Lo Duca: My Card for the 150th Belmont Stakes
Brad Penner, USA Today Sports
- Paul Lo Duca likes Breaking the Rules to win the Easy Goer Stakes (Race 2).
- He thinks Bee Jersey will put on a show in The Runhappy Met Mile (Race 9). He’ll be his biggest win bet.
- And in the main event, he’s against No. 3 Bravazo (8-1) and No. 7 Tenfold (12-1), so he’s going to try to get No. 10 Blended Citizen (15-1) in the trifecta and the superfecta with Hofburg and Vino Rosso with Justify on top.
The big day is here. Justify will go for a Triple Crown in front of nearly 100,000 people at the 150th Belmont Stakes. It’s history, baby. But first, let’s break down the card because some of the best horses in the world will be running Saturday.
I won’t get too deep into Race 1 because it is wide open and I don’t have a play on it. However, it is definitely an “all race” (meaning use every horse in the early Pick-5) to start the card.
Race 2: The Easy Goer Stakes
In 1989, it was Easy Goer turning the tables on Sunday Silence and denying him the Triple Crown at Belmont. He was a great racehorse and a champion for the Phipps Family and Shug McGaughey. It would be fitting for the No. 6 Breaking the Rules (4-1), a horse from the Phipps Stable and trained by McGaughey, to win a race named after a horse they campaigned from 1988-1990. Breaking the Rules is lightly raced and a perfect 2-for-2 in his career. He will make his stakes debut but has upside to continue to get better, and the extra distance to 1 1/16 miles should benefit him. No. 7 Dark Vader (9-2) is coming off a hard-fought victory at Santa Anita. The Southern California shipper ran one of the better races of his career last time out, and the third-place horse that he beat came back to win the Snow Chief Stakes. Expect him to be on or near the lead early in the race. Back in January there was Kentucky Derby talk around the No. 2 Mask (5-2). Unfortunately, he suffered a setback and was knocked off the Triple Crown trail. You can forgive his last race because it was off a four-month layoff and on a sloppy racetrack. No. 4 Soutache (12-1) is the longshot to keep an eye on. Two things were against him in his last race. He raced on a sloppy track for the first time and he ran into the best 3-year-old sprinter in the country, named Mitole. One of his best races was at today’s distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Bet: No. 6 Breaking the Rules to win
Race 3: The Ogden Phipps
The No. 6 Abel Tasman (8-5) was defeated as the heavy favorite in her last start, but she had a couple excuses. It was her first race in six months, and she had some trouble going into the first turn. No doubt, she was flat in her last race. But, Bob Baffert would have left her in California if he didn’t feel she was right for this race. She also returns to Belmont Park, where she won the Grade I Acorn one year ago. No. 5 American Gal (3-1) is also 1-for-1 over the Belmont surface, winning the Grade III Victory Ride last July. She is fast and will be on the lead (if she runs in this race) as the horse to catch. The main question for her is can she get the 1 1/16 miles? She has not won a race beyond seven furlongs. No. 1 Unbridled Mo (4-1) loves to win races and comes into this event 7-for-10 lifetime, winning three of her last four starts. She makes her first start at Belmont, but that isn’t a concern since she already has won at five different tracks. The distance could be a question for a couple in here but not for this mare. She is a perfect 7-for-7 at today’s distance. No. 2 Ivy Bell (12-1) is cross-entered into a race on Friday, but do not ignore her if she starts here. She’s working like a beast.
Bet: I love No. 6 Abel Tasman here, but if No. 2 Ivy Bell runs, I’ll probably play exacta with those two. Be careful with American Gal. She might be tailing off.
Race 4: The Acorn
The No. 3 Monomoy Girl (4-5) is your Kentucky Oaks winner from five weeks ago, and she’s making her first start since. She overcame a wide post draw (14 of 14) and was very game in victory in her last race. She’s in great form and a neck away from being undefeated in her career. She is also versatile and has won at a one-turn mile. The No. 2 Spectator (8-1) raced the farthest distance of her career in her last race, going 1 1/16 miles, and finished a good second behind Midnight Bisou, who ran a credible third in the Kentucky Oaks behind Monomoy Girl. The cutback in distance should help her. No. 1 Moonshine Memories (6-1) made her first start of the season last race off a six-month layoff and finished a good second. She chased the pace in between horses most of the way then finally got some room at the top of the stretch. The winner was just better on the afternoon, and I’ll expect her to step forward in her second start off the bench today. The No. 5 Caledonia Road (3-1) won the Eclipse Award as the champion 2-year-old Filly last year. They tried to get her to the Kentucky Oaks, but she had a setback with a viral infection. After this filly missed the Oaks, the Grade I Acorn has been the main goal for her.
