This week’s announcement that the NBA will commit suicide by pitting the playoffs in a head-to-head battle with football late this summer and into early fall insures that thoroughbred racing will remain the primary source of sports and gambling entertainment for the next two months. Time will tell whether team sports are actually able to resume as scheduled, but racing (horse and NASCAR) has figured out how to operate safely in the COVID-19 environment. Earlier this week racing resumed in New York with Belmont Park beginning its delayed meeting on Wednesday. Today features plenty of high caliber action with NYRA and Churchill Downs teaming up to offer a Cross Country Pick 5 wager, and Santa Anita hosting their signature Oaks and Derby prep races. In addition, NBC will rebroadcast American Pharoah’s triumph in the Belmont, 5 years to the day he became the first horse in 37 years to capture the Triple Crown.
Cross Country Pick 5
Leg 1, Belmont Race 7 – the Grade 3 Westchester
Most of the wagering attention will focus on Code of Honor, last year’s Travers winner and runner-up for champion 3yo honors. The agile son of Noble Mission is 2 for 3 at Big Sandy, with the lone loss coming in the Grade 1 Champagne in just his second start. He was promoted to first after a bumping incident allowed eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso to nose him out in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last fall. A lackluster seventh in the Breeders’ Cup followed, and this will be his first engagement since that championship event. He resumed training in February and has been breezing regularly, first at Shug McGaughey’s Payson Park winter base and more recently back home at Belmont. The Will Farish flag bearer is undoubtedly the class of this field and will be tough to handle despite the layoff.
Monongahela is the question mark of the field exiting the juiced up barn of Jason Servis, and making his first start for Chad Brown. His top prior efforts make him a capable contender if Code of Honor is much less than his best, but it is difficult to know what to expect as his training and nutrition regiment have been significantly altered since he last competed. The fact that Brown placed him in stakes company to start is encouraging. Another intriguing alternative to the favorite is Payne. The 5yo colt by Paynter is still eligible to improve as he has only made 10 starts in his career while never running off the board. He looked to really be hitting his stride over the winter with three straight victories by widening margins over lesser company at Aqueduct. His ascending Beyer figures put him right in the mix. Endorsed was a cut below the best of his sophomore class last year, but the regally bred colt by Medaglia d’Oro is another that could certainly take a step forward in just his 9th career start. He also has the benefit of a recent outing under his belt, having taken an optional claiming contest at Oaklawn on that track’s highly competitive Derby day card.
Leg 2, Belmont Race 8 – the Grade 3 Intercontinental
Jakarta looks to be a menacing pace setter in this spot. 2 for 2 since joining the Maker barn, she proved herself on the lawn in her first start for that outfit at Gulfstream in March, then was able to carry her speed a mile in the Powder Break, a stake that was rained off the grass last month. The fact that the savvy trainer brings her back in 3 weeks against this type of company speaks volumes. This well matched field includes two proven commodities at the very unique turf sprint distance of 7 furlongs. Significant Form won this race last year, in her first start of the year, prior to succeeding around two turns in subsequent graded stakes at Saratoga and Belmont. The Creative Cause mare makes her first start as a 5yo and could end up favored from her outside draw. Rose Flower is 3 for 3 at the distance, with 2 of those victories coming across the pond in France and the other over this very course last fall. Expect Christophe Clement to have the daughter of Dabirism ready for her first outing of the season.
Regal Glory possesses the versatility required to compete at this distance. She began her career with two trips to the winner’s circle going 3/4 of a mile, the second of those coming in stakes company. Last summer she took two graded events around two turns at Saratoga. Her work tab shows some pretty sharp drills for an occupant of the Chad Brown barn, indicating her readiness for this test.
Newspaperofrecord has been a heavy favorite in each one of her 6 trips to the post. She looked like a world beater taking three races by a combined 18 lengths, including a demolition of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, in her rookie year. She never quite got on track in an abbreviated sophomore season, twice filling the runner-up spot in grade 3 events prior to a dismal 9th place effort in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks. It’s entirely possible that this distance may just hit her right between the eyeballs, but it is difficult to accept what will be a very short price on a filly that has disappointed bettors as much as she has rewarded them. Her temperament also suggests she may be inclined to chase the presumed leader drawn just to her outside, which also is probably not to her advantage. Getmotherarose has shown a prior affinity for the grass in Elmont, and with several races under her belt already this year she is certainly capable of upsetting at a nice price.
