Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Litfin: Brown Runners Too Strong in Belmont Oaks

Litfin At Large for Saturday, July 8.

The fourth edition of the Stars And Stripes Racing Festival is on tap at Belmont Park July 8, with five graded stakes worth a collective $3.7 million to be contested.

A 50-cent pick five with an attractive 15% takeout begins with race 6, which is the $400,000 Dwyer Stakes (G3), and continues with the $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (G2), $1 million Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1T), $750,000 Suburban Stakes (G2) and $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational (G1T).

If you're out of the pick five after the Dwyer, there is a pick four with a $500,000 guaranteed pool on the remaining stakes.

If your pick fours don't make it through the Belmont Sprint Championship, there's a pick three starting with the Belmont Oaks.

If that doesn't work you can try a Suburban—Belmont Derby double.

But wait, there's more! The Belmont Derby kicks off a "closing double" with a $250,000 guaranteed pool, the last leg being a pesky maiden claimer scheduled for one mile on turf but possibly coming off due to heavy rain on Long Island July 7.

The Dwyer, Belmont Sprint and Belmont Oaks will be televised on NBC from 4:30-6:00 pm, while the Suburban and Belmont Derby will be shown on MSG Plus and Fox Sports 2 after that. All times are Eastern.

Dwyer (race 6, 4:38): The two big favorites in the field of five, Battalion Runner (6-5) and Practical Joke  (7-5), haven't run in a while.

Battalion Runner (#2) has been sidelined for three months since setting the pace and finishing second in the Wood Memorial Presented By NYRA Bets (G2) behind eventual Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) runner-up Irish War Cry and ahead of subsequent Preakness Stakes  (G1) winner Cloud Computing.

It's been two months since Practical Joke (#3) ran a respectable fifth in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (G1), and he looks to join a growing list of horses who have come out of that race to run well: third-place finisher Battle of Midway  returned to be much the best in the Affirmed Stakes (G3); Classic Empire  (fourth) just missed in the Preakness; Tapwrit (sixth) took the Belmont; and McCraken (eighth) won the Matt Winn Stakes (G3).

The third choice in the one-mile Dwyer will be Giuseppe the Great (#5), who has never been this far but comes off a solid second in the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) behind favored American Anthem. He might beat one of the top two, but the odds are against him beating both.

A - 2, 3
B - none
C - 5

Belmont Sprint (race 7, 5:13): Like the Dwyer, the top two choices, Mind Your Biscuits (9-5) and Unified  (5-2), are coming off layoffs.

Mind Your Biscuits (#2) was merely prepping when beaten a neck by Unified (#7) in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (G3) in late February. Joel Rosario never resorted to using the whip on Mind Your Biscuit and he couldn't quite catch Unified, who was sent hard to the lead from the rail and held on.

Mind Your Biscuits improved off that effort to capture the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (G1) four weeks later, while Unified returned two weeks after that as the odds-on choice in the Carter Handicap (G1), and was shockingly unable to run down 54-1 shot Green Gratto (#6).

I don't think either Mind Your Biscuits or Unified are prepping for anything here, because the Belmont Sprint is a "Win And You're In" race for the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 4.

Green Gratto is always hard to gauge, but he was able to shake loose from Unified in the Carter, and if that happens again he is dangerous.

Stallwalkin' Dude (#1) rebounded from a sixth in the Golden Shaheen to post his 18th career victory early at the Belmont meet, and followed with a good second in the True North Stakes (G2).

A - 2, 7
B - none
C - 1, 6

Belmont Oaks (race 8, 5:46): The going gets a little trickier here, with a dozen 3-year-old fillies signed on for the 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf.

Chad Brown won this race in 2012 and 2013 when it was still run as the Garden City Stakes, and then took the first two editions of the re-imagined and re-positioned Oaks with Minorette (2014) and the remarkable Lady Eli (2015). The Eclipse Award-winning conditioner sends out four of the top choices on the morning line in Sistercharlie (#12, 5-2), New Money Honey (#8, 7-2), Uni (#7, 6-1) and Fifty Five (#10, 8-1).

Sistercharlie comes off a fast finish for second in the Prix de Diane Longines (G1), also known as the French Oaks. She was beaten a length for all the money, and may have been best given the trouble she encountered on the turn and into the stretch before unleashing a flying finish.

In the Wonder Again Stakes (G3), the key local prep, New Money Honey showed a new dimension by going to the front immediately, and remaining comfortably clear from Fifty Five.

The Ireland import Key To My Heart (#5, 8-1) is the only other entrant held at single-digit odds. The rain that hit Friday may help in view of her win at the distance on soft ground 10 days ago for Aidan O'Brien.

Beau Recall (#2) has shipped in from California after three straight second-place finishers to Sircat Sally, who is a perfect 7 for 7.

A - 8, 12
B - 2, 7
C - 5, 10

Suburban (race 9, 6:18): The 131st running of this race features a prohibitive favorite in Shaman Ghost  (#6), who threw in a clunker when fifth in last year's renewal, later explained by the fact that he was just getting over an illness.

If the same version of Shaman Ghost shows up that ran second to Arrogate  in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1), and followed with wins in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (G1) and the Pimlico Special Handicap (G3), he will obviously be very tough to beat.

The upset scenario involves Matt King Coal (#2) setting up shop on an easy lead.

Stranger things have happened.

A - 6
B - 2

Belmont Derby (race 10, 6:50): This race was formerly run as the Jamaica Handicap in the fall. American-based runners Mr Speaker  (2014) and Force the Pass (2015) won the first two editions when it was re-positioned on the calendar and re-named, and last year the European invader Deauville won it for Aidan O'Brien.

Deauville's connections are back with Homesman (#3) and Whitecliffsofdover (#10). The latter has the looks of a potential pacesetter for Homesman, who may be well suited to the conditions judging from a group 3 stakes win going 10 furlongs on soft ground at the Curragh two starts back.

Called To The Bar (#5) has been freshened a bit since winning the Prix du Lys (G3) over Ice Breeze—an effort that took on more significance when Ice Breeze returned to take the Prix Hocquart (G2).

The first three finishers in the Pennine Ridge (G3)—Oscar Performance (#4), Good Samaritan (#1) and Ticonderoga (#2) —are meeting up again.

Oscar Performance got an easy lead in the 1 1/8-mile Pennine Ridge and never looked back, but due to the presence of Whitecliffsofdover it's quite possible the pace will unfold differently.

A - 1, 5
B - 3
C - 2, 4, 10