Handicapping 5 Graded Stakes at Belmont

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

The weekend between the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Preakness S. (G1) can be a quiet one in U.S. horse racing, but that won't be the case in 2022. Belmont Park has put together an impressive Saturday card featuring five graded stakes, giving us plenty of quality racing to analyze.

Let's review the graded quintet and identify a top choice in each race:

Race 3: Vagrancy H. (G3, 6 1/2 furlongs)

As a three-year-old in 2021, #5 Bella Sofia was among the nation's best female sprinters, posting blowout victories in the Test S. (G1) and Gallant Bloom H. (G2) before finishing fourth (compromised by a speed duel) in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

Bella Sofia's Gallant Bloom victory came over the same track and distance as the Vagrancy, suggesting she'll be formidable in her 2022 debut. She's easily the fastest filly in the field from a Brisnet Speed rating standpoint, and trainer Rudy Rodriguez wins at a 19% rate with horses returning from lengthy layoffs, so all signs suggest Bella Sofia can stroll to victory on Saturday.

Race 5: Runhappy S. (G3, six furlongs)

#5 Officiating may have misfired in the NYRABETS Spring S. at Tampa Bay Downs last time out, but his form during the winter was excellent, with victories in the Mr. Prospector S. (G3) and Tom Fool H. (G3) among the highlights.

In the Tom Fool at Aqueduct, Officiating romped by 5 1/2 lengths over #1 Chateau and #3 Repo Rocks. If Officiating can replicate that level of form at Belmont Park, he'll be a formidable win contender. Chateau is a pure speedster, and #6 Mr Phil also likes to set the pace, so there should be enough speed to set up Officiating's homestretch rally.

Race 8: Man o' War S. (G1, 1 3/8 miles on turf)

European raider #3 Yibir might be 0-for-2 this season, but he's finished second in both of his starts, including a neck defeat in the rich Dubai Sheema Classic (G1). And based off the strong U.S. form Yibir displayed last fall, he should be difficult to defeat in the Man o' War.

Yibir displayed a clear affinity for the Belmont lawn when launching a last-to-first rally to dominate the $1 million Jockey Club Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. Then he traveled to Del Mar and beat older rivals in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1), unleashing a powerful surge to gain five lengths in the final furlong and prevail by half a length.

Trainer Charlie Appleby went 9-for-18 (50%) with North American shippers last year, winning eight Grade 1 races along the way. Yibir represents Appleby's first North American starter of 2022, and it will come as no surprise to see Appleby's stable start the U.S. season on a high note.

Race 9: Peter Pan S. (G3, 1 1/8 miles)

Potential Belmont S. (G1) starters will vie for supremacy in the Peter Pan, a one-turn dirt test that serves as a local steppingstone toward the final leg of the Triple Crown.

There are plenty of viable contenders to support, but we'll throw our support behind #2 Electability. Conditioned by hot trainer Chad Brown (a 32% winner at Belmont this spring), Electability is 2-for-2 on dirt. After employing pace-pressing tactics to win a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct, Electability tackled an $80,000 allowance optional claimer over the same distance and used identical racing tactics to win by a head.

Electability has shown a lot of fight while running fast on the clock, so stepping up in class shouldn't stretch the limits of his abilities. He has enough speed to sit a perfect trip stalking #1 Set Sail in a race without much speed on paper, and hot jockey Irad Ortiz (a 37% winner at Belmont this meet) is picking up the mount. The fact both of Electability's victories have come in one-turn races is another positive.

Race 10: Beaugay S. (G3, 1 1/16 miles on turf)

Assuming Chad Brown wins the Peter Pan, he can pick up a quick graded stakes double courtesy of #1 Rougir in the Beaugay.

Rougir was an elite racer in France last season, winning the 1 1/4-mile Prix de l'Opera (G1) and finishing fourth (beaten only a neck) in the one-mile Prix Rothschild (G1). She wrapped up her campaign with a troubled seventh-place finish against a deep field in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1).

The Beaugay will mark Rougir's first start for Brown, who is renowned for his success training top-class female turf horses, particularly those imported from Europe. Rougier enters off an impressive series of workouts over the Payson Park turf course, and hot jockey Flavien Prat (3-for-6 to start the Belmont spring meet) is named to ride, so Rougir figures to deliver an exciting performance in her 2022 debut.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the graded stakes at Belmont Park?


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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.

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