Longshots and value plays for Belmont Weekend June 7-8

June 6th, 2024

Saratoga Racecourse will temporarily host Belmont Stakes Weekend in 2024 while historic Belmont Park undergoes renovations. The 1 1/2-mile Test of the Champion will be shortened to 1 1/4 miles due to Saratoga’s main track restrictions, opening the door for a potential upset winner among the 10-horse Belmont S. (G1) field.

The 156th running of the Belmont will take place Saturday, June 8, at 6:41 p.m. ET and drew Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mystik Dan, Preakness (G1) hero Seize the Grey, and Chad Brown trainee Sierra Leone, whose two career losses have come by a nose.

Below we focus in on the races on Friday and Saturday’s undercard and look for a couple of longshots and value plays to consider at Belmont at Saratoga.

TwinSpires is also offering a Belmont Stakes Week Money Back offer, where you can get up to $10 back on your first win bet if your horse finishes second or third in all eligible races at Belmont at Saratoga Thursday through Sunday if you opt in to the promo at TwinSpires.com or on the TwinSpires app.

Race 11, Friday: New York S. (G1), 1 3/16 miles (turf), fillies and mares 4yo and up (6:05 p.m. ET)

With a 100% chance of rain on Thursday and a 43% chance during the day on Friday, the turf at Saratoga should have some give to it, which could benefit longshot #5 American Sonja (10-1). The four-year-old from European trainer Joseph O’Brien’s barn just won the 1 1/4-mile Prix Allez France Longines (G3) in late April over soft turf at Longchamp, and she’s eligible to take another step forward in her second start off the layoff. The European invader has one prior U.S. start, and it was at the Spa, where she finished second to Elusive Princess in the Saratoga Oaks (G3) back in August of 2023. She’ll have a new rider today, top turf jockey Frankie Dettori, who’s a 21% winner on the grass with a positive ROI.

It should be noted that two-time defending champion trainer Chad Brown has dominated this particular race over the last decade, with five victories in that timespan, but #1 McKulick (10-1) is best running near 1 1/2 miles and #12 Royal Interest (20-1) has been beating weaker competition.

Bill Mott also has a couple of victories in this race, but his lone entry, #10 War Like Goddess (4-1), is coming off a nine-month layoff.

There are two other longer prices who look intriguing among the 13-horse field. #6 Fev Rover (8-1), who’s 2-for-5 from today’s distance and won the 1 1/4-mile E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine two back, as well as deep closer #9 Sparkle Blue (15-1), who rallied to finish a length second in the 1 1/8-mile Modesty (G3) over yielding turf at Churchill last out. The added distance can help, and her trainer Graham Motion is a recent winner of this race, with back-to-back victories by Mean Mary in 2020 and 2021.

Race 5, Saturday: Poker S. (G3), one mile (inner turf), 4yos and up (1:11 p.m. ET)

#2 Casa Creed (9-5) is returning to Saratoga, where he’s 4-for-6, after he came home sixth to California Spangle in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) in Dubai on March 30. The eight-year-old was a half-length third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) two back and won his two prior starts at the Spa in graded stakes, but if you are looking to play against him and want to take a shot with a price, two stand out here.

#7 Talk of the Nation (7-2) will make his second start since transferring to Todd Pletcher’s barn and was last seen finishing a head second in the Opening Verse S. at Churchill after setting the early pace. He was bested by today’s race rival #3 Carl Spackler (3-1), who’s eligible to improve second start off the layoff for Chad Brown but provides little value with his morning line price.

Talk of the Nation, on the other hand, will likely attract less attention at the betting windows but could get the job done for Pletcher. He’ll retain rider Irad Ortiz Jr., a 22% winner on turf, and Talk of the Nation’s 97 Brisnet Speed figure is tied for the highest last race speed rating among the field. He’s 6-2-4-0 from today’s distance and can improve second start off the layoff.

A longshot to consider is Godolphin’s #1 Mysterious Night (10-1), who put in a bullet five-furlong work at Saratoga on June 1. The four-year-old gelding is returning off a more than three-month layoff after finishing far back in the 6 1/2-furlong 1351 Turf Sprint (G2) in Saudi Arabia and will stretch back out to a mile. He has a win at the distance in the Summer S. (G1) at Woodbine with a 100 BRIS figure — one of the highest speed figures among the field at today’s distance — and put in a pair of victories recently when racing slightly shorter, at seven furlongs. He’ll keep regular rider William Buick, and trainer Charlie Appleby is a high-percentage winner with U.S. shippers (49% win rate) as well as horses coming off layoffs of 90 or more days (3-for-9). 

Race 11, Saturday: Manhattan (G1), 1 3/16 miles (turf), 4yos and up (5:36 p.m. ET)

Another race Chad Brown has governed over recently, with eight wins since 2012 and four straight from 2019-2022, the Manhattan could go to the New York-raised trainer yet again, with solid chances in #5 Program Trading (5-2) and #1 I’m Very Busy (9-2). But Charlie Appleby also has a pair of entrees in the field, and his longer-priced runner, #7 Nations Pride (9-2) may be the best bet. The Godolphin homebred made his five-year-old debut in the Man O’ War (G2) last month at Aqueduct and finished third as the favorite to stablemate Silver Knott. Nations Pride was coming off a six-month layoff, however, and he can improve in his second start back off the bench. He’s 6-for-8 from today’s distance and also has a win in his only previous start at Saratoga, in the 2022 Saratoga Derby (G1). Frankie Dettori will retain the mount and is one of two regular riders of Nations Pride. The other is William Buick, who will guide Appleby’s #9 Measured Time (7-2). The Frankel four-year-old is making his U.S. debut here and coming off a two-month layoff, so I’ll side with the experienced U.S. runner in Nations Pride, especially considering his success at today’s distance.

Another price horse to look out for is #6 Al Riffa (6-1), who is also making his U.S. debut after finishing a half-length fourth in the 1 5/16-mile Prix Ganay (G1) at Longchamp over soft turf. The Wootton Bassett four-year-old raced at today’s distance two back in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (G2) and finished second by just three-quarters of a length to unbeaten Ace Impact, who came back to win the Arc de Triomphe (G1) before retiring to stud.

The French-bred will pick up John Velazquez, who won the Manhattan in 2013, and Al Riffa is eligible to improve second start off the layoff. If the turf is soft at post time, the four-year-old is an even more enticing play.