Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview for July 4, 2015

Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview for July 4, 2015

A fantastic Saturday of racing awaits on July 4th, led by an exceptional card at Belmont Park that includes six graded stakes races. There’s plenty to discuss, so without further ado, let’s get started!

Belmont Derby (gr. I)
10 furlongs on turf at Belmont Park

My complete analysis of the Belmont Derby can be found on the blog Unlocking Winners (click here to view), but in essence, I believe that the winner will be the horse with the strongest stretch kick, and I believe that horse is Divisidero. His victory in the Pennine Ridge last time out was exceptional given the troubled trip he endured, and after drawing post three, he should be able to save some ground before utilizing his terrific acceleration in the homestretch to secure the victory.

Belmont Oaks (gr. I)
10 furlongs on turf at Belmont Park

The fillies’ companion race to the Belmont Derby has drawn a full field of 14, including the unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. I) winner Lady Eli. Like Divisidero, she possesses a terrific turn-of-foot and shouldn’t lose with a clean trip, but the sheer size of the field—coupled with the possibility of a slow pace—could make it worth trying to beat her at a short price. I’ll take a shot with Itsonlyactingdad, a Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of Giant’s Causeway that won two straight races on turf before finishing a close fourth behind Lady Eli in the nine-furlong Wonder Again Stakes. In that race, both Lady Eli and Itsonlyactingdad were compromised by a very slow pace, and while Lady Eli received most of the attention while rallying successfully to win, Itsonlyactingdad also put in a sharp late run and—with some luck—might be capable of turning the tables on Lady Eli this Saturday.

Suburban Handicap (gr. II)
10 furlongs at Belmont Park

2014 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist is bound to be a heavy favorite in this ten-furlong race, as the conditions of the race appear made-to-order for the son of Tapit. But Todd Pletcher has entered the talented duo of Coach Inge and Mylute, who will receive five and eight pounds from the expected favorite, and if Tonalist proves vulnerable in his first start of the season beyond a mile, an upset could be in the offing. In particular, Coach Inge looks like a strong candidate for victory after winning a nine-furlong Aqueduct allowance race by 12 ½ lengths and the twelve-furlong Brooklyn Invitational (gr. II) by a neck with a sharp final quarter-mile in :23.96. In all likelihood, Tonalist will win this race, but if he starts as a heavy favorite, it might be worth trying to beat him with Coach Inge.

Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. III)
7 furlongs at Belmont Park

Private Zone almost never runs a bad race and finished a good third in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) last time out after setting blazing fractions of :44 4/5 and 1:08 3/5. Overall, he’s 2-for-3 at Belmont, having won two editions of the Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I), and the seven-furlong distance of the Belmont Sprint Championship appears perfect for him. This is a deep field, and there are several other front-running types in the race, but Private Zone appears to be the quickest and looks very difficult to beat. He is my selection to win.

If you’re looking for a longshot, you might want to take a look at Bay of Plenty, who was unbeaten in three starts at Belmont before finishing ninth in the Met Mile after steadying sharply in the first furlong. He probably doesn’t have the early speed to match strides with Private Zone, but if he can settle just off the early lead, I think there’s a good chance that he will hang around for a strong finish at about 6-1.

Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II)
9 furongs at Los Alamitos

Most of the attention will be focused on Jerry Hollendorfer’s up-and-coming star Kentuckian, who scored an incredibly easy victory in the seven-furlong Lazaro Barrera Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita while stopping the clock in a terrific 1:20.97. He did get a good pace setup while settling a couple lengths behind a very fast pace, but this was still a top-notch effort from a very promising colt, and his six workouts since the Lazaro Barrera have been exceptionally fast and suggest that is coming up to the Los Alamitos Derby in peak form.

However, the Los Alamitos Derby will mark Kentuckian’s first start beyond seven furlongs in distance, so with that in mind, I’ll try to beat him with Prospect Park. The son of Tapit finished a strong second in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) before running fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), a race from which he emerged with an illness. He returned to action on June 7th to finish second by a half-length in the Affirmed Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita, an oddly-run race with a pace scenario that didn’t favor Prospect Park’s late rally, and with a little better setup on Saturday, I think Prospect Park has a strong chance to upset Kentuckian at a good price.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the graded stakes races on Saturday?

Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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