Bet: Monomoy Girl is the one to beat, but don’t leave out Spectator. I think she has a giant shot.
Race 5: The Brooklyn Invitational
The No. 9 War Story (2-1) has won two races in his last seven starts and faced off with 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner in four of them. He wasn’t scared of showing up against the best and he comes into this race — a race he won last year — off a similar effort in the Charles Town Classic. The No. 8 Outplay (8-1) looks to be the controlling speed on paper. He’s never run beyond nine furlongs in his career and he will try to get 12 furlongs in the Brooklyn. We will see how far he can take them on the front end. No. 3 Hard Study (5-2) is sharp right now and goes for four victories in a row. This race is right up his alley, too. In two of his last three starts, he’s won at 1 3/4 miles and 1 3/8 miles. He’s also never been worse than second when running at Belmont Park. No. 4 Take Your Guns (6-1) jumps into stakes company for only the second time in his career but is a different horse this year. He was on the sidelines for 10 months, but since he has returned, he is a perfect 2-for-2 for trainer Chad Brown.
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Bet: No. 9 War Story looks to be a short price, so I would just single him in multi-race exotics (Pick-4’s, Pick-5’s, doubles, etc.).
This is what my early Pick-5 ($500k guaranteed) looks like:
Race 1: all
Race 2: 2346
Race 3: 6
Race 4: 2357
Race 5: 9
Race 6: The Jaipur
The No. 7 Blind Ambition (5-1) is a perfect 2-for-2 sprinting on the turf at Belmont Park. He’s coming off the biggest speed figure of his career last time out in the Elusive Quality stakes. He has improved with time and does his best running when he keeps the speed horses very close in sight. The best finishing kick in this year’s Jaipur could very well belong to No. 5 Disco Partner (5-2). He relaxes early and saves up for what can be a wicked stretch kick. This gray colt was not at his best last time at Keeneland, but he had many excuses. It was his first start of the year. He had a bad outside post and also had to pump the brakes around the turn. Look for a much-improved run for his second start of the year. There is only one undefeated horse in this year’s Jaipur, the lightly raced No. 3 Pocket Change (10-1). He has won at three different tracks but has never competed in a stakes race. He gets a tough task on Saturday but could have the talent to compete. No. 1 Stormy Liberal (3-1) won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint last year but has not won since that crowning moment. He has taken international trips to Hong Kong and Dubai already this year. His effort in this race last year was well below his capabilities. Trainer Peter Miller sees fit to ship him back to try to prove that he’s still the leader of the division.
Bet: No. 7 Blind Ambition to win
Race 7: The Woody Stephens
With loads of speed signed on in this year’s Woody Stephens, No. 6 Still Having Fun (15-1) could be the longshot closing threat. He was a neck away from winning his first four races in Maryland. This colt built up his fitness with a trio of mile races. Now he makes his second start cutting back to a sprint; he closed well last time for second in the Chick Lang. He should be a big price. While the distance of the Derby trail proved too long for No. 8 Kanthaka (3-1), he is a perfect 3-for-3 at today’s 7-furlong distance. His sire Jimmy Creed also ran the biggest race of his life, going 7 furlongs in winning the Grade I Malibu. This distance hits Kanthaka right between the eyes, and his trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has done well when shipping to New York. In the short four-race career for No. 11 World of Trouble (7-2), he has won twice by more than 10 lengths. This Florida-based horse has lightning speed and has never given up the lead through a half mile in any of his races. He comes in very rested since March when he finished ahead of Belmont contender Vino Rosso in the Tampa Bay Derby. After locking up with Promises Fulfilled in a wicked duel early in the Florida Derby, No. 12 Strike Power (9-2) has been given time to recoup. He shortens back to his best game of sprinting but was given a tough outside post. He was one tick from setting the track record in his debut race last December at Gulfstream Park.
Bet: I’m passing on this but would suggest using many of these horses to start the pick-5 ($1 million guaranteed).
Race 8: The Longines Just A Game
The No. 3 Off Limits (7-2) has been dynamite in her 1-mile turf races at Belmont Park. The biggest speed figure of her career came with this exact same setup last September at Belmont Park when she streaked away from the Noble Damsel field by almost five lengths. She exits a top-class race at Keeneland and is poised for her best. No. 7 A Raving Beauty (5-2) is another mare for Chad Brown and made short work of her first start here in the U.S. She had faced top competition in Europe before coming to Belmont to defeat the Beaugay field by three easy lengths. This gray mare should put herself into a stalking position early. No. 5 Proctor’s Ledge (4-1) is not the most consistent horse in this field, but when she is at her best, she can compete at the Grade 1 level. She had an awful trip two races back at Keeneland, finishing eighth. The scales then evened out in her very next start when she got a perfect trip to win on Derby Day. This is her first start at Belmont. The No. 1 On Leave (9-2) has been hampered by two straight outside posts in her recent close defeats. Now she gets to break from the rail and save some ground. She is very consistent and has four wins in only five starts at Belmont.
