s distance of one mile. Turbulent Descent did win her second start on dirt, beating Zazu by a neck.
David Flores, her regular rider, comes in with her from California; that’s the good news. The bad news is that he’s not a Belmont regular, and his unfamiliarity with the track is another factor that might work against his mount.
Turbulent Descent likes to have some pace to run at, but her connections have indicated that exercise rider Ward Brookfield has been working with her on the lead, and earlier this week, trainer Mike Puype was non-committal about where his filly would be.
Todd Pletcher’s Savvy Supreme looks to be the lone speed in the race. She’s the only filly who’s got a start at Belmont, that a win in the ungraded Classy Mirage last month. She stretches out here to a mile for the first time; can she hold her speed at the longer distance?
Victoria’s Wildcat is the only other graded stakes winner in the field; she won the Eight Belles on Derby weekend, closing from last in a pace scenario that suited her late-running style perfectly. An inveterate deep closer, she’ll suffer more than Turbulent Descent from a lack of pace.
It’s Tricky will also be close to the front, but which filly will show up? The one who won her first three starts by a combined 14+ lengths, or the one who didn’t run a step in the Gulfstream Oaks?
Her Smile will make her second start for Todd Pletcher after failing miserably in the Kentucky Oaks; her last win came at Parx last November. Snow Fall steps into graded stakes company for the first time after wins at Fair Grounds and Delaware Park.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Turbulent Descent crush this field on talent alone, but that’s not going to make for much a betting race, so I’m going to take a flyer with Savvy Supreme, who’s got home-field advantage and a jockey in John Velazquez who knows this track as if it were his backyard
Picks: Savvy Supreme, Turbulent Descent, Victoria’s Wildcat
G2 True North
6F 3 & Up
Race 7 | 3:15 PM ET
By Valerie Grash
iThe coupled entry of D’Funnybone and This Ones for Phil enter off strong performances—D’Funnybone a narrow second-place finish in the 4-horse field Waldoboro Stakes at Belmont, and This Ones for Phil a win in the Decathlon Stakes at Monmouth. However, it’s three others that come out of those two races that interest me. Waldoboro winner Trappe Shot loves this track, with two victories in as many starts. His recent sharp 5-furlong workout indicates he’s ready to become a top-notch sprinter this year; John Velazquez staying aboard is a good sign. Rule By Night finished third in the Waldoboro in his first start this year; having gained fitness, he should be much better prepared. He’s never finished out the money in six starts at this distance, plus Ramon Dominguez jumping off two-time Grade 3 winner Calibrachoa to stick with Rule By Night is an interesting development. Last October, Wildcat Brief finished third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh; this year, he began his campaign with a fast-closing second in the Decathlon. I love the sharp 4-furlong bullet workout he posted recently, and believe there will be plenty of early speed for him to run into late.
Recent claimer Calibrachoa certainly has shined since transferring into the barn of Todd Pletcher, capturing three stakes at Aqueduct over the winter. He’s never finished out of the money in 11 starts at this distance, but I question whether or not he can fire first-up against this quality. Neither Frazil nor Khan of Khans has run fast enough to be competitive with these.
Picks: Trappe Shot, Wildcat Brief, Rule By Night
G2 Woody Stephens
Race 8 | 3:59 PM ET
By Jen Jade
The Woody Stephens features an interesting mix of 3-year-olds, many of whom seem tailored for this intriguing distance at Belmont Park.
He didn’t get the best of the draw, as it seems his better races were from an outside post. He boasts the best speed figures of the field and this is his optimal distance. Regression in the Derby Trial is a concern, as he faded quickly and didn’t contest, but he was brought back quickly to that test after the Swale and the short respite should serve him well.
His third-place finish in the Jerome was strong considering the sloppy track and the tough competition. He broke his maiden at Belmont – a good sign – but his only other win was an optional claimer at Fair Grounds back in January.
This D. Wayne Lukas trainee is an intriguing longshot. Although his speed figures pale in comparison to the competition and he’s taking quite a jump in class, he boasts early speed that, if used, could play a role in the pace scenario. His best win was a wire-to-wire victory going a mile at Oaklawn. He moves up if the track is wet. Jockey Joel Rosario is also a plus. However, Lukas is currently 0 for his last 57 graded stakes attempts.
The Belmont-based Allen Jerkens trainee is testing stakes waters after breaking his maiden in just his second race. The son of Bernardini looks to have potential, but lack of experience is a big concern against these foes.
