This week’s tracks remain Belmont Park and Gulfstream. Our Belmont Stakes analysis appears as the bonus race at the end of this report.
BELMONT PARK (Saturday, June 11, 2022)
RACE 3. Grade 1 Acorn Stakes. 1 mile. Dirt
False Favorite: #5 Echo Zulu (3-5).
Reason: Last year’s 2-year-old champion filly returned in 2022 with 2 disappointing efforts. Her comebacker was a nose victory in slow time against a weak field. That was followed by a big late-race fade in the Kentucky Oaks. Cutting the distance back to a 1-turn mile makes sense, given the weakness she has shown in late stretch. But it also admits to a weakness. The turnback in distance tosses her into a field of sprinter types that might deny her the early lead, which is her preferred position.
Our figures show that she declined in 2 consecutive races so far this year. We think other fillies have caught up to her in terms of maturity and that she won’t dominate as she has in the past.
#2 Inventing (20-1). It’s odd that Pletcher enters this maiden in a Grade 1 event. But her opening quarter mile and half mile at Churchill last time out were just as fast as the early runners in the Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes on the same day.
#4 Matareya (6-5). After ending her 2-year-old campaign with a pair of second-place finishes in stakes races, she came roaring back to win 3 in a row this year. Her raw times for 6 furlongs have been sensational, with a 1:08.4 at the Fair Grounds and a 1:09.0 at Churchill last time out. She drew away in the stretch even after posting fast early fractions, so adding a furlong shouldn’t be a problem.
GULFSTREAM PARK (Saturday, June 11, 2022)
RACE 1. Maiden Claimer $16,000. 1 mile. Turf. (Analysis for turf only.)
False Favorite: #3 Charming Charlie (7-2).
Reason: The Lasix, blinkers and class drops failed to trigger improvement. It’s hard to imagine a one-level drop here will improve his chances much.
#5 Warriors in Lace (20-1). The trainer excels at winning with turf horses making their 2nd start. Ignore this runner’s poor debut. Focus instead on the pedigree, connections and long odds.
#6 Our Noble Ortega (12-1). It seems obvious that the plan is to send this dirt speedster to the lead. The jockey switch should help matters a lot.
RACE 14. Claiming $20,000 N2L. 1 mile. Turf. (Analysis for turf only.)
False Favorite: #10 Tulfarris (2-1).
Reason: He’s 1 for 27 lifetime. The outside post at a mile doesn’t help his chances, either. He has also had 5 layoffs in his past 10 races, which means he’s due for another one real soon.
#4 My Man Flint (4-1). He missed by only a length at this level after encountering trouble at the start. His works for his return are strong and steady. Note that his maiden win came off a layoff following a few strong 4-furlong works.
#7 Birdman Richie (8-1). He already won at this level, but he gets to take these types on again because he’s a 3-year-old facing older horses. He drops back in for a tag after a few even runs against optional claimers.
BONUS RACE: 2022 BELMONT STAKES
Belmont Park. Race 11. Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. 1 1/2 Miles. Dirt.
The Belmont Stakes usually favors horses racing on or near the early lead. It seems counterintuitive that deep closers succeed so rarely in the longest race in the Triple Crown series. The interplay of pace and pedigree seems to explain this paradox.
Using ballpark figures, you can see that talented horses with stamina-laden pedigrees often struggle with the blistering Grade 1 pace of 1:11.0 or faster at shorter distances than 11 or 12 furlongs. Look at recent Belmont Stakes winners Essential Quality, War of Will and others that failed to win the Kentucky Derby to see this dynamic. However, if you allow horses like this to race forwardly in 1:11.3 or slower, which is more likely to occur in marathons, they’ll kick on all day long. They’re even the most likely contenders to survive for a few extra furlongs if they’re caught up in a 1:11 pace at 12 furlongs.
That explains, at least partially, why the offspring of Tapit have never won the Kentucky Derby but absolutely dominate in the Belmont.
This year pedigree info is less helpful in the Belmont Stakes because 3 of 8 runners show Tapit close-up in their pedigree. Another three show Curlin in their pedigree, also a successful stamina influence in the US and in this race. So handicappers are forced to work harder and combine pace, pedigree and recent performance to achieve clarity.
