BELMONT SUPER SATURDAY PICKS

It’s October, and that means time for Oktoberfest brew, College Football and Horse Racing! There is a lot going on this Saturday, beginning with five Grade One races at Belmont Park, leading into a tremendous day of games. Let’s start with the ponies.

VOSBURGH STAKES, 6 furlongs, 2:23 CST

This is a decidedly uninspiring bunch for such a big prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, so I won’t be playing it too heavy. I think the key to this race is beating morning line favorite Girolamo, who didn’t fire in his last race, the 7f Forego. To me this race is a bit shorter than his ideal distance, so I’ll try to beat him at these odds. The two fastest Beyer figures at this distance belong to the veteran RILEY TUCKER (110) and the inconsistent but talented WALL STREET WONDER (109).  The speedy Snapshot is worth a look, as is the accomplished Driven By Success, but I’m going to play this one small and stick with the aforementioned two.

BETS- Exacta Box with Riley Tucker and Wall Street Wonder, Place Bet on Riley Tucker

FLOWER BOWL, 10 furlongs, 2:59 PM

One of the day’s more challenging races. RED DESIRE figures to run a big one here in her first start on American soil and certainly can’t be left out. I think that Forever Together is worth trying to beat as her form this season has been a bit off, and in my opinion putting her closer to the pace as her connections have suggested will likely worsen her chances. Instead, I’ll look to the rapidly improving SHARED ACCOUNT, who closed stoutly at 9f to finish second ahead of Forever Together last time out in the Diana. This looks to me like a horse that is begging to run 10f. KEERTANA easily defeated Forever Together in her last start, the 10.5f Glens Falls, so I don’t imagine the distance will be an issue for her either. I’ll play against Changing Skies and Ave at my own peril, as they certainly are two that could benefit from a faster than expected pace. However, for a class comparison, I’m drawn to the result of last year’s Queen Elizabeth II Challenge race at 9f, where Shared Account and Gozzip Girl, another runner with a shot here, easily bested Lady Shakespeare, who had no trouble shaking the other two off in the New York Stakes in June. Gozzip Girl is a big question mark and her 6th place finish last time out off a long layoff leads me to look elsewhere.

BETS- Exacta box with Red Desire, Shared Account, Keertana, Place Bets on Shared Account, Red Desire

BELDAME, 9f, 3:35 PM

The sudden and unexpected retirement of Rachel Alexandra took a bit of the luster away from this race, but not to worry, I still see a horse to single in my Pick 3 here in this small field. That horse is LIFE AT TEN, who had won six straight before engaging in a suicidal pace duel with Rachel Alexandra and tiring badly last time out in the 10f Personal Ensign. She should be able to dictate her own pace here and should feel right at home at this distance. She had no trouble whatsoever with morning line favorite Unrivaled Belle on this very race track when winning the Ogden Phipps, so I certainly prefer her to that one- I like that exacta but it doesn’t figure to pay much. I’ll try to beat Persistently, who may take some action following her recent victory over Rachel Alexandra and Life at Ten in the Personal Ensign. She really needed that extra furlong though, and isn’t as likely to benefit from a pace breakdown. Queen Martha seems to have lost her prior form and Miss Match is a toss.

BETS- Win Bet on Life at Ten

JOE HIRSCH TURF CLASSIC, 12f, 4:11 PM

Easily the day’s hardest race to handicap, as any seven of the eleven starters could win the race without surprising me, and that isn’t even including last year’s 43-1 winner Interpatation. PADDY O’PRADO is the morning line favorite and certainly appears the most consistent, but has yet to run past 10f or face older horses, and while I will use him here it would be wise to dig a bit deeper. Perhaps the horse that is improving the most is AL KHALI, who closed like a freight train after a horrible trip to win the 11f Bowling Green from off the pace last time out, and looked hungry to run another furlong. If he can repeat that effort and get a decent trip he will be hard to beat. He ran closer to the pace when finishing third in the 12f Sword Dancer, but the two horses that defeated him are here as well. TELLING demonstrated an impressive turn of foot to get up by a length and win that race for the second year in a row, although he has been inconsistent in every other race in between. Whether or not he can duplicate that effort in his next start back remains to be seen. Perhaps a more reliable option who has also won at 12f is the Sword Dancer’s second place finisher BEARPATH, who also won the Pan American Handicap earlier this season. If I like Bearpath, I can’t ignore the classy European NEVER ON SUNDAY, who ran a game second to him in that race. I’ll have to use all of those horses to fill out my Pick 3, and that isn’t including the scary filly Treat Gently who will certainly relish the distance. I’ll stand against her as she takes a leap up in class to face the boys here, and will try to beat Winchester, who will likely go off as the second choice at post time. Perhaps still benefiting at the windows from his Belmont Day upset over Gio Ponti in the 10f Manhattan, extra distance since that race has shown to be not to his liking. Last year’s winner Interpatation has not looked good this year.

