Saturday marks the first time the Belmont Stakes will kick off the Triple Crown, and the 152nd running highlights a dynamite 12-race program that includes five undercard stakes.
I discussed my betting strategy for the Belmont Stakes in an earlier blog, and here are a few horses of interest on the undercard:
Woody Stephens (G1)
Four of the five entrants are front-running types. No Parole looks like the speed of the speed from the rail, but he’s eligible to catch serious pressure by the far turn and I expect the 7-furlong race to set up perfectly for #5 Shoplifted.
By Into Mischief and out of a Yes It’s True mare, Shoplifted is certainly bred to relish sprint/middle distances and opened his racing career with a pair of sharp performances sprinting at Saratoga, winning his debut by open lengths and finishing second in the Hopeful (G1). Connections gave him every opportunity to be a Kentucky Derby horse, racing him at a mile or longer in his next six starts, and he ran well in two attempts at a mile, winning the Remington Springboard Mile and finishing third in the Smarty Jones S. over a speed-favoring track.
Shoplifted is a much better fit for one-turn distances. He enters in good form, launching a winning move from off the pace in the Oaklawn S. last time to draw even in upper stretch between calls, but ultimately was compromised by the 1 1/8-mile trip. The Steve Asmussen-trained colt should relish the cutback to 7-furlongs Saturday, and Shoplifted is the longest shot on the morning line at 8-1.
Beating Gamine will be no picnic, especially if she gets clear early from her rail post, but I’m going with #4 Casual following a superb entry-level allowance score at Churchill Downs. The Curlin filly has been impressive winning her first two starts, utilizing an inside trip both times before finishing with gusto, and her Brisnet Speed ratings (97-96) are on par with Gamine.
Casual drew well in post 4 to the outside of her main rival, and she has the tactical foot to race within striking range beneath Ricardo Santana Jr. before offering her best.
Turf sprinters will square off over 6-furlongs on the inner turf, and #5 Stubbins rates top billing following a troubled third in the May 23 Daytona (G3), his first start since rough-trip fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Stubbins ran well to start 2019, winning his first three starts, but went off form for a couple of starts last summer after returning from an overseas trip to Dubai. The Doug O’Neill-trained colt turned things around when second in the Franklin Simpson (G3) at Kentucky Downs, and earned his first stakes triumph with a nice score in the Woodford (G2) at Keeneland in October. The dark bay was compromised by traffic issues in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but came charging to be a good fourth.
He’s got more to offer at age 4. Stubbins was the best horse last time, but was stopped in the stretch run and wound up a close third. All he needs is a clean trip today.