The Belmont Stakes (Grade I)

6/10/2017 Belmont Park-Race 11

The Belmont Stakes-$1,500,000—Grade I

1 & 1/2 Miles on Dirt for Three-year-olds

Post Time: 3:37 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

This Saturday is the “Test of the Champion” as Belmont Park hosts the 149th Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.  And while there is no Triple Crown possibility up for grabs in this year’s renewal, “Big Sandy” will absorb the pounding of 48 hooves in what is now a most savory para-mutuel affair with the midweek defection of expected favorite Classic Empire, scratched Wednesday with a foot abscess.

Playing the role of favorite in his stead will be the mercurial Irish War Cry who has been installed as a tepid 7/2 morning line favorite.  Half a point behind Irish War Cry is Japanese invader Epicharis (4/1), unseen since his second place finish in the UAE Derby from Dubai in March.  A quorum of sophomores in the field falls between odds of 6/1 and 15/1, so that smoke signal serves as a strong declaration that this renewal is truly anybody’s ballgame. 

1-Twisted Tom 20/1 ML- By sire Creative Cause who was beaten three lengths in the Kentucky Derby and approximately nine lengths in the 2012 Preakness, Twisted Tom heads back to Belmont Park to the scene of his graduation last Fall, and beginning of his streak with four wins in five starts. ‘Tom has been dead game in restricted events and B-list races along the eastern seaboard.  He showed tenacity and grit with his win in the Private Terms and followed it up nicely with a professional score in the Tesio at Laurel.  New York-bred gets Chad Brown’s leading man Javier Castellano at the controls and obviously the connections will not be overlooked coming off their success with Cloud Computing in the Preakness.  ‘Tom’s dam sire is Thunder Gulch who took the 1995 Belmont Stakes so he should have the pedigree to get the trip.  The question this colt must answer is one of quality and since this will be his first graded stakes race, he must prove he’s ready to step up from the junior varsity level of competition and make an impact against the best in his division; big leap of faith required that falls well out of my comfort zone.

2-Tapwrit 6/1 ML- Well documented that Irish War Cry coldcocked him coming out of the gate of the Kentucky Derby and he’ll probably be quite relieved to see Irish War Cry a few stalls over, leaving him out of harm’s way. His stock was rising earlier this spring after stamping himself a logical contender in the Tampa Bay Downs prep races.  Tapwrit was literally as bad as it gets in the Toyota Blue Grass at 2/1 and then in the Derby he played a lot more like Prince Valiant with a courageous sixth place finish after the standing eight count he endured leaving the starting gate.  His usual jockey will accompany him around the track on Saturday and unequivocally trainer Todd Pletcher sends them ready.  Conversely, a deep dive into his past performances reveals a horse that up to this point appears to do his best running outside of other horses.  Sometimes young horses that draw inside can be a bit tough to handle and it’s likely that his rider will look to get him off the rail at some point.  Tapwrit has been training strong locally and was my pick to run second in the Kentucky Derby, but he will have to show out more than he has of late if he’s going to be the last one standing on Saturday; mixed signals in this corner and he’s starting to feel like the wise-guy horse.

3-Gormley 8/1 ML- Somewhat stunningly, he’s the only Grade I winner in the field and his morning line of 8/1 looks right in my eyes. His grand sire A.P. Indy won the 1992 edition of this race and his dam sire, Bernstein, was a regally-bred runner on turf who performed largely overseas.  Like Irish War Cry, Gormley exhibits a bit of a good race-bad race pattern with a good race expected to cycle up based on said pattern.  His Sham was a great effort as he survived a big time stretch duel with American Anthem and that one has begun to find his way again while sprinting.  After that, Gormley was churned into butter on the front end by Mastery, but certainly there is no disgrace melting down to the horse many feel was the best on the west coast.  Employing new tactics, Gormley was finally able to sit off the pace in the Santa Anita Derby and bring a well-timed run to the finish line when he defeated the up-and-coming Battle of Midway in the Santa Anita Derby.  His Kentucky Derby is largely excusable as he was drawn to the outside of the track whereas many feel the inside was the place to be from the vast majority of races run on Derby Day.  His jockey has won a Triple Crown over this track and surface and the connections speak quite loudly.  Tony Bennett sang “The Best is Yet to Come” and Gormley backers should be humming a similar tune when they unbuckle the clips on their money belts; surprise package.

