John Conte Wins
A GREAT DAY
by John Piesen
Other than Breeders’ Cup Saturday, the best day of racing each and every year in the United States is Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park – and we’re talking with or without a Triple Crown at stake.
Tiz true that if Super Saver won the Preakness, we would be seeing upwards of 100,000 gathered for Belmont Stakes 142 at what the New York media likes to describe as the Taj Mahal of American racetracks.
Obviously that didn’t happen, and with neither the Derby or Preakness winner answering the bell for the Belmont, the over-under for Saturday is 35,000. The “under” is the way to go.
But Belmont Day is not about numbers. it’s about racing, and we are looking at a 13-race program featuring six consecutive graded stakes, all of which are loaded with sex appeal. Four of the six are Grade Ones, the other two Grade Twos.
In order, they are, starting with race six: the $250,000 (Grade Two) Woody Stephens for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs; the $400,000 (Grade One) Just A Game for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at a mile on the Widener Turf Course; the $250,000 (Grade Two) True North Handicap for 3 and up at six furlongs; the $300,000 (Grade One) Acorn for 3-year-old fillies at a mile; the $400,000 (Grade One) Manhattan Handicap for 3 and up at a mile and a quarter over the inner turf course, and capped by the $1 million (Grade One) Belmont Stakes for 3-year-olds at the rarely-run distance of a mile and a half. vIn addition to the usual wagering menu of win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, superfecta and pick three, the Belmont Stakes will cap l 1) a $1 million guaranteed pick six, 2) a $1 million guaranteed pick four, and 3) a two-day Brooklyn Handicap/ Belmont Stakes daily double.
Fortunately, the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283) will be only a phone call away at all times. You’ll recall that the JPHL hit the Derby exacta ($152.40) and the Preakness winner (Lookin at Lucky at ($6.80), so are looking at a personal Triple Crown…in addition toearlier nailing a score of Derby preps.
One hint: the JPHL line will not be picking the favorite, Ice Box, who is 3-1 on the morning line, but will be a lot shorter by 6:32 p.m. post (ABC).
The reasons are many, but after missing the weddings with Birdstone and Da’ Tara, I sure don’t plan to make the funeral -- although you’ll no doubt be reading and hearing elsewhere that Ice Box is a lock. Let’s take a look at the stakes six-pack…
RACE SIX: Woody Stephens Stakes
Only five will go in the Woody Stephens, formerly the Riva Ridge Stakes. And that reminds me – I did hear some NYRA people at the press breakfast Wednesday talking up honoring the late Bob Frankel. It can’t be soon enough. Eightyfiveinafifty, the Bay Shore winner at this seven-furlong distance, will be the favorite under Ramon Dominguez, who is sitting on a big day.
But there are two knocks. The Gary Contessa colt has never raced or trained over the Belmont strip, and post one going seven-eighths at Big Sandy is a killer. If he does make the top, he’ll take no end of catching. D’Funnybone, the blowout winner of the Belmont Futurity last September, has the advantage of the outside post, and Edgar Prado, back in form, has his regular seat aboard the Rick Dutrow trainee. Discreetly Mine was beaten a pole by D’Funnybone…but that was BP (before Pletcher).
Thank U Phillippe is one of several dangerous Florida shippers from the Marty Wolfson barn.
RACE SEVEN: Just A Game Stakes
Speaking of Wolfson, he’ll be running the coupled entry of Cherokee Queen and Speak Easy Gal in the Just A Game, a Grade One that honors the champion filly from the ‘80s for the long-since retired David Whiteley.
Cherokee Queen is first-time Gomez, and is one of the four mares in the field of six exiting a winning stake. Castellano replaces Trujillo on Speak Easy Gal, who may shake loose on the lead. Proviso, formerly trained by Frankel and now by Mott, is the only Grade One winner in the field (the Spinster and the Kilroe, beating males), and no doubt will be the favorite under Mike Smith. Phola seeks to make it four straight for the Toddster.
RACE EIGHT: True North Handicap
Warning! Pletcher has an uncoupled entry in the True North – the 7-year-old multiple stakes-winner Bribon, and the unproven 4-year-old Checklist. Bribon will be the shorter-priced of the two. Custom for Carlos is 5-2-0 from seven starts, and is fresh from winning the Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn Park with a 106 Beyer number. But he has never raced at Belmont, and he has a treacherous inside post (two). What’s more, Smith takes off to ride California shipper Gato Go Win, who is drawn widest in the field of 10. This is trainer Troeger’s meal-ticket, but the 4-year-old’s two dirt races were his worst. Lezcano opts for Carlos over Formidable, a super-sharp sprinter from The Chief.
RACE NINE: Betfair TVG Acorn Stakes
Thirteen fillies will go in the Acorn, and there’s not a throwout to be found. Amen Hallelujah is a two-time Grade Two winner, and has placed in several other stakes, but she’ll have to improve off her sixth in the Kentucky Oaks. With regular jock Leparoux sidelined with a broken back, Dominguez gets the call from Dutrow. Told you he’s sitting on a big day.
Seeking the Title went down as the second choice in the Black-Eyed Susan. Prior to that, she was a fast-closing third to two Acorn rivals in the two-turn Fair Grounds Oaks.
Streaker, three-for-three with softer, is the wild card from the Men in Black. Much Rejoicing and Buckleupbuttercup were one-two in a well-run Keeneland allowance.
RACE TEN: Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap
Ramon has his usual call on multi-champion Gio Ponti from the one-hole in a field of 11 for the Manhattan, a race Gio won last year by a length-plus with Gomez. Overall, GP is 4-2-0 from six starts at Belmont, all stakes. Jet Propulsion is the lone speed under the Martini Man, and he’s getting seven pounds from Gio. Albarado is in to ride Court Vision, who never runs a badone for the IEAH folks. Take the Points back from Dubai, and has been working bullets for The Toddster.
RACE ELEVEN: BELMONT STAKES
It’s hard to call the Belmont the third Jewel of the Triple Crown when the field of 12 includes only three who ran in the Derby, and only one who competed in the Preakness.
A NYRA handicapper said on TV that only the three favorites have a chance. If life was only that simple. At the press breakfast, the connections of every horse got up on stage with Tom Durkin and praised their horse to the rafters. Is a 12-horse dead-heat possible?
Last year two Birds. This year two Dudes. And both have a shot.
First Dude will have no problem clearing from post 11, the same post he had in Baltimore, but Interactif will be pushing from the 12.
The owners of Uptowncharlybrown turned down $2 million for the colt after his second start. Alexis Barba will be looking to become the first woman to train a Belmont winner with the stretch-running Make Music for Me.
Thanks for tuning in. Wishing you the best of luck on Saturday, and see you back here Tuesday for a look back.
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