Horse Racing Picks for Saturday: Best Bets, Longshots and Exotics for Belmont Park and Churchill Downs
Andy Lyons, Getty Images. Pictured: Churchill Downs
The Belmont Stakes is in the rear-view mirror but we’ve still got an action-packed Saturday of racing featuring eight graded stakes races, two of which are win-and-in contests for the Breeders’ Cup.
New to Horse Racing?
For those of you that might be new to horse racing, the wagering pools are pari-mutuel, which means that, unlike in sports betting, you aren’t trying to beat the house but rather the public at large. The key to long-term success in betting the ponies is being disciplined in identifying value in the pools.
Speed Ratings and Beyer Speed Figures
Speed ratings are relative performance indicators that allow us to compare performances across tracks where not all factors are even. Some tracks might be naturally faster like Gulfstream or Santa Anita, where the surfaces are harder, compared to a track like Belmont or Aqueduct, where the surfaces are generally a bit deeper.
They also account for the condition of the track as most horses will travel slower over softer ground. This means that simply comparing times is ineffective as they need some kind of leveling factor.
That’s what is built into speed ratings and they give a nice, although imperfect indicator of relative performance and ability.
A relative strength index for the field of a specific race. This gives you an idea of the level of the competition the horse was facing, as it can vary wildly from track to track even with the same win conditions.
How often do favorites win in horse racing?
Generally speaking, the favorite in horse racing wins at about a 35% rate but that number varies depending on the number of horses in the field. Armed with that knowledge you might want to just pick the favorites, frequently known as the chalk, but a closer look at the implied odds shows that you’d need average odds of 2-1 or better to break even on “win” bets.
So, in order to profit horseplayers must pick and choose the horses that they feel have a better chance to win than their implied odds, which is known as positive expected value (+EV). Expected value is not unique to horse racing and something that all bettors should get familiar with if they want to succeed.
Belmont Park Betting Picks
Time: 4:32 p.m. ET
The Grade III Vagrancy is for fillies and mares, three years old and up, and will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs over the main track.
No. 5 Come Dancing (7-5) is the morning-line favorite. She hasn’t run well recently, finishing a combined 25 lengths back in her last two starts. Her Beyer speed figures have also significantly regressed in both of those starts.
If she can get back to her form from last year, I’m not sure anyone can compete with her, but after the last two starts, I’m against her here.
My top pick is No. 1 Royal Charlotte (7-2). who will be making the second start of her four-year-old season. Horses, especially fillies, continue to develop well into year four.
After an almost seven-month layoff, she finished a good second in her last race over a muddy track. Trainer Chad Brown’s barn was quiet during the slow-down due to the pandemic, but Brown’s outfit is firing on all cylinders now.
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He wins 24% of the time when his horse is running its second race off a layoff and 30% of the time when his horse was a beaten favorite last time out. Royal Charlotte will get jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. in the saddle. Brown and Ortiz have won at at a 27% clip over the last year.
While she will need to continue to move forward, none of the other top older horses in here are coming in with their best form.
Picks: No. 1 Royal Charlotte to win; Daily Double: 1/1,7 Pick 3: 1/1,7/1,7,8
5:04 p.m. ET
The G2 New York will be run over the inner-turf course at a distance of 1 1/4 miles for fillies and mares four years old and up.
On paper this race looks to be a two-horse race and one that should have a very exciting finish. No. 1 Call Me Love (9-5), who will be making her second career start in the United States for trainer Christophe Clement after finishing very respectable second to Rushing Fall at the G3 Beaugay earlier this month. That performance came on this same turf course.
Call Me Love will be stretching out in distance and doesn’t have to face Rushing Fall again, both of which should help her cause, so she’s definitely one to include, but at the price a win-bet isn’t for me.
My win-bet will be on No. 7 Mean Mary (7-2). She was my top pick and my best bet of the day in her last start on Florida Derby Day in the G3 Orchid at Gulfstream and I’m going back to her here.
There are going to be those who say she was aided by the fast Gulfstream turf course in each of her last three starts, all of which were wins, but Mean Mary’s last two victories were both longer than today’s distance and with her front-running style, that should only help her in this contest.
Her Beyer speed figures have continued to improve in each of her turf starts. With the lack of pace in here, she should get a fairly easy lead and if Luis Saez can control the tempo, she will be really tough to get by.
