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2014 Belmont Stakes: JP's Picks for the undercard

There's a great card taking place before the Belmont Stakes; let's take a look at some of the top action on the day.

Streeter Lecka

Matt: I failed in putting together a full-fledged Staff Picks post for this week, but JP has sent along his analysis for some of the pre-Belmont card.

Race 5:  Woody Stephens Stakes
Top:  12-Top Fortitude
Also:  5-Coup De Grace

This is one of those races.  I have been looking at it for an hour and there are six horses that I think have a reasonable chance.  I expect a decent-to-hot pace here, so I am shying away from the horse I figure most will gravitate toward, the 11-Social Inclusion.  Instead, my top choice is a long price: 12-Top Fortitude.  He has never seen the kind of pace I think he will see here, but I expect Mike Smith to place him mid-pack.  He is tops in my late pace figures and if he stays close enough to the leaders, I like his chances to spring the upset.  Trainer Kory Evans is winning 33 percent of his mounts in Graded Stakes and when shipping.  5-Coup De Grace is in for the lights-out jockey-trainer combination of Castellano-Brown.  He has some hidden stasis when it comes to class level, having last won a G3 that rates out a little higher than what he sees today.  Same goes for the 3-Havana, who has never been out of the money at this BRIS class level.  Lastly, should the race not melt down, I am going with early speed of 1-Bayern, who drops and cuts back in distance, has held versus a hot pace once before and has two strong works leading him in.

Race 6:  Acorn Stakes
Top:  5-Sweet Reason
Also:  7-Unbridled Forever

A horse has to be really special in my book to earn nearly an even-money morning line in a full-field G1, and I just don't think 8-My Miss Sophia has demonstrated that she is as special as say, Wise Dan.  Consider that ten of the 12 horses in this race were in-the-money in their last.  I like 5-Sweet Reason.  She has a 2nd and 4th at this BRIS race level, has held versus hot pace twice, won once, and her best speed figure is faster than the par here.  She is training exceptionally well, entering off of three straight bullet works, and gets some more speed at which to run here.  That may help her turn the tables on My Miss Sophia.  7-Unbridled Forever backed up in the Kentucky Oaks, but held for a distant third. She has more than one sneaky good speed figure, and despite trainer Dallas Stewarts' poor graded stakes percentage (winning just three percent), her best speed could win here.    If the pace is crazy (which frequently negates class considerations), 12-Vero Amore is tops in normalized late pace and third in my late pace figures.  Jockey Frankie Pennington is six-for-six in-the-money when aboard for trainer Robert Reid.  4-Sweet Whiskey has never been out of the super on a fast-rated track, for trainer Todd Pletcher, who is 27% when sending a horse out first at-route.  3-FiftyShadesOfGold steps up to an all-time high class level, but a hot pace could suit her, and she is also six-for-six in the money on a fast track.

Race 7:  Ogden Phipps Stakes

Top:  1-Close Hatches

Also:  5-Beholder, 6-Princess of Sylmar

Three of the best 4-year old females hook up in this one, and I settled on 1-Close Hatches as my top selection on the strength of the fact that she has some sneaky numbers advantages when compared to more likely class choices here, 5-Beholder, and 6-Priincess of Sylmar.  Namely, Close Hatches has the best composite figures in my numbers methodology, even though she isn't on top in any of the 9 categories (Beholder is 1st in all of them).  She has only been out of the win or place hole once in her last 10 races and I think she represents the best chance at value in a race where I think the top 3 will dominate the tote board.  The only one of the longshots that remotely intrigues me is the 4-Classic Point, who has never been better than 5th at this level, but is also the only E type in a race where E's win 40 percent of the time with this race shape, and Allen Jerkens moving any horse into a stakes after a 5-length win bears noticing.

Race 8:  Just A Game Stakes

Top:  10-Better Lucky
Also:  6-Stephanie's Kitten, 5-Coffee Clique

Like many of the races on this great Belmont card, this one is tough. There are several horses-for-courses here: both the 9-Discreet Marq and the 10-Better Lucky have gaudy numbers at Belmont, at the distance, and on the turf, but I settled on the 10 because I think the pace may suit her a bit better and I like her closing figures.  She is 5-of-6 in the money at this BRIS race level.  The 6-Stephanie's Kitten has two wins and a third versus tougher fields than this one, backed up in her last out, has five strong works leading her in, and has never been off the board at this distance.  5-Coffee Clique steps up a bit, but I like it when a trainer has a horse that flashes speed and wins and then rises a level.  1-Ready Signal intrigues me for the super if only because every time Edgar Prado has climbed aboard, she has won or placed.  Maybe he just has the magic touch for her?  2-Strathnaver has the best closing fig by my numbers.  4-Somali Lemonade has won her last two and fits for the super.   Another big string to use in this one.

