The Jury: Expert Picks, Bets and Fades for June 8 [Video]

June 6th, 2024

Racing analysts Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Darin Zoccali discuss their best bets and fades for Belmont Weekend at Saratoga along with some racing at Churchill Downs. Ashley and James offer their thoughts in the written portion below. Be sure to check out Darin's opinions in our on-camera portion as well!

Best Bet for Weekend Racing

James Scully:

#5 Program Trading (5-2) in the Manhattan (G1) at Saratoga Saturday. A maiden 13 months ago, the four-year-old is just starting to come to hand, recording fine wins in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) and Hollywood Derby (G1) in his last two starts, and Chad Brown’s prominent turf horses get better with age and experience. Program Trading looks poised to improve the second time out this season, and the English-bred colt captured the Saratoga Derby (G1) over the course and distance last summer. I expect a big effort.

Ashley Anderson:

#5 American Sonja (10-1) in Race 11, the 1 3/16-mile New York (G1) on Friday. Chad Brown has been dominant in this race, winning five of the last 10, but his contingent is not as strong this year, and I see a chance to back a longer price in the field. European shipper American Sonja is coming off a win in the Prix Allez France Longines (G3), where she beat nine rivals, including a next-out winner who placed second. The four-year-old's 122 Class Rating from the victory is the best last-out Class Rating among today's field, and the Race Rating from her Group 3 win came back a 119, tougher than many of the fields her New York rivals recently faced. American Sonja also does well on softer turf, and with rain in the forecast throughout the weekend at Saratoga, there will likely be some give in the grass. The Joseph O'Brien trainee has also raced at the Spa when finishing second in the Saratoga Oaks (G3) four starts back and will get a new rider this time around in top turf jockey Frankie Dettori, a 21% winner on the grass.

Top Fade for Weekend Racing


#2 Casa Creed (9-5) in the Poker (G3) at Saratoga Saturday. The eight-year-old gelding came back with a disappointing effort overseas in March and Casa Creed proved vulnerable under similar circumstances in last year’s Poker (G1), finishing third. The competition is tougher in this spot. Casa Creed will need his best to get past #7 Talk of the Nation (my top choice) and #3 Carl Spackler, who looked poised to keep advancing off strong showings in their seasonal debuts, and I will play against Casa Creed on all tickets.


#8 Bendoog (2-1) in Race 6, the 1 1/4-mile Suburban S. (G2) at Saratoga on Saturday. The Gun Runner five-year-old has won back-to-back races at a mile and 1 1/8 miles, and he's now moving back up in class and stretching out to a distance from which he has yet to win in seven starts. Bendoog began his career overseas and placed at the Group 1 level in Dubai, but he's too short of a price for me to back considering his history at today's distance and his lack of a stakes win.

What Else Is Worth Noting


Public handicappers feel pressure to be right in big races and can make selections without betting in mind. But whether it’s a $5,000 claimer or the Belmont S. (G1), #9 Sierra Leone (9-5) is the type of favorite I like to bet against. Sierra Leone has not run straight in the stretch in all five career starts. He’s been his own worst enemy, and unprofessional behavior has cost him the win in two of four stakes attempts. For the second time in four starts, Chad Brown will make equipment and jockey changes in hopes of figuring things out, but we’ve yet to see it.

The first rule of betting I learned was the risk should always be measured by the reward, and Sierra Leone looks like Fierceness to me in the Kentucky Derby (G1) – the most talented horse in the field but a short-priced favorite who has proven vulnerable repeatedly due to a lack of mental fortitude/professionalism. If everything goes right for him on this occasion, I’ll tip my hat and move on to the next race.


The day after the Belmont, Churchill Downs will host the Matt Winn (G3), which drew a couple of Kentucky Derby also-rans — West Saratoga and Society Man — plus the runner-up in the Pat Day Mile (G2), Nash, who's cross-entered in the Woody Stephens (G1) at Saratoga. Nash's stablemate Rocketeer, who was Triple Crown nominated, is also entered and will make his third career start. He graduated on debut in a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Keeneland in October, then hit the bench and did not return until April, when he was a three-quarter-length third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance optional claimer at the same track. 

The Curlin colt is a good chance and has put in sharp workouts at Churchill recently, but I'll look for Pat Day Mile fourth-place finisher #2 Who Dey to rebound here while stretching back out in distance. The Liam's Map colt began his career on a four-win streak, including a victory in a one-mile allowance optional claimer at Churchill in November. He then cut back in distance for the seven-furlong Lafayette at Keeneland and got up to finish second before coming home fourth by 1 1/2 lengths in the Pat Day Mile. He's eligible to improve third start off the layoff and is returning to 1 1/16 miles here, and he put in a bullet four-furlong workout at Churchill leading up to the Matt Winn.

Belmont Stakes pick


#8 Honor Marie (12-1) experienced the worst of it at the break of the Kentucky Derby, getting slammed hard and shuffled back to last during the opening stages, and he continued to find trouble the rest of the way finishing a better-than-it-looked eighth. After getting little out of his seasonal debut, the late runner appeared poised to keep progressing in the Kentucky Derby following a fine second in the Louisiana Derby (G2), and Honor Marie is a candidate to put it all together in the Belmont. He bounced back well from the rough trip, training forwardly in the five-week interim according to reports, and Honor Marie is eligible to receive a favorable setup for a career-best effort.


I've been a fan of Sierra Leone for a long time and had the Belmont circled after his nose second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but his 9-5 price is far from enticing and the shorter distance of this year's Belmont makes this race far more wide open. With the track bias favoring early speed at Saratoga in 10-furlong dirt races as well, I'll look to #1 Seize the Grey (8-1) to continue his surprise run following recent upset victories in the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard and the Preakness (G1). Seize the Grey has the ability to win gate-to-wire or sitting right off the early pace, and he's familiar with the Spa, where he broke his maiden in a 6 1/2-furlong sprint over a sloppy track back in July of 2023. He next finished second in the 5 1/2-furlong Skidmore S. in his only other prior start at the track. D. Wayne Lukas is a four-time winner of the Belmont but has not reached the winner's circle since 2000. However, he's having one of his best seasons in a while, and I'll look for the magic to continue in the final leg of the Triple Crown.