Picks: No. 7 Mean Mary to win; Exacta Box: 1,7
5:36 p.m. ET
The ninth race is the G2 True North for four year olds and up, run at 6 1/2 furlongs over the main track.
This race has all the makings to be fast early with No. 7 Promises Fulfilled (7-5), No. 1 Diamond King (5-1) and No. 5 Yorktown (10-1) in the field.
Of these three, Promises Fulfilled is clearly the most accomplished with five graded stakes victories, but he’s coming in off a seven-month layoff. Diamond King has never won a graded stakes event, but is cutting back in distance and has aggressive jock Kendrick Carmouche in the saddle, while Yorktown has never won on the dirt.
If those three push each other early and it’s a hot pace, look for No. 8 Firenze Fire (2-1) to sit a perfect stalking trip with his tactical speed. The question is, did trainer Kelly Breen get Firenze Fire back to his winning form so that he will be able to use his tactical speed to pick up the pieces late for the win?
Breen wins at an 18% clip when his horses are making their second start with for him and has a 22% win-rate second off the layoff.
He’s my top pick in here, but if you’re playing any multi-race wagers, you must also use Promises Fulfilled and Diamond King.
Picks: No. 8 Firenze Fire to win
The final stakes race of the day at Belmont is the G1 Just a Game for fillies and mares four years old and up. It will be run over the Widener Turf Course at the distance of 1 mile.
This is another graded stakes race on the turf that is loaded with Chad Brown runners. He has the three of the seven runners in here, including the morning-line favorite, No. 6 Uni (6-5) and the morning-line second choice No. 4 Newspaperofrecord (8-5).
As their odds suggest, these are the two to beat and they both love the Belmont turf with Uni having three wins and a third from four starts and Newspaperofrecord having two wins and a second from four starts.
During her three-year-old campaign, Newspaperofrecord tried stretching out, but that clearly wasn’t what she wanted to do as she was unable to win in her three starts as a three-year-old.
It was great to see her come back in her four-year-old debut early this month and get a win by four lengths right here at Belmont in the G3 Intercontinental. That’s the advantage that she has over her stablemate, she has a race under her belt this year, and an impressive one at that.
On the other hand, Uni has won nine of her 14 career starts on the turf, including seven of eight at this distance. She is coming in on a two-race win streak, both of which were G1’s.
The downside, if you can call it that, is that she is coming in off a seven-month layoff, but the good news for her is that Brown is 29% off the layoff and 30% with winners last time out (the last stat applies to both Uni and Newspaperofrecord).
It’s very possible that we see a Chad Brown trifecta with No. 5 Regal Glory (10-1) also hitting the board. She ran second to Newspaperofrecord last time out, posting her best Beyer. She’s one to use underneath in vertical exotics.
My longshot play is No. 1 Beau Recall (10-1). There seems to be enough pace in here with Newspaperofrecord, No. 2 Got Stormy (5-1) and No. 3 Valedictorian (20-1) for the closers, like Beau Recall, to run into.
There are a couple of issues for Beau Recall. First of all, she’s going to have to outkick Uni and overcome her post position. In her last start, the G3 Mint Juliep, Beau Recall was bothered at the start and wasn’t able to weave through traffic and ended up finishing ninth.
But she gets Jose Ortiz back in the saddle, which is a positive sign as he chose to ride her over Regal Glory. If she can work out a trip, she will be flying late.
Picks: 4,6/1,4,5,6/1,4,5,6 Trifecta
Churchill Downs Picks
Now onto the four stakes races at Churchill, where the G2 Fleur de Lis and the G2 Stephen Foster are win-and-you’re-in for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Classic, respectively.
4:43 p.m. ET
The stakes action kicks off with the G3 Bashford Manor, which is for two year olds and will be run at 6 furlongs over the main track.
With it still being fairly early in the two-year-old season, this is a race that if you are playing any horizontal wagers I would recommend hitting the all button. All seven starters have one race under their belt, all of which were maiden-breaking scores.
The two horses that interested me most were No. 4 Hyperfocus (4-1) and No. 6 Cazadero (8-5). Hyperfocus was a step slow coming out of the gate, but was able to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths in the end at Gulfstream. He is sired by Constitution, who also sired Tiz the Law and other top three-year-old horses, and is trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher wins at a 20% rate with two-year-olds, 20% with last-out winners, but is only 9% in graded stakes races.
