How’s this for a final act to the drama that is the 2018 Triple Crown? A sweep of the series on the line – possibly for the second time in four years after a drought of nearly four decades – and an absolutely loaded card of stakes that features the Belmont Stakes and five other Grade 1s.
Justify bids for the Triple Crown in the 150th Belmont Stakes, the longest and most demanding of the three U.S. classics. The Belmont goes as the 11th of the 13 races, with a post time of 6:46 p.m. EDT. The opener goes at 11:35 a.m., so finish up that brunch and a Bloody Mary or mimosa early and make it out for the races.
The team of five handicappers brave enough to take on the challenge of the six days of the American classics – the Friday and Saturday cards at Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course and Belmont Park – are back for some final swings in search of more winners.
Winners were difficult to come by during Friday’s card at Belmont Park, except for our Kentucky ace John Cox, who picked a pair of winners in Lewis Bay in the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses and Fourstar Crook in the Grade 2 New York. The other four handicappers were blanked on the day.
The tally heading into Belmont Stakes Days stands with The Saratoga Special’s John Shapazian in front with 14 winners and Cox right behind with 13. Joe Clancy is third with 11, followed by Tom Law (seven) and Sean Clancy (six).
Here’s our race-by-race preview of each stakes Saturday with selections. Enjoy and good luck.
Easy Goer. $150,000, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. 12:11 p.m. EDT.
The opening stakes named for the 1989 Belmont winner and Triple Crown spoiler features a field of eight led by the 2-for-2 Breaking The Rules, Mask and Rugbyman. Trained by Shug McGaughey for Phipps Stable – the same group that teamed up with Easy Goer – Breaking The Rules stretches out after his wins going 6 furlongs.
Sean: Rugbyman, Breaking The Rules, Mask.
Joe: Rugbyman, Breaking The Rules, Mask.
Tom: Breaking The Rules, High North, Dark Vader.
John Shapazian: Breaking The Rules, Mask, Rugbyman.
John Cox: Dark Vader, Breaking the Rules, Rugbyman
Ogden Phipps (G1). $750,000, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles. 12:47 p.m.
Todd Pletcher sends out strong entry of Unbridled Mo and Ivy Bell against last year’s Acorn, Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks winner Abel Tasman and Grade 2 Ruffian winner Pacific Wind. Unbridled Mo upset Unique Bella last time in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom and goes from the rail under John Velazquez while Ivy Bell, scratched from Friday’s Bed o’ Roses, goes from post 2 off second in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff in the slop at Churchill Downs Derby Day.
Sean: Pacific Wind, Abel Tasman, Berned.
Joe: Ivy Bell, Pacific Wind, Unbridled Mo.
Tom: Abel Tasman, Unbridled Mo, Pacific Wind.
John Shapazian: Abel Tasman, Pacific Wind, Unbridled Mo.
John Cox: Abel Tasman, Unbridled Mo, Pacific Wind
Acorn (G1), $700,000, fillies, 3-year-olds, 1 mile. 1:24 p.m.
Extremely strong cast for one of the country’s best races for the sophomore fillies with Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl shortening up against 2017 champion 2-year-old filly Caledonia Road, two-time Grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories and Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Spectator.
Sean: Caledonia Road, Monomoy Girl, Moonshine Memories.
Joe: Talk Veuve To Me, Monomoy Girl, Caldeonia Road.
Tom: Monomoy Girl, Moonshine Memories, Calendonia Road.
John Shapazian: Monomoy Girl, Caledonia Road, Talk Veuve To Me.
John Cox: Monomoy Girl, Talk Veuve To Me, Gio Game
Brooklyn Invitational (G2). $400,000, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/2 miles. 2:03 p.m.
The lone chance to see how the track plays all the way around comes in one of New York’s oldest stakes with a field of nine. Hoppertunity returns to the scene of his biggest win in the 2016 Jockey Club Gold Cup against distance specialist Hard Study, last year’s winner War Story and Take Your Guns.
Sean: Take Your Guns, Hard Study, War Story.
Joe: Hard Study, War Story, Mills.
Tom: Hoppertunity, War Story, Hard Study.
John Shapazian: War Story, Hard Study, Hoppertunity.
John Cox: Hard Study, Hoppertunity, Take Your Guns
Jaipur Invitational (G2). $400,000, 4-year-olds and up, 6 furlongs, turf. 2:43 p.m.
First turf stakes of the day and it’s time to get hyper for the Jaipur. Alright, apologies to our friend Kerry Carlson for that one. Last year’s record-setting Disco Partner is back against last year’s runner-up Pure Sensation, along with Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal, Conquest Tsunami, Blind Ambition and Holding Gold. Cool race.