4-J Boys Echo 15/1 ML- Yet another in here who got creamed at the start of the Kentucky Derby, J Boys Echo is by Mineshaft and reunites with his preferred pilot Robby Albarado for the Belmont. ‘J Boys is stabled in the Midwest but ironically has done his best bit of racing on the east coast.  His 102 Beyer in the Gotham literally jumps off the page and it looks even better now that Preakness winner Cloud Computing shows up in his company line.  However, if you strip his 102 Beyer away from him you are left with a horse who has topped out with two 84’s.  The Blue Grass at Keeneland was a speed favoring track and J Boys Echo had a difficult trip racing in between horses most of the way.  Like many, his Derby is a complete toss out in my mind and that’s due largely to the wet surface, his poor beginning and the fact he was drawn somewhat wide.  Expect Albarado do get him into a relaxed rhythmic stride up the backstretch and my gut says he will continue to loom up oh so dangerously; Dale Romans has four third place finishes in the Belmont and it’s time to improve on that at a price; here’s your sleeper.

5-Hollywood Handsome 30/1 ML- He wasn’t disgraced in the Louisiana Derby but none of the horses from that race have come back to do much in their follow up efforts. His Illinois Derby effort was as dull an unsharpened # 2 pencil and he has better than eight lengths to make up on Multiplier who will be a big price in here.  ‘Hollywood deserves credit for demonstrating fortitude in his allowance score at Churchill, but that came against the unheralded Grandpa’s Dream who was blown off the track at 85/1 in the Arkansas Derby.  Better things are likely in store for this colt down the road but this is a big ask.  Horses with ordinary form like his have jumped up to run big races in the past like Da’Tara, Ruler on Ice, Sarava, Lemon Drop Kid etc., but on balance, it’s fairly difficult to envision him wearing the blanket of carnations after the race as the other aforementioned winners did; outsider.

6-Lookin at Lee 5/1 ML- The only horse to compete in all three Triple Crown races and he should be toasted for that accomplishment since that’s more of the exception than the general rule these days. This horse has to be respected and is perhaps the most proven of commodities in this cast.  ‘Lee runs his race each and every time but the main problem with that is he hasn’t won since August of 2016.  Many people believe that a deep closer like Lookin at Lee is a logical fit at the 12 furlong distance of the Belmont Stakes, but traditionally deep closers do not fare as well as horses with tactical speed and grinders.  Steve Asmussen goes to the bull pen to pick up New York-based Irad Ortiz Jr. for the mount and he knows this oval quite well.  Without doubt, Lookin at Lee will do what he always does and that’s to sit back and make one big run.  Admittedly, it was a bit discouraging to see Senior Investment run right by this colt on Old Hilltop and that fact alone waters down much of my enthusiasm in terms of picking him to win.  Also, you’re being asked to swallow 5/1 on a horse with an eight-race losing streak and it’s just too much to stomach in my opinion, even if he’s the most trustworthy conveyance in the race.  Unless you’re looking to keep your show parlay rolling, I’d suggest taking a stand against him based on his resume and win-shy nature; he’s a likely underlay compared to his actual chances of winning; prefer underneath.

7-Irish War Cry 7/2 ML- With the midweek defection of Classic Empire he becomes your morning line favorite. Irish War Cry has been on a good race-bad race pattern for quite some time and is due for a good race on Saturday.  As the favorite, he’s the only horse in the field who can boast about having two triple digit Beyers and he figures to be the one they’ll have to reel in for a payday.  His Holy Bull and Wood Memorial were both solid efforts on paper, but like all the prep races this season questions surround them as well.  He ran an inferior horse into the ground of the Wood Memorial and it’s well chronicled that his Holy Bull was better than looked.  He looks good good on paper and the question he must answer is whether he is a papier mache type, or whether he can win a street fight in the lane.  He ran gamely in his last start as a two-year-old so the fight should be there somewhere, but he’s not going to have it all his own way in a grueling 12 furlong affair.  What’s more, it’s too much to ask to take 7/2 in a race with so many question marks.  The way he stopped in the Fountain of Youth and Kentucky Derby was truly alarming.  In the Derby, Rajiv Maragh had a hold of him on the lead into the far turn and he stopped to a walk basically.  He’s an all-or-nothing proposition in my estimation and I’ll be fading the latter given the short price and grueling distance he’ll be seeing on Saturday; playing against.

