Barry Faulkner's US Racing Preview

Barry Faulkner previews the opening night of Fall meeting at Belmont Park - live on Sky Sports Racing.

It may have been delayed by a week but that has only added to my anticipation for the opening of one of my favourite periods of racing in New York state. I love the Fall meet at Belmont and it will be shown in its entirety on Sky Sports Racing!

The track is arguably the fairest in US racing with its unique mile and half main track enclosing a pair of turf ovals. The outer grass circuit is the Widener course which is approximately ten and half furlongs round, with a one furlong shorter turf track inside. Belmont also benefits from having one of the best Morning Line odds compilers in the business which is a help – but also a bit of a hindrance - because he generally provides a pretty good tissue for bookmakers pricing up the races over here.

The opening day card features a Black Type Stake – the Miner’s Mark over the full Belmont Stakes course. Only five have been entered which has resulted in the race moving forward to be the fourth on the card, with a scheduled post time of 7:25pm BST, in order to take it out of the six events in the Empire Six sequence.

The card kicks of at 6.00pm with a juvenile event which has a $1million purchase from the Keeneland September Sales in the field of six. I thoroughly enjoyed going through the first eight races on today’s card and hope that you find something to lead you to some profitable plays from the analysis below but, whichever way you make your picks, good luck everyone!

Stateside preview for Friday 18 September 2020 Belmont

Belmont Race 1 (6.00pm): Maiden Special Weight – Fillies 2 year olds – Six furlongs – Dirt

The first race of the Fall meet at Belmont sees half a dozen juvenile fillies scheduled to line up going six furlongs on the main track and only one of them has raced so far.

The filly with experience is Jade Empress (3) from the barn of Bill Mott. She faced only three rivals when taking 2nd place in this grade at Saratoga just under four weeks ago where she showed a battling attitude. Her speed figure for that effort was a way below the usual requirement to win one of these here but she is entitled to progress from her debut.

The newcomer who will attract most attention is the $1million purchase Zainalarab (1). She is by War Front and the first foal of Delightful Joy, a Tapit mare, who won three of her six starts (all as a three-year old), including a G3 at Monmouth Park. Zainalarab (1) represents Sheik Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stable and races from the barn of Chad Brown who has a 20% strike rate with debs in Maiden Special Weights. Javier Castellano gets the ride.

Todd Pletcher runs Exact (2) who cost a relatively modest $82,000 earlier this year at Ocala Breeze ups. However, she has been moving well in the mornings starting going strong work here at the beginning of August. She recorded a bullet last Saturday, when producing the sharpest work from 76 recorded that day. Her sire may stand at just $12,500 but both her dam’s two other starters have been winners.

Shug McGaughey runs TREASURE LANE (5) a home bred of Will Farish’s by Quality Road, who stands at $200,000, out of a Mineshaft mare who has produced four winners from four starters, two of them at Stakes level. Her trainer bats at 11% with his Maiden Special Weight debutantes, against his overall strike rate this year of 25%. It would be no surprise if, in time, this lass becomes the best of this bunch but I am prepared to take a chance on her potential class today. Veteran John Velazquez gets the mount, and there’s no better man for educating young un’s,

Selection: Treasure Lane (5)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 2 (6.33pm): Claimer ($32,000) – 3 year olds – One mile – Outer Turf

Nine colts and geldings have been entered for this eight-furlongs contest on the Widener turf course with two of them carrying the Main Track Only proviso.

Gravitas (1) won a $40,000 nonwinners of two Claimer at Monmouth Park just under four weeks ago where he drove the engine, opening up a 4½ length lead in the run, before scrambling home by a neck as the pack closed. He will be the target again from this post on this step up in grade for trainer Jonathan Thomas.

Doubly Blessed (2) was previously trained by Jonathan Thomas, for whom he broke his maiden, in a Special Weight group, at Tampa Bay in May. He returned in a $40,000 nonwinners of two Claimer at Saratoga, thirteen days ago, on his first start for trainer Mike Maker. On the face of it, it was a disappointing run but he had excuses, so it would be no surprise to see an improved performance today.

