True North Handicap
A single is a great way to start off any Pick 6 and I think race gives us a great chance to single. Fabulous Strike is my best bet on the card, I just hope Benny The Bull stays in to keep his price above even money. I've heard some people saying that Fabulous Strike is past his best. I think that's ridiculous. His last two races have been at 7f where he is far more exposed. He has never won a race at 7f, he simply doesn't have the stamina but at 6f he is a monster. Since breaking his maiden he's had 12 6f races on traditional dirt and has a 12-9-2-0 record. He has been fabulous at Belmont as well. The other speed in this race doesn't bother me at all. I remember the Vosburgh two years ago, that race had a lot more speed than this one but he ran those horses into the ground and drew off by nearly 6. He still has that kind of form in him and even though Benny The Bull is one scary dude on his best day Fabulous Strike will be gone before Benny gets in gear. Desert Key is a horse I love and will cheer for but I can't see him beating Fabulous Strike on current form. Two Step Salsa has an outsiders chance based on his excellent recent form but he also has never shown the kind of pace necessary to win this. At 7f he might just become the pick but not at 6f. This race belongs to Fabulous Strike.
Just A Game Stakes
I think this is the first chance on the card to really get interesting and take a stand against a heavy favorite. Everyone knows that Forever Together can win this race and she will be 4/5 and a single on many tickets. I can see some vulnerability though and the payoff for being a contrarian could be big. Forever Together has only lost two turf races, both losses came in one turn races on large, deep courses namely Belmont and Woodbine. Quicker, sharper courses have been meat and drink to her, she never looked like losing those ones. She does have a win at Arlington which is a deeper course like Belmont but it was a two turn race and she earned the lowest Turf Beyer figure of her career. This may be the only chance to get Forever Together beaten this year. The horse I like is Modern Look. Bobby Frankel knows a thing or two about grass fillies and I think he sent her out east to try and find softer courses than she'd get in California. In Europe she always preferred some cut in the ground and her North American debut was okay but not great. She should improve vastly here and will get a perfect trip behind the deliberate pace of Raw Silk. I might use Caribbean Sunset as well just because I think the mile suits her well and a lot of transplanted Europeans don't hit the heights in their first start. She should be better this time and being better means being probably good enough to win. I love Europeans first off the plane for a European trainer but the ones that come here to stay and have plenty of time stateside before their first race often take a race or two to get going. Captain's Lover has some interesting form but she is exactly the kind of horse I was just talking about. It's her first race in North America but she is a transplant for Pletcher. I'd use her defensively but I think she'll need a race. Modern Look should adore the ground, the course and the pace. She should also be improved off her last effort she's the pick to see the champions colors lowered.
Woody Stephens Stakes
What a race this is. It's truly a shame that Regal Ransom is coupled in here with a horse I like because I was looking forward to not using him in any way. Unfortunately Everyday Heroes is far too good to ignore. I think Sheikh Mohammed may have bought himself a real runner in this son of Awesome Again. He has never been beaten and he is bred to appreciate stretching out. I don't usually like horses that win impressively while drifting badly but he was just so impressive I can't overlook him. He should get a perfect stalking trip and be right in the hunt. His morning preparation for this event was a sizzling 4f. In case you haven't gotten this impression already I definitely feel that Everyday Heroes is very dangerous. He's not the horse I really want to play in this race though. I've been waiting for Munnings to turn up in a spot like this since last summer. His comeback effort on Derby day was good but I think he'll be better on a fast track. Munnings has some flashy ability of his own and I think Pletcher has him nicely tuned for this race. He's the play I just hope Everyday Heroes isn't too much of a freak for him. Triumphant Flight and Hello Broadway are both good plays underneath. They would be a bit of a shock as winners but both have solid sprinting credentials and long prices. That's an excellent blend for a nice exacta under a logical horse.