BETS- Exacta Box with Al Khali, Bearpath and Paddy O’Prado, Place Bets on Al Khali and Bearpath

JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP, 10f, 4:48

If Horse-of-the-Year frontrunner BLAME runs back to his Whitney performance, everyone here is running for second place. This horse has the pedigree and the turn of foot to suggest that 10f will be his ideal distance as he attempts it for the first time, but we will look for some value anyway. The horse that appears to have the best shot to pull the upset is the improving three-year old FLY DOWN, who boasts the high Beyer at the distance (105) from his photo-finish second place effort in the Travers. He has shown an affinity for this track, winning the 9f Dwyer with ease and closing with force to narrowly miss winning the Belmont Stakes. His running style and turn of foot remind me of another three-year old, Concern, who got hot in the fall and went on the win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There isn’t much pace here, but HAYNESFIELD could hang around longer than you might expect if he is allowed to get out on the lead and dictate fractions. He has been successful at Belmont and has some experience at the distance, and his fourth place showing last time out can be slightly discounted based on some pretty severe early gate trouble. Another horse that could be close to the pace is the accomplished West Coast shipper Rail Trip, who I will try to beat. To me, there are simply too many question marks, as he will be making his first start on true dirt after having some issues with injuries this summer. I also don’t think that he will benefit from the extra furlong, as his major victories have all been over 9f with the exception of defeating a pretty weak field in last year’s Hollywood Gold Cup, a race that he was unable to win at the 10f distance this year. Tranquil Manner and Hold Me Back figure to be flying late, but I’m not sure there will be enough pace to get them on the board.

BETS- Exacta Box with Blame, Fly Down, Exacta Key with Blame, Fly Down/ Haynesfield, Place Bet on Fly Down

PICK 3: Life At Ten/ Al Khali, Bearpath, Paddy O’Prado, Telling/ Blame, Fly Down

Life At Ten/ Treat Gently, Never on Sunday/ Blame

AND NOW, SOME PIGSKIN PICKS-

Give me OKLAHOMA -3.5 over Texas: Neither team has looked good so far this season, with the Sooners struggling on defense, and the Longhorns basically looking anemic offensively. In this case I expect Oklahoma’s offense to take advantage of the fact that Texas hasn’t exactly been sharp on the defensive side of the ball either, giving up 34 points last week to a UCLA team that Stanford shut out the week before. I expect Oklahoma regain the momentum in this rivalry and win this game fairly easily.

Give me WISCONSIN -2 over Michigan State: The Spartans are getting a lot more credit for beating an average Notre Dame team in overtime on a lucky play than they deserve. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is improving on both sides of the ball and I expect them to run all over MSU, even on the road.

Give me STANFORD +7 over Oregon: Going into Eugene at night is not an ideal situation, but this looks like too many points to me so I will go with the Cardinal to cover here. Oregon’s offense has been impressive indeed, but Stanford’s defense has arguably been even more so, and QB Andrew Luck is right in the argument for the Heisman Trophy. This should be a great game and I expect it to be close.

Give me ALABAMA -8 over Florida: This has become a great SEC rivalry all of the sudden, but the Tide got the better of the Gators pretty easily last season at a neutral site and that was when Florida had Tim Tebow. Now they don’t, and they go into Bryant-Denny stadium for a night game against essentially the exact same Alabama offense. Do the math.

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