Graeme North takes a look at a bumper card chock-full of top-quality Graded action...
"The Diana might well be the key piece of form as second that day and very much a live candidate here is Zagora's new stable-companion Dream Peace."
There is no shortage of high-class action this weekend with ten Grade 1 events taking place on Saturday, with five of them coming from Belmont Park. With so much racing to cover there's little time for further introduction, so we'll address the main events on what has rather unoriginally been coined 'Super Saturday' in racecard order:
BELDAME INVITATIONAL (off 14:48 local time, 19:48 BST)
Seven might go to post, but to all intents and purposes this is a match-up between Royal Delta and It's Tricky who take each other on for the fifth time, with the record to date 3-1 in favour of Royal Delta. As might be expected from that head-to-head record, Royal Delta heads our ratings but only marginally and whether she can get the better of her old rival once again will likely be influenced by several factors.
No doubt about it, Royal Delta sets a very tall standard - she has run to a rating of 126 in each of her last three starts including when one place ahead of It's Tricky in the G1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga last time. That might not be a fair guide to the current respective merits of the pair , however, as It's Tricky stumbled badly twice at the start and Royal Delta seemed to get caught flat footed wide on the home turn before staying on strongly.
Nine furlongs around the tight confines of Saratoga in a steadily-run race may not ideally be enough of a test for Royal Delta nowadays - her only defeat by It's Tricky came there over that trip last year before she reversed the form over a mile and a quarter - so the wider, more galloping Belmont track will be in her favour. But with It's Tricky unbeaten round one turn here and every chance of a falsely-run race given Cash For Clunkers is likely to be able to dominate as she likes, Morning Line forecasts of 2 and 2.8 might still underestimate how close this might yet be. And with plenty of rain forecast in the New York area- Friday's card was cancelled because of that very reason- and It's Trick undefeated on muddy tracks and Royal Delta beaten comprehensively in this race last year on her sole start on one, as things stand this one is best sat out.
KELSO HANDICAP (15:30, 20:30 BST)
Much here revolves around the well-being of Shackleford. His last three reported workouts have seen him listed as fastest of his lot at four, five and six furlongs at Churchill Downs, so on the face of it he's working well, but he was also fastest in his final workout before flopping in the G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga when last seen at the start of August. That might have been as much to do with the muddy track and six furlongs - his first experience of either - as anything else but while the surface might have hindered him he'd always shaped as though the drop to six wouldn't inconvenience him.
He has to put that behind him and might well face more pressure up front than he is used to with Trickmeister, Tapizar and Pacific Ocean in the line-up, but if everything falls into place and he turns up in the same form as when winning the G1 Metropolitan Mile here in May he should come home in front.
Favourite and back in third that day was To Honor And Serve. He has a small turnaround in the weights on this occasion but despite winning the weakly-contested G1 Woodward at Saratoga since hasn't been at his best for several starts now. Suffice to say, nothing appeals greatly at the forecast prices.
VOSBURGH INVITATIONAL (16:04, 21:04 BST)
The Vosburgh might have at times been a prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint but the field lining up this year looks rather short on quality. As a last-time-out G1 winner Poseidon's Warrior might normally be afforded plenty of respect but that race, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga which he won from Justin Phillip, was rather set up for him by the eventual third Emcee going off far too hard.
Whereas Poseidon's Warrior had never before shown himself capable of that level of performance, Justin Phillip had, but not since summer 2011 despite having won at Belmont in the meantime. With that in mind it will probably pay to look elsewhere for the winner but with just 3lb covering eight of the field on weight-adjusted ratings there is no stand-out candidate. Royal Currier had Justin Phillip back in third when winning the G3 Mr Prospector at Monmouth in July and should come out on top again on these terms but Sean Avery might be the smart play.
Part of an entry with The Lumber Guy, the 2011 Alfred G. Vanderbilt winner had easily the best form of these last year when capable of a 122 Timeform rating and he wasn't far off that level on his first run for around a year here earlier this month when getting the better of three rivals including the reopposing Zero Rate Policy and Royal Currier.
The Lumber Guy hasn't been seen since finishing fifth in the nine-furlong G2 Peter Pan here in May but this free-going remains undefeated at up to seven furlongs and a repeat of the form he showed when winning the Jerome at Aqueduct in April should get him in the shake-up.
