While I don't think the Belmont Stakes Day undercard needed help, especially since California Chrome is trying to do the thing with winning three races that involves a crowning, this is the best non-Breeders' Cup day card I've seen in a long while not involving Dubai World Cup day. I'll post my picks for the other stakes races after I preview the Belmont first, since that's what most people probably want to see.
# Horse, Jockey (past winners), Trainer (past winners), Friday Odds
1 Medal Count, Robby Albarado, Dale Romans, 21-1
Good: Had a bit of trouble in the Derby. Has had unusually fast workouts for a Dale Romans horse of late at Churchill. Could pull a Birdstone in that he could bounce back from a mid-pack Derby loss to win the Belmont. One of only three (California Chrome and Samraat being the others) that isn't eligible for a second-level allowance race since he has 3+ victories.
Bad: Two of those three wins were off-the-turf races, and the third was a turf race. His lone dirt win was at Ellis Park. His Derby trip wasn't as bad as Danza's or Ride on Curlin's. Has yet to hit the board in a stakes race on dirt. Not sure if this is the time, other than it's the Belmont and weirdness happens.
Overall: Might bet to win if over 20-1/25-1 odds. And using underneath CC and Ride on Curlin in exotics. But not counting on him to get there first.
2 California Chrome, Victor Espinoza, Art Sherman, 1-2 (favorite)
Good: He won the Derby and the Preakness, didn't he? Obviously the pick of everyone's hearts that doesn't have a vested interest in the other ten entrants. The last four Triple Crown champs led at every call en route to a Belmont victory. He showed he could do that in the San Felipe. I wished his post were a bit better, but the inside didn't bother him in Louisville or Baltimore. Also, the #1, #3 and #4 have never shown any signs of wanting an early lead, so if he breaks well, he ought to be clear of most early trouble. He's 6/6 with Victor as his jockey, and is far superior to his rivals thus far. He may not be in the league of most past Triple Crown winners, save maybe Sir Barton, Omaha, and Assault. But he just needs to beat these 10 today, not the 11 past champions.
Bad: We've seen this story before, several times. I've seen it happen on the track 7 times and via a scratch the 8th time fall short. Others will want to challenge him early, and may have the post advantage to do so, since CC is drawn inside to other challengers with early speed. Back in November on the Breeders' Cup undercard, he was anxious in the gate and broke badly en route to a defeat after "running his race" loading in the gate. He seems to have overcome these problems of late (6 race win streaks tend to destroy most doubts), though a crowd of 100,000+ on top of him could reawaken these ghosts. History means everything in that there's pressure to end the waiting and disappointment. It also means nothing because you can only beat what is in front of you. That being said, no Triple Crown champ has beaten more than 7 opponents in the Belmont. CC has to beat 10 of them. More power to him if he does, and I hope against most logical reason that he does.
Overall: He's clearly the best of the bunch. There are a few that could logically beat him and the rest could because who saw Sarava or Da' Tara coming in 2002 and 2008? I really hope that he does. It's a bucket list item to see a Triple Crown winner happen. Let's hope he's the first, though I'm a bit of a doubting Thomas in that I need to see the tote board post official with #2 winning the 11th race at Belmont to actually believe it.
3 Matterhorn, Joe Bravo, Todd Pletcher (2013-Palace Malice, 2007-Rags to Riches), 59-1
Good: Todd Pletcher has 2 Belmont triumphs to his credit. The first time, it involved a filly that beat an eventual 2-time Horse of the Year [Curlin] to win. The second involved Palace Malice getting it done against Orb and Oxbow last year. Though most haven't heard of Joe Bravo, he wins 27% of his races with a decent profit of $.76 for every $2 win bet when he rides Pletcher-trained horses. Then again, Pletcher wins 25% of his races normally.
Bad: He only has a maiden win as a 2 year old in a 1-turn mile race. His Peter Pan effort was a bit flat for my liking. I can see Commissioner to a point getting it done because of breeding and the fact that he reminds me of Drosselmeyer a bit, but Matterhorn seems overmatched in here, really.
Overall: 60-1 makes him tempting for a $1 win bet in case CC doesn't get it done. I wouldn't bet more than that on him, though. Needs a major step up combined with lots of epic fails from others to get a piece in here beyond a token 4th place finish.
4 Commanding Curve, Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart, 7-1
Good: Seemed to be the only horse to pass with conviction in the Derby. His numbers have improved over time and he has a 2 turn dirt win against dirt horses to his credit. He has pretty much pointed to this race since his 2nd place effort in Louisville. Doesn't have to come from dead last, as his maiden win was from 8th of 12 showed.
Bad: Still just has 1 win to his credit. Reminds of Golden Soul with the same trainer and 2nd place Derby effort that gets lots of buzz, but I have yet to see him want to pass the last horse since he was a 2 year old. I can't bet him at under 10-1 to beat California Chrome.
Overall: He's a must use in exotics, though using him with California Chrome would likely be cheap. I wouldn't be shocked if he won, but I usually don't like betting horses to win with 4 second/thirds against 1 win. Especially if their win value is underlaid.
