Belmont Stakes card filled with ample possible plays

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Ted Black

June 10th, 2016

While many thoroughbred racing fans will be waiting until the latter portion of the card on Saturday to take a swing at the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of racing's Triple Crown, serious and novice horse players alike will have ample chances to make more than a few wagers on a stellar undercard leading up to the main event.

In the third race on the card, the Grade I, $700,000 Acorn Stakes for three-year-old fillies at the one-turn mile on the main track, much of the attention will be focused on the two outside runners, Cathryn Sophia and Go Maggie Go. Cathryn Sophia rebounded from a third-place finish as the odds-on choice in the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland to capture the Grade I Kentucky Oaks one day before the Derby. This Maryland-bred filly trained by John Servis has tasted defeat only once in six lifetime outings and she could be odds-on again in this spot.

Just to her outside if Go Maggie Go, who rebounded from a good fourth-place effort in the Kentucky Oaks to capture the Black-Eyed Susan. Carina Mia was fourth in the Ashland, but has since come back to win the Eight Belles by six lengths and could pose a threat to the top pair. Forever Darling owns a win against Grade II rivals out west.

One race later on the card the older dirt males who prefer longer races will have their chance to shine in the Grade II, $400,000 Brooklyn Handicap at the Belmont Stakes distance of one-mile and one-half once around the oval. Kid Cruz has won his last two for trainer Linda Rice and sports a solid 7-5-2 slate and $780,000 bankroll from 19 lifetime tries and has always thrived at the longer races. Turco Bravo and Securitiz were one-two in the Flat Out Stakes over the strip and both merit respect in this spot.

One race later in the Grade I, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes for fillies and mares at the one-turn distance of one-mile and one-sixteenth, at least a handful of distaffers have to be considered in this event.

Stopchargingmaria was second in the Grade I Madison on the Kentucky Derby undercard in her seasonal debut and brings a solid 9-4-1 slate and $3 million bankroll from 17 career outings and looms a major player here. Cavorting won the Grade II Ruffian in her most recent outing and owns six wins from 11 lifetime tries. Curalina won the Grade I La Troyienne at Churchill Downs by seven lengths last out, Forever Unbridled has won her last three outings including the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park and Sheer Drama won the Madison before settling for third in the La Troyienne as the 4-5 choice. She brings a solid 7-8-2 slate and $1.65 million bankroll into this affair.

Then two races later in the Grade II, $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes for three-year-old colts, nearly all of the runners look live in this spot.

Sharp Azteca has won his last three, including the Grade III Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard. Tale Of S'Vall was second in the Gold Fever over the strip last out after trying much tougher in the Champagne, Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial. Dig Deep won the Robert Hilton Memorial at Charles Town last out for trainer Alan Goldberg; Justin Squared has won all three of his starts for trainer Bob Baffert, including the Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness undercard. Counterforce was second in the Chick Lang after taking the Bachelor at Oaklawn Park. Awesome Gent won the Jimmy Winkfield Memorial earlier but has lost his last two. Tom's Ready was 12th in the Derby and has not won since garnering his diploma in a seven-furlong maiden special weight. Mrazek and I Will Score were one-two in the Grade III Laz Barrera at Santa Anita last out and ship east with a chance to score here.

Then in the Grade I, $1 million Metropolitan Handicap, also known as the Met Mile and for many years conducted on Memorial Day, most of these runners merit respect. In fact, it will be interesting to compare the final times of the Acorn for three-year-old fillies and the Met Mile as well as the Brooklyn and the Belmont Stakes to get a better gauge to all those runners.

Blofeld won the Gulfstream Park Handicap then was fourth in the Oaklawn Handicap. Donworth was third as the tepid favorite in the Charles Town Classic after being well-backed in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Antonio where he was a good third behind California Chrome. Noble Bird trounced his foes by 11 lengths in the Pimlico Special and appears to be peaking right now. Frosted and Upstart both spent last year in the major three-year-old races and the winter and spring in Dubai. Frosted returns to the U.S. after running fifth in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, while Upstart won the Razorback before running fifth in the Oaklawn Handicap.

Stanford captured the Charles Town Classic for Pletcher to eclipse the $1 million plateau in career earnings then bypassed the Pimlico Special which Noble Bird won easily. Ami's Flatter took the Grade III Commonwealth in his most recent outing, while Anchor Down won the Grade III Westchester by seven lengths last out. Sloane Avenue, Tamarkuz and Marking also return from Dubai to contest this affair.

Then in the Grade I, $1 million Manhattan Stakes on the turf, again over half the field merits consideration.

Divisidero, World Approval and Slumber finished one-two-three in the Grade I Turf Classic here last month, while Big Blue Kitten was the beaten favorite in that event. Wake Forest captured the Grade I Man O'War Stakes over the course last month. Grand Tito was the beaten favorite in the Pan American at Gulfstream Park after taking the MacDiarmida there, while the well-traveled, classy Flintshire makes his return to the U.S. and seasonal debut for new trainer Chad Brown. Flintshire won only once in seven starts last year, but he finished second five times and banked over $3.6 million.

Flintshire, who sports an unbalanced 5-10-1 slate with lifetime earnings of $7.6 million from 19 career outings, has been second in each of the last two runnings of the Grade I Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps Race Course in France. Last year he captured the Grade I Sword Dancer Stakes in his lone U.S. appearance and one year earlier he finished second in the Breeders Cup Turf. Flintshire does not win often, but he has faced the best horses in the world over the last two years and he merits respect and consideration wherever he arrives.

Then in the main event, the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes for three-year-olds at one-mile and one-half around the massive Belmont oval, much of the focus will be on Exaggerator, who foiled Nyquist's bid for the Triple Crown by capturing the Preakness Stakes, two weeks after he finished second to the previously unbeaten juvenile champ in the Derby.

Exaggerator will likely be even-money or less when the gates open in the Belmont tomorrow evening, but he is hardly a cinch. Horses with his late-running style are often at a disadvantage in the Belmont, despite perceptions otherwise. In fact, both of his Grade I victories this year have come over sloppy tracks in which a suicidal pace developed early. There might be rain on Saturday at times, but a lively tempo in the Belmont is likely not in the works and Exaggerator will have a tough time rallying for a short-priced score under the circumstances.

Governor Malibu was second to the unbeaten Unified in the Peter Pan last out after being disqualified from first and placed second in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel. Destin won the Tampa Bay Derby but then ran sixth in the Kentucky Derby and looms a contender after bypassing the Preakness. Cherry Wine rallied to finish second in the Preakness, but again caution needs to be yielded when playing any horse that ran well at a big price previously. Suddenbreakingnews was actually closing best of all in the Derby but settled for fifth and looms a contender here, although again horses with his running style usually come up short in the Belmont.

Stardivari finished a credible fourth in the Preakness Stakes after double-digit margin scores in allowance and maiden special weight events before that. Lani was fifth in the Preakness after running ninth in the Derby and the Japanese-based colt has opted to give the third leg of the crown a try. He won the $2 million UAE Derby and owns two prior wins on the main track in Japan. Both Brody's Cause and Creator exit the Derby where they finished seventh and 13th, respectively. Brody's Cause won the Grade I Blue Grass, while Creator took the Grade I Arkansas Derby before encountering tons of trouble at Louisville.