The Empire Strikes Back, Volume 2

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The 149th Belmont Stakes is this Saturday with Classic Empire who danced the first two legs of the Triple Crown, finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby after a rough trip and losing a heartbreaker in the Preakness.

The Steven Asmussen trained Lookin At Lee is the only other runner in this year’s Belmont that ran in both the Derby and Preakness, finishing second and fourth respectively.

Some new possible starters in what looks to be a field of 14 will be the Japanese colt Epicharis who was second behind Thunder Snow in the Dubai race. Epicharis won his first four starts in Japan and his main jockey Christophe Lemaire will be in for the ride, trained by the great Kiyoshi Haglwara; do not dismiss!

Big race Mike Smith will ride the speedy Meantime trained by Brian Lynch. His colt is proven on an off track and you never want to see Smith all alone on the front end. Two other new possible runners are True Timber, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and Twisted Tom, trained by Chad Brown who took the Preakness with Cloud Computing. Both have good early speed and should keep the race honest.

The horses who ran the Derby and skipped the Preakness are Gormley, trained by John Shirreffs; Irish War Cry, trained by Graham Motion and ridden again by Rajiv Maragh; J Boys Echo, trained by the dangerous Dale Romans, with jockey Robby Albarado; the one-eyed horse Patch, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by J R Velazquez; and the sneaky looking Tapwrit, also trained by Pletcher and ridden by his usual jock Jose Ortiz.

Other possible runners will be Multiplier, who was sixth in the Preakness; Senior Investment, who was third in the Preakness. Now the question will be how do we approach the betting in this race?

Since this race is at Belmont Park, the first thing we will do is put circles around Tapwrit with Ortiz aboard and a big circle on Lookin At Lee as he gets Ortiz’s brother Irad Ortiz Jr., riding for Asmussen. In last year’s running of the Belmont, Asmussen brought in a runner named Creator and took his regular jock off and put on Irad, who got the win with a great ride. The Ortiz brothers own this track and cannot be tossed at anytime.

We will also put circles on Patch with Velazquez getting the leg up for his buddy Pletcher and Twisted Tom who gets Javier Castellano riding for main trainer Brown.

Now let’s take a look a little deeper into the race.

Classic Empire ran too good to lose in the Preakness and may have gotten to the front sooner than jockey Leparoux wanted. If he can just sit a little longer he will be hard to beat, especially if returning to his Breeders’ Cup winning form.

If Irish War Cry runs back to his Wood Memorial race he will be right there. He is on a good-race/bad-race cycle and this should be his good one.

J Boys Echo is another big if. He ran the race of his life in the Gotham when he beat Cloud Computing but never ran a race like that before or after.

Meantime, with big race Smith, ran the race of his life last out in the Peter Pan in the slop. That effort fits here but he will need to go wire to wire. But can he ever repeat that effort?

A late entry will be Hollywood Handsome trained by Dallas Stewart. Handsome was fifth in the Illinois and figures to have no shot here.

The Japanese horse Epicharis is the question mark and a must-use in the exotics. Classic Empire is the most consistent runner at this level and looks either first or second in here. We must use both the Ortiz brothers with special attention on Lookin At Lee, who I really think can’t win but will be part of the trifecta and superfecta.

One thing about the Brown runner Twisted Tom with Castellano riding – he is a win or nothing horse, having raced six times, winning four and off the board in the other two. If you like him use on top only.

There are more ifs than answers and the track condition will play a big part as the pace will really make this race. We will be keying Classic Empire and after that it’s a crap shoot.

Play of the Week

As Jon Lindo has been writing about in his column, Santa Anita is having a horrible time filling its cards and for the second time had to cancel a card, Thursday’s slate this week. So our selection will come Friday in the 7th race. They go down the hill and trainer Richard Baltas brings back No. 5 Doc Curlin off a two month layoff. His last work on June 2 looks to have him ready to fire and he exits a very good race.

He should get the pace to make his late run.

Make sure you get out and take a shot at those big twin Q’s on Belmont day, one at the Station Casinos and the other at South Point. You just never know, you could be walking around lucky and not even know it.

Twitter: @SabesBet. Email: [email protected].

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