Pepper Pike (4) finished 3rd, in this grade, at Saratoga at the end of July, when he had Me and Mr. C (3), 2 lengths further behind in 7th. The former then closed well, but from too far back, going seven furlongs on the main track, after the race had been switched from the turf sixteen days ago. Me and Mr. C (3) has been absent since but has been priced up on the Morning Line at less than half the odds of the gelding that beat him at Saratoga.

Make a Stand (8) is also arriving off a win at Monmouth Park but, in his case, it was in a $25,000 nonwinners of two Claimer so more should be needed here.

ZIPALONG (9) has run well in mainly New York bred events, most recently taking 3rd place in a New York Stallion Series Stake, thirteen days ago. Although, that wasn’t a particularly strong contest he looks a fit class wise and his speed figures should make him competitive at this level.

Selection: Zipalong (9)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 3 (7.04pm): Claimer ($14,000) N3L - Fillies and mares 3 year olds and upwards – Six furlongs – Dirt

A very modest Claimer for two time winners going six furlongs comes next, with eight distaffers entered who will provide seven betting slots across the pond with a ‘coupling’ from the barn of Richard Schossberg.

CAPE COD DIVA (1) and Ruvies in Time (1A/ 8) both drop in grade here after tackling $30,000 nonwinners of three company last time out. The former failed to stay a mile on the turf, when chasing the early pace but is better judged on her prior effort, going six and a half furlongs on dirt, in late July. She looks realistically spotted in this slot. Ruvies in Time (1A) faded at the end of a seven furlong ‘off turf’ event at Saratoga fifteen days ago, her fourth poor run this year. She showed ability in her two runs in 2019 but that spark have been missing this year.

Hetty G (4) finished 2nd in this grade, at Saratoga in July, when she took a ½ a length lead into the final furlong before getting worried out of it late. She got a bump at the break there which was no help and, with a smoother start, can make her presence felt in this group.

Jim Ryerson ships Miss Liana (5) up from Monmouth Park, where she has put up a couple of decent efforts at her home track. She was a beaten a fair way on her most recent race but this isn’t the strongest event she has tackled and could surprise the locals.

Appletini (7) was well held in this grade, here in June and July and didn’t provide much encouragement in two turf tries, sprinting on turf at Saratoga subsequently but were they were in New York bred entry level Allowance contests and this should be easier.

Selection: Cape Cod Diva (1)
Exotic Play: Reverse forecast (Boxed exacta) 2 bets: Cape Cod Diva (1) and Miss Liana (5)


Belmont Race 4 (7.35pm): Miner’s Mark Stakes (Black Type) – 3 year olds and upwards – One mile, four furlongs – Dirt

The feature on the opening day card is this Listed Stake over the full Big Sandy circuit going twelve furlongs and a couple of them are already well acquainted.

The Listed Birdstone Stake at Saratoga, over a mile and three quarters at the beginning of August saw YOU'RE TO BLAME (1) close to take 2nd place, depriving Rocketry (4) of that finishing position inside the final furlong. The two of them had previously swapped decisions when they had met at this sort of trip during the last couple of years. You’re to Blame (1) has held sway in the two most recent battles, with Rocketry (4) the master further back, when he was head and shoulder above this sort of group. But that was then! Although there shouldn’t be much between them again here, I am going with recency and suggesting You’re to Blame (1) as the more likely today.

Of the other three Petit Fils (5) is of most interest. He won a G3, over this trip, on soft going at Longchamp in May last year and closed his 2019 French campaign by finishing 4th in the Prix Gladiateur G3 in September. He has hardly lifted a hoof in three turf tries on turf in US for Christophe Clement and was claimed for $62,500 out of a second level Allowance Optional Claimer in the middle of last month. This switch of surface clearly an experiment but he can’t be completely ruled out.  

Selection: You’re to Blame (1)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 5 (8.04pm)Maiden Claimer ($25,000) – NY Bred Fillies and mares 3 year olds and upwards – Seven furlongs – Dirt

Ten older distaffers have been entered for this long sprint on the main track. Alas, because of the - hopefully obsolescent - coupling rules in New York State (and other jurisdictions unfortunately), local horse players will be forced to accept and ‘entry’ thus providing them with just nine betting pockets.

