The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival kicked off Thursday and rolls along Friday with an 11-race card topped by five stakes of just about every variety.
Juveniles lead things off in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont and older horses close the day in the 2-mile Belmont Gold Cup on the grass. In between there are a pair of dirt sprints and a stellar edition of the 10-furlong New York Stakes on the grass. The first race on Belmont Friday goes at 12:50 p.m. with the first stakes just about an hour later.
Back from a three-week freshening – with Memorial Day Weekend tossed in there for good measure – the ST Handicappers are back for the final Triple Crown weekend of 2021. It feels good to say that in June, after a year that saw the Triple Crown run from late June to early October last year.
Somewhat spotty results on the classics trail this year but a familiar name among the three tied at the top for most winners so far. John Shapazian, almost always the leader among public handicappers at the Saratoga meeting, sits tied with Rob Whitlock and Sean Clancy with 10 wins apiece. Newcomer Jessica Paquette, a New Englander who will be calling Quarter Horse races this weekend at Sam Houston Race Park, sits alone in fourth with nine wins; while Tom Law and Paul Halloran are next at eight apiece. Charles Bedard has seven wins on the season and Joe Clancy has six to round out the group.
Who do the handicappers like Friday? Here are the picks. Be safe and good luck.
Tremont Stakes. $150,000, 2-year-olds. 5 1/2 furlongs. Post time 1:54 p.m.
Oklahoma-bred Little Drama impressed in his debut last month and wheels back for Steve Asmussen against just five others. Wesley Ward always merits respect, even when he brings a maiden for a 2-year-old stakes. Overbore came close in his two starts, including last time on the grass.
Tom: Little Drama, Kavod, Overbore.
Jessica: Overbore, Little Drama, Kavod.
John: Little Drama, Overbore, Trust Our Journey.
Rob: Little Drama, Overbore, Kavod.
Charles: Little Drama, Baytown Frosty, Overbore.
Joe: Little Drama, Overbore, Trust Our Journey.
Paul: Little Drama, Overbore, Kavod.
Sean: Little Drama, Kavod, Overbore.
True North Stakes (G3). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, 6 1/2 furlongs. Post time 4:07 p.m.
Flagstaff got away from C Z Rocket and ran lights out winning the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Keeneland and Grade 2 Churchill Downs in his last two starts. Now he takes show to New York and faces a serious foe in Firenze Fire, winner of six of nine at Belmont and the Grade 3 Runhappy Sprint last time out. Those two starts from the two inside posts with the very capable American Power, Looking At Bikinis, Wicked Trick and Phat Man to their outside.
Tom: Firenze Fire, Flagstaff, Wicked Trick.
Jessica: Firenze Fire, Looking At Bikinis, Flagstaff.
John: Firenze Fire, Flagstaff, Looking At Bikinis.
Rob: Firenze Fire, Looking At Bikinis, Flagstaff.
Charles: Flagstaff, Firenze Fire, American Power.
Joe: Flagstaff, Firenze Fire, American Power.
Paul: Firenze Fire, Looking At Bikinis, Phat Man.
Sean: Looking At Bikinis, Firenze Fire, Flagstaff.
Bed o’ Roses Stakes (G3). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 7 furlongs. Post time 4:40 p.m.
All aboard the Chub Wagon. Unbeaten daughter of little-known sire Hey Chub ran her record to 6-for-6 on Preakness Day in the Skipat and now she makes her graded stakes debut against seven others. She showed new dimension last time, rating from off the pace, but looks like lone speed in here. Penn National shipper Victim Of Love loves Belmont and won her second Grade 3 Vagrancy last time. Estilo Talentoso chased Gamine and Kimari in her last two starts and deserves respect from the outside post.
Tom: Chub Wagon, Estilo Talentoso, Alandra.
Jessica: Lake Avenue, Alandra, Chub Wagon.
John: Chub Wagon, Victim Of Love, Pacific Gale.
Rob: Chub Wagon, Victim Of Love, Alandra.
Charles: Chub Wagon, Estilo Talentoso, Pacific Gale.
Joe: Bayerness, Chub Wagon, Victim Of Love.
Paul: Victim Of Love, Pacific Gale, Lake Avenue.
Sean: Alandra, Chub Wagon, Victim Of Love.
New York Stakes (G2). $750,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/4 miles, turf. Post time 5:15 p.m.
How good is this one? Mean Mary, fresh off comeback victory on Preakness Day, returns to defend title against the likes of Grade 1 winners Harvey’s Lil Goil, Magic Attitude and Civil Union, Godolphin’s Micheline and Antoinette, Always Shopping and European import Thundering Nights.
Tom: Civil Union, Harvey’s Lil Goil, Mean Mary.
Jessica: Mean Mary, Antoinette, Micheline.
John: Thundering Nights, Magic Attitude, Harvey’s Lil Goil.
Rob: Virginia Joy, Thundering Nights, Mutamakina.
Charles: Mean Mary, Magic Attitude, Thundering Nights.
Joe: Magic Attitude, Mean Mary, Micheline.
Paul: Virginia Joy, Always Shopping, Mean Mary.
Sean: Harvey's Lil Goil, Mean Mary, Thundering Nights.
Belmont Gold Cup Stakes (G2). $400,000, 4-year-olds and up, 2 miles, turf. Post time 5:48 p.m.
Mike Maker, sixth on the North American leading trainer’s table by earnings with more than $5.5 million heading into the weekend, sends out the trio of Tide Of The Sea, Conviction Trade and Ajourneytofreedom against European shipper Baron Samedi. Trained by Joseph O’Brien, Baron Samedi brings six-race win streak into the unknown of 16 furlongs but he did win a Group 3 at Navan going 14 furlongs last time out. John Velazquez takes the call on English-bred gelding and will be tough against Ziyad for Graham Motion and Fantasioso for Ignacio Correas.
Tom: Baron Samedi, Fantasioso, Ziyad.
Jessica: Conviction Trade, Baron Samedi, Ziyad.
John: Baron Samedi, Ajourneytofreedom, Ziyad.
Rob: Baron Samedi, Fantasioso, Ajourneytofreedom.
Charles: Baron Samedi, Kimenos, Ajourneytofreedom.
Joe: Baron Samedi, Fantasioso, Ziyad.
Paul: Baron Samedi, Tide Of The Sea, Ziyad.
Sean: Baron Samedi, Ziyad, Strong Tide.