Consistent son of Sky Mesa returns off his career-best performance at Belmont in the Ziggy’s Boy. His only “bad” race was the Florida Derby; otherwise, he’s always been in the mix and loves this distance. He also boasts two bullet works over the Belmont training track; with all these signs, he’s a must-use.
The David Fawkes trainee adds intrigue to the puzzle. He’s two for four at this distance – four for four in the money – and has hit the board in his last three races, including two Grade 2’s. He’s coming off a deceptively good stakes win at Parx, defeating quality runners Royal Currier and Rush Now. Adding to the intrigue is the addition of jockey Javier Castellano, who will be aboard the gelding for the first time.
J ‘s Lucky Train
The son of Silver Train is two for two at this distance, including his impressive win in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct. He’s finished in the money eight of nine times, so he’s a definite exotic play, and he reunites with jockey Paco Lopez, who guided him to a big win at Monmouth earlier in his career. Just one work since his third-place finish in the Derby Trial and a steady regression in speed figures are two questions that linger.
Picks: Arch Traveler, Little Drama, Travelin Man
G1 Just A Game
1 Mile 3 & up Fillies & Mares – Turf
Race 9 | 4:43 PM ET
By Dana Byerly
C.S. Silk (6-1) appears to be the key to this well-matched running of the Just A Game. Will new pilot and current Belmont meet leader Javier Castellano set a slow, controlled pace or will they have company in the form of Cherokee Queen and/or Much Rejoicing? In her last outing in the Jenny Wiley, C.S. Silk was carried four wide into the first turn and then had a tugging battle with Garrett Gomez down the backstretch and came up empty. She’s got a much better post this time around and, in my opinion, a rider that is much better suited to her running style.
Cherokee Queen (8-1) used the same path last year to the Just a Game: win as the favorite in the Hollywood Wildcat at Calder. In last year’s rendition of the Just A Game she got bottled up on the inside and had to alter course; by the time she got enough room, she was full of run but out of time. She’s been knocking on the class door since then and might be ready to step up. Much Rejoicing (12-1) most recently won her turf debut at six furlongs in an overnight stakes at Belmont after putting in several so-so synthetic and dirt efforts. Her trainer is having a great meet and does well with the sprint-to-route angle; she’s out of a champion turf mare, and that doesn’t hurt, either! She’s a great price if you think she’s ready for primetime.
Fantasia (7-2), Strike the Bell (12-1) and Gypsy’s Warning (5-1) are likely to be sitting behind the action up front. Like Cherokee Queen, Fantasia took the same path as last year to the Just A Game when she ran in the Churchill Distaff Mile last out. She caught a little traffic but had plenty of run and came home just a hair shy of Aviate’s final quarter. She’s another one knocking on the class door with the right stuff to walk on through. Strike the Bell is making the second start of her 5-year-old campaign after running second to Much Rejoicing. Her final quarter of :11.44 was ever so slightly faster than Much Rejoicing’s (:11.49), and with the right trip, she could certainly be in the mix. Gypsy’s Warning also comes out of the Jenny Wiley as a non-factor, but prior to that she won the Grade 1 Matriarch at Hollywood at the same distance as this race, from the same post position. She’s also cutting back in distance, an angle that’s worked for her in the past. She’s the class of the field, but if the turf comes up a bit soft, as it was in the Jenny Wiley, it might be best to downgrade her chances.
Favorite Aviate (5-2) and longest shot Justaroundmidnight (20-1) are the confirmed closers in the bunch and might be hampered if Castellano takes the “lull them to sleep” approach. Aviate got her first graded win in the US last out in impressive fashion and certainly likes the distance. I don’t see her as being that much more obvious some than some of the better priced entries, but she is probably in peak condition given that it’s her third start of the form cycle. Justaroundmidnight ran four times in Ireland at less than a mile with no wins and debuted in the US at 1 1/16 miles for her maiden win. Her only other win was as the $54 upset winner in Marshua’s River at Gulfstream Park, whose field also included Cherokee Queen and C.S. Silk. I would be a lot more inclined to ponder her upset chances in a longer race.
Amen Hallelujah (6-1) makes her first turf start and is a bit of wildcard as it’s a tough spot for a turf debut. Judging by her effort in the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland over the polytrack where she lost by a head at 7-furlongs, maybe this isn’t such a crazy idea, but I’ll wait and see.
