The late pick-4 on the Friday Opening Day card at Belmont is a tremendous sequence of deep, contentious, non-claiming races that makes for a challenging handicapping puzzle, one that we’re excited to tackle here.
We’re going to narrow early because the second and third legs are very challenging, especially the featured 8th race.
Race 6 – NY-bred F&M n1x, 6 furlongs, turf – With the return to Belmont comes the return of turf springs on the New York circuit. The favorite is likely #12 Epping Forest for Christophe Clement. She won her six furlong debut here last year and was then second going two-turns at 7.5 furlongs at Gulfstream in a race won wire to wire. The layoff after her last start is just about six weeks and not a concern as Clement likely waited for a chance to face NY-breds. Plus, there is probably enough speed to set up her kick. Of the speeds, we prefer #11 North Eight Street for Michelle Nevin. Her last turf race was a fast-pace 7-furlongs that fell apart and she ran well to hold fourth.#10 Catcher in the Sky for Linda Rice has some fast pace figures and makes her turf debut. We’ll back-up with her.
A – 12
B – 11
C – 10
Race 7 – F&M OCn2x, 7 furlongs, turf – I thought that #2 Rumble Doll ran some strong races last year at Belmont and Saratoga and then was a little unlucky in the fall, getting caught in traffic three-back, catching yielding turf at Kentucky Downs, and and then having a tough trip at Laurel going 5.5 furlongs, which is shorter than her best. She’ll have to come back running, but she should be a good price. #4 Width has always been cut out to be pretty good, and seven furlongs should be a good distance for her, but Width was aided by a very slow pace last time at Tampa in her first start of the year so she’s tough to trust, especially since that was her first start after a layoff which then preceded another 10 weeks off. #5 Take These Chains is 2-2 with impressive wins, but comes off a 10-month layoff for this start. If she is ready to run, she’s probably going to win, and it is Chad Brown, so we can’t let her knock us out. Brad Cox sends out #6 King’s Ghost, who has two turf races good enough to win, but both featured her prompting slow paces against weaker. Christophe Clement also sends out #11 Cover Song, a G3 winner in from California for her first start of the year. She has a few solid races going either one-turn or down-the-hill at Santa Anita, so she wouldn’t be a huge surprise. #12 Thundering Sky won the Pebbles in her last start, back in October, but she was aided by a very fast pace that day and now faces older rivals. This is a tough spot for her first start of the year.
A – 2, 5
B – 4, 11
C – 5
Race 8 – NY-bred Stk, 100K, 6 furlongs, dirt – This rendition of the Affirmed Success is a very deep and fun race and there should be a solid pace to set up some off the pace runners. Marriedtothemusic, Rectify, and Sudden Surprise all all front-runners, and that could set things up for #13 Weekend Hideaway, the likely favorite stalking on the outside. But his prep race at Gulfstream was just ok and we think there are some better options at better prices, though we will use Weekend Hideaway. #1 Eye Luv Lulu should run fine from in behind the pace but we didn’t love his last race on his preferred wet track (he’s 7-12) and his win two-back over some of these was with a perfect trip. #4 Ostrolenka is a definite contender who should get a fast pace to attack second off the claim for David Jacobson (25%, $1.57 ROI in 2nd off the claim/dirt sprints per DRF Formulator), but we didn’t like how he was late to change leads in that race. #7 Celtic Chaos won an allowance race on April 7th and figures to benefit from the pace scenario, and though his last race didn’t come back that fast, his two previous races were good enough. #10 West Hills Giant ran a big race at Laurel three-back, making a big move on a bad rail. He did get beat at Parx (by Sudden Surprise) two-back but last time he had a slow start and then moved up early outside before fading late behind Fellowship (making his first start since the Preakness), who ran a 95 Beyer to win. It was a performance for West Hills Giant that was probably better than it looks on paper. #11 Candid Desire had a good winter in the inner track, but had some very good trips in there. Still, his last race wasn’t bad, and this race should feature more pace. Finally, #12 Riff Raff should be a huge price. He might not be good enough, but he has some sprint races that are decent enough. Celtic Chaos only beat him by 1.25 lengths last time.
A -7, 10, 13
B – 1, 4, 11
C – none
Race 9 – NY-bred F&M, 6 furlongs, turf – We really liked the September 18th debut of #1 Dream A Little. She was bumped at the start and back early on before trying to move up in traffic on the backstretch. She was still hemmed in behind runners around the turn before finally squeezing through and finishing well to just miss. David Donk is 6-27 with a $2.96 ROI with 180+ day layoffs on turf and gets John Velazquez. She’s much the horse to beat. We also want to use #3 Frost Wise, who is second time out for Michael Dilger after showing speed in her dirt debut. Frost Wise is out of a Smart Strike dam that won on turf and half to a turf winner. #12 Leah’s Dream gets Javier Castellano for her turf debut and is out of an 0-4 dam that ran decently on synthetics/turf. Linda Rice sends out first-time starting #10 Silly Sister, who is half to 6-12 Moanin, winner of over $1.2 million in Japan (dirt). We’ll toss in #4 Spring Folly, who debuts for Michael Dickinson, though she probably needs a start.
A – 1, 10
B – 3, 12
C – 4
We’ll play the All-A ticket for $1 and the 3A/1B, 2A/2B, and 3A/1C tickets for 50-cents each. The total play is $84.