5 Ride On Curlin, John Velazquez (2012-Union Rags, 2007-Rags to Riches), William Gowan, 11-1
Good: His Derby effort was deceptively good with a bad trip and was later validated in his second place Preakness effort. I like that he's well seasoned with 11 career starts. Only California Chrome with 12 has more racing experience. He has improved with every start and has had the misfortune of running into monster efforts from opponents in most of his races this year. Also, JV has 2 Belmont wins to his credit.
Bad: His two victories are in sprints. The Belmont is twice as long as his allowance win at Oaklawn was (12 furlong Belmont, 6 furlong Oaklawn win). 7 seconds/thirds against 2 wins is a negative. One of those "monsters" he runs into with regularity just happens to be the colt trying to be the 12th Triple Crown winner.
Overall: He's my second pick and win bet in here. I think there's something to be said for trying all three Triple Crown races, even if you haven't won one or two of them yet. If CC doesn't get it done, I expect RoC to take advantage.
6 Matuszak, Mike Smith (2013-Palace Malice, 2010-Drosselmeyer), Bill Mott (2010-Drosselmeyer), 47-1
Good: Daddy won the ill-fated 2006 Preakness and was nearly Horse of the Year, but for Invasor. Mike Smith has 2 Belmont wins, including last year's race and in 2010 with Bill Mott, #6's trainer. He has trained at Belmont since May, so he didn't have to travel to get here--might be more familiar with the grounds?
Bad: Still eligible for entry-level allowance races, which is where he likely belongs. I liked Kid Cruz in the Preakness and he backfired badly. Can't really like a horse that got beat by Kid Cruz twice by extension. Of the ten challengers to CC, he is the one I least expect to upset CC.
Overall: A token $1 bet as a reverse jinx to see CC home is all I plan to do. Nothing more. Passing on him to win otherwise.
7 Samraat, Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette, 41-1
Good: As previously stated, he has 5 victories, the most of any of CC's challengers. He's also at home in New York, where his career mark is 6-5-1-0--his lone defeat was in the Wood Memorial to Wicked Strong. It's possible that being back at his home base could bring the best out of him. Along with General a Rod, he's the most likely to challenge CC early in the running.
Bad: He had almost an identical trip to CC in the Derby, but without the late kick to see him home. I'm not sure he'll make up 6 lengths on him in New York. It's not like he's champion quality material like Easy Goer here. Judging off of hard evidence, 1 1/8 miles might be his ceiling. Then again, everyone has questions for the 11th and 12th furlongs.
Overall: He might be my third pick in here, and the second best value. I love CC to death, but there's no value in 1-2. Ride On Curlin is a steal at double-figures. Samraat at 41-1 might be grand larceny if he wakes up coming back to New York.
8 Commissioner, Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher (2013-Palace Malice, 2007-Rags to Riches), 43-1
Good: Second place finish in Belmont Park prep for Belmont Stakes, WinStar Farm owned horse that's underachieved so far--remind you of Drosselmeyer [2010 winner] a bit? His dad won the 1992 Belmont and granddad spoiled Silver Charm in 1997's Belmont. So it seems he wants 1 1/2 miles more than the others might.
Bad: He's one of several that only has 1-2 wins to his credit. His fastest Beyer numbers are aided by fast winners on fast tracks that ran away. Neither of those numbers were any accomplishment that he was a large part of, really. He's 0/4 in graded stakes races. It's hard to believe that this will be his first stakes victory.
Overall: Again, token $1 win bet to reverse jinx CC home or win money. Might have him underneath in exotics, too.
9 Wicked Strong, Rajiv Maragh, Jimmy Jerkens, 8-1
Good: Like Samraat, whom he beat in the Wood Memorial, a return to home in New York can help him. While his recent efforts were from off the pace, some of his two year old efforts saw him sit mid-pack en route to solid efforts. His trip in the Derby wasn't the greatest, and he still mustered a fourth place finish.
Bad: He created more trouble than he ran into, if I'm honest. Also think he's better at Aqueduct than at Belmont. I can't pick him to win to beat CC at under 10-1 odds. Rajiv is a bit infamous for rough riding, as evidenced by his 2011 ride that may have contributed to Animal Kingdom's troubles and injuries in the 2011 Belmont.
Overall: You have to use him in exotics and maybe multi-race wagers if you're trying to beat CC. That being said, betting him to win may not be of value compared to others. My fourth choice in the race. Wouldn't be surprised if he won, but can't bet him at 9-1 or lower.
10 General a Rod, Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker, 50-1
Good: He might attempt to pull a Da' Tara and go for the lead. Had trouble in the Derby and Preakness; might not have as much of it with a better post position and a larger track at Belmont. Even if he doesn't win the Belmont, he'll play a factor in how much CC may expend himself in the early running.
Bad: His wins are in long 1-turn races. The Belmont is a lengthy 2-turn race. While I believe that anything can happen in 1 1/2 mile dirt races, General a Rod is 0/4 in graded stakes, even if he's hit the board in 3 of those efforts. Don't think that this will be his first 2-turn victory.
