Two Plays on a Super Saturday

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Who's ready for another exciting weekend of racing? Four weeks out from the Breeders' Cup, there are plenty of high-class events to anticipate across North America.

No fewer than 11 graded stakes events are on the agenda, including a quartet of Grade 1 races on Saturday at Belmont Park. The $250,000 Champagne (G1) and the $250,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) are particularly important on the national calendar, so let's take a look at both races....

Champagne (G1)

I can't blame anyone who is eager to support #4 Jackie's Warrior (3-5) in the Champagne. What's not to like? The Steve Asmussen trainee is undefeated and unchallenged in three starts, winning his debut at Churchill Downs before rattling off eye-catching victories in the Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful (G1). In the latter race—held over 7 furlongs at Saratoga—Jackie's Warrior carved out fast fractions of :22.56, :44.83, and 1:08.33 before cruising to the finish line in 1:21.29, breaking the stakes record.

But I'm more interested in #5 Reinvestment Risk (8-5), who finished second in the Hopeful for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. A 7 3/4-length debut winner at Saratoga, Reinvestment Risk was initially no match Jackie's Warrior blinding speed in the Hopeful, steadily losing ground to trail by five lengths at the eighth pole.

However, Reinvestment Risk never lost interest in the battle, and when jockey Joel Rosario started easing up on Jackie's Warrior, Reinvestment Risk quickly regained lost ground to finish just 2 1/4 lengths behind. I don't think the diminishing margin was entirely due to Jackie's Warrior taking things easy—I think the winner was starting to grow leg-weary from his early exertions, while Reinvestment Risk had something left in the tank.

Reinvestment Risk clearly won the Hopeful gallop-out and boasts a stronger pedigree for stretching out over a mile in the Champagne. Whereas Jackie's Warrior is bred like a sprinter, Reinvestment Risk is a son of the six-time Grade 1-placed router Upstart out of a mare by Candy Ride, so longer distances shouldn't be an issue. I'm willing to bet Reinvestment Risk can turn the tables on his Hopeful conqueror in the Champagne.

Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1)

I'll be the first to admit #4 Tacitus (1-1) isn't the easiest horse to trust at a short price. The 4-year-old son of Tapit has been defeated in eight of his last nine runs while starting at less than 6-1 on every occasion. He was particularly frustrating to his backers in the Sept. 5 Woodward Handicap (G1) at Saratoga, finishing second at odds of 0.65-1 despite having every opportunity to take command in the homestretch.

However, the circumstances on Saturday appear perfect for Tacitus to secure his first Grade 1 win. For starters, he's returning to the same track and 1 1/4-mile distance as the July 4 Suburban (G2), which Tacitus crushed by 8 3/4 lengths in an eye-catching performance. Secondly, Tacitus is encountering a small field with very little speed on paper—it's possible he'll even wind up setting the pace, a significant tactical advantage.

But most importantly, Tacitus should be fitter and faster for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the Woodward, Tacitus was returning from a two-month layoff, and his work tab looked pretty light—he entered off a modest half-mile in :49 six days beforehand. With the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) looming as more important targets, the Woodward seemed like more of a steppingstone toward bigger and better things than an end goal in and of itself.

As a result, it wasn't shocking to see Tacitus finish second behind gate-to-wire winner Global Campaign, a three-time graded stakes winner capable of running big races on his best day. Tacitus has recorded three workouts since then, including a stiff six furlongs in 1:14 1/5 on Sept. 25 and a bullet half-mile in :47 1/5 on Oct. 4.

With these sharp workouts under his belt, Tacitus should be ready to bring his A-game in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He doesn't offer a ton of value at even-money, but singling him in multi-race wagers could be a way to extract wagering value from this tricky betting race.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the major races at Belmont Park this weekend?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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

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