It’s that time of the year again — the Belmont Gold Cup. This year marks the third running of Belmont’s two-mile turf race. The race offers its biggest purse yet, $300,000. It also drew its biggest field to date, thirteen horses.
A two-mile race on these shores will always be an interesting event. We so rarely have them; as a result, few horses actually have form at the distance. A few do, but most have to be evaluated on pace, class, and form at far tamer turf route distances like eleven or twelve furlongs.
Pace, particularly, is where this race seems quite interesting — or, more appropriately, the lack of pace. With that preface, here are my thoughts on each horse in the field.
Selections: My Afleet (10), Da Big Hoss (5), Now We Can (13)
Longshot: Belisaurius (1)
- Belisarius: Belisarius rarely wins horse races, as evidenced by the fact that he has won twice in nineteen tries. But, his seven seconds and four thirds suggest he has some level of consistency. He can sit a few lengths off the pace, or rally from well off the going, and has some good form in races with slower paces. The underside is a bit of a question for two miles, but the Montjeu on top combined with the form in mile and a half-category races make him worth looking at here. Belisarius is not a likely winner, but is a longer price who should make the exotics here.
- Tobias: Seven-year-old Tobias has only one win in 23 starts. It did come at a mile and a half against winners, which is something. He also has some mid-pack finishes in stakes races. But, he has an off-pace style in a paceless race, and many of these horses are better than the minor stakes types he has occasionally been knocking heads against. Tobias looks overmatched.
- Closing Bell: This son of Tapit is one of two Bill Mott entries here, but the “Mott B” (Belisarius) appeals just a bit more. Closing Bell has shown more stamina than your average Tapit baby, of course, winning the 1 5/16 mile Dueling Grounds Derby last year, and finishing second behind Highland Reel in the 1 1/4 mile Secretariat. But, one wonders given his pedigree just how much further Closing Bell will be able to stretch himself out. Furthermore, he has been less than consistent. If he does well, it would not be the biggest shock in the world, but he stands to be underlaid.
- Up With the Birds: Up With the Birds is perhaps the most confounding horse in this field: hard to count completely out, but hard to like much. He is best when he has a target to chase, something he is unlikely to get here. He is a midpack to closing type who usually fires somewhat, but does not often get all the way there, and has not had a win picture in almost two years. He makes a certain sense in the lowest rungs of exotics — he has the class, and gets enough underneath finishes in recent times. But, others appeal more for better prices.
- Da Big Hoss: Since being claimed into the Mike Maker barn, Da Big Hoss has become a force on the circuit of long-distance turf races. Though this will be his first try past thirteen furlongs, he has shown good versatility, and should be able to set himself up to get early run should the pace falter. Da Big Hoss should be fit; though he has not raced since April, he has a solid series of works, and Maker’s charges are excellent off similar-length lays. He also keeps crack turf route rider Florent Geroux in the irons. Da Big Hoss is the morning-line favourite, but has enough to make him a must-use here even at a fairly short price.
- Tiz Town: Tiz Town’s best races come from a stalking place, a point in his favour here. He has also come in for a share against allowance company at ten furlongs on dirt, and at twelve furlongs on grass. Still, the underside of the pedigree makes one wonder just how much further he can go. Also, his class and speed both leave something to be desired. Taking a pass.
- Rum Tum Tugger: Rum Tum Tugger has shown some early speed in races last year, but his recent form lines have him well off the pace. In his particularly speedy effort, he was facing far softer company than this, and was rank in the stages of the race. Even before that, he was coming from off the pace — including in his starts with Alex Cintron, who returns to the irons today. The Afleet Alex on top is not a bad thing to see — but the underside opens some questions, and there’s another Afleet Alex baby in this field who appeals far more.
- Silver Lime: Silver Lime has more staying form than most, including a handicap-level win at fourteen furlongs in 2013. But, he did not race for almost two years, between July 2013 and July 2015. In just four starts since then, he found allowance company at Laurel, Belmont, and Saratoga too much; he finally hit the board in a stakes at Great Meadow, finishing a close second behind Rum Tum Tugger last month. The ten furlong (!) work is a positive sight, but the waters on race day are too deep for his recent form, even with so few proven at this stayer’s distance.
- Kaigun: This six-year-old has been a versatile sort, showing form in sprints, as well as in mile and a half turf races. But, behind a relatively slow pace in the Man O’ War (GI) last out, he was unable to get all the way there late. This race is a class drop from that, but his style stands to be a liability. As one of the shorter priced horses in the field, there is not enough to get excited about here to take that proposition, especially with the disappointing last out. Underlay.
- My Afleet: Here’s your speed. Period. At two miles, a distance at which many may fear to do too much on the front end early, the fact that My Afleet reliably sends to the front should give him a huge advantage. He also can rebuff a challenge if he needs, something he showed well in his victory in the Dueling Grounds Derby at age three. He has only raced twice since then, so there have been some issues along the way. But, one of those races was just a month ago — a good sign that he has come right back. He had some early trouble last out, and stayed interested enough to go on for fifth. But, that was his first race in a year. He needed it. My Afleet comes in second off the lay with a perfectly competent front-end rider in Edgar Prado. Seeing him set at 30/1 on the morning line came as a surprise; he makes sense to take this bunch gate to wire at odds of a third of that.
- Biz the Nurse: Biz the Nurse has solid distance breeding, and gets a positive rider change to Irad Ortiz. However, his deep-closing style does him no favours here. Furthermore, in three starts over grass at Belmont, Biz the Nurse has missed the board all three times. Granted, two of those starts were in Grade I company — but one came in allowance-optional company. Sure, the pace did not set up for him that day…but it won’t set up for him this time, either. Pass.
- Twilight Eclipse: Twilight Eclipse has some back races near the front, so he seems the most likely challenger to My Afleet. But, even in races lacking a certain Ramsey Rabbit, he has not been sending much lately. For a horse who was once so consistent, he has thrown some clunkers recently against horses he was once able to beat. This is a bit of a class drop for him — but if he couldn’t quite stay the trip in the Belmont Gold Cup two years ago, why would an off-form Twilight Eclipse be able to stay the trip today?
- Now We Can: Now We Can ships after three races in France through the spring. He has shown decent form in all three of them, though this is a class rise from that. Now We Can does have the back class to be attractive, however. He has shown the ability to ship well; he finished a solid enough 4th in the 2013 Canadian International (GI – CAN), having raced in France the month before. He also has form at true staying distances. Though the 2014 Dubai Gold Cup at two miles proved too much for him, this is a real class drop from that. And, he has a victory at a mile and three quarters. Now We Can has also shown form stalking the pace, and has the most solid distance breeding of the field. In a race full of wild cards, there’s just enough about Now We Can to think this race is a smart spot.