Belmont Notebook: A Look Ahead

Belmont Notebook: A Look Ahead
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by John Mucciolo
(Editor's Note: Content for this handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet)

A quartet of Grade 1 races were contested on Saturday at Belmont Park, and we will go in the order of what we think were the most impressive performances of the weekend's riches. The $750,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational S. (G1) attracted a fine field of nine to contest the 12-furlong marathon, which was run over the yielding Widener turf course. Man o' War S. (G1) victor and Arlington Million (G1) runner-up Magistretti (Dieses [GB]) went to post the 8-5 favorite in this solid group, while three-year-old sensation KITTEN'S JOY (El Prado [Ire]) was the 2-1 second choice and facing his elders for the initial time.

Turning for home, Magistretti assumed a comfortable lead while appearing to be well within himself beneath Edgar Prado, but it took just a few jumps for Kitten's Joy to inhale his rival and earn his second consecutive Grade 1 tally. This electric colt completed the 1 1/2 miles in 2:29 4/5, which included a ridiculously swift :22 2/5 final quarter-mile for trainer Dale Romans and jockey John Velazquez. The winner is a head shy of being undefeated this campaign, and not only might he be the best turf horse in the East, he could very well be the best horse in training in the United States at this moment. The sophomore is likely headed to the October 30 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), and with a win there, certainly could make a strong case for champion three-year-old honors.

In the $490,000 Vosburgh S. (G1), we had arguably the top sprinter on both coasts go to battle with the defending Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) winner, and in the end it was quite clear who was the boss of this division. PICO CENTRAL (Brz) (Spend a Buck) took a short lead on the turn and cruised home a facile four-length winner for conditioner Paulo Lobo, proving that the West Coast based five-year-old is the nation's top sprinter. The dark bay finished off six fast furlongs in 1:09 3/5 under Victor Espinoza, and earned redemption for a third-place finish in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup H. (G2) most recently. The winner would have to be supplemented to the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) for $200,000, but his chances in the Sprint look bright if his connections should elect to enter. Poco Feito, Pico!

Voodoo (Petionville  ) closed from off the pace to earn a well-deserved second place check for Jimmy Jerkens. This often rank gelding has learned to settle in the early stages in his last few outings, and should be a major factor versus slightly softer competition. Speightstown (Gone West), the boss of the East Coast prior to this one, led to the final turn but had no response late, although he was quite game to earn the show spot. Cajun Beat (Grand Slam) attempted to rally along the rail but could get no better than fourth. The latter pair, as indicated by their respective connections, are on target for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1).

Wonder Again (Silver Hawk) went postward as the odds-on choice in the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational S. (G1), but it was her rival RISKAVERSE (Dynaformer) getting in the winners' circle following this affair. The hard trying five-year-old had been wearing the title of bridesmaid in 2004, evidenced by running second in two consecutive Grade 1 tussles, but on this day the dark bay would be queen.

Trained by Pat Kelly and piloted by Cornelio Velasquez, Riskaverse rated nicely in the early stages, was placed outside for the stretch run and responded with arguably her biggest triumph since taking the 2002 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) at Keeneland. The final time of this 10-furlong turf feature was 2:04 3/5 over the yielding sod, including a final half-mile in :46. Commercante (Fr) (Marchand De Sable), the 3-1 second choice, dug in gamely to garner place honors, with Moscow Burning (Moscow Ballett) a head back in third, marking her fifth consecutive graded placing. Wonder Again was in contention to the top of the lane, but faded to a relatively close sixth.

To close out the dissying array of top class racing, champion FUNNY CIDE (Distorted Humor  ) re-rallied between horses in late stretch to earn his first Grade 1 win since the 2003 Preakness S. (G1) in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup S. (G1). The Barclay Tagg trained four-year-old has been very consistent in 2004, but had yet to breakthrough with a signature win until outfinishing Newfoundland (Storm Cat) and The Cliff's Edge (Gulch) to the wire in here. The final time for ten fast furlongs was 2:02 2/5, good enough to earn a 113 BRIS Speed figure under the guidance of Jose Santos.

Newfoundland, whose form has been erratic as of late, had the lead turning for home but could not hold off the "Gutsy Gelding," as Funny Cide is called by Tom Durkin. The Cliff's Edge, who was retired in the days following the race, looked like a winner in mid-stretch but ultimately settled for third.

"CHALK" WATCH

A total of 48 races were contested over the previous week and the betting favorite crossed the line first 15 times (31 percent), a fairly consistent number at Belmont thusfar. In addition to that, 14 of the winners were the second choice, meaning 60 percent (29 of 48) of all winners were one of the top two choices.

"ODD STAT" OF THE WEEK"

Ironically, of the seven horses bet to even-money or less, only two got their picture taken following their race and both occured on Wednesday, with another three missing the board all together during the week.