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Cazadero won even more impressively as he went to the lead and never looked back, putting away the competition by 8 3/4 lengths right here at Churchill at the end of last month. He’s trained by Steve Asmussen who is 21% with two-year-olds, 21% with last out winners and 16% in graded stakes races.
Picks: No. 4 Hyperforcus to win; 4,6 Exacta Box ; Pick 4: 4,6/5/5,6/5,9,12
Next up we have the G2 Fleur de Lis, which is a win-and-you’re-in race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The Fleur de Lis is for fillies and mares four years old and up, run at the distance of 1⅛ miles over the main track.
No. 5 Midnight Bisou (3/5) is the overwhelming morning-line favorite, and deservingly so. She has 12 wins, five seconds and three thirds from 20 career starts. Interestingly though, she only has two thirds at Churchill.
Her worst Beyer over the last year-and-a-half would still make her competitive in this field. The only way she doesn’t win is if No. 4 Serengeti Empress (2-1) gets an easy lead and is able to set extremely slow fractions and even then, I’m not sure that Midnight Bisou would lose.
The G2 Stephen Foster is the other win-and-you’re-in race. The winner will have a guaranteed, paid-for spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Stephen Foster is for four year olds and up and will be run at the distance of 1 1/8 miles over the main track.
Although I love No. 6 By My Standards (5-2), I don’t love the jockey change. His regular pilot, Gabriel Saez, was suspended for 30 days after an incident at Indiana Grand on June 17th.
Corey Lanerie gets the mount now and while By My Standards has looked extremely impressive in all three starts during his four-year-old campaign, posting a career-best 102 Beyer in his most recent start the G2 Oaklawn Handicap, he will need to show that he is capable of back-to-back 100+ Beyer’s in order to win and if he does win here, this will be the last time we get a decent price on him. He’s my top pick.
The other obvious choice in here is No. 5 Tom’s d’Etat (1-1). The seven-year-old is coming in on a three-race win streak and he has three wins, two seconds and one third from seven career starts at Churchill.
Not only does he have the three-race win streak, but he also is coming in with seven consecutive 100+ Beyer speed figures, more than the rest of the field combined.
Picks: No. 6 By My Standards to win; 5,6 exacta box
The nightcap is the G3 Regret run at 1 1/8 miles over the turf course for three-year-old fillies. This is a deep field and one that looks to be very competitive.
No. 5 Crystal Cliffs (3-1) is the lukewarm morning-line favorite. He made his US and turf debut in his last start, which was right here at Churchill going the same distance.
In that race she posted an 85 Beyer, which is tied for the highest in this field. Trainer Graham Motion is 24% with winner’s last time out, 19% in turf starts and 16% in graded stakes races. Motion and jockey John Velazquez have won four of seven starts together during this meet at Churchill and have won at 23% over the last year. She’s my top pick in here.
The pace of this race looks like it will come from No. 4 In Good Spirits (8-1) and No. 9 Eve of War (12-1). In Good Spirits comes in after making her three-year-old debut in a non-graded stakes race here at Churchill, where she folded late after having the lead early.
You can use the layoff as an excuse, but that was only at a mile, so the additional furlong is going to be tough for her, but she has continually improved from a Beyer speed figure perspective in each of her four career starts.
No. 9 Eve of War is the more interesting pace-horse in this field. She won her turf debut at the end of April at Gulfstream. While Gulfstream favors speed, she was still able to go gate-to-wire to win over this distance.
Eve of War was also in that non-graded stakes race with In Good Spirits last time out, but had to try to work over from the outside post and was forced to steady in the first turn, eliminating her chances.
Eve of War gets one of the meet’s leading jocks in Florent Geroux who is winning at 15% during the meet and 15% on the turf.
The other horse of interest is No. 12 Pass the Plate (6-1). She’s never missed the board on the turf with two wins and three thirds from five career starts. In her most recent start, which was also in the non-graded stakes race at Churchill that both In Good Spirits and Eve of War were in, Pass the Plate finished a closing third by 1 1/4 lengths.
She should benefit from the added distance and as previously mentioned, she will have the pace to run into. Trainer Paul McGee and jockey Julien Leparoux have teamed up for four wins in nine starts (44%) over the last year.
With Leparoux riding her last time out, he knows the late kick she has and is one of the best at timing it up so look for her to be flying late.
Picks: No. 5 Crystal Cliffs to win; 5,9,12 exacta box; 5,9,12/1,4,5,9,11,12/1,4,5,9,11,12 Trifecta