Racing Roundtable: Beaten favorites to watch and the Belmont Stakes Festival
In this week's Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson look back on Stephen Foster Preview Day and ahead to the coming weekend's Belmont Stakes Festival.
Which favorite(s) that disappointed at Churchill Downs on Saturday can bounce back on Stephen Foster Day?
James Scully: Scalding's four-race win streak came to an end in the $200,000 Blame S., but the four-year-old colt performed admirably in defeat as the 5-2 second choice, battling gamely to miss by 1 1/4 lengths after being pushed extremely wide into the stretch. Following a belated career debut last November, Scalding didn't break his maiden until January, and the Shug McGaughey trainee is still developing. Winner of the 1 1/16-mile Challenger (G3) and 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali (G3) in his two previous outings, Scalding continued to gain valuable seasoning while stepping up to face deeper competition in the 1 1/8-mile Blame, and the son of Nyquist remains a promising type moving forward.
Kellie Reilly: Americanrevolution ran a useful fourth in the Blame S., considering he was tossed in there as a fallback position. Todd Pletcher had planned to kick off his 2022 campaign in the Commentator S. going a one-turn mile at Belmont Park, a cozy spot for a Grade 1 winner to return versus New York-breds. When that didn't fill, Pletcher had to go to Plan B, the Blame. Americanrevolution found himself in a tougher assignment between the longer 1 1/8-mile distance and salty competition at Churchill Downs. In the thick of it for the first mile, Americanrevolution understandably tired in the stretch, and Florent Geroux took it easy on him late. The son of Constitution is entitled to do a lot better if he advances to the Stephen Foster (G2), especially if Blame-winning stablemate Dynamic One heads to the July 9 Suburban (G2).
Vance Hanson: The most obvious rebound candidate, provided all is well, is Pauline's Pearl, who finished out of the money as the 2-5 favorite in the Shawnee S. while prepping for the Fleur de Lis (G2). Even the connections of longshot winner She's All Wolfe expected to be chasing a minor award behind the Steve Asmussen-trained filly, so her underwhelming effort was a big surprise to all. With many of the division's bigger guns pointing for this weekend's Ogden Phipps (G1) and possibly Saratoga after that, the Fleur de Lis is open to winning with a more representative effort from Pauline's Pearl. There were also some disappointments in Saturday's grass races, like Floriform in the Arlington (G3), but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that a lot of horses aren't taking to Churchill's new turf course well. Whether Floriform proceeds to the Wise Dan (G2) or hits the road for his next start remains to be seen.
Any horses on Belmont Park's Friday program worth a play?
JS: International raiders have won four consecutive editions of the Belmont Gold Cup (G2) at two miles on turf, and German shipper #1 Loft will enter on the upswing for connections following a Group 2 win at the distance. The four-year-old may receive the soft ground he relishes, and Loft has proven very honest, winning or placing in eight of his last nine starts. His main competition may come from the other European shipper, English-based Outbox, who captured a notable race in Qatar earlier this season. All of the domestic runners have lost at least two straight, and I'll lean exclusively on the Euros for multi-race wagers.
KR: This might be one of those times I get a bit too creative, but #8 Box N Score has the look of a dark horse worth considering in your wagering strategy for the Belmont Gold Cup. Trained by Jonathan Thomas for Robert LaPenta, the six-year-old has raced only nine times, and not beyond 1 3/8 miles. His stamina-laden pedigree hints that he wants more ground, as a son of Lemon Drop Kid, out of a Montjeu mare, with his second dam by Darshaan. He's a full brother to two Canadian classic winners, Belichick (the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' S. in 2020) and Season Ticket (the 1 1/4-mile Wonder Where S. in 2015). Box N Score comes off a fourth to the classy Soldier Rising in an allowance, and he was beaten only a neck by Shamrocket here last summer. If he jumps at the opportunity to go two miles, Box N Score is eligible to get involved at a price.
VH: She was my selection in the New York (G1) last year when finishing fourth, but I expect to go to the well again on #3 Virginia Joy in the 1 1/4-mile grass fixture for fillies and mares — if she runs (50-50 according to trainer Chad Brown). Despite a blowout win in the Sheepshead Bay (G2) last time over truly bottomless ground that probably was closer to heavy than the official yielding, I don't think she'll enter Friday's race with as much buzz as some of her stablemates, such as Prix de l'Opera (G1) heroine Rougir or the undefeated Bleecker Street. Perhaps needing more experience racing in America at this point last year, she now has that and is entering in career-best form.
Aside from the Belmont S. (G1), which race are you looking forward to on Saturday?
JS: The Metropolitan H. (G1), which will feature unbeaten Flightline, is a must-see race, but I'm more excited about the Ogden Phipps (G1) from a competitive standpoint. Champion older female Letruska, an easy 2 3/4-length scorer last year, is back for a title defense, and she'll face a deeper group of challengers that includes champion three-year-old filly Malathaat, an easy winner of the April 22 Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland in her 2022 opener.
KR: Aside from the prospects of an epic Met Mile and Ogden Phipps, I hope to see Jack Christopher deliver another show-stopper in the Woody Stephens (G1). He strikes me as the most naturally gifted three-year-old in the country, and likely last year's champion two-year-old if he hadn't been knocked out of the Breeders' Cup by injury. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise since it kept him off the Triple Crown trail. Pedigree suggests he probably wouldn't have been the type for the Kentucky Derby (G1), never mind the Belmont, but his brilliance could carry him farther as he matures. A top effort on Saturday can propel him to a potentially Eclipse-worthy second half of the season.
VH: The Ogden Phipps is coming up with a smallish but select field in which almost every filly and mare entered stands a decent chance of either winning or making the frame, which is all you can ask for in a race of that caliber. Another highlight on the card will be Jack Christopher's appearance in the Woody Stephens over seven furlongs. If he runs as well as many expect him to, he'll likely stretch out for his next engagement, potentially the 1 1/8-mile Haskell (G1).