Picks: C.S. Silk, Strike the Bell, Aviate
2011 Just A Game Results (pdf)
G1 Manhattan Handicap
10F 3 & up – Turf
Race 10 | 5:39 PM ET
By Kevin Martin
The Manhattan Handicap at Belmont on Saturday is the third of three big-time turf races that precede a Triple Crown race. The third leg of the “series,” run prior to the Belmont Stakes, brings out a legitimate U.S. turf star in Gio Ponti, who won the Manhattan in 2009 and finished a close second after a troubled trip last year. He has finished first or second in seventeen of nineteen career turf starts. The only time he finished more than a length off the winner on turf in 2010 was to the other-worldly Goldikova in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile (he finished second by 1 ¾ lengths). Only the most dedicated contrarian could make a case against Gio Ponti being a major player and the most likely winner in this contest.
Of Gio Ponti’s four losses on the turf last year, two came against European-based turf runners. That is one factor that makes Viscount Nelson the biggest threat to Gio Ponti. Viscount Nelson has been competitive in races against the likes of multiple Group 1 winners Canford Cliffs and Twice Over in Europe. He raced once in the United States, finishing just four lengths off the winner in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The Manhattan will be his third start of the year. He won his last race over the Irish turf at the Manhattan distance of 1 ¼ miles.
Prince Will I Am, the morning line third choice behind Gio Ponti and Viscount Nelson, has been consistent since winning the Grade 1 Jamaica over the Belmont surface in 2009. He couldn’t catch the wire-to-wire winner Get Stormy in his last race, the Turf Classic at Churchill, but the pace scenario appears to be much more favorable in this spot with Straight Story, Wishful Tomcat, and Mission Approved entered for the Manhattan.
Al Khali is one of the most intriguing of the Manhattan entries at double-digit morning line odds,. He has shown flashes of ability on the turf but has lacked consistency. His last two wins have come over the Belmont turf, including a win in the 2010 Grade 2 Bowling Green at 1 3/8 miles. He will be making his third start off the layoff for veteran trainer Bill Mott. The added distance of the Manhattan and potential pace scenario will no doubt be an advantage for this 5-year-old.
The veteran 7-year-old Windward Islands, who raced competitively among classy Canadian turf horses at Woodbine in 2010, will be making his second start of the year after a third-place finish in this year’s 1 ½ miles Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland in April. He has finished in the top three in ten of sixteen career turf races and has not finished worse than third in his last five starts, all on turf. He does not look like a legitimate win candidate but, like Al Khali, could be a solid play at square odds in the trifecta and superfecta pools.
Picks: Gio Ponti, Viscount Nelson, Al Khali
G1 Belmont Stakes
Race 11 | 6:35 PM ET
By Chris Rossi
The “Test of the Champion” has become more of an anomaly on the stakes calendar than a determiner of champions in recent years.
On paper, this year is no exception, as I believe that 11 of the 12 entrants rate a logical shot at taking down the win honors.
In many ways, the oddball distance of 12 furlongs makes this more of a wide open race than the 20-horse stampede that is the Kentucky Derby,
Shackleford, more than Animal Kingdom, is the big key to unlocking the puzzle that is this year’s Belmont. If you believe, like I do, that his Preakness triumph is more of an aberration than his failed efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby, then he is the toss-out instead of the speed that runs these off their feet.
Master of Hounds ran a credible fifth in the Kentucky Derby and may have been compromised by closing on a dead rail on that day. I believe he’ll be overbet on that angle here, while the fact that he’s traveled over 15,000 miles in eight weeks will be overlooked. His travel, to me, is the major turn-off.
Animal Kingdom has done little wrong on multiple surfaces in six career starts while facing a gauntlet of pace scenarios. The mile-and-a-half distance of the Belmont should be right up his alley. I will key him in all slots.
Nehro has been bridesmaid for three consecutive graded stakes. But most impressive to me is that he’s adapted to many different pace scenarios while still finding a way to be around at the wire. I’ll key him underneath on the suspicion that even his best may not be enough.
Two longshots I’m using up and down are Santiva and Stay Thirsty. Santiva has been compromised by a curious campaign of false starts. This may be his best shot at scoring; his breeding suits the oddball distance of 12 furlongs and he’s shown at least some talent at this level. I figure Stay Thirsty to be more forwardly placed than recent efforts. Combine this with his stellar breeding, and he may be around at the wire.
Picks: Animal Kingdom, Santiva, Nehro, Stay Thirsty