Sean: Disco Partner, Pocket Change, Stormy Liberal.
Joe: Disco Partner, Blind Ambition, Stormy Liberal.
Tom: Stormy Liberal, Pure Sensation, Disco Partner.
John Shapazian: Disco Partner, Blind Ambition, Pure Sensation.
John Cox: Stormy Liberal, Pocket Change, Blind Ambition
Woody Stephens (G2). $400,000, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. 3:22 p.m.
Wide array of opinions on this one. The ST crew is completely in unison of Still Having Fun, who chased arguably the fastest sophomore sprinter in the country last time in Mitole. The others like Engage, winner of the Gold Fever in the mud at Belmont last time for Chad Brown, and World Of Trouble, off since a third in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Sean: Still Having Fun, Kanthaka, Engage.
Joe: Still Having Fun, Kanthaka, World Of Trouble.
Tom: Still Having Fun, Givemeaminit, The Tabulator.
John Shapazian: Engage, World Of Trouble, Kanthaka.
John Cox: World Of Trouble, Kanthaka, Engage
Just A Game (G1). $700,000, fillies and mares, 4-year-olds and up, 1 mile, turf. 4:02.
Back to the Grade 1s and back to the grass with another loaded affair. A case could be made for any of the eight. A Raving Beauty won the Grade 3 Beaugay in her first start in the U.S. and her first start for Chad Brown and looks to make it two straight against last-out winners Proctor’s Ledge and Lull, On Leave and Cambodia.
Sean: Proctor’s Ledge, A Raving Beauty, Lull.
Joe: Cambodia, On Leave, Proctor’s Ledge.
Tom: On Leave, Cambodia, Proctor’s Ledge.
John Shapazian: A Raving Beauty, Off Limits, On Leave.
John Cox: A Raving Beauty, Off Limits, Lull
Runhappy Metropolitan (G1). $1.2 million, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile. 4:45 p.m.
Starting to sound like a broken record saying this, but the Met Mile continues to be one of the best races in the country year in and year out and the 2018 is no exception. Two-time Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Mind Your Biscuits makes his return from the U.A.E. against Bee Jersey, Awesome Slew, Good Samaritan, McCraken, One Liner and Limousine Liberal. And don’t forget Bold d’Oro, considered the Kentucky Derby favorite at one stage and taking on older horses with a little break in the weights.
Sean: Mind Your Biscuits, McCraken, Good Samaritan.
Joe: McCraken, Bolt d’Oro, Awesome Slew.
Tom: Bolt d’Oro, McCraken, Mind Your Biscuits.
John Shapazian: Bee Jersey, Mind Your Biscuits, Bolt d’Oro.
John Cox: Bee Jersey, Warrior’s Club, Awesome Slew,
Woodford Reserve Manhattan (G1). $1 million, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/4 miles, turf. 5:40 p.m.
Who doesn’t love a good Woodford Reserve Manhattan? Especially when it’s six hours after the start of the card. Monster field of 13 vie for the seven-figure purse, including the first three from the Grade 2 Man o’ War in Hi Happy, On Go All Go and Sadler’s Joy, Grade 2 Fort Marcy winner Robert Bruce, the ultra-consistent multiple Grade 1 winner Beach Patrol and upset-minded Manitoulin.
Sean: Alexios Komnenos, Beach Patrol, Sadler's Joy.
Joe: Spring Quality, Beach Patrol, Manitoulin.
Tom: Beach Patrol, Sadler’s Joy, Spring Quality.
John Shapazian: Beach Patrol, Robert Bruce, Hi Happy.
John Cox: Beach Patrol, Hi Happy, Sadler’s Joy
Belmont (G1). $1.5 million, 3-year-olds, 1 1/2 miles. 6:46 p.m.
The one everyone’s been waiting for and time to see if Justify can stay unbeaten and add his name to the list of American racing’s other 12 Triple Crown winners. He’d join American Pharoah, also trained by Bob Baffert, and also be just the second undefeated horse to sweep the series along with Seattle Slew. Eight opponents and 12 furlongs stand in the way. He’s beaten six of them, either in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness or in Bravazo’s case both. A few had some excuses in those races but a regression in form doesn’t seem likely from a colt from the barn that does it best. Only two of our handicappers think Justify will get it done, the others fancying Florida Derby runner-up Hofburg and Preakness third Tenfold.
Sean: Hofburg, Justify, Tenfold.
Joe: Justify, Vino Rosso, Hofburg.
Tom: Justify, Hofburg, Blended Citizen.
John Shapazian: Tenfold, Noble Indy, Vino Rosso.
John Cox: Tenfold, Hofburg, Justify.