Race 2: Morning line choice GET JETS (#4) is an exceptionally talented New York-bred and a deserving favorite here. Though beaten by Sudden Surprise (#6) last time, Get Jets undoubtedly ran the better race after getting caught behind slow fractions (note pace color-coded in blue) while stuck down on the rail. The race essentially turned into a sprint to the wire, and Get Jets came with a furious rally up the rail to just miss. The extra distance figures to help, and the pace scenario projects to be more favorable this time, which is why we have downgraded the speedy Sudden Surprise. The horse we are interested in using to try and complete the exacta is Forever in Love (#1), who actually ran better in the Pilgrim than his finish would suggest. He has shown ability on turf, but Linda Rice does well with this turf-to-dirt move (86 rating) and his pedigree indicates that he should be able to handle the switch.
Selections: 4 – 1 – 3 – 6
Race 3: If the connections of PALACE (#9) end up choosing this spot over the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, he will go off as a justifiably heavy favorite and we will not try to beat him. Palace gave every indication that he had gotten back on track last time with a tremendous performance in the Vosburgh—perhaps even better than his effort in that same race last year. He’d be a legitimate contender in the Breeders’ Cup and he’s the horse to beat here. If he scratches, our top pick becomes Noble Cornerstone (#7), who finally gets back on a dry track after subpar performances over wet tracks that he does not care for at Saratoga. While not projected to be fast, the pace should be contested and we expect to see an honestly-run race. Captain Serious (#2) is the other primary contender. He was in excellent form earlier this year, putting in three of the best efforts of his career (speed figures of 116, 119, 115), but he hasn’t been seen since May and will have to deal with the speed of Ostrolenka and Weekend Hideaway.
Selections: 9 – 7 – 2 – 1
Race 4: As was the case in the Hollie Hughes, Linda Rice’s impending decision about where to run LA VERDAD (#9) will have a major impact on this race. If they decide to skip the Breeders’ Cup and run here, she becomes the horse to beat. She has enjoyed her best season ever on the racetrack, going undefeated through five starts while picking up four graded stakes victories along the way. She has easily handled fields of New York-breds in the past