Belmont Stakes 2018 day graded stakes preview, early picks

June 01, 2018 12:49pm

The 2018 Belmont Stakes day card features six Grade 1 races, three purses of $1 million or more, a trio of Grade 2 stakes, total purses on the graded stakes of $7.05 million and, of course, Justify’s attempt to become American racing's 13th Triple Crown winner.

There are few days of racing outside of Breeders’ Cup Saturday that are better than this June 9 card.

Last year
Bob Baffert came to Belmont Stakes day with his horses ready to fire when he won three graded stakes with Abel Tasman in the Acorn, American Anthem in the Woody Stephens and Mor Spirit in the Met Mile, for which he recorded the highest Beyer Speed Figure of the year in New York at 117.

Of course, Baffert trains Justify, who he's hoping will add to that tally of winners. Here's what else to watch for as the undercard fields form:

• The $700,000
Acorn (G1) is expected to draw a small but select field for the one-turn mile that should include Caledonia Road, Monomoy Girl, Red Ruby and Moonshine Memories. I really like Caledonia Road, as I picked her to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last November. She picks up Mike Smith to ride after her winning 2018 debut, but this is a very tough spot.

: Monomoy Girl will be the favorite, but I can’t play against her in the Acorn because she is just too good. The one-turn mile around the big Belmont Park oval is the perfect setting for her to run fast the entire eight furlongs.

•The $1.2 million 
Met Mile (G1) is a race that has produced some dazzling performances in recent years by the likes of Mor Spirit, Frosted and Honor Code. This year’s race may likely do the same. You have to go back to Honour and Glory in 1996 to find a 3-year-old winner of this race that is known as the "Stallion Maker" because both speed and stamina are required to win it. I bring up the 3-year-old stat because Bolt d’Oro is expected in the Met Mile. Off his recent form, the task is daunting.

: Mind Your Biscuits will be running out of his stall on the Belmont Park backstretch. The now 5-year-old may be in the best form of his life after the amazing late charge to win the Golden Shaheen while running on a speed-favoring track in Dubai. The speedy Bee Jersey has created a buzz with his three-race win streak, but he has not tackled this kind of field in his career. I expect an ultra-impressive victory by Biscuits in the Met Mile.

• In the $400,000
Brooklyn Invitational (G2), the older horses provide a preview of the feature by going a mile and a half on the Belmont Park oval. Success at the 12 furlongs comes from the ability to run steady quarter miles at around a 24 second clip.

: Hard Study has won three races in a row and six of his last eight. The two most-recent victories were in long-distance stakes races. With an affinity for the Belmont Park surface, this 5-year-old is in career top form right now and no doubt can get the distance. The task will not be easy, because War Story is back to defend his victory in last year’s Brooklyn. Baffert sends in 7-year-old Hoppertunity, who has won more than $4 million, including a Grade 3 at a mile and a half in April at Santa Anita. Hard Study should provide some value with War Story the likely favorite.

• What a field in the seven-furlong $400,000
Woody Stephens (G2) with big-name sprinters like Promises Fulfilled, Strike Power, Engage, Madison’s Luna, High North and Mitole. There is plenty of early speed in the Woody Stephens with Mitole, who has been an odds-on victor of his last three races, and Strike Power who cuts back to sprinting after dabbling on the Derby trail.

: Engage is the pick because the pace scenario says that a closer will win. Madison’s Luna and Kanthaka are the other late runners that need to be considered, but Engage is 2-for-2 at Belmont Park.

• The $750,000
Ogden Phipps (G1) field includes the winners of all three Grade 1 races this year for the older females in Salty, Unbridled Mo and Fault. Throw in Abel Tasman, who loved Belmont in the Acorn last year, and you have a fantastic field for this one-turn mile and a sixteenth.

: Fault, who is expected to ship in from the West Coast, has run two very big races since switching from turf to dirt. I will play against Abel Tasman because she has not won in her last three starts and will still be heavily bet. Trainer Phil D’Amato has had good luck at Belmont Park in the past.

• The $1,000,000
Manhattan (G1) is loaded with talented turf runners. Chad Brown, who has won four of the last six editions of this mile and a quarter contest, has a tough duo of Beach Patrol and Robert Bruce. Robert Bruce is unbeaten in eight career starts with the first seven happening in Chile. Throw in the likes of Sadler’s Joy and Hi Happy and that makes quite a Grade 1 showdown.

: Hi Happy is going to have some value in this high-quality field. Many handicappers say Todd Pletcher can’t train turf horses and never has success with older horses. But this 6-year-old is in the best form of his career. He won the Man O’ War last time out against Sadler’s Joy.

• The $400,000
Jaipur (G2) is an invitational, and the list of horses that have been asked to attend this party include Disco Partner, who set a world record of 1:05.67 in this race six-furlong race last year, and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint champion Stormy Liberal. The extended weather forecast makes it likely that the turf will be firm, which means very fast.

: The Jaipur field is far from set at this point, but if Stormy Liberal travels East he will be the one to beat.

• The $700,000
Just a Game (G1) is run at that specialized turf distance of a mile, and yet again this race has a very strong field that includes On Leave, A Raving Beauty, Off Limits, Proctor’s Ledge and Lull. Chad Brown won this race last year with Antonoe, and he'll be a threat to win it again.

: Lull took her 2018 debut on the front end at Gulfstream Park in the Honey Fox in the snappy time of 1:33.14. This Christophe Clement trainee has a chance to get loose on the lead in the Just a Game where she could be very dangerous.

• The 
Belmont Stakes (G1) is, of course, the marquee event of the weekend as Justify enters the race as the sixth horse (seventh, if you count I’ll Have Another) trying to win the Triple Crown since 2000. Only American Pharoah succeeded in his quest to take down racing’s most coveted title. Baffert is trying to become only the second trainer to win the Triple Crown twice.

At this writing 10 horses are expected in the Belmont, and that is a large field for when the Triple Crown is on the line.

: Vino Rosso - Justify is going to be an odds-on favorite and could get close to the .75-1 odds of American Pharoah. Although it would be historic to be able to see another Triple Crown, at those odds Justify is not a good bet. If I am playing the Pick 5 or Pick 4, I will use Justify defensively. However, longshots have frequently spoiled in these situations. I will look for one of the talented off-the-pace runners to catch Justify in the final sixteenth of a mile. Bravazo and Hofburg will get the most action, but Vino Rosso and Blended Citizen will be my preferred price plays.


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Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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