CURRENT LEADERS

Richard Dutrow cooled off a touch later in the week, but remains hot overall in posting a 37 percent win rate. The conditioner leads with 11 winners, followed by Todd Pletcher (9) and Patrick Biancone (7). Biancone is making the most of his smallish stable, cashing in at a lucrative 54 percent, which includes three stakes scores (two Grade 1).

On the jockeys' front, Velazquez has picked up where he left off at the Spa, leading the way with 29 winners. He's been the money rider of the meet, bringing home four stakes winners and more than $2 million in purses. Velasquez has become quite comfortable in New York, and we can only hope that the talented rider makes the Empire State his new home. He sits in second with 22 wins, followed by Javier Castellano with 21 and Edgar Prado with 20.

HORSES TO WATCH

Wednesday (9/29)

5th -- JOHN LITTLE (Blushing John) capitalized on some tiring front-runners and came home sharply to earn a much needed tally in here. The gelding captured the 2002 Excelsior Breeders' Cup H. (G3) and was winless since, a span of 19 races. Here's hoping that the once classy runner regains some of that old form.

6th -- DRESSED FOR SUCCES (Tricky Mister) dueled hard for a half-mile, shook free, and then gamely held off a late charge to earn a win in here. The New Jersey-bred two-year-old half-sister to Gators N Bears (Stormy Atlantic  ) appears to have a talented future in the sprint game.

Friday (10/1)

5th -- AHPO HERE (Dehere) is in career form, evidenced in the gelding's 6 3/4-length thrashing in this one mile contest. The seven-year-old is a neck shy of three consecutive wins, and earned a lifetime best 105 BRIS Speed number for his efforts.

6th -- TADREEB (Theatrical [Ire]) made a smooth transition to the sod when dominating nine others in this 1 1/6-mile turf race for Mark Hennig. The colt completed his final three-sixteenths in :30 4/5, and probably merits a look next out.

Saturday (10/2)

3rd -- The impeccably bred DEFER (Danzig) made a winning debut for Shug McGauhey, winning in near wire-to-wire fashion. We love first out winners from this barn, and we're especially intrigued when they show speed in their debut. Beware!

4th -- INTIMIDATOR (Gone West), another well-bred colt, returned from a brief vacation and fell just a neck shy in a swiftly run event. The three-year-old flashed good ability in Florida earlier in the year, and may be ready to fire his best next out for Randy Schulhofer.

10th -- LOVE OF MONEY (Not For Love  ) was grossly overbet and likely misplaced when attempting the Jockey Club and should appreciate a drop back in class next out. He is very talented, but how you go from 12-1 in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2), to the 5-2 choice in the Jockey Club befuddles me. It shows you that the bettors aren't always that sharp when wagering upon New York racing.

Sunday (10/3)

5th -- WINSOME (War Chant  ) rated patiently and the tactic paid off, with the filly taking the lead turning for home and breaking her maiden in this seven-furlong tilt. The filly is out of Blushing Heiress (Blushing John), who was a Grade 2-winning lass, and in turn was produced from a Grade 2 winner, so the potential is there.

7th -- DREADNUAGHT (Lac Ouimet) looked super in storming down the lane en route to a 1 1/4 length victory for Tom Voss. The gelding obviously excels at these longer distances, and dispatched of a solid field in here. The four-year-old got his final eighth in a solid :12 2/5.

A LOOK AHEAD

A trio of Grade 1 races and a Grade 2 race will headline the Saturday card at the Elmont, New York, venue. The babies will get to showcase their abilities, with the boys contesting the $500,000 Champagne S. (G1) and the fillies in the $500,000 Frizette S. (G1). Trainer Nick Zito has captured the Champagne four of the last six years, and this year he's probably going to send out impressive maiden winner Sun King (Charismatic) in hopes of a fifth victory. Waiting in the wings will be the most impressive maiden at Saratoga this year, Proud Accolade (Yes It's True  ).

The 2-3 finishers of the Matron S. (G1), Balletto (UAE) (Timber Country) and Play with Fire (Boundary), are likely to go postward in the Frizette. This race has produced champion two-year-olds Flanders (Seeking the Gold), Golden Attraction (Mr. Prospector), Storm Song (Summer Squall) and Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat).

Top distaffers Sightseek (Distant View) and Storm Flag Flying (Storm Cat) are expected for the $750,000 Beldame S. (G1). Run over 1 1/8 miles for fillies and mares, past winners of this race looks like a who's who in racing, with the likes of champions Heavenly Prize (Seeking the Gold), Serena's Song (Rahy), Hidden Lake (Quiet American), Beautiful Pleasure (Maudlin) and Riboletta (Brz) (Roi Normand) winning in the past 10 years.

The $350,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup H. (G2) has served a a key prep in the past for horses readying for the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), and this year should be no exception.

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