Horses of interest on 2024 Belmont Stakes Day card

June 7th, 2024

Belmont Stakes Day ranks among the very best of the season, given the strength in depth of races across various divisions. The extravaganza’s transfer to Saratoga hasn’t changed that trend, and another fantastic array of betting opportunities presents itself on Saturday.

Aside from the typical handicapping conundrums with such competitive fields, the weather adds further uncertainty. My picks for the Belmont Betting Guide were influenced by the likelihood of rain-affected turf, and possibly an off main track as well. The rain didn’t make an impact by midafternoon Friday, so keep a close eye on conditions that may turn out fairer than initially thought.

Here are horses I’m interested in watching:

Race 1 (10:45 a.m. ET) – Allowance

It’s hardly creative to mention morning line favorite #3 General Partner (5-2) in this context, especially as a three-year-old facing elders off a layoff. But the Chad Brown pupil flashed serious promise here last summer. The Speightstown colt broke his maiden so impressively that I wished he’d been in the Hopeful (G1) that weekend instead. Although he ended up not wanting to go a route versus Grade 1 company last fall, General Partner appeared a logical candidate for major one-turn races. The Woody Stephens (G1) might well have been on his radar if he hadn’t missed his intended comeback at Churchill Downs. With a big performance here, General Partner could put himself in the discussion for the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on Travers Day. 

Race 2 (11:18 a.m. ET) – Allowance

While Brown has arguably the two fillies to beat in this turf allowance, Brendan Walsh’s #4 Storm Miami (10-1) has a stealthy look. By last year’s European champion freshman sire Blue Point, and from a productive family, the Irish import has been a consistent operator who’s never finished worse than fourth. Storm Miami was mixing it up in useful company at home, and she’s entitled to improve from her stateside debut at Gulfstream Park. The (projected) easier ground here, and rider switch to Tyler Gaffalione, are other factors suggesting that she can outperform her odds. 

Race 3 (11:52 a.m. ET) – Allowance

It’s worth following the progeny of late Hall of Famer Arrogate, whose promising #5 Subrogate (5-1) hopes to make it two straight after a gritty comeback score at Aqueduct. After breaking his maiden at this 6 1/2-furlong distance over a year ago, the Jorge Duarte Jr. trainee stretched out at Monmouth Park and finished a creditable fourth in the Pegasus S. Pedigree indicates that he should want more distance, but the evidence of his limited career so far proves his effectiveness going shorter.

Race 4 (12:31 p.m. ET) – True North (G2)

Prohibitive favorite #5 Gun Pilot appears rock-solid on paper, so the intrigue comes from trying to pinpoint the best exotics value. From that perspective, #1 Ninetyprcentmaddie (8-1) qualifies, in anticipation of Spa enthusiasts #4 Accretive (5-1) and #7 Baby Yoda (6-1) likely gaining more attention as alternatives. Parx-based Ninetyprcentmaddie will be trying Saratoga for the first time, but he’s performed well when raiding sprint stakes at Aqueduct. Trainer Butch Reid noted that he might have been a little unlucky to miss in the Runhappy (G3) in his latest. Also, Ninetyprcentmaddie went down by only a head to the razor-sharp Post Time (see below) at Laurel last fall.

Race 5 (1:11 p.m. ET) – Poker (G3)

As a longtime booster of #3 Carl Spackler (2-1), I’m sticking with him as he attempts to stay perfect on the Saratoga inner turf course, and upstage the remarkable #2 Casa Creed (9-5). Carl Spackler’s stablemate #6 Kubrick (8-1) becomes interesting if the rain turns out to be a non-factor. Brown told Daily Racing Form that he’d likely scratch if the course is unsuitably soft, so if he stays in, that’s a tip in itself. A half-brother to multiple Grade 1 hero Raging Bull, Kubrick threw in his worst races on heavy going in France and at a yielding Keeneland last out. His stateside debut on firm turf at Tampa Bay Downs furthers the view that he’s better on a quicker surface (the French “good-to-soft” conditions aren’t that soft). 

The question mark is Godolphin’s #1 Mysterious Night (10-1), who’s much better than his morning line, if he turns up with his “A” game. The Charlie Appleby trainee can be forgiven his flop behind Carl Spackler here last year, when he was totally off form. Mysterious Night was back to his best during the Dubai Carnival before disappointing on Saudi Cup Day. Perhaps that was a case of one run too many in a busy period. The full brother to 2021 Just a Game (G1) and Diana (G1) winner Althiqa could be the opening act for their younger half-sister, Star of Mystery (see below). 

Race 6 (1:51 p.m. ET) – Suburban (G2)

Remembering when #8 Bendoog (2-1) was just a big, raw colt at the beginning of his career in Dubai, and original trainer Bhupat Seemar was talking about how good he’d be once maturing into his frame, I’m delighted with his stateside progress. His price is less delightful, especially with #7 Crupi (3-1) eligible to resume his upward mobility back at home. 