FLOWER BOWL INVITATIONAL (16:38, 21:38 BST)
On a card surprisingly bereft of European interest given the prize money on offer, there is at least some here with Nahrain representing Roger Varian and I'm A Dreamer David Simcock. Both have raced in North America before with the 2011 Prix de L'Opera winner Nahrain second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf and recent Beverly D. winner I'm A Dreamer also second in the 2011 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.
While there is nothing between them at their best, I'm A Dreamer is very much the pick on current form and won't be inconvenienced by the return to this slightly longer trip.
There is strong 'home' opposition in the form of ex-French pair Zagora and Dream Peace, however. Zagora set a new course record when winning the G1 Ballston Spa Stakes at Saratoga last month and that win marked a return to form after finishing only third in the G1 Diana Stakes earlier in the summer.
The Diana might well be the key piece of form as second that day and very much a live candidate here is her new stable-companion Dream Peace. She finished a nose behind I' A Dreamer in the E.P. Taylor last autumn on terms worse than weight for age and that despite being set too much to do in a contest in which the first half mile was contested in a funereal 51.06 seconds. Dream Peace looked to beat Zagora fair and square in the Diana (when still with Robert Collet) in which Ballston Spa second Hungry Island was sixth and the 2011 Prix de la Nonette winner, who receives weight from her three main rivals, is worth backing to confirm the form.
JOE HIRSCH INVITATIONAL (17:12, 22:12 BST)
Where are all the Europeans? In waiting for the Arc maybe but Wigmore Hall's victory two weeks back in the G1 Canadian International on the back of a very lacklustre season showed once again a horse doesn't need to be top class in European terms to win the top turf races over a mile and a half in North America.
Aidan O'Brien does at least provide a challenger in a bid to follow up Cape Blanco's win last year but his Treasure Beach is not the force he was last year when winning the G1 Secretariat and is held on recent Arlington Million and Man O'War form by both Little Mike and Point of Entry respectively.
The Arlington Million was Little Mike's first run beyond nine furlongs and the race could hardly have panned out more ideally for the confirmed front-runner - nothing took him on in front and he was able to use his proven mile speed to quicken clear turning into the short straight after going through the half mile in 50 seconds. He's likely to try and pull off those tactics again up another two furlongs here but Point of Entry showed what smart acceleration he possesses too ridden close to a steady pace in the Man O'War and followed that up with an even better effort last time in the G1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga conceding upwards of 5lb all round and winning by four lengths. The proven stayer and with 5lb in hand on Timeform ratings, he's very hard to oppose and anything better than 1.8 promises to be value in an uncompetitive affair.
TVG JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP (17:46, 22:46 BST)
Arguably the most interesting race on the card with 2011 winner Flat Out looking to win the race for the second year in succession. Not to put too fine a point on it, that is probably beyond him - he's struggled to recapture that form since, being unplaced as many times as he has been placed, for all there were signs last time when third at Saratoga in the G1 Whitney Invitational that he could be on his way back. That he was set a lot to do as the race was run may or may not be the reason Rosie Napravnick has lost the mount to Joel Rosario, but the fact remains that this year's renewal is a much tougher race than the one he won in 2011 as it has also attracted five other G1 winners including both horses that finished ahead of him at Saratoga, Fort Larned and Ron The Greek.
Fort Larned is the new kid on the block this year at this level. He looked little more than ordinary for most of last season and his breakthrough win in the G3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows in June seemed to owe more to an enterprising front-running ride than anything else but his Whitney win was achieved in more credible circumstances and suggests he can't be taken lightly. Whether he'd have beaten Ron The Greek had the latter not been set so much to do and then been forced to make his effort much wider than ideal seems unlikely, however.
Ron The Greek has some strong form to his name this year and looks a decent bet to reverse the form. His previous defeat of Wise Dan in the G1 Stephen Foster, albeit in receipt of 4lb, looks all the better three months down the line and his defeat before that by top miler Alternation over an inadequate trip is easily excused on account of letting the winner get first run in a modestly-run race.
Three-year-olds Fast Falcon and Atigun, particularly the latter now back at the scene of his excellent Belmont third, have to be respected while G1 Donn Handicap and Whitney fourth Hymn Book could go well if the track gets sloppy but Ron The Greek has 4lb in hand on Timeform ratings and the Morning Line 3.5 looks very fair.
1pt win DREAM PEACE in the Flower Bowl
1pt win POINT OF ENTRY in the Joe Hirsch if 1.84/5 or longer
1pt win RON THE GREEK in the Jockey Club Gold Cup
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