Leg 3, Churchill Downs Race 9
A more traditional 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint serves as the middle leg of this handicapping puzzle. With plenty of speed signed on – and much of it unproven on the green – the focus here is on finding an off-the-pace type with proven form over the surface. High Crime fits the mold best. He’ll likely be coming from the middle of the pack at this abbreviated distance, and he hit the board in both of his prior turf tries. It’s enticing that Darrin Miller wheels him right back in two weeks off an inauspicious 2020 debut on the main track. Ikeisgreat ran decent in his stakes and grass debut at Gulfstream in March. The son of Munnings can certainly improve off that effort, and his stalking style seems well suited for this particular task. Alfie Solomons has the work tab of a horse that is primed and ready to fire his best shot off the bench. While his style does not necessarily line up with the wish list for this affair, he was able to stretch his speed 6 1/2 furlongs at Kentucky Downs when breaking his maiden. The Kantharos colt’s gate speed should allow him to establish good position for a stalk and pounce type trip.
Leg 4, Belmont Race 9 – the Grade 1 Carter
For a grade 1 sprint, there isn’t much pace signed on here, so lean toward those that figure to be forwardly placed. Vekoma ends up the top selection based on his scintillating performance at the distance in his 4yo debut. While his awkward action can make the stomach turn, the son of Candy Ride can pick them up and put them down faster than most. Seven furlongs to a mile will likely prove to be his forte, and it’s encouraging to see Javier Castellano, the pilot for his Bluegrass victory last year, back in the saddle.
Mind Control has won 7 of 12 lifetime, including the grade 1 Allen Jerkens at Saratoga last summer which began his current 3 race winning streak. The son of Stay Thirsty is a specialist at the distance with 4 wins from 6 starts and looks well positioned to negotiate a nice stalking trip from the wide draw. Firenze Fire has a 3 race winning streak of his own. The trouble is no one knows what may have been fueling those efforts. He makes his first start for Kelly Breen and is certainly a contender if he can find the same form he had in the juice barn. Performer is perfect in his last 4 trips to the post, including 2 on this track. The son of Speightstown sports a work tab suggesting he is well intended for this 4yo debut. The cut back in distance should be right in his sweet spot as well. Network Effect would certainly need to find a good deal of improvement to beat this group, but with those connections and a limited number of starts it is well within the realm of possibility.
Leg 5, Churchill Downs Race 10 – the Grade 3 Dogwood
Four Graces took down a contentious group of 11 other sophomores here on opening weekend. Julien Leparoux should be able to sit a cozy stalking trip, perhaps just behind Edgeway who figures to be hard sent from her outside post. The daughter of Majesticperfection must prove her mettle in stakes company, but this isn’t a monumental jump over what she faced three weeks back. Majestic Dance didn’t appear to care for the off-track at Oaklawn in her 3yo bow. Forgiving that performance puts her right in the mix with this lot. She too should enjoy a stalk and pounce type of trip – and her 2 for 2 record over the surface merits respect. Edgeway will likely vie for favoritism, and the 94 Beyer she earned when breaking her maiden is easily best in this field. Simply dismissing Bayerness would be a mistake. Her 7th place debacle in the Davona Dale is too bad to be true. She beat Swiss Skydiver, who will go postward as the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks today, over this surface last November. The Cherie Devaux trainee has been firing bullets in preparation for this and rates as a huge threat to the top three.
The ticket: $0.50 pick 5 – 9 with 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12 with 3, 5, 10 with 1, 2, 5, 10, 11 with 2, 3, 5, 8 = $180
West Coast Quick Hitters
— Only 4 fillies in the Santa Anita Oaks sums up the sad state of affairs for California racing.
— Don’t miss the debut of $3.65 million purchase Cezanne in race 6 at 6:03 EST.
— Honor A P has a big chance to turn the tables on Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby. Some very wise connections cashed out on their investment in the undefeated son of Into Mischief this week, so they must feel his value has reached its apex.
— Give me Midcourt in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Improbable cannot get the distance, and Higher Power has not been the same since his Pacific Classic victory.