Moreno - This time he’s the one everyone will be watching, and that will almost certainly make this one a whole lot more difficult. In the Whitney, he was allowed to cruise with a clear advantage through non-taxing fractions. Now as the hunted, look for his competition to test him early and often. Considering the quality of his three lifetime races at Saratoga, he may still be good enough to beat these, but as the favorite, and with a lifetime record of 3-for-20, I am more than willing to take a shot against the Ghostzapper gelding.
Itsmyluckyday - As arguably the most accomplished horse in the field, and coming off a solid second in the Whitney, this son of Lawyer Ron deserves strong consideration on Saturday, but I have to wonder under what scenario he wins this. All signs (adding blinkers, and drawing the rail under Paco Lopez) point to him going after the speedy Moreno more aggressively this time around. Can he put away the Whitney winner and still have enough left to hold off the rest? It seems like a tough task for a horse that will be heavily supported.
Zivo - This rather obscurely bred New York-bred really has come a long way. He’s just a photo finish loss, seven starts back, from having won eight in a row. I thought he received a dream trip last time in winning the Grade 2 Suburban at 10 furlongs, as his late run was benefitted by a strong early pace, and the rail opened up wide for him at Belmont. As stated, he should get pace to run at on Saturday, it is only a matter if he is truly as good as the last one, when he won at odds of 13-1. He might be.
Long River and Romansh entry - On their best day, the Godolphin coupling, ridden by the Ortiz brothers, could be a threat in here, but neither comes in off particularly strong form. A wake up performance could make either half of the entry a threat, but it’s hard not to notice that all of their combined four stakes wins have come exclusively at Aqueduct. I’m going to take a shot against, and hope that neither of the pair is quite Grade 1 material.
Micromanage - This one should appreciate the strong early fractions of the top two, and has run well at Saratoga in the past. While he has never won a Grade 1, I always thought that the ability to do so might be in there. Having said that, my guess is that coming out of a 14 furlong race will have him dulled just enough to see him fall short on Saturday.
Norumbega - After a game performance in winning the 12 furlong Brooklyn, this improving son of Tiznow was dull while cutting back in distance in the Suburban. He’s since been freshened, and should be ready to roll again for the potent duo of Shug McGaughey and Javier Castellano. He runs well fresh, and has been working great. He’ll add blinkers to keep him focused, and in the race early, ready to pounce behind the contentious early pace. He’s also 2-for-2 at Saratoga. In short, he looks to be sitting on a big one. He’s my top pick, and at 10-1 or more in here, I don’t like Norumbega … I love him!
Prayer for Relief - A hard hitting six-year-old who has had plenty of chances, but has never broken through in the big time. At his best, he beats up on lesser, but likes to make his presence felt against Grade 1 competition, before falling short of sealing the deal. If he’s right there as they turn for home in the Woodward, he’s in with a shot, but I believe he will find this level of competition just a little too much, once again.
Last Gunfighter – Admirably, he has won half of his 18 lifetime starts, including a slew of added money events. He’s never been able to break through in a Grade 1, but this could be his most realistic chance yet. The problem is his last two efforts (9th in the Suburban, and 5th in the Whitney), did not look good. It leads me to wonder if the five-year-old has lost a step. Having said that, a return to last year’s form puts him in right in the thick of this.
Stephanoatsee - The once promising career of Shackleford’s half-brother just never fully got off the ground. Since a good performance in the Strub better than 18 months ago, he has not looked like a horse who can win a race like this.
As a parting shot, I’ll leave you with perhaps the greatest edition of a race full of memorable runnings … Ghostzapper vs. Saint Liam, sit back and enjoy!