'Maria among the picks on a blockbuster afternoon at Belmont

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June 11th, 2016

Ten of the 13 races on tap at Belmont Park Saturday are stakes, and they range in difficulty from the nearly clear cut to the nearly inscrutable. Here are quick thoughts on all of them.

Easy Goer: Not much of a wagering proposition with just a couple legitimate contenders, but CUPID appears to have the upper hand over RALLY CRY due to his early foot. Unless, that is, if HIT IT ONCE MORE proves an early nuisance and helps hands the race to the latter.

Acorn (G1): A highly intriguing battle, but CATHRYN SOPHIA really showed early in her career how tremendous she is around one turn. As good as CARINA MARIA and GO MAGGIE GO are, the edge lies with the Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner.

Brooklyn (G2): KID CRUZ is a legitimate favorite, but not unbeatable. SAMRAAT ran well in a couple of the 2014 Triple Crown events and is very gradually rounding back to his best form after missing more than a year of action in 2014-15. SHAMAN GHOST, the reigning Queen's Plate winner, is one of two from the hot Jimmy Jerkens barn and should improve off an allowance third following a 10-month layoff.

Ogden Phipps (G1): Hair splitting definitely required in this terrific battle of the division's best not named Beholder. FOREVER UNBRIDLED has really come on since the fall, but around one turn I'll stick with STOPCHARGINGMARIA, who gets a little more ground to work with following a sharp comeback in the seven-furlong Madison (G1) at Keeneland.

Jaipur (G3): A LOT and GREEN MASK both ran huge in the Elusive Quality, but at this shorter trip PURE SENSATION might have the tools to bounce back to his best form. Last fall's Turf Monster H. (G3) hero was buried on the rail in a field of 14 for the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1), and then was hampered leaving the gate in his only prior start this year. Favorably drawn outside speedsters ROCKET HEAT et al.

Woody Stephens (G2): JUSTIN SQUARED might be flat out faster than these, but there are others here that can go and this is the favorite's first attempt beyond six furlongs. SEYMOURDINI hasn't done much wrong yet, and while he's new to the stakes scene, a half-length miss to Mohaymen in his debut here in September is a decent yardstick.

Just a Game (G1): This race could go a half-dozen ways at the very least. STRIKE CHARMER enters in peak form for Mark Hening, and IRISH ROOKIE brings appealing form from Europe after facing some of that continent's best last season. MY MISS SOPHIA, who strangely played the role of pacemaker in the Beaugay (G3), went far too fast that day as is generally not that kind of runner. She finished within a length of Tepin and Dacita at Saratoga last summer, evidence of what she can truly do when on her game. Ultimately, this is a race where you really need to spread.

Metropolitan (G1): Another brutally tough spread race, in my humble opinion. FROSTED has disappointed me enough that, perhaps foolishly, I'm going to take a stand against him here. NOBLE BIRD looks like a bounce candidate after a huge Pimlico Special (G3) score, and can he hold on after (presumably) setting a very hot pace anyway? UPSTART adds blinkers, has posted several outstanding works leading up to this, and figures to love the cut back to one turn. MARKING endured a couple tough races in Dubai, but flashed real promise when belatedly debuting last fall and was a fine second to Runhappy in the Malibu in only his third start. The race could certainly set up for an AMI'S FLATTER or a BLOFELD, whom Johnny V has loyally stuck by since day one. Rather than endorse one now, I'll wait and see the board as there's sure to be value on one or more of them.

Manhattan (G1): FLINTSHIRE is hands-down the best horse in the race, but the best bet might be IRONICUS, who I was anxious to see (and probably bet) in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) last fall before he was cut down by injury. The gray has an explosive kick and can probably get 1 1/4 miles. Still, the race goes through Flintshire.

Belmont (G1): As noted in the communal blog yesterday, I'm sticking with EXAGGERATOR. CHERRY WINE, SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS, STRADIVARI, and CREATOR all figure in my exotics plans, that is if I have any money left by this point in the day.

(Jessie Holmes/EquiSport)