Bet: No. 3 Off Limits to win and box the 3 and the 7 in exactas.
Race 9: The Runhappy Met Mile
The No. 10 Bee Jersey (5-1) is quickly climbing the ranks since coming to the U.S. I should mention he is perfect at the 1-mile distance in the U.S.; granted, those are two-turn trips. The other thing I should mention is that his sire (father), Jersey Town, ran his best career race, going a one-turn mile, and this colt gets to go that for the first time since shipping here. He’s fast, he can carry his speed and is getting better and better. The No. 6 One Liner (12-1) shortens up in distance after chasing Irish War Cry the entire way around in the Grade III Pimlico Special. He has a running style that puts him in good position early, and being the least experienced runner in the field, he has potential to improve and do so at a price. The No. 2 Bolt d’Oro (4-1) faces older rivals for the first time and looks to be the first 3-year-old to win this race since Honour and Glory did it in ‘96. Don’t hold the Derby against him. He chased the fast pace while wide, and it was his first race on a sloppy track. He’s undefeated around one turn and could appreciate the cutback. The No. 3 Limousine Liberal (10-1) is cross-entered in the Grade II True North Friday, so keep on eye on that. He can be scary good when on his game, and his win last time out stamps him as a contender in this spot. This race is a little farther than what he’s used to running, but he’s coming into the race in top form and hasn’t missed the board in his last nine starts.
Bet: No. 10 Bee Jersey will put on a show Belmont Stakes Day. He’ll be my biggest win bet.
Race 10: The Manhattan
The No. 1 Robert Bruce (3-1) is undefeated, and I don’t see that changing Saturday. He goes out for Chad Brown, who is the best turf trainer in the country. This colt gets an inside draw, which will likely help him work out a ground-saving trip. There is a chance of rain in the forecast for Saturday, but the good news is he can handle any turf condition. No. 10 Beach Patrol (5-2) is a five-time winner, but a seven-time runner-up. He has a TON of talent, but sometimes he pulls himself up when he hits the front. The other side of that argument is sometimes he just keeps going, like when he won by five lengths a few starts ago. He’s a must-use on your tickets. No. 3 Hi Happy (7-2) is in career form for Todd Pletcher. The main early speed in the race is drawn immediately to his inside, so we’ll look for him to stalk the pace. All he has to do is show up with the same effort that we have seen in his last two starts and he’s a player. The No. 13 Spring Quality (12-1) gets a tough draw, but has ability. He was only three-quarters of a length behind Robert Bruce last time out. It’s now the second start off the layoff for Spring Quality, and his form is going in the right way.
Bet: No. 1 Robert Bruce to win
Race 11: The 150th Belmont Stakes
The No. 1 Justify (4-5) is trying to become the 13th Triple Crown winner! I think he’s just too good, but that’s why they run the race. He should be tracking No. 9 Noble Indy (30-1), and hopefully 90,000 people will be screaming his name! It’s hard to leave out any horse that Pletcher sends out in the Belmont, and that’s why No. 8 Vino Rosso (8-1) has my attention. Pletcher has won the last two, and this colt has the pedigree. After an awful trip in the Derby, look for a turnaround today. The No. 4 Hofburg (9-2) has been training up at Saratoga and is looking great. Bill Mott trained the legendary Cigar and has been there before. The wiseguy horse could be second choice and charging late. The No. 10 Blended Citizen (15-1) is my longshot. The Peter Pan winner has thrived here at Belmont, and I don’t think he’d be a giant surprise for trainer Doug O’Neill, who didn’t get his chance at a Triple Crown when I’ll Have Another had to scratch right before the Belmont.
Bet: I’m against No. 3 Bravazo (8-1) and No. 7 Tenfold (12-1), so I’m going to try to get No. 10 Blended Citizen (15-1) in the trifecta and the superfecta with Hofburg and Vino Rosso with Justify on top.
If you’re playing the races, make sure to get in the late Pick-5. It’s guaranteed $1 million! Here’s what I’m playing:
Race 7: 136891112
Race 8: 37
Race 9: 10
Race 11: 1 (If you’re going to try to beat Justify, throw in Hofburg and Vino Rosso. Even Blended Citizen if you feel froggy!)
Best of luck!