The Belmont Gold Cup is one of my favourite races of the year. Though this year will only be its second incarnation, I am thrilled that it is returning to the schedule, and thrilled that it drew an eleven-horse field. For a two-mile race, such an uncommon distance here, it is always fun to see who it draws. This year’s field has a bit more runners with two-mile experience than last year, especially with the advent of the H. Allen Jerkens, another two-mile grass stakes at Gulfstream. Hopefully this trend continues, and a few more classy two-milers will pop up on the calendar.
Selections: Innovation Economy (2), Unitarian (3), Reflecting (11)
Longshot: Morning Calm (8)
- Dynamic Sky: Dynamic Sky has become the quintessential undersides horse in longer turf races. He has just one win in ten starts on grass, but has hit the board five other times. This will be his first try at two miles, though his form at a mile and a half makes this longer distance at least worth trying. Weighing in his favour are the fact that he has some good and yielding track form, since there is some rain in the forecast this week. However, the price will be short given the classy company he keeps, and his tendency to come in under makes him most attractive for undersides only.
- Innovation Economy: This lightly raced four-year-old tries stakes company for the first time and tries two miles for the first time. Being by Dynaformer out of a Gone West mare, there could be some stamina there, and he has already won going as far as 1 1/2 miles. He has also shown form on softer going, having wins over both good and yielding turf. The humans behind him are top-notch: he runs for trainer Chad Brown, and gets Irad Ortiz in the irons. Ortiz won aboard Innovation Economy two starts back, and has a positive ROI over the last sixty days with Brown — an achievement, given how well-bet Brown’s horses always are. Brown has won at 27% this Belmont meet, and takes down ungraded stakes at 31%. He places his horses well. Innovation Economy should not go off favoured with Unitarian and Dynamic Sky in the field, and he has more than enough upside to make him attractive.
- Unitarian: Unitarian was impressive in winning the H. Allen Jerkens at this same distance. That was his first career attempt at two miles, but he showed excellent kick late. He has the stamina for this trip. He gets Javier Castellano back in the irons, as well; he rode Unitarian in the Jerkens. Unitarian will likely go off the favourite, and deservedly so. His 3/1 morning line would be more than square against this field, though I would be surprised to see him at anything longer than about 3/2. 3/1, go to the windows. 3/2, make sure he is covered, but the win bet is elsewhere.
- Comes the Dream: This gelding was a well-beaten tenth in the Gold Cup last year, and has only raced once since then. That race was over the Belmont course at a flat mile, which was likely too short for him. However, two miles may turn out again to be too long for him. He has a bit better chance to at least hit the board if he sits off the pace. If he sends, like he did last year, Red Rifle will prove too much.
- Red Rifle: Red Rifle is the most attractive of the speed horses here, and will likely turn out the speed of the speed. However, Tattenham will almost certainly pressure him early, and Comes the Dream could do so as well. He does his best work when on an unpressured lead, and he does not seem likely to be left alone to steal this race.
- Artic North: Atric North ran a strong second in the H. Allen Jerkens at Gulfstream over the winter, finishing second behind Unitarian’s tour-de-force performance. Graded company after that proved a bridge too far, but he won last out in AOC company. He was claimed out of that race for $62,500, and turns up in the Gold Cup first off the claim. The strong performance at two miles over the winter goes in his favour, but the rain in the forecast does not. He has never raced on turf rated softer than firm. At two miles, it is hard to take a horse with no proven form over a more taxing surface.
- Diplomat: Last year, we had Spy in the Sky, and this year we have Diplomat: the steeplechaser who comes to the Belmont Gold Cup to run on the flat. He has won at longer distances over fences, but it is hard to tell whether he will have the speed to beat classy flat horses. Diplomat comes into this race in better form than Spy in the Sky had coming in last year, but horses a bit better proven on the flat are more attractive here. However, for anyone who joked after Charming Kitten won last year that you should have just bet the Kitten and been done with it? Well, Diplomat is your Kitten.
- Morning Calm: Morning Calm races at two miles for the first time, but has shown form at 1 7/16 and 1 1/2 miles recently. He has also shown form on good turf, suggesting he will be able to handle some give in the ground. One of those second-place finishes on good turf came at Belmont, suggesting some aptitude to handle the course. Most interesting here is his rider: Mike Smith has the call. Morning Calm is not the sort of horse who would be attractive at chalk prices, but for double-digit odds, he has enough to make him interesting for a big price.
- Manchurian High: Manchurian High comes in second off the lay off a troubled eighth in the Dixie Stakes (GII) last out. He has shown form going as long as 1 5/8 miles, finishing third beaten a neck in a restricted stakes (the John’s Call) last year at that distance. He is a winner at 1 1/2 miles at the listed level. Manchurian High rates in about the middle of the pack: very few reasons to dislike him, but very few reasons to love him, either. He is a closer who fires consistently enough, and a logical candidate for under-rungs of intra-race exotics, but others appeal more to win.
- Tattenham: Tattenham comes into here second off the claim by the Leah Gyarmati barn. Back in the Graham Motion barn he did try two miles once; he finished a well-beaten ninth in the H. Allen Jerkens. He pressed the pace, and faded. He does his best work on the lead, and he will not get the lead with Red Rifle in the field. Furthermore, he is better on firm going than softer. He will go off a long price, but there is very little to recommend him.
- Reflecting: Reflecting has run at two miles twice, and finished third both times. He closed to finish third beaten a length in the Belmont Gold Cup last year. Taking a different tactic, he set the pace in the H. Allen Jerkens over the winter, and held on for third behind Unitarian and Artic North. He comes into this race second off the lay, and switches back to Joel Rosario in the irons. The last time Rosario rode, they finished third in the Gold Cup last year. Reflecting should go off at a solid price, and the pace versatility and the proven form at two miles make him a very attractive candidate.