The Jury: Bets and fades for July 9
Belmont Park runs the biggest stakes of the weekend with their two international events for three-year-olds, but graded action is also spread out to Delaware and Indiana. The TwinSpires Jury of James Scully, Vance Hanson, and Ashley Anderson dive into what's happening.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: #8 Actuator in the Indiana Derby (G3). After making his first two starts on turf last year, Actuator opened his three-year-old season with an impressive maiden win at Churchill Downs on June 8. He showed speed from the starting gate, offered a nice turn of foot on the far turn to take a short lead, and kept finding more when asked in midstretch, surging late to win going away under the wire by a 7 1/4-length margin. His Brisnet Speed rating (95) came back strong, Actuator has trained forwardly in the interim for Michael McCartney, and the bay colt won't face the most imposing group of rivals. I'll tab Actuator for a frontrunning win in his stakes debut.
Vance Hanson: Trainer Steve Asmussen was high enough on the maiden #4 King Ottoman (5-1) to throw him into the field for the May 30 Texas Derby, and the well-bred son of Curlin and Kentucky Oaks (G1) runner-up Shook Up proved up to the challenge with a head victory at 18-1. Connections aren't taking their foot off the peddle by letting King Ottoman take his spot in the Indiana Derby, and frankly the gray won't have to improve much to make his presence felt while getting the services of Marcelino Pedroza, the current leading rider at Horseshoe Indianapolis.
Ashley Anderson: #10 Temple City Terror (3-1) will make a move up in class after winning the May 28 Keertana S. at Churchill Downs, where the six-year-old rallied in the stretch to beat #6 Stand Tall by a half-length. Trainer Brendan Walsh is a 20% winner with horses making their third start off a layoff, and Temple City Terror drew a favorable outside post for Saturday's Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3) at Delaware Park. She'll get a new rider in Umberto Rispoli, who is 1-for-2 when teaming up with Walsh the last two months. The Temple City mare should get the best of this 10-horse field, which includes three of her rivals from the Keertana.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: Listed as the 2-1 favorite in the Delaware H. (G2), #7 Miss Leslie must stretch out to 1 1/4 miles off a slow victory in the June 8 Obeah S., generating only an 80 Brisnet Speed rating after getting up to edge Battle Bling, who suddenly came up empty after striking the front in midstretch. Miss Leslie must now spot rivals weight and the pace scenario isn't favorable for the late runner. I'll try to beat her and 3-1 second choice #4 Battle Bling.
VH: #12 Ivar (2-1) is the class of the field on paper in the Jon Schuster Memorial at Horseshoe Indianapolis, but the multiple top-level scorer will have to overcome a tough draw in his first start back since a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) in November. Winless since taking the 2020 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), the Brazilian-bred was scratched from two intended starts during the spring due to minor ailments, and there are two or three others capable enough to depose him at a short price.
AA: #5 Pretty Birdie (2-1) opened as a slight favorite in the Victory Ride (G3) at Belmont, but has lost her last two starts, both over seven furlongs at Churchill Downs for trainer Norm Casse. She has the early speed to improve with the cut back in distance, but I'll take a chance on #6 Hot Peppers for conditioner Rudy Rodriguez. The three-year-old filly won last out at this track by 6 3/4 lengths in the six-furlong Jersey Girl S. and will retain rider Luis Saez, a 17% winner this meet. #4 Happy Soul could also factor here in her first start in nearly two months. The Wesley Ward pupil finished second as the favorite to Lady Scarlet in the Miss Preakness (G3) and will return to a track where she is 2-for-2. Ward is also a 22% winner in graded stakes and a 32% winner with horses beaten as the favorite.
What else is worth noting?
JS: #2 Max Player often finds himself overmatched in races with pace. The grinder needs an up-close trip to fire his best effort, and the pace scenario will be favorable in Saturday's Suburban (G2). His four rivals lack speed. Max Player was able to track the speed in a pair of races last year, the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and Suburban, and won both times, the only starts where he didn't finish up the track. The five-year-old didn't receive the right trip in his first two starts this year, finishing more than 10 lengths back in the Alysheba (G2) and Brooklyn (G2), but those races provided fitness. Max Player should be forward from the start with Dylan Davis on Saturday, and the early 5-1 third choice is eligible to rebound with a strong showing for Steve Asmussen.
VH: The field assembled for Saturday's $500,000 Delaware H. is one of the more lackluster in recent years and a disappointment to those of us that appreciate the legacy of the historic race. The field of seven includes only one prior graded stakes winner, and that filly has since finished unplaced in a pair of second-level allowances since taking the Comely (G3) last fall. With the Personal Ensign (G1) at Saratoga not until Aug. 27, surely some of the East Coast's better older mares could have fit this race into their schedule, too. Regardless of the reasons (e.g. grade, distance), actions like these unfortunately continue to erode links to the sport's mid-20th century peak.
AA: The Belmont Oaks (G1) will feature a competitive field of 10, including the Aidan O'Brien-trained #10 Concert Hall, Frankel filly #4 With The Moonlight, Edgewood (G2) winner #6 New Year's Eve, and a trio of Chad Brown trainees: #1 McKulick (6-1), #3 Haughty, and #5 Consumer Spending. While Concert Hall is a dangerous favorite, I'll be backing #1 McKulick and the hot combo of Brown, a 32% winner at Belmont this meet, and Irad Ortiz, a 32% winner when paired up with the trainer the last two months. The three-year-old failed as the favorite last out in the Regret (G3) at Churchill Downs and has the chance to rebound in her third start off a layoff. I'll back her over the European invaders and Browns' other starters, who faced weaker last out.