- Two year olds take the spotlight this weekend, as Belmont features the Grade 1 Matron for the girls, and the Grade 2 Futurity for the boys on Saturday, both at 7 furlongs. On Sunday at Arlington Park, we have two Grade 3s – the Arlington-Washington BC Lassie for the lassies and the Arlington-Washington BC Futurity for the boys, both at a (one turn) mile. With the Breeders Cup at Belmont this year, the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies will also be contested around one turn, which may mean less uncertainty in handicapping those races, but more once we start stretching out on the road to the Derby and Oaks in 2006.
The Belmont races stand an excellent chance of being contested over wet tracks, as the track was sloppy yesterday, and rain from the fringes of Ophelia are expected overnight, yuck.
The Matron may be the more significant of the Belmont races in terms of Breeders Cup preparations, as Todd Pletcher’s India, ranked #1 on Mike Watchmaker’s rankings for the Juvenile Fillies in the Form, will make her stakes debut. In fact, it’s her first race against winners, coming after her sensational 12 length win maiden win at Saratoga, her second start, in which she sprinted away powerfully from the field in perhaps what was the most visually impressive juvenile performance of the Saratoga meet. That came back on July 28, and Pletcher had thought about running her back in the Spinaway, but didn't for several reasons.
First, Pletcher felt the Spinaway might have been too close back after such a huge race. Second, India had to miss a little bit of training while a sale was pending. Frank and Jane Lyon, who bred India, purchased her from owner John Fort for $2.05 million. Lastly, Pletcher wanted to target a Grade 1 race for India, and the Spinaway is a Grade 2. He won the race with Adieu. [Daily Racing Form]In fact, Pletcher blasted the graded stakes committee for downgrading the Spinaway to a Grade 2 this year. That race featured some of the strangest betting of the year in New York, as the fans completely disregarded the local contingent in favor of shippers Effectual (9-5) and Sensation (5-2), creating huge overlays on fillies like Adieu and Folklore, who both went off at 7-1 and ran 1-2, returning an exacta bonanza of $103.
Folklore returns for the Matron for slumping trainer Wayne Lukas, and as opposed to India, who hasn’t run over 5 1/2 furlongs, proved herself at this distance with her strong second in the Spinaway. She could love the mud with her Tomlinson number of 420.
Fifth Avenue was also dismissed in the Spinaway at 6-1, despite closing strongly for second to Folklore in the 6 furlong Adirondack. She ran more to her odds than the others, finishing up the track in 7th. Her trainer, Mark Hennig, was 0-for-Saratoga, but that was an anomaly; he's hitting at 20% in 2005, has been burning up Monmouth recently, and scored a Belmont winner on opening day. Young fillies are always apt to throw in a bad one, and the switch from Pablo Fragoso to Elbar Coa has to help.
Two fillies, River’s Prayer and Miss Norman, ship in from California, having run 3rd and 4th respectively to Wild Fit in the G1 Del Mar Debutante. Wild Fit will prep for the Breeders Cup in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita at a mile and a sixteenth (two turns) on October 2. River’s Prayer was very wide in the Debutante and adds blinkers. Interestingly, her sire, Devon Lane, despite being a son of Storm Cat, seems to be primarily a sire of quarter horses.
India’s Beyer towers over the rest of this field and she was thus installed as the 7-5 choice, but keep in mind that these 2 year olds can improve drastically, as India did in improving by 31 points over her debut. Halo Humor seems eligible to show similar improvement in the Matron. Trained by Steve Asmussen, she’s 2 for 2, and comes off an easy win against just three rivals at Saratoga at 6 1/2 furlongs. In her debut, she beat Better Now and Ex Caelis, who have both gone on to win. She shows a very sharp half mile breeze which was two seconds faster than her work before her last win, and retains the services of Jerry Bailey. She has a Tomlinson mud number of 436, and could give the favorite a run for the money.
- The Futurity will be run without First Samurai and Henny Hughes, the 1-2 finishers in the Hopeful, and ranked in that order for the Juvenile by Watchmaker. Those two could meet in the October 1 Champagne at Belmont, though trainer Frank Brothers mentioned the two turn Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 8 as a possibility. Steve Klesaris’ entry of Master of Disaster (second to Henny Hughes in the Saratoga Special) and Diabolical (second to He’s Got Grit in the Sapling) is the 6-5 morning line favorite, but it seems like a more open contest to me.
Asmussen has Private Vow, coming off two easy wins at Saratoga, most recently at this distance, also has Bailey, and also has the highest Tomlinson mud number in the field. Union Course was three wide running third in the Special and could improve. Darley’s Changing Weather was extremely impressive winning his extremely well-bet (8-5) debut, though he stretches out from 5 to 7 furlongs.
And Tim Ritchey ships in Dixiewink, at 15-1 the outsider in the morning line. He broke his maiden in his third start, a two turn race at Delaware just a week ago. But Ritchey excels when running horses back on 7 days rest, as well as in the route-to-sprint move. It’s disconcerting that Diane Nelson is listed as the jockey rather than Jeremy Rose, but he could be worth a flyer nonetheless.