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A field of 11 will go to the gate in a competitive edition of the Grade 1, $1.2 million Belmont Derby Invitational. Covering 1 1/4 miles on the inner turf, the Belmont Derby is the main event on Saturday’s Stars & Stripes Racing Festival program at Belmont Park.
Amerman Racing’s Oscar Performance will look for his second straight victory after a 1 1/2-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 3 Pennine Ridge on June 3. The Kitten’s Joy ridgling worked :59.95 over the firm Widener turf course on Sunday morning in his final preparation for Saturday’s Derby. Trainer Brian Lynch is confident that his speedy colt will give a good display of his talent.
“He’s going into the race in very good order,” Lynch said. “We’ve had no hiccups. The prep was obviously the Pennine Ridge and he fired a big one in there, so it gives us the confidence to go forward with him. There’s no reason to say he shouldn’t run big here this weekend.”
Oscar Performance debuted with a lackluster sixth-place finish at Saratoga, but he returned a few days shy of a month to best nine others by 10 1/4 lengths before winning the Grade 3 Pilgrim by 6 lengths at Belmont. Almost a month later, he added the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf to his win column, closing out his 2-year-old campaign.
After two disappointing efforts as a 3-year-old in both the Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland and the Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill Downs, Oscar Performance reclaimed his winning ways with a wire-to-wire victory in the Pennine Ridge.
#1 Good Samaritan – Boy, has he really burned a lot of money in his last three races. After a debut maiden special weight win and a Grade 2 victory as a 2-year-old, Good Samaritan has run well but hasn’t been able to win since. In the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, a poor trip got him beat, and in the American Turf Stakes, he may have needed an earlier race to get back into form. Neither of those efforts turned me off, but last time out in the Pennine Ridge, he should have run much better. Still, he’s bred to win a race like this one, and the talent is there. After all the negative I’ve said about him so far I still am going to stick with him one more time. With the breeding and expected great price he’s worth the risk.
#4 Oscar Perfomance – Who knows what to expect with him today. As a 2-year-old, this horse was a beast, but as a 3-year-old, he hasn’t looked that great. Yes, he won the Pennine Ridge fairly easily last time out, but he also got everything his own way. The chances of that happening here aren’t as good, though there isn’t a lot of early speed signed up for this race. At this point, you have to play him on your tickets, but his inconsistency is a bit worrisome, which is why he isn’t the top choice.
#3 Homesman – He seems to be a very classy European invader who ships in for the red-hot Aidan O’Brien. Last time out at Royal Ascot, he was fifth in the King George V Handicap, but was only beaten by 5 1/4 lengths. That kind of effort should translate fairly well in the United States, but with any Euro shipper, it’s always a guess on how they’ll handle the new environment. You can and should have confidence in O’Brien, though, and I think that he’ll show up with a solid effort.
#7 Yoshida – I’m a believer! After that powerhouse performance last time out in the James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico on Preakness Day, this horse could be a developing superstar. After breaking his maiden in wire-to-wire fashion, I expected him to be close to the pace in that race, but instead, he got off to a poor start and dropped nearly 25 lengths off the lead! From there, I thought that he was completely done, but he came charging out of nowhere to make up TONS of ground and ended up winning by 4 lengths. Anytime a horse can win races using contrasting styles, it really says a lot. He can’t fall 25 behind today, but with a normal trip, he should be very hard to beat.
#2 Ticonderoga – My old friend Ticonderoga… although I have no idea why he’s still my friend. Ticonderoga has mainly burned me, giving just a few glimmers of hope here and there throughout the past year. As a 2-year-old, he was talented but very green, and he’s been about the same as a 3-year-old, too. He kicked off his 2017 season with a nice-looking win in the Grade 3 Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park, but his last two efforts where fourth- and third-place finishes (the Transylvania and Pennine Ridge, respecitvely) where he wasn’t ever a threat to win. However, the way he closed into a slow pace last time out really caught my eye, and if the race had been a few feet longer, then he would have gotten second. The stretch out is going to be something that he enjoys today, and at 15-1 morning line odds, I have to give him one more shot. Old habits die hard…
#9 Big Score – His second-place effort in the Grade 2 Penn Mile last time out was a solid prep for this race and the added distance will be of some help. I ended up feeling the same way about both Big Score and Arklow: I’ve always liked them, I think that they’re good horses, but I just can’t wrap my mind around them actually winning this race. Look for Big Score to come with a big run like normal, but it won’t be enough.
#6 Arklow – Since moving to the turf, this horse is a perfect two-for-two, including a big win the American Turf Stakes last time out on Kentucky Derby Day. That race opened everyone’s eyes because he won at odds of 15-1, subsequently knocking several people out of big multi-race wager tickets. Even though it might feel like a mistake not putting him up higher on the chart, the others are just a bit more preferable, but that’s no disrespect to this classy horse.
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#10 Whitecliffsofdover – Sometimes, it’s the “other” European shipper that wins the race. Red-hot trainer Aidan O’Brien has shipped in two for this race, but the more highly-regarded of the pair is Homesman. That means that Whitecliffsofdover will most likely be ignored in the wagering, making him dangerous at a price. He had a miserable time of it at Royal Ascot last time out in the Group 3 Jersey Stakes, but his prior races weren’t all that bad. He’s one to watch.
#5 Called to the Bar – Another European shipper making his first appearance in the United States. This guy enters off of back-to-back wins in France and has never finished worse than second in four lifetime starts. If he can handle the surface and the change in scenery well, then he’ll have a big chance to win.
#8 Makarios – No doubt he’s a quality horse, but this field is completely stacked. He’s had a couple of chances against top-flight competition and failed (third in the Transylvania and sixth in the Pennine Ridge), so don’t back him in a race this tough.
#11 Senor Investment – They might be grasping for straws a little bit with him at this point, the main reason for running here is the belief that he’s a horse that really needs long distances. He’s had just one turf performance, his debut race, and he finished fourth. They’re just experimenting.
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