8-Senior Investment 12/1 ML- He came home nicely in the Preakness and as mentioned earlier had a better turn of foot than Lookin at Lee when it mattered. His finish wasn’t too bad on Old Hilltop but I’m left to wonder who he was really even passing in the lane.  The fractions were fairly cutting but this colt looked quite ordinary at the top of the lane before his rally to third.  He headed a group of horses who finished approximately five lengths behind Cloud Computing and Classic Empire and based on that it’s very difficult to take much stock in his finish.  Trainer Ken McPeek has always been high on this colt but let’s not forget he was dusted in the Louisiana Derby when beaten open lengths by Girvin, Patch, and even longshot Hollywood Handsome on that day.  His Lexington was a good race and he finished strong in the lane to get the victory, but who was he beating?  The clincher to get me to shy away is that he’s beginning to feel like a big of a wise guy horse and while he obviously belongs in the starting gate with his equine brethren on Saturday, it’s tough to find that shred evidence that points in his direction which can tip the scales; goes as far as his mop and bucket will take him through the lane.

9-Meantime 15/1 ML- Continues to climb the Beyer ladder with only four lifetime starts to his ledger. His last two races have come over wet tracks which he seemed to enjoy.  Musical jockeys continue atop this one’s back with Mercenary Mike Smith hopping aboard.  This is a very ambitious spot to be sure in one’s fifth lifetime start and he was notably tiring at the top of the lane last time in the Peter Pan.  His trainer is respectable and obviously Mike Smith will attract plenty of eyeballs but Meantime has only one way of going and Irish War Cry figures to be all over him early on in this race with a likely pin or TKO after seven furlongs in the forecast.  He has Mt. Livermore on the bottom side of his pedigree so turf could be in play for him this summer at Saratoga and I’ll be waiting with baited breath for that surface transition.  In the meantime, I’ll be looking to get around this one in the Belmont; expected pace casualty.

10-Multiplier 15/1 ML- This colt is very intriguing though he comes to New York as a largely unheralded commodity. Multiplier continues to build on his racing experience with improved efforts while climbing the class ladder in the process.  It did take him three tries to break his maiden but he managed to take down the Illinois Derby right after his graduation, and even though that race wasn’t much in terms of quality you have to tip your cap to him for shipping and beating winners off his graduation.  His Preakness looks relatively so-so, but keep in mind it was only his fifth lifetime start and he also was stuck down inside as a lightly-raced horse with no foundation as a two-year-old.  The Blinkers go on and he is drawn better today and you can expect this horse to sit off Irish War Cry and Meantime in the early stages, spying the leaders up the long Belmont Park back stretch.  By The Factor, you have to wonder if 12 furlongs is something he really wants any part of, but they all have question marks in this crop of three-year-olds and distance could be a big chink in his armor.  If Joel Rosario can get him to relax a bit he can do some damage on Saturday so long as he takes to the distance and sandy surface; career best could be in the offering; counting him…in.

11-Epicharis (Jpn) 4/1 ML- As of Friday at 12:45 PM PST he’s still in the race though major questions surround his likelihood of even running in the Belmont. Epicharis is being treated for hoof lameness and it will be a game time decision as to whether he runs.  Clearly this horse has talent.  He’s 4-for-5 with his only defeat coming to Thunder Snow in the UAE Derby where he appeared to wait on Thunder Snow just a bit.  Bottom line is that I have little to no interest in backing a horse at about 4/1 on the program that draws the 11-hole, has shipped half way around the world, and will try and win this race off a 10-week layoff while battling hoof lameness.  In fact, I wouldn’t endorse any horse in this race at less than a $10 win mutuel.  If he ends up being overlaid from this morning line price perhaps consider throwing him into the mix, but he’s a perilous prospect as a win bet to be sure and I’m tossing him right out; no thanks.

12-Patch 12/1 ML- Somewhat remarkably, he was set off at odds of 14/1 in the Kentucky Derby as the sentimental selection when he really ought to have been closer to 60 or 70/1. Patch has some talent and he’s by Union Rags who won the 2012 Belmont Stakes and out of an A.P. Indy Mare so he has Belmont breeding on top and bottom.  The thrust of his problem comes from having just four races on his ledger and a top Beyer of 89 at that.  He’ll have to overcome his draw from the far outside yet again and even though he’s a grinder it’s difficult to envision him grinding past some of the horses who appear to have more foundation and raw ability.  Also, given that he’s a sentimental selection for many because he’s missing his left eye, inevitably he ends up being over bet and you don’t get the value you quite honestly deserve if you head into his camp.  Patch should be able to get the distance and pass some tired horses and even though he’s the one-eyed bet, he’s not the one I’d bet on.  Unless he can step up his game on paper, a minor award would appear to be the ceiling in a mid-pack nibbling type of performance; he’s not for me.

Selections: 3-4-10-6