Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview–June 5, 2015

Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview–June 5, 2015

Get ready, everyone! A massive series of stakes races is on schedule for tomorrow at Belmont Park, highlighted by six grade I races that culminate with the $1,500,000 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). There are plenty of great races to cover, so let’s get started!

Ogden Phipps Stakes (gr. I)
8.5 furlongs at Belmont Park

Last year’s Eclipse champion 3yo filly Untapable will be the heavy favorite (she’s 2-5 on the morning line), but I think there’s a chance that she could be upset at a very short price. Five of her last six Beyer speed figures have been under 100, which puts a couple of her rivals in the Ogden Phipps within hailing range of beating her if she doesn’t fire her very best shot. One logical upset candidate is Wedding Toast, who won the one-mile Ruffian Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont by four lengths last time out. Overall, she’s 3-for-4 at Belmont, with her lone defeat being a second-place finish in her career debut, and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is having a great Belmont meet thus far, winning at an impressive 34% strike rate. If she stays near her 4-1 morning line odds, I think she worth a look to upset Untapable.

Acorn Stakes (gr. I)
8 furlongs at Belmont Park

With plenty of speedy fillies in this twelve-horse field, including Promise Me Silver, Light the CityMiss EllaCondo CommandoCalamity Kate, and By the Moon, this race looks ripe for an upset from off-the-pace. Two fillies that fit the bill are Oceanwave and Wonder Gal. I’ve been a fan of the latter since her respectable third-place finish in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga last year, and I really liked her effort off the long layoff in the Gazelle Stakes (gr. II) last time out. With only some very modest workouts to get her ready, Wonder Gal almost certainly wasn’t at 100% for the Gazelle, yet she still put in a solid rally while racing wide to reach contention at the top of the stretch before flattening out. It reminded me a lot of the effort turned in by Sweet Reason in last year’s Gazelle, and Sweet Reason — who, like Wonder Gal, is trained by Leah Gyarmati — came back to win the Acorn with a sharp rally up the rail.

For the Acorn, Wonder Gal will pick up the services of Gary Stevens, and she has sharpened for this race with a pair of much quicker workouts at Belmont. Having drawn post two, I’m hopeful that she can save some ground while settling behind a fast pace, then come running in the homestretch while benefiting from the cutback in distance.

As for Oceanwave, she produced some eye-catching late rallies in graded stakes company at Oaklawn this winter, and was only beaten 6 1/4 lengths in the Kentucky Oaks despite a poor trip. She adds blinkers for the Acorn and is also cutting back in distance, which could be a good thing since she’s shown a very nice turn-of-foot in one-turn races as well. Of these two fillies, I’ll take Wonder Gal as my selection to win, but in multi-race wagers, I would definitely include them both, as well as the unbeaten seven-time stakes winner Promise Me Silver and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) runner-up Shook Up.

Just a Game Stakes (gr. I)
8 furlongs on turf at Belmont Park

Tepin scored an impressive gate-to-wire victory in the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (gr. II), and as a front-runner in a race comprised mostly of stretch-runners, she should have every chance to repeat that performance today. But there are plenty of other contenders in this wide-open race, including Coffee Clique, who won this race last year, and Discreet Marq, a grade I winner that has won five of her eight starts at Belmont Park. All three warrant respect, but in my opinion, Discreet Marq could be vulnerable at a fairly short price after getting a very easy lead in the Beaugay Stakes (gr. III) last time out, which she parlayed into 3/4-length victory over Photo Call. The latter could be a live longshot given that she produced an eye-catching rally to just miss despite the slow pace, and J Wonder–who was fourth in the Beaugay and similarly compromised by the slow pace–could be another contender at a solid price. This is definitely not a race in which to go narrow in multi-race wagers, but if I had to pick one filly to win, I would go with Tepin and hope that her 6-1 morning line odds hold up.

Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I)
8 furlongs at Belmont Park

This historic race has drawn an extremely deep field of ten, led by 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Bayern and 2014 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist. The latter is unbeaten in four starts at Belmont Park and was very impressive while winning the one-mile Westchester Handicap (gr. III) at Belmont last month by 3 3/4 lengths. His performance that day earned him a massive Beyer speed figure of 111, and after breezing three furlongs in :34 3/5 on Thursday morning, he looks ready for a very big performance. He is my selection to win.

I also have a lot of respect for Bayern, who won the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) here at Belmont last year in dominating fashion. The colt has posted Beyer speed figures in excess of 108 on four occasions, but has also turned in some disappointing efforts without excuse during his career, including last time out in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II). It can be hard to predict when his good and bad efforts will come, but on his best day, he can definitely win this race.

Another logical contender is Honor Code, who finished a fast-closing second in the 2013 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) over the same track and distance as the Met Mile. He disappointed last time out when fifth without obvious excuse in the Alysheba Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, but appears to be at his best as a late-running miler and should relish the conditions of the Met Mile. If the pace gets hot, expect to see him coming fast at the finish.

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

In a race that doesn’t appear to have much pace on paper, Twilight Eclipse absolutely must be respected off his victory in the Man o’ War Stakes (gr. I) last time out, in which he tracked the pace before wearing down fellow Manhattan starter War Dancer to win by a neck. The six-year-old gelding rarely runs a bad race, but he also rarely wins, and coming off a victory, he’s likely to be overbet in this very tough spot.

Therefore, I’ll try to beat him with a horse offering better odds, that being Big Blue Kitten. The multiple grade I winner is starting to get up there in years–he’s seven years old– but showed no signs of slowing down in his first start of 2015, when he unleashed a terrific rally to win the nine-furlong Fort Marcy Stakes (gr. III) here at Belmont by 2 1/4 lengths. Notably, he ran the final three furlongs in a blazing :33 3/5, and whether the pace is fast or slow, he should be rallying strongly at the finish. He’s never run at ten furlongs in the U.S., but his past performances suggest that twelve furlongs is perhaps a tad too far for him and nine furlongs a bit too short, so ten furlongs should be just about perfect for him.

Belmont Stakes (gr. I)
12 furlongs at Belmont Park

My full analysis of the Belmont Stakes can be viewed on the blog Unlocking Winners (click here to read), but in essence, I believe that the Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Materiality and Madefromlucky have the talent to pull off the upset over Triple Crown hopeful American Pharoah, and I will be playing both on top of a superfecta, as well as in the pick four, where I will also include American Pharoah.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the graded stakes races at Belmont Park tomorrow?

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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4 Comments on "Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview–June 5, 2015"

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kevin bayley

This is probably the one time where I disagree with Keeler. I was all over Madefromlucky in the Peter Pan, but now he picks up ten pounds and steps up in competition. With the addition of Irad Ortiz Jr, I think Mubtaahij is the best among the closers – but I’m afraid this is a match race between Pharoah and Materiality. Pharoah by 8+ lengths.


I’d love to see an American Pharoah victory, but I certainly won’t be surprised with a defeat…that’s a long homestretch :-) Love your Madefromlucky idea, I think that has some real merit.

It would be really cool to see Tonalist come back and win at Belmont again, this time at a much shorter distance and helping to prove his versatility.

Can’t wait to watch these races!


I would love to see American Pharoah win the Belmont Stakes! :)