Belmont Park Picks: How do you solve a problem like Aidan O'Brien?

Powerful European conditioner Aidan O'Brien comes to play at Belmont on Saturday. Is there a way the Americans can combat his heavy favorites? J.N. Campbell answers ...
Powerful European conditioner Aidan O'Brien comes to play at Belmont on Saturday. Is there a way the Americans can combat his heavy favorites? J.N. Campbell answers ...

As rain, plus an East Coast hurricane, descends on the state of New York, we hoping the turf holds up. These Grade I races are going to mark the end of the Belmont Park Spring-Summer Meet. On tap for Saturday are both the Belmont Oaks Invitational and the Belmont Derby Invitational. As a pair of "Features," our turf-man previews these contests, along with giving his selections for the entire card...

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Race 7: 1¼ (Turf), Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), Purse $700k, 3F

This year’s Belmont Oaks on the turf has an interesting field that has numerous ways you can go when it comes to wagering. A heavy favorite, Santa Barbara #5, comes in for international super trainer Aidan O’Brien. What a short price this one is on the M/L—1/1? I am not saying that is unwarranted and the filly isn’t a deserving favorite. It’s just that there are so many variables present that make her vulnerable. Making the jump across the Atlantic … never having tried the Belmont turf … still a 3-yr-old … in other words, there are questions to be answered, and we will not have them answered until after the windows have closed. O’Brien ships at a high-rate, globally, and he has made Ballydoyle a powerhouse—think force to be reckoned with.

Still, I want a major value play in a spot like this one, since the turf course will have taken on significant rainfall by Saturday. I do not necessarily believe that only looking for a runner who has won or been close up on yielding ground is what a handicapper should be after. Who is to say that they weren’t able to avoid traffic, or just got the perfect pace scenario that suited best? What I am really after is a “stayer,” that has really upped her game of late. Graduating in distance to at least 1 1/8th seems like a nice prerequisite. Give me an accomplished lawn jockey because I do not believe that riders are simply “along for it.” Those are a few standards to live by when it comes to making a selection …

HOF trainer Mark Casse has one that ticks many a box for me and her name is Spanish Loveaffair #4. Out of strong turf sire Karakontie, she is owned by Eclipse Thoroughbreds. That means something because Aron Wellman and his excellent team invest in the best. They partner with strong trainers like Casse (and though this is beginning to sound like an ad for ETP), it is fact. This filly continues to improve over the course of her 2021 campaign, and though she relinquished the lead last out in the Regret (G3) at Churchill, she can bounce back here at Belmont. Tyler Gaffalione follows her up to New York, and he can make a difference. I am not sure what happened at Keeneland in the Appalachian S. (G2), other than Chris Landeros didn’t have the ability to put her in the right position. Coming to the NYRA Circuit she has a strong level of fitness. This is Casse we are speaking of, after all. Her price will be right at 12/1.

That is a bet … an overlay … and a mighty sneaky filly. Don’t sleep on the light blue and black!

Wagering Recommendation: $100 Bankroll, Graduated Wager, WPS # ($10-W, $15-P, $75-S)

Race 9: 1¼ (Turf), Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), Purse $1 Million, 3

As these 3-yr-old colts vie for supremacy, it will not be easy to sort out a winner easily. You could go with Natalie Baffert’s Du Jour #5, who surprised many (including this tipster) in the American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs on the Derby undercard. Now, she has switched stables to Bill Mott, and it will be interesting to see how her colt responds. While her husband fights legal battles in the courts, this son of Temple City will have to stretch out and get this longer distance.

If you want another attractive runner, then you could get behind Todd Pletcher’s Sainthood #4. A KYD147 alum, he is heading over to the turf, which is a favorite play for many of these young ones. It could be a smart move by the soon-to-be HOF conditioner. He is out of Mshawish, and that sire liked to go long. As for others, the attractive Palazzi #1 was awfully good for Mark Casse and John Oxley this past spring. Bred by Hank Nothhaft of Austin, TX, he has a late turn-of-foot to die for, and the addition of Tyler Gaffalione is inviting. Watch out for him down the lane because he has outrun his high odds before. Of course, some significant coin is going to point towards Aidan O’Brien’s entry, Bolshoi Ballet #2. This son of Galileo (IRE) has competed in some high-level company in UK/IRE/FR, and his conditioner has him poised to come to America. Ryan Moore is in tow, and he can be very dangerous on any grass course, at any distance. Aggressiveness is his guide …

I like each of the aforementioned colts, but my eye is on Jonathan Thomas’ Hard Love #6. A ridgling out of Kitten’s Joy, his conditioner possesses a quality stable, even though it does not contain a legion like other compatriots. Running in some 100k “Non-G” events at Aqueduct and Belmont, have prepared this 3-yr-old for the jump in class that will be necessary here. Last out, in an OC80k prep for this race, jockey Manny Franco got this one up just in time to win by a head. Battle-hardened, this Robert Lapenta-owned entry has all the tools at his disposal to do well in the Belmont Derby. If there is some “give” in the ground, and I think there certainly will be, then it will be interesting to see how he responds. Tracking one or 2-lengths off-the-pace is right where he needs to be. Easy early … that is the ticket.

Spurning the O’Brien and Baffert/Mott entries, which should take the bulk for the pool money, I am going to hope that Thomas’ capable turfer gets overlooked. If the money flows the way I think it will, then 7/2 or 4/1 should be more than a fair price. Stay glued to that tote, as those 20 minutes begin to countdown. Should be a fun one, to say the least! 

Wagering Recommendation: $25/$50 WP #6

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Enjoy some action from Elmont, New York! Closing Weekend is upon us …

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