Unless an opportunity for a Triple Crown presents itself, most people bypass the Belmont Stakes.
That’s not necessarily a mistake this year.
Looking at the card on Belmont Stakes day, the race that jumps out features five Grade One winners and many recognizable names in the field. The bad news for our friends at ABC who are televising the race? It’s not the Belmont Stakes. The Manhattan Handicap (the race before the Belmont) reads like a “Who Who Among Turf Horses.”
Cowboy Cal gets the morning line favorite status in this deep race at 3-1. Todd Pletcher, who throws horses at Grade One cards like I take Claritin, thinks that his horse can finally get it together after a decent performance at the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day (he finished second) and an awful showing at the Santa Anita Handicap (he finished eighth). Cowboy Cal finished in 9th place in the crapshoot that is the Kentucky Derby last year, and seems like he can’t be trusted in a big race.
Court Vision is another horse that didn’t show up in last year’s Derby or this year’s Santa Anita Handicap. His morning line is set at 4-1, but he also faces many questions. Can this 4-year-old find his old form in late ’07 where he found the winners circle on a constant basis? After the Derby, Court Vision took part in eight races. He only won two of them, and has barely hit the board this year. With so much talent deep in this pool, it may be best to look somewhere else.
There’s great value for 7-year-old Cosmonaut in the Manhattan. The lightly-raced veteran is 1-for-1 this year with a win at Belmont in the Fort Marcy Stakes. Consistently in the top five, Cosmonaut seems to never have a bad race. The same can be said for Champs Elysees. This champion 6-year-old won the Hollywood Turf Cup Sprint in December and has almost fizzled since since. Good enough to get into the Breeders’ Cup Classic last year, expect a double digit price for the best value play on the board.
Oh, and then there’s last year’s winner of this event. Better Talk Now, the 10-year-old gelding, can still get it done. Down by 5 lengths at the top of the stretch at Belmont last June, Better Talk Now weaved his way past a bevy of champion horses to win the Manhattan. Refreshing myself with this race a few minutes ago, I still can’t believe how that horse got past such legends as English Channel and Shakkis to eek out an ever-so-close win at the wire. His morning line odds are 15-1. You want to bet against him?
I’ll take Better Talk Now and Champs Elysees in a box exacta and hope for the best.
Remember, the best race on Saturday isn’t the feature race of the day. Sometimes, the grass is greener on the inside of the racetrack.