This is the second time on the card that I'm going with interesting over obvious. The reason is because I don't like Justwhistledixie at all. Forever Together might be vulnerable but I still think she can win. I don't think Justwhistledixie can win. I think her Gulfstream performances were overrated. Only one horse she has beaten all year has come back to win next time out and that was Shared Account who managed to take a slow allowance. Her form is overrated and the Acorn is where the summer batch of fillies usually start to emerge. I loved Livin Lovin as a 2yo. I thought she showed G-1 type acceleration. Normally I don't like taking a horse off such a long layoff in a G-1 but the price will be excellent and the competition not all that stiff. She really doesn't have to be much better than she was as a 2yo to win. If she has trained on at all she could waltz away with this. The layoff is a concern so I will hedge a bit with a few others in the Pick 6 and also with Funny Moon in the win pool. Funny Moon is something of a rarity this spring. She actually improved her Beyer Speed Figures after coming away from Gulfstream. Don't know if you've noticed but very few horses have looked better in their first start away from Gulfstream than they did at Gulfstream itself. I think a lot of the figures and form were overrated. But here is a talented dirt filly from a turf barn that is getting better with each race. After seeing her last race I pencilled her in as a Mother Goose filly because I think 9f will be perfect but she's no slouch at 8f. She's built more like a solid bodied router and she doesn't have the lightning turn of foot that Livin Lovin does but she has current form and the race sets up well for her. These two fillies look like they offer a chance to make a nice score.
A big problem for many handicappers is that they become married to losers that flatter to deceive. For me that horse is Court Vision. I've touted him in all three of his races this year and he just has a pair of third place finishes to show for it. I think this is finally the spot where he comes good though. 10f is a better distance for him than 9f and he comes back to the course where he earned his best career performance in my opinion. The Jamaica may have been just a G-2 for 3yo's but it was no easy race. In fact 3 horses from the Jamaica are this Manhattan. Gio Ponti looked like the more logical play but Court Vision was breathing fire that day as he scythed down the even money favorite. He looked like he was born for the course. He has to deal with old rivals Gio Ponti and Cowboy Cal again but the extra furlong should be the deciding factor. I think Gio Ponti is the best miler in the nation but this race is too far for him. Class may see him stick around for a place but he's a bad gamble because he's clearly a miler. Cowboy Cal is one of the toughest horses in America but 10f is a stretch for him and ease in the ground will make it all the more stamina sapping. He's hard to leave out of the exotics but he's not a winner for my money. The overlooked horse in this race might be Cosmonaut. This 7yo warrior has the reputation of a loser, probably because he is routinely well backed but is only 8 for 33 lifetime. He's burnt a lot of money in his time. But I like him here for a few reasons. First of all the competition is weaker than what he's faced much of his career. He was 4th in the 07' Manhattan but that race featured English Channel and an in form Better Talk Now. He was only beaten by 3/4 of a length on that day. Secondly I think he likes ease in the ground. In 10 races on less than firm courses he has 4 wins which is way above his normal winning percentage. Also included in that group was a third in the BC Mile which was way beyond his usual level of performance. Thirdly I think he just adores Belmont Park. He has a massive 103 average Beyer figure in stakes races at Belmont. More than half the horses in this race can't even run that fast on their best day let alone as an average. He also has good form at Arlington which I consider to be a similar course. Cosmonaut may not be as young as he once was but he is still just as good and this race is a nice setup for him.
I don't like going along with hype horses but when the hype agrees with everything else you see sometimes you just have to hold your nose and go for it. Not since Empire Maker has there been as much talk about a Belmont entrant that wasn't already a Triple Crown race winner. Charitable Man is the horse with the skills to win this race and even his cautious connections aren't hiding the fact. The Belmont is not usually won by a horse that has one quick move those quick move horses often find the stamina drained before they get to use their kick. Steady grinders typically own this race and although Charitable Man has good early speed he's not a quick horse he's a steady accelerator. Miner's Escape and Chocolate Candy are the other main grinders in this race. I'd use the word plodder but that often has a negative connotation. Dunkirk, Mine That Bird and Mr. Hot Stuff are quick move horses. I'm not saying they can't win I'm just saying that I prefer to stay away from that type. The pace could be slow so late runners might not do as well this time around. Mine That Bird appears to have the field by the neck if Beyer's are to be believed but the Belmont is more about fitness than speed and a bit of research has actually shown that horses who run a pair of really quick races in the Derby and Preakness often have a hard time giving the same effort in the Belmont. It's a long race and they're tired from two recent big efforts. I respect Miner's Escape and Chocolate Candy as well as Luv Gov and Dunkirk. I know Dunkirk doesn't have my ideal running style but I respect him because I think he is a genuinely good horse in a race that isn't really full of them.
I use big days like this to test out Pick 6 and Pick 4 strategies. I'll be following the Belmont card live and will be updating my selections for every race as well as my multi-race wagers on this spreadsheet: Pick 6