Selections for $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes (G1)

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By Frank R. Scatoni, editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.

THE RACE $1,000,000 Belmont Stakes (G1) Belmont Park Race 11 (Saturday, June 11, 2011: post time: 6:35 p.m./EDT; 3:35 p.m./PDT) 1-1/2 miles on the main track (3-year-olds) The “Showdown at Big Sandy!” The Derby winner vs. the Preakness winner. Oh, and let’s not forget the horses that finished second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh in the Derby. That’s right, it’s a Belmont Stakes (G1) for the ages when #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM squares off against #12 SHACKLEFORD and a strong cast of Derby also-rans. Let’s horse-by-horse the runners. #1 MASTER OF HOUNDS ran on late in the Derby to finish fifth, so you’d have to think that today’s 1-1/2 mile distance won’t be a problem. That said, I’ve got some strong knocks: I don’t like deep closers in this race; plus, this will be his second transatlantic journey in five weeks, so who knows how fresh he will be. Throw in the fact that I think he’s going to be the “wiseguy” horse, and that makes me want to stay away with a ten-foot pole. #2 STAY THIRSTY has been dying for a sip of champagne ever since his sharp Gotham (G3) win back in March. His last two starts have been abominations, and it’s not like trainer Todd Pletcher moves up horses in their fourth starts of their form cycles. His breeding says he can run to Montauk and back, but I can’t see a world in which he turns the tables on the top foes. #3 RULER ON ICE is in hot water. His last two runs were nice, but he’s facing monsters today, and he’s lacking in the breeding department for the Belmont’s marathon distance. The addition of blinks means he’s a pace factor and nothing else. #4 SANTIVA was my “wiseguy” horse for the Derby, and he ran a creditable sixth while running on through the lane. He skipped the Preakness for this spot, and I have to think this lightly raced runner with awesome distance breeding is sitting on a career-best effort. He’s my “wiseguy” horse once again. #5 BRILLIANT SPEED ran much better in the Derby than I would have guessed, checking in seventh after an 8-wide move and a late bid. He is a deep closer though, and I think he’s going to have way too much to do in the lane today. I can’t wait till they get him back on turf—he can be a force on the green. #6 NEHRO has played second fiddle in his last three races. Some might say he’s just unlucky; others might say he doesn’t have the eye of the tiger. The jury is still out, in my opinion, but given the fact that he’s fired in his last four starts, he’s a logical contender and a must-use in the exotics. #7 MONZON’s lone stakes victory in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct sticks out like a sore thumb, which makes me think that was the exception and not the rule. He’s been mediocre at best in his last two runs, and even though he’s got very nice breeding for this distance, I’m not sure he’s good enough at this point in his career to have a say in the outcome. #8 PRIME CUT was my pick in the Peter Pan (G2), where he tracked the pace, loomed up, and flattened out at 8/1. That’s certainly an effort he can improve upon…if this race were 1-1/16 miles. The fact that he flattened out going 1-1/8 miles does not bode well for him today. I’d love to see him on the turf this fall. #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM clearly is the one to beat. He obliterated these guys in the Derby, and he was impossibly far back in the Preakness. Johnny V won’t make the same mistake twice, especially since Belmont Park is his house. Trainer Graham Motion could get a donkey to run a route of ground, so I know this guy will be rolling in the lane. Plus, his foreign breeding should help him in the stamina department just when his rivals are starting to hit the wall. #10 MUCHO MACHO MAN is a very cool horse, and I can’t say anything negative about what he’s accomplished, but we’ve got a better chance of seeing the “Cop” from the Village People playing the call to post than we do of seeing this guy in the Belmont winner’s circle. As the distances have gotten longer, he has been losing by more lengths. His third-place finish in the Derby exceeded my expectations, and he did have a troubled trip in the Preakness, but his distance limitations and grueling campaign are hard to overlook. #11 ISN’T HE PERFECT is a bit of a misnomer for a horse that has only hit the board three times in thirteen starts. He can certainly be a useful horse against much lesser company, but anything less than 50/1 today would be a massive underlay. #12 SHACKLEFORD was my Derby horse, and turning for home I was counting my money. Alas, he got leg-weary late and finished fourth at 23/1. Then, like the idiot I can sometimes be, I got off him in the Preakness, and he scoffed at my disloyalty by winning at 12/1. So where do I side today? As much as I liked his Preakness victory, I think he’s going to have trouble staying the added distance. But I will salute him if he wins because I think he’s a super-cool horse. SELECTIONS 1. #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM – Should make amends for Preakness defeat. 2. #6 NEHRO – Another second-place finish seems very likely to me. 3. #12 SHACKLEFORD – He’s good enough to hold third. LONG SHOT VALUE PLAY: #4 SANTIVA – I just have a feeling we haven’t seen the best of him. WAGERING STRATEGY I’m going to war with #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM. I think he’ll be the best horse at today’s distance, and we know he’s fast enough to win the race. I’m going to key him on top in trifectas with #1 MASTER OF HOUNDS, #4 SANTIVA, #5 BRILLIANT SPEED, #6 NEHRO, and #12 SHACKLEFORD ($5 trifecta: 9 with 1,4,5,6,12 with 1,4,5,6,12). BANKROLL PLAY $50 win #9 ANIMAL KINGDOM (Bankroll at +$749.25 after Week Thirteen Based on $50 Wagers)

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