The five richest stakes races May 12 are all at beautiful Belmont Park. Four of those are graded, headlined by a wide-open renewal of the $700,000 Man o'War (G1T), which climaxes an 11-race program and concludes a late pick four that begins with the $150,000 Runhappy, the $200,000 Beaugay (G3), and the $350,000 Peter Pan (G3).
Elsewhere, the only other graded stakes are the $100,000 Laz Barrera (G3) for 3-year-old sprinters at Santa Anita Park, and the $100,000 Hanshin for older milers on the synthetic surface at Arlington International Racecourse.
Let's look at the all-stakes pick four at Belmont, where a weather forecast calling for light rain and developing thunderstorms could prove to be a key factor.
Runhappy (Bel, race 8, 5:14 ET): The wetter the better for Always Sunshine (5), an ironically named horse with a 4-for-4 record on wet tracks. The 6-year-old son of West Acre was a debut winner under wet-fast conditions at Parx Racing, and since then he has won the 2015 Dave's Friend Stakes on a harrowed "good" track at Laurel Park, the 2016 Maryland Sprint Handicap (G3) in the mud at Pimlico Race Course, and an optional claimer in the slop at Monmouth Park last May.
The three more obvious contenders among the sextet are Skyler's Scramjet (1), Westwood (2) and Great Stuff (4), all of which are cutting back from seven to six furlongs. The latter is trained by David Jacobson, who won this race twice with Stallwalkin' Dude (2015 & 2017) when it was called the Diablo Stakes.
A - 1, 5
B - 2
C - 4
To reiterate, keep an eye on the sky. Inflexibility's six prior grass races have all been on firm going, the latest a tune-up in a four-horse optional claimer at Aqueduct Racetrack in her seasonal debut.
A Raving Beauty barnstormed around Europe through a 10-race campaign last year, contesting stakes in France, Germany, and Italy, and the gray mare may be the class of this group based her final outing of 2017, a runner-up finish in the Premio Lydia Tesio (G1T). She is first-time Lasix for her new connections, and is well-versed with rain-softened ground.
My Impression (1) and Tricky Escape (3) are the only North American graded stakes winners in the lineup, the former having annexed the 2016 Commonwealth Oaks (G3T) at Laurel, and the latter taking the Violet (G3T) last summer, as well as an off-the-turf running of the Cardinal Handicap (G3) in the slop.
Between those wins, Tricky Escape also went well to wind up a clear second in the $330,000 Ramsey Farm on yielding turf. She rates a long look emerging from a mild rally first time out this year in a salty edition of the Hillsborough Stakes (G2T) that contained several grade 1 winners, as well as Proctor's Ledge, who captured the Distaff Turf Mile (G2T) at Churchill Downs last Saturday.
A - 6
B - 2, 3
C - 1
Peter Pan (Bel, race 10, 6:18 ET): The 7-2 second choice on the morning line, Diamond King (5), will reportedly scratch to await the May 19 Preakness Stakes (G1).
One of the noteworthy aspects here is the impact that blinkers—either on or off—can have with developing 3-year-olds:
Core Beliefs (1): Beat maidens stretching out with blinkers off two starts ago.
Zing Zang (2): A horse with no early speed getting blinkers for this race.
Blended Citizen (4): Won the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at 6-1 with blinkers on two back.
High North (6): Won the Northern Spur at nearly 5-1 last time out with blinkers on.
Gotta Go (7): Last year's winner of the Street Sense Stakes adds blinkers for this race.
Transistor (8): Ran second at 18-1 in allowance company with blinkers off two back.
Other than Diamond King, the only entrant with no blinker changes to evaluate is Just Whistle (3), a homebred colt by Pioneerof the Nile , who has the look of an up-and-comer based on his first two starts of the year, a close second to Hofburg at Gulfstream Park, followed six weeks later by a decisive maiden win at Keeneland Race Course.
Core Beliefs will likely go favored off a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but High North is every bit as good judging from his effort in the Northern Spur, the first mile of which compared favorably with the Arkansas Derby (G1) later the same day at Oaklawn Park:
Northern Spur: 23.54, 47.70, 1:12:36, 1:37.31
Arkansas Derby: 23.34, 48.60, 1:13.39, 1:37.87
A - 1, 6
B - 3
Man o'War (Bel, race 11, 6:50 ET): Yet again, the course of action taken may have much to do with whatever Mother Nature has in store.
Chad Brown's triumvirate of Wake Forest (5), Call Provision (6) and Money Multiplier (10) have all done most or all of their best work on firm turf, particularly Wake Forest, who basically can't stand up on yielding ground, but won this race with a big late kick in 2016.
Hi Happy (7) and Sadler's Joy (2) are the first two morning-line choices, as they were in their last meeting in the Pan American (G2T), when the former drew clear late as the 2-1 second choice, and the latter rallied belatedly to finish fourth as the 9-5 favorite.
Sadler's Joy had a tough trip and just missed second in the 2017 Man o'War over an absolute bog, but it also merits mention that his three biggest victories, including last year's Pan American and the Sword Dancer Invitational (G1T), have all come on three-turn layouts.
Meanwhile, leave out One Go All Go (9) at your own peril. The over-achieving veteran has consistently outrun his odds since transferred to Scooter Dickey, finishing second four times at prices ranging from 8-1 to 30-1, and he now comes off a win in the Dixiana Elkhorn (G2T) at 9-1.
Bigger Picture (8) never fired in the Pan American, but has been competitive with several of these in the past. He is a four-time graded stakes winner since being reclaimed by Mike Maker, and boasts a record of 4-2-0 from seven starts on the local courses early in his career.
Color me confused on this one. Hopefully, enough breaks right in the earlier legs and we're left with a spread.
A - 5, 7
B - 2, 6
C - 8, 9, 10