Flattering Eyes (1) and Mebs Web (1A/10) make up the entry from the barn of Nick Zito, who also retains a share in the ownership of each of them, hence their coupling under local rules. They are both regulars at this level, with the latter’s 2nd placing, when running on at the end of a six and half furlongs event at Saratoga in the middle of last month, the pick of their recent form. She had previously taken the show dough, over this trip at the Spa, in a race where Lottie’s Mizzion (4) was ½ a length behind her in 4th. There are others in here who look to have stronger claims.   

Belleza (6) represents trainer Linda Rice who had a frustrating time at the shortened Belmont Spring / Summer meet where she picked up just six winners from 49 starters (12%). In contrast she had a win rate of 17% at Saratoga but her ‘in the frame’ percentage was only slightly better at 50% against 49% at Belmont. The difference in success rate was due almost entirely to runner up placings converting to wins at the Spa. Belleza (6) was one of her 2nd placings at Belmont, in a New York bred $40,000 Maiden Claimer in early July, where she had Madame Deputy (8) 4½ lengths behind in 3rd. She was then made 4-5 favourite, in this grade at Saratoga, at the end of that month. She had issues at the gate for the second consecutive time there, before keeping on to take 3rd when going six furlongs, with CROSS KEYS (2), making just her second start, 9¾ lengths further back, when beating just one rival home after getting wiped out at the start. That lass was claimed out of that race by trainer Jeremiah Englehart and it would not surprise me if she turned tables on Belleza (6) today, based on her solid performance in a State Bred Maiden Special Weight over the one turn mile, here, at the beginning of July.

Selection: Cross Keys (2)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 6 (8.36pm)Maiden Special Weight – 2 year olds – One mile – Widener Turf

Eight routing juveniles have been entered for this mile contest on the outer of the two turf tracks and just two of them have racing experience.

Todd Pletcher ran Honorable (3) in a five and a half furlong dirt event that had been switched from the turf at Saratoga, just under four weeks ago. He didn’t make the sharpest break there and made little impression. However, this trip and surface should suit him better. The other one with experience is SCARLETT SKY (7) and his chance if much more obvious. He also ran in a Maiden Special Weight at the Spa, taking 2nd place, after losing places entering the stretch, before running on, when tackling eight and a half furlongs. She is trained by Shug McGaughey, who is not renowned for tightening the drum too much on his charges first time up, so more can be expected today and it could easily be enough to get him into the Winner’s Circle.

Space Launch (1) is bred to go long but I am not convinced by his turf credential. However, his dam has produced four winner from four starter with three of them being Stakes scorers, although none of them have been successful on turf. However, trainer Christophe Clement knows how to get one ready for the grass.   

Bunker Hill (5) has rock solid turf and distance breeding being by War Front out of Claire de Lune, a once raced daughter of Galileo. He is trained by Barclay Tag who has given him plenty of - not particularly onerous - morning works. I’m not making him my tip but he is the one that, as a purist at heart, I am most looking forward to seeing.

Low Country (6) is a Godolphin homebred by Frosted out of Kiawah Cat, a Lemon Drop Kid mare, who won three of her fourteen starts and was placed three times in graded Stakes. He has been training strongly with Mike Stidham’s string at the Fair Hills training centre in Maryland.

Selection: Scarlett Sky (7)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 7 (9.08pm)Claimer ($40,000) N2L – 3 year olds and upwards – Six furlongs – Inner Turf

A dozen older lads, trying to get a second win, have been entered for this turf sprint on the tighter of the Belmont turf tracks but a couple of them will only definitely compete if it becomes a dirt contest.

Threepointnine (1) got his first win, on his third start overall, in a $40,000 Maiden Claimer, going five and half furlongs at Saratoga just over four weeks ago. He led all the way there, when establishing a 2 lengths advantage at the furlongs pole, but that had shrunk to ½ a length at the wire. The speed figure he earned there was quite a way below the par for this.