Race 9:  Metropolitan Handicap

Top:  1-Palice Malice
Also:  9-Normandy Invasion, 4-Goldencents

1-Palice Malice dominates the numbers, and I would be tempted to say he is a free square in the horizontal exotics on the strength of his 9 3/4 length devastation of the Westchester field on this same track.  But you guys know me...always trying to beat the favorite even when it might not be possible.  I really like 9-Normandy Invasion here. He has been off for a couple of months, but has a nice works pattern, and trainer Chad Brown is 29% coming in with horses of the layoff, and 38% when teaming with JJ Castellano.  4-Goldencents has bitten me before, but double bullets to cap six steady works hint at some Breeder's Cup-like form, and the six-month break should lead to some higher odds for the mile specialist, who picks up Mike Smith.  I expect 6-Central Banker, 10-Clearly Now, 8-Moreno, and 11-Broadway Empire to vie for Superfecta slots.  A couple of other thoughts:  whenever I see a horse such the 3-Scarly Charly in a race like this I have to wonder.  This horse just broke his maiden, switches trainers and now moves up into a G1, a full 8 BRIS race rating points higher than that of the field he last faced.  Does trainer Michael Hushion know something we don't?  He is winning 28 percent of his races, and is winning 34 percent of races when shipping.  Hmmm.  Also, Rudy Rodriguez just keeps bringing the 2-Vyjack back for G1s, and since he got out of his funk with a win in an optional claimer last out, maybe the light bulb has gone back on for this former winner of the Wood.  Yes, I am going to have a pretty big string for this rather competitive-looking race.

Race 10:  Manhattan Stakes
Top: 1-Imagining
Also:  4-Grandeur

1-Imagining drops out of a tougher G1 than the others in here, and also cuts back.  He is 6-of-8 winning or placing on this course, and 4-of-4 winning or placing at the distance.  Hard not to like.  4-Grandeur will look to continue the general dominance of foreign invaders on our turf tracks, and he drops out of same race as Imagining, gets Gary Stevens and first-time lasix.  He also has a win and a place against tougher in Great Britain.  5-Boisterous has great closing figs, 8-Real Solution has been three times in the money at this BRIS class level, and 10-Chamois rounds out the atring on the strength of his good run in the Dixie, where he ran on the lead held third, losing by just a length.

Race 11:  Belmont Stakes
Top:  7-Samraat
Also: 1-Medal Count, 8-Commissioner, 5-Ride On Curlin

Clearly, we are all rooting for California Chrome to cross the finish line first.  And by the numbers, I really like his chances.  He has a 10-point advantage in BRIS Prime Power (a 44% angle on its own), and he is tops in Class, Best 2/3 Speed, class by dollars, and my Class + Speed formulation.  But, history being history, I feel you have to play this race as though Cali Chrome won't get there, and with all the drunk money that will be in the pool, this becomes a race where a deeply overlaid winner can produce a boxcar result.  So, who to key?  I worry that some of the deep closers may leave themselves to do too much work late because, as we have pointed here before, late runners don't win this marathon as frequently as we think they should.  Give me the 7-Samraat on the strength of his early and late combined figures, which I think will have him forwardly placed with perhaps enough gas left in the tank for the finish.  1-Medal Count also exhibits one of my favorite stakes angles: double bullets off a race where he ran in the first flight and faded. 8-Commissioner, 4-Commanding Curve,  5-Ride On Curlin all figure in middle and late pace figures, and 11-Tonalist steps up in class, and my Betmix angles like him, so he will round out my string.

Remember to maximize your life-changing opportunities by playing in those trifecta and supefecta pools!  Don't be afraid to punch that "all" button because the NYRA has given us a Breeder's Cup worthy card here.  I know I will be keying two, with a string and using All in a few of these races and trying to scoop a huge, buzzy, dead-money filled pool!

Good luck Stretchers, and here is hoping we see the Curse of The Bid end today!