Overall: Token $1 win bet because he's 50-1 early and could set the pace. Might use 3rd/4th in exotics. Beyond that, not so much.
11 Tonalist, Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement, 13-1
Good: He won the Peter Pan. That often leads to Belmont success, though more runners-up have done well out of that race (or the 2010 Dwyer in Drosselmeyer's case) than winners have done since A.P. Indy in 1992. He has 2 distance wins at 1 1/8 miles, one of which was on the grounds at Belmont.
Bad: He is one of the few horses actually beaten by Matterhorn in a race. And Matterhorn is the longest priced horse in the field. Also alternates wins and losses in his form; he's due to lose if that holds. Not putting much stock into a sloppy track win where he may not have beaten the likes of what he's about to face in the Belmont. 13-1 early price is tempting, but I expect him to be around 7-1 to beat California Chrome. Which'd be too short for me.
Overall: He's certainly dangerous. Though for me, he's the fifth choice since he'll be too short to bet to win and it's been 22 years since a Peter Pan winner won the Belmont. I also don't think he's an A.P. Indy in that he's the best of the generation that couldn't prove it until he got to New York.
Overall order (of the heart): 2-5-7-9-11-8-10-4-1-3-6
Overall order (of the mind): 5-11-2-7-9-8-10-4-1-3-6
Belmont Stakes (see comments above):
Overall: Ride On Curlin Price Horse: Samraat
My Heart/Because I Want Nice Triple Crown Things: California Chrome
And now, the undercard picks:
Overall: I think Boisterous is getting overlooked in this race. Many will fall in love with Seek Again's almost win over Wise Dan at Churchill. Also think Imagining won't get the lead in here because of the presence of Five Iron. He has 6 wins over the Belmont lawn, including last year's Man O'War.
Price Horse: Rookie Sensation could get a piece underneath the winner. I don't think he'll show speed too soon, and John Shirreffs isn't the type to run horses over their heads. I wouldn't be surprised if he ran well.
Overall: Normandy Invasion actually likes to pass and dominate at 1 turn mile races. He figures to take advantage of Broadway Empire and Moreno dueling each other into the ground in the early going.
Price Horse: While his form has left something to be desired since then, Declan's Warrior was second in the Woody Stephens last year. He also figures to pass late, be a huge price, and has 2 wins and 2 seconds in 4 efforts at Belmont.
Just A Game:
Overall: Joel has decided to ride Better Lucky in a wide-open race. She won the 2012 Matriarch on harder turf, so I'm not worried that Belmont's turf will be good-to-firm.
Price Horse: This is for exactas more than for win bets, but Strathnaver could get a piece of second. Her best efforts are on harder turf courses, and she has a 7 3/4 furlong turf win in her past, so it's not out of question to expect her to like a 1 mile turf race.
Overall: There's no value, per se, in a 6 horse race that's a 3 horse race on paper. That being said, Close Hatches looked impressive in beating On Fire Baby the last time out and put away Dreaming of Julia in last year's Mother Goose at the distance at Belmont. A good rail track could see her home. Though Beholder and Princess of Sylmar could easily win as well.
Price Horse: In case two of the big three falter, I think that Classic Point could cough up second or third. She has three wins at Belmont and Allen Jerkens has experience winning against top horses against the odds.
Overall: Fiftyshadesofgold was impressive in winning the Eight Belles on Oaks Day. I expect more of the same in the Acorn. That proved she doesn't have to get the lead to win.
Price Horse: Unbridled Forever can be forgiven for her mile flop at Churchill, since inside posts often doom runners there. While she needs to prove that she can beat My Miss Sophia and Fiftyshadesofgold, no Untapable here to fear. Her mom won the Kentucky Oaks and her granddads won the 1990 Derby and 1999 Belmont. Perhaps the Alabama makes sense down the road?
Overall/Price Horse: It's not often that you get a 3/3 horse at a price, especially one that won on Preakness Day. I'll take Meadowood to upset the field. Bayern and Social Inclusion could duel each other into submission along with Favorite Tale.
Overall: Marchman seems to appreciate sand-based turf, and turf sprinting. It's a question whether he likes non-sand turf, but he's a logical winner if you don't bet Ben's Cat.
Price Horse: Salto could be able to make one run and fly sprinting for the first time. I like his back class as well, and he could even upset Marchman.
Overall: Ever Rider is Victor's 1 1/2 mile warm-up, so to speak. He has 1 9/16 mile and 1 3/8 mile dirt wins to his credit in Argentina, which means the distance isn't a problem. Though Ground Transport is the speed, he may not have two efforts like that in him.
Price Horse: Eriugena could have found new life on the dirt. He's 2/2 on it, despite turf breeding on the surface. Daddy won the Breeders' Cup Turf, so 1 1/2 miles appears within his scope, even if he's never been that far himself.
Overall/Price Horse: No Surrender is 2/2 on dirt and at the distance. Also, he'll be a decent price in here since Kid Cruz and Legend will take play for having seen Preakness horses (Kid Cruz) and high Beyer numbers (Legend).