By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Happy Independence Day!
One of the best races on this upcoming holiday weekend is
the $700,000 Belmont Oaks (gr. I) at
Belmont Park, a 1 ¼-mile turf test that has attracted a high-quality field of
nine three-year-old fillies.
When I first examined the field, a key question quickly
came to mind: Could the presence of longshot Japanese raider #7 Jodie completely change the
complexion of the Belmont Oaks and give an advantage to #2 Newspaperofrecord, a brilliant juvenile seeking to regain her
winning form? As strange as that question might sound at first, I believe the
answer might be the key to handicapping the race.
Newspaperofrecord needs no introduction. She was
absolutely sensational as a two-year-old, winning a maiden race, the Miss
Grillo Stakes (gr. II), and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I) by
a minimum of 6 ½ lengths. No one could warm her up—in her two stakes victories,
she went straight to the front simply widened her advantage down the lane.
But Newspaperofrecord has been decidedly less dominant as
a three-year-old. She kicked off her 2019 campaign in the Edgewood Stakes (gr.
III) at Churchill Downs, where she set the pace as usual, but came up empty in
the final furlong to finish second by 3 ¾ lengths in a shocking defeat.
Perhaps Newspaperofrecord was a bit rusty off the layoff,
but when she finished second again in the 1 1/8-mile Wonder Again Stakes (gr.
III) at Belmont—beaten 1 ¼ lengths after setting the pace—handicappers were
left to speculate whether Newspaperofrecord had failed to progress as a
However, I'm inclined to take a favorable view of
Newspaperofrecord's performances this year. In my opinion, she just hasn't been
given the right setup to excel. Newspaperofrecord's strong suit has never been a
blistering turn-of-foot—to the contrary, her main strength is her excellent
tactical speed, which allows her to sprint her pursuers off their feet and
leave them exhausted for the run down the homestretch.
As a juvenile, Newspaperofrecord was allowed to run
freely, and the result was one powerful victory after another. This year,
Newspaperofrecord has been rated a bit more on the lead, in an effort to slow
her down, and she wound up being headstrong early on in both the Edgewood and the
From a Brisnet pace figure perspective, it's no wonder
why Newspaperofrecord has been headstrong this year. Check out the Brisnet E1
and E2 pace figures that Newspaperofrecord has posted in her last four starts:
Miss Grillo Stakes: 102, 101
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf: 108, 110
Edgewood Stakes: 97. 98
Wonder Again Stakes: 82, 82
Although from a visual Newspaperofrecord appears to be
employing the same front-running tactics, she's actually been setting slower paces
this year, which might be to her detriment. Her performance in the Wonder Again
was a great example. Newspaperofrecord wasn't tired by any means—she was
running fastest at the finish and sprinted the final three furlongs in :33.86
seconds per Trakus. She just couldn't match the turn-of-foot produced by her
victorious stablemate #9 Cambier Parc.
In my opinion, Newspaperofrecord would have been
better-served by racing freely up front in the Wonder Again. Even opening up
six or eight lengths on the field might have been preferable since tactical
speed is her weapon and she isn't the type to produce a big burst of
acceleration down the homestretch.
That's where the above-mentioned Japanese raider Jodie
comes into play. Jodie is a clear-cut front-runner and a decent one at that,
with a close third-place finish in the 1 ¼-mile Flora Stakes (Jpn-II) at Tokyo
among her best efforts.
If Jodie gets aggressive sprinting to the lead, this
could be exactly what Newspaperofrecord needs to work out an ideal trip. Whether
Newspaperofrecord accepts the challenge and battles for the lead or settles
back into second place behind quick fractions, she should be able to run within
her comfort zone and place more pressure on the late runners to stay within
range. Even while stretching out to 1 ¼ miles, a distance that would seemingly
favor the closers, this change in the pace scenario could be all Newspaperofrecord
needs to rebound.
Plus, if you like history stats, it doesn't hurt that
trainer Chad Brown has won three of the first five editions of the Belmont
Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winners have likewise prevailed
three times in the Belmont Oaks. Newspaperofrecord certainly fits the profile
of a typical Belmont Oaks winner.
So there you have it—my case for Newspaperofrecord as the
most likely winner of the Belmont Oaks. If you're a fan of this obviously
talented filly, now could be the perfect time to play her on top. After being
favored at 3-2 or shorter in her first five starts, Newspaperofrecord is 5-2 on
the Belmont Oaks morning line and could potentially drift higher if handicappers
flock to bet her recent conquerors Cambier Parc or #4 Concrete Rose, winner of the Edgewood Stakes.
For the exotics, Newspaperofrecord, Cambier Parc, and
Concrete Rose comprise a formidable trio with a strong chance to sweep the
trifecta. But Chad Brown's third runner #5
Cafe Americano, 2-for-2 against easier company, is also worth including
underneath, and I suggest playing Jodie at 20-1 as well. Jodie didn't stay 1 ½ miles
in the Japanese Oaks (Jpn-I) last time out, but her two conquerors in the Flora
Stakes ran well to finish fourth and sixth in the Oaks, suggesting Jodie has
the class to be competitive up to 1 ¼ miles against good company in Japan. With
Newspaperofrecord looming as the only other speed horse in the Belmont Oaks field, it's
possible Jodie could get brave up front and hang on for a major piece of the
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Belmont Oaks?
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.