No stars in main event but betting opportunities abound on Belmont Stakes Day
by Dick Powell
There used to be a beer commercial that raised the question, “More Taste versus Less Filling.” Horse racing’s version might be, “Star Horse versus Wide-Open Field.”
Saturday’s Belmont Stakes card has many examples. Race 5 is the Ogden Phipps (G1) and it has attracted the sensational SONGBIRD (Medgalia d’Oro). Winner of her first 11 career starts, she lost the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) last out by a desperate nose to BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) after leading every step of the way.
Songbird returns off a 218-day layoff for Jerry Hollendorfer, who excels in this spot and is never hesitant to put his best horses on a plane and ship cross country. The filly is 1-to-2 on the morning line and will probably be less than that. Only six other distaffers are taking her on and as far as betting, it might be More Taste and definitely Less Filling.
The next Grade 1 stakes on the card comes in race 8 where fillies and mares will go a mile on the Widener turf course in the Just a Game (G1). LADY ELI (Divine Park) raced at Santa Anita last out and is not here for a race that might have too short for her anyway. The Just a Game features a competitive, seven-horse field that kicks off a guaranteed $1.5 million Pick 4 and it won’t be easy to narrow them down.
Race 9 is the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) going one mile on the dirt and the field of 12 does not have any superstars which is fine with me. SHARP AZTECA (Freud) lays over the field with his recent string of gaudy BRIS Speed Ratings but still has to prove himself against top company. Bob Baffert ships in juvenile Grade 1 scorer MOR SPIRIT (Eskendereya) off a pair of good wins and a long sprint might be right up his alley. He is the morning line favorite at 5-to-2 with Mike Smith.
The Manhattan Stakes (G1) drew nine and there is no FLINTSHIRE (Dansili), who won this race with laughable ease at short odds last year. The 1 ¼-mile turf affair is pretty wide open and I am not crazy about the lone European shipper. Chad Brown has three in here including TIME TEST (Dubawi), whose owner Juddmonte Farms also campaigned Flintshire. Brown won this race at long odds with SLUMBER (Caciques) a couple of years ago and Time Test beat Arlington Million (G1) winner MONDIALISTE (Galileo) in his last start in Europe in July. Time Test has a U.S. prep for this and is 3-for-4 at the 10-furlong distance. It’s hard to ignore the other two Brown runners as well.
CLASSIC EMPIRE (Pionneerof the Nile) did not enter the Belmont Stakes this week when he developed a foot abscess and his defection hurts everyone else’s odds. Throw in the absence of the Kentucky Derby winner ALWAYS DREAMING (Bodemeister) and Preakness winner CLOUD COMPUTING (Maclean’s Music) and you have 12 horses with a legitimate chance to win the Test of the Champion.
RISH WAR CRY (Curlin) is the tepid 7-to-2 morning line favorite and there are five others at single-digit odds. Irish War Cry is a deserving favorite compared to who he is running against but not the most consistent horse around.
The Japanese send over EPICHARIS (Gold Allure) and from what I understand, the Belmont will be available for betting in Japan. Unfortunately, their bets will not be commingled into the live pool on Saturday and made separately. What is bad about this is they might have made him a heavy favorite and everyone else would have been juicy odds.
The first international race I ever attended was the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe (G1) in 2006. The Japanese runner, DEEP IMPACT (Sunday Silence), was the heavy favorite from all the Japanese fans that were at Longchamps that day. He was upset after winding up on an unexpected lead and RAIL LINK (Dansili) wound up paying 28-to-1 odds even though he was trained by Arc king Andre Fabre.
Even though there aren’t any household names in this year’s Belmont, there is enough talent spread out to make it a compelling betting race. The only thing better than being at the Belmont Stakes to witness a Triple Crown is to have a big bet on any Belmont Stakes winner.