For only third time in 40 years, the Belmont will not have a Kentucky Derby or a Preakness winner in the field. That fact alone makes this an intriguing race, and even more than that, a very good betting race.
Admittedly, I struggled to handicap this Belmont. I do not believe there is much separating the top six or seven horses in here, and for that reason I went back and forth all week. In the end, I settled on the only two horses with grade I wins--Ice Box and Stately Victor. One is the favorite. The other is a price. Interestingly, I did not like either horse in the Derby, but I do now. I will use both of them prominently on my superfecta ticket (which I promise, I will actually play this time), along with Fly Down.
I thought Ice Box ran the best race in the Derby. Considering where he came from and what he had to overcome, it was a winning type of effort. It proved his 20-1 Florida Derby upset was no fluke, and that this is an improving 3-year-old getting good at the right time.
If you consider Ice Box's Derby a winning type of effort, it was his fourth excellent effort in his last five races--dating back to when he broke his maiden last October. He is in good form, and his works have shown that. The :46 3/5 he drilled last Thursday at Saratoga was almost identical to his work right before the Derby.
I don't expect Ice Box to be anywhere near the lead, but I also don't expect him to be as far back as he was in the Derby. With a slower pace, I hope he doesn't have to come from as far back. He should be in good position turning for home. His speed and class numbers are at the top of this field, along with First Dude. And his trainer knows how to win this race. Plus, he comes in fresh, off a nice five-week break.
Ice Box is my pick to win.
Speaking of First Dude, I was all over him in the Preakness and there is no doubt if he runs back to that race he will either win or be right there at the wire. But his Preakness was grueling and I have to believe it took something out of him. People who like him here will say he is a big, strong horse and he should have no problem coming back off three weeks. But I'm not so sure. His races have always been spaced out well and now he will have to take the field the entire 1 1/2 miles on the lead. And nine and half furlongs is a liitle different than 12. There is no doubt he will set the pace and be in good position to win, but this time there is little value on him (I think he will go off as the favorite) and I am more inclined to use him underneath in exotics.
Stately Victor is the other grade I winner. Admittedly, I initially thought his Blue Grass win was a fluke and did not like him in the Derby. But even though he finished eighth, it was a sneaky, good effort considering all the trouble he had. Now, he comes in fresh and off good works. He has all the looks of a horse just beginning to find himself and the 1 1/2 miles should suit him perfectly.
The Blue Grass form has held up well. Runner-up Paddy O'Prado came back to run third in the Derby and third-place First Dude came back to run second in the Preakness. That is important. Also important is Stately Victor's pedigree, which should be perfect for the Belmont. And his sire, Ghostzapper, ran some of his best races at Belmont, winning the Woodward, Vosburgh, Met Mile, and Tom Fool over the track.
I think Stately Victor is live at price.
The other horse I like is Fly Down. I loved his Dwyer. It was dominant. And it makes him the only horse in the field with a win at Belmont. All three of his wins have come around two turns, so he should have an advantage over most of the others as far as distance. He looks like he's getting good now, and the bullet work on Sunday seems to confirm that. I would not be surprised to see Fly Down run huge, though the Dwyer/Peter Pan winner has not come back to win the Belmont very often.
Others I will use for the bottom end of exotics are Drosselmeyer, Game On Dude, Interactif, Uptowncharlybrown, and Stay Put. Drosselmeyer comes in with the curious feet issues, but his works tells me he should be Ok. He has hit the board in seven of eight races. Game On Dude ran huge in the Lone Star Derby and I expect him to near the lead. Interactif is one I've liked since last year. I've always thought he was a 1 1/2-mile horse. Stay Put could sneak in there, especially if its wet.
I will probably put some win money on Ice Box and play an Ice Box/Stately Victor exacta box, but here is how I will structure my $1 superfecta:
5,6,9/5,6,9/3,5,6,7,9,10,11,12/3,5,6,7,9,10,11,12. Like my Preakness super, it is a $120 bet. Obviously, I'm hoping First Dude does not figure in the first two spots. If that happens, I think I have a decent chance.
Good luck to everyone. Let me know who you like and be sure to join us for the live blogs Friday and Saturday at noon eastern.
**Update: On Friday, I updated my superfecta bet to include Stay Put in the 3rd and 4th spots. I like him more now, especially with rain in the forecast. This would change the wager to $180. If I had to remove one horse, it would be Charlybrown. Hopefully, I can hit a few races earlier on the card and I dont have to.