With that said, let’s dive into the race using the standard RTSS format.
False Favorite: We the People (2-1).
Reason: As with Epicenter in the Preakness Stakes, we see We the People more as a vulnerable favorite than a false one. With Epicenter, recent form and proven class were outstanding, but the pace scenario figured to work against him. With We the People, the strengths and weaknesses are reversed, with pace possibly favoring him and his class unproven.
First his strengths. As the only habitual frontrunner in the field. We the People seems to own a pace advantage. His pedigree looks well-suited to the 12- furlong distance, so he stands a good chance to carry his speed to the finish if the pace comes up soft enough.
His weaknesses emerge when evaluating his proven class. His first 2 trips to the track resulted in walkover wins against Oaklawn Park horses that have accomplished little. In his N1x allowance win, he defeated just 5 rivals. His half times in those 2-turn races rung up at a dawdling 1:13.0 and 1:13.1. When facing stakes types in the Arkansas Derby, he was forced to run 1:12.2 just to keep close in 5th place. That small uptick in pace drained him severely enough that he finished 7th of 9 entrants.
Although he won the Grade 3 Peter Pan in his next race, he once again beat up on weak competition after securing an easy lead early. Golden Glider, who finished second, had never run better than 4th in a graded stakes race and lines up for the Belmont as the longest shot on the morning line.
We the People set a pace of 1:11.1 in the Peter Pan, which looks respectable until you realize that was a one-turn race on a sealed track. What happens to him when he’s forced to run 1:11 and change in a 2-turn race against accomplished graded stakes horses? I think the Arkansas Derby shows us the answer. The unanswered question is whether any rival will push him that hard early.
Nest (8-1). This filly is the runner most likely to press We the People early. She doesn’t break sharply, but she accelerates quickly and likes to sit on or near the lead. And she seems more capable than the favorite of handling a fast early pace.
Look at the top 4-furlong splits in 2-turn races for each runner, followed by their next quarter-mile split:
- We the People, :47.0 then :25.2
- Nest, :47.2 then :24.2
Based on her running style and demonstrated ability, Nest will likely pressure We the People through opening quarters in the Belmont that are fast enough to take We the People out of his comfort zone.
For her jockey Jose Ortiz, the strategy makes sense. Nest is trained by Todd Pletcher, who also trains late-running Mo Donegal. Pletcher would like to see an honest pace unfold that would give Mo Donegal a fighting chance to win. The good news for Pletcher is that he doesn’t have to compromise Nest’s chances at victory to ensure that happens. Her recent performances indicate she can handle a demanding pace.
The counter-argument to that final point is that Nest lost to fillies in the Kentucky Oaks last time out. Why should we expect her to improve against males?
There are two reasons:
- Her pedigree suggests she’ll love marathon distances.
- She had traffic problems in the Oaks that delayed her final kick just long enough for Secret Oath to get the jump on her.
We see far more positives than negatives for Nest, and if she goes off anywhere close to the 8-1 morning line she’s the best value in the race.
Creative Minister (6-1). We liked his chances in the Preakness enough to make him one of our top 3 choices. He finished a respectable third behind two Grade 1 stars (Early Voting and Epicenter) in a race that played out faster than average. Given that was just his fourth lifetime start and his first against stakes company, we think it’s reasonable to expect improvement.
While Nest likes to stake her position by the 4-furlong mark, Creative Minister prefers to join the pace setters around the 5- or 6-furlong point. If the two pacesetters ahead of him in this race tire, Creative Minister should be first in line to pass them by.
The Preakness might be the strongest 3-year-old race of the year. If so, this lightly raced colt already proved he can compete with the best. He made a middle move to draw within 2 lengths of the leaders and then persisted late. That was a great learning experience and a decent exhibition of staying power. His pedigree says he’ll like the added distance. If he’s on the improve, he might be untouchable in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Usually we recommend overweighting your bet on the lower-odds horse of the two we recommend. In this case we recommend a pure “dutch.” Bet so that your return is about the same whether the race is won by Nest or Creative Minister. We also recommend a small “saver” exacta with We the People on top of those two choices, just in case the pace comes up softer than we expect.