For a longshot, #3 Masqueparade (12-1) has a chance of getting involved in his second start for Rob Atras, a 19% percent winner with his runners in that category. His main appeal is his back class at Saratoga. When trained by Al Stall Jr., the son of Upstart placed third in the 2021 Jim Dandy (G2), regressed to sixth in the Travers (G1), but finished second to Art Collector back at the Spa in the 2022 Alydar S. Maybe I’m living in the past again, but Masqueparade might still have that kind of effort in him. 

Race 7 (2:36 p.m. ET) – Ogden Phipps (G1)

Can anyone beat #5 Idiomatic (3-5)? The best chance of that would have been in the race’s previous one-turn conditions at Belmont Park. Yet I do suspect that #1 Randomized (6-1) will move forward off her comeback loss last out, and deliver a performance closer to her near-miss to Idiomatic in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). 

Race 8 (3:22 pm. ET) – Woody Stephens (G1)

The two with the eye-catching formlines are #1 Book’em Danno (9-2) and #9 Nash (6-1). Although Book’em Danno hasn’t run since his heartbreaking loss to Japanese star Forever Young in the Saudi Derby (G3), he’s fired a broadside off the bench before. Nash was runner-up to next-out Preakness (G1) winner Seize the Grey in an attritional Pat Day Mile (G2), and he strikes me as the type who’d be effective on the slight cutback. 

Race 9 (4:08 p.m. ET) – Jaipur (G1)

Arguably unlucky not to win last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1), #5 Big Invasion (8-1) brings the horse-for-the-course angle at an inflated price compared to the likeable #8 Cogburn (2-1). Big Invasion is 2-for-3 at Saratoga, and his neck loss here came in his first start back from a fruitless trip to Royal Ascot last summer. 

Appleby’s three-year-old filly #6 Star of Mystery (6-1) is a must-use in light of her explosive closing kick, and top-level form in Dubai versus older males. The Kodiac half-sister to Poker contender Mysterious Night defeated the smart Ponntos in the Blue Point (G2), and later came within three-quarters of a length of Hong Kong celebrity California Spangle in a course-record Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on World Cup night. The only caveat is that Star of Mystery can break a beat slow, and 5 1/2 furlongs around a turn is a novelty for her. But she’ll be flying late, and if she’s anywhere in striking distance by upper stretch, look out. 

Race 10 (4:52 p.m. ET) – Metropolitan H. (G1)

Reports suggest that #6 White Abarrio (6-5) is ready to roar back. It’s worth remembering that he was a troubled third to eventual Horse of the Year Cody’s Wish in the 2023 edition at Belmont Park, before his utter rout of the Whitney (G1) here. The one who could be a bit underappreciated is the other gray, #3 Post Time (7-2). By 2016 Met Mile conqueror Frosted, Post Time had his four-race winning streak snapped due to a tactical error last time. He’s also 2-for-2 on an off track, in case the rain arrives.

Race 11 (5:36 p.m. ET) – Manhattan (G1)

Joseph O’Brien has cautioned that the tight circuit might not be ideal for #6 Al Riffa (6-1). Other than that hypothetical, the well-bred Wootton Bassett colt has a lot of appeal. A top juvenile whose sophomore campaign was blighted by setbacks, he still managed to finish a close second to future Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) champion Ace Impact last year. Al Riffa’s pattern has been to improve from his tune-ups, implying that his fourth in a blanket finish to the Prix Ganay (G1) should set him up for this target. The addition of cheekpieces is intended to sharpen him up for U.S. racing. A bit of rain would also be welcome.

At the risk of oversimplifying through preconceived notions, I rank Appleby’s duo of #9 Measured Time (7-2) and #7 Nations Pride (9-2) superior to their stablemate Naval Power, who came so close to beating Brown’s #5 Program Trading (5-2) last out. Hence by extrapolating, I’d give them a slight edge over the super-reliable Program Trading. Nations Pride has the Spa experience advantage over Measured Time, and he’ll appreciate shortening up in distance. But Measured Time, like Al Riffa, has yet to reach his ceiling. A Frankel half-brother to globetrotting Rebel’s Romance, Measured Time sports outstanding collateral form via his fourth in the Dubai Turf (G1) on World Cup night. 

Race 12 (6:41 p.m. ET) – Belmont (G1)

I’ll go full circle by ending this preview where we started, with a Brown-trained favorite in #9 Sierra Leone (9-5). Having made Forever Young my top pick in the Kentucky Derby (G1), I’m tempted to think that Sierra Leone’s leaning all over him cost him the roses. But in truth, Sierra Leone robbed himself as much, if not more so. Brown’s taken corrective action by changing his bit and rider, and that should be enough to propel Sierra Leone to pro tem divisional leadership.

All of the Derby vanquished have claims to do better in the Belmont, given the likelihood of a cleaner trip in a smaller field. #8 Honor Marie (12-1) is particularly intriguing, not only for his heroic effort to close for eighth after a nightmare passage at Churchill, but on form and pedigree too. He wasn’t beaten much in the Louisiana Derby (G2) by Catching Freedom, who ran well in defeat in the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. And Honor Marie’s sire, champion Honor Code, scored two of his most memorable wins here at the Spa. Of course, you can make a similar point about a few other sires represented here

Good luck, and enjoy Belmont Day at Saratoga!