Two back, Big Wonder (2) was sent to post at a shade under 2-1 locally, in this grade at Saratoga, just over four weeks ago but had to settle for the runner-up share of the purse, after bumping late with Red Mule (8) who was just a neck behind in 3rd. Big Wonder (2) then took 3rd place in a New York bred entry level Allowance, over the same course and distance to week ago. There shouldn’t be much between them again here.  

Daring Disguise (7) is another who lost his maiden status last time out, scoring in a $40,000 Maiden Claimer at Saratoga just over five weeks ago on his (lucky?) thirteenth start overall. However, he may also find this a tough assignment to follow up in.

OUR TROUBADOUR (12) is interesting from his outside post. He also got his one win in a $40,000 Maiden Claimer, over this trip on the outer turf track here at the beginning of July. He then put up decent effort in an open $50,000 Starter Allowance, going five and half furlongs at Saratoga, later that same month. He got a stand out career figure for that effort and, if it is credible, it points to a real chance but he needs a strong pace to run at.

Selection: Our Troubadour (12)
No Exotic Play:


Belmont Race 8 (9.42pm)Allowance Optional Claimer ($40,000) N2X – NY Bred Fillies and mares 3 year olds and upwards – Six and half furlongs – Dirt

Seven locally bred lasses have been entered for this stretched sprint and they look a pretty competitive group.

Letmetakethiscall (1) won in this grade, as 6-5 favourite, when up for sale at the Spa, at the end of August going seven panels and she was duly snagged out of that race. She now resides with an 8% handler compared with 23% strike rate of her previous trainer. Her one work here since the switch was relatively pedestrian but she still has a clear chance today.

Good Credence (3) got through the entry level Allowance condition, over this course and distance in July, when she finished 3¼ lengths in front of Bustin Scones (2) in 2nd. After that she passed under the wire ¾ of a length in 3rd place behind Letmetakethiscall (1), who was 2nd going six furlongs in this grade, before that lass went on to score her recent victory. Unfortunately, Good Credence (3) was disqualified and placed 5th there but I would fancy her to turn tables, given her preference for this track and the extra 110 yards to travel today.   

Jewel of Arabia (4) is going for a hat trick here after having broken her maiden in a Special Weight group over this course and distance in early July before adding an entry level Allowance to her CV at Saratoga going six furlongs at the end of the same month. Both those successes came when she cleared her field in pace setting style but she will have plenty of front-end company here. She had Bustin Stones (2) 6 lengths behind in 4th place on her latest start but that lass gets a more favourable pace set up here.

Baby Boss (5) is another who likes to sit at the front of the bus but she has to get back to the form she was showing in 2019 after a lacklustre, belated return at Saratoga in the middle of July, in an open £32,000 Claimer. She was sent to post as a tepid favourite there following her exploits last year but faded badly in the stretch of the six furlongs event, finishing well behind Letmetakethiscall (1). She was snagged out of that event by trainer Kelly Breen, who strikes at 24% with his runners first off the claim.

Fierce Lady (6) was behind Letmetakethiscall (1) and Good Credence (3) on her last start. She had to go six wide to make her challenge there before getting steadied with half a furlong to run, passing under the wire in 5th but she was promoted to 4th. On her previous start, she was also in tight close to home, over this trip, when passed late by the winner and PRAIRIE FIRE (7), who finished a neck ahead in 2nd place. Luis Saez takes over from Joel Rosario in the plate for trainer Rudy Rodriguez.

Prairie Fire (7) met Fierce Lady (6) in both her recent starts. In the latest of them she was bumped twice at the start and found herself 12 lengths behind after half a mile, sitting off modest fractions for the grade and found it impossible to bridge the gap. Before that, although the sectionals weren’t much stronger, she had a the six and a half furlongs trip playing to her strengths, when closing strongly to take 2nd place despite having to alter course twice close to home. The addition of blinkers and a jockey switch add to the appeal of Linda Rice’s charge.

Selection: Prairie Fire (7)
Exotic Play: Reverse forecast (Boxed exacta) 2 bets: Fierce Lady (6) and Prairie Fire (7). 


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