Belmont Turf Classic Day Picks with Odds and Expert Betting Predictions
Saturday is a great day to be a horse racing fan, with amazing cards packed with Grade 1 races at both Belmont and Santa Anita. Just having a bunch of races like that is great, but with horses jockeying for positions in the Breeders' Cup, and making their last starts before that festival, this is a hugely important weekend of racing. We'll look at Santa Anita in another article, but let's start with Belmont. Three Grade 1s are on the card. It starts with the Vosburgh, a six-furlong sprint. Then it's the Beldame, for fillies and mares eyeing the Distaff. And finally we have the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, a mile and a half prep that is a key Breeders' Cup Turf prep. Here's a look at how each shapes up:
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The race hasn't produced a winner that went on to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint since Artax in 1999, but it has still been very significant since then. Ghostzapper won the race in 2003, the year before he was stretched out, then won the Breeders' Cup Classic and was the best horse on the planet. Kodiak Kowboy won the race in 2009, skipped the Breeders' Cup, and was still named champion sprinter. And Rock Fall won the race convincingly in 2014 and would likely have been the favorite in the Sprint, but he was killed in a training accident. This year seven horses line up, with three having the best chance at success:
El Deal (6/5): He has won three straight, including his Grade 1 stakes debut in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga last time out. It was an impressive win, but given his already long career - 16 starts - and his late blooming nature, I just don't see enough value in this price. I'll look to beat him.
Mr. Crow (2/1): At the other end of the spectrum, this Todd Pletcher horse is making just his fourth career start and first in a stakes race. He was very impressive winning an allowance at Saratoga last time out, but I just refuse to pick a horse this raw in a race of this caliber at a price like this - even with Pletcher in charge.
Takaful (5/1): This son of Bernardini is at a much more palatable price and will be my primary play. He struggled on the Derby trail this spring but has looked better since shortening up, and he was second in a very strong race - the Jerkens at Saratoga - behind Practical Joke at the end of August. There is upside here for a very well-bred and clearly-improving horse.
This race regularly draws top fillies and mares. Royal Delta won this race in 2012 before winning her second straight Distaff. The year before, Havre de Grace won the race, was fourth against the boys in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and was named Horse of the Year. This year the race, which also features seven runners, is all about one overwhelming favorite.
Elate (3/5): Trainer Bill Mott knows how to handle fillies, and he has another great one here. Last time out she absolutely dominated the field in the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga, winning by most of six lengths while looking like she had plenty more in her. The knock against her is that that was the first race in her career where she has fully put it all together, and she had some duds before then. She is likely to win, but this price is horrible, so I'll look elsewhere to take a small shot.
Eskenformoney (5/1): This mare is the grizzled journeyman of the group, making her 16th career graded stakes start. She has only one Grade 3 start to her credit in that time, but she has been in the top three nine times. She will likely be a piece of it here, but I can't justify a win bet.
Verve's Tale (6/1): As much as there is any value in betting against Elate, this is the horse that represents it. She had a disappointing outing at Belmont on Belmont Stakes day, but they freshened her up and brought her back in easy company at Saratoga in August. She looked great, and I like how she has trained since. She has plenty of talent and could be building towards an effort where she shows that off.
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
Like the others, this race has had some big-time winners lately. In the last decade alone there have been four significant winners. English Channel won it twice, winning the 2007 Breeders' Cup Turf after the second win. Little Mike won it in 2013, the year after he won the Turf. Cape Blanco in 2011, Main Sequence in 2014 and Big Blue Kitten the next year all won this race then took Turf Horse of the Year honors. This year 11 horses vie to join that list of successful winners. The top-heavy field has four obvious contenders:
Oscar Performance (3/1): Since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last year, this colt has only gotten better. He has won three straight, with two being Grade 1s, including one at Belmont. He's in fine form. This race is a quarter mile longer than his last, but he looked like he had plenty left in that one. I don't love the price, but the upside is massive, and he has to be the pick.
Money Multiplier (7/2): This brilliantly-bred five-year-old was off for the first seven months of the year but has returned with a win and a strong second. I love the horse, but he was fourth in this race last year and has struggled to be at his best at Belmont. He'll be in the mix but isn't the win bet.
Sadler's Joy (4/1): He beat Money Multiplier last time out but is more regularly in the mix but not up front at the wire in graded stakes. I like him but not enough to back him in this tough spot. He gets play in the bottom of trifectas only.
Beach Patrol (5/1): He looked great winning the Arlington Million last time out, and that is a very significant win. He had his best possible day there, though, and at this price I'm not willing to bet that lightning will strike twice.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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