Southern California morning-line favorites on Belmont Stakes Day
by Scott Shapiro
The monster Belmont Stakes Day card is loaded with Southern California-based runners given significant chances to win graded stakes events.
Led by the morning-line favorites in the Grade 1 Acorn, Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, Grade 2 Woody Stephens and Grade 1 Met Mile, many are expecting a big day for West Coast-based horses. However, I have my doubts.
Here are some quick thoughts on a few of the more prominent runners making the cross-country trek to New York City.
Abel Tasman (Race 4, Acorn, Grade 1)
The 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner heads back East after a last-to-first victory in the slop at Churchill Downs to capture her second Grade 1 victory. The daughter of Quality Road was impressive in early May, but got the perfect setup for her strong late run with a cutthroat duel upfront.
I rarely question Bob Baffert, but I do wonder if a one-turn mile is ideal for this China Horse Club filly. She appears best suited going more ground around two turns. I expect her to have too much to do late in a race shape that is less friendly to late runners that when she captured the Run for the Lilies last month.
I will pass on her at 2-1 on the morning line.
Songbird (Race 5, Ogden Phipps, Grade 1)
The two-time Eclipse Award winner returns to make her four-year-old debut in the final leg of the Saturday Pick 5. The 1-2-favorite to win her 12th race in 13 starts is a perfect six-for-six at the 1 1/16-mile distance, but those were all at two turns. She has not raced around one turn since her two-year-old campaign.
You do not need me to tell you that the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is the clear one to beat in her initial try of 2017, but her chief rival in the Ogden Phipps, Carina Mia, is sitting on a monster race and should relish the one-turn configuration after a solid third in the slop at Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff.
Songbird is my top pick to get the new season started with a bang, but at her price is not worth gambling on. I think Carina Mia is too dangerous.
American Anthem (Race 7, Woody Stephens, Grade 2)
The second of three Bob Baffert runners favored over the course of the day exits a strong performance at the seven-furlong distance in the Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera at Santa Anita Park. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith gave him a superb ride in that event, getting him off the rail, stalking a contentious early pace and getting the jump on late running Kimbear.
The $435,000 son of Bodemeister has shown signs of being a star over his five-race career, but has been unable to put quality starts together in succession. He also lacks the punch often necessary to win a sprint of this caliber.
American Anthem certainly would not shock me if he put together a strong performance, but he ran poorly when he shipped into Arkansas for the Grade 2 Rebel in March and meets a full field with serious talent throughout.
There are better value options than the OBS March 2016 purchase.
Mor Spirit (Race 9, Met Mile, Grade 1)
The $650,000 son of Eskendereya has rebounded from a disappointing three-year-old campaign and rattled off two wins and a runner-up effort to start his 2017. The third of the Bob Baffert morning-line favorites has posted three consecutive triple-digit BRIS Speed figures, including a career-best 107 in the Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile last month.
While Mor Spirit has been impressive in all three of his four-year-old efforts, they have all come at two turns. He has never struck me as a horse who would thrive at the one-turn mile that he will compete over on Saturday afternoon. Additionally, this group is considerably more talented than the ones he competed against in Arkansas and Texas since the start of March.
Like American Anthem, Mor Spirit is capable of winning on Belmont Day, but there are much better value options in a wide-open rendition of the Met Mile.
Keep an eye out tomorrow for my final verdict of the Belmont Stakes, as well as my analysis of the extremely challenging all Grade 1 Pick 4 in Races 8-11.
For my full card selections and analysis of Belmont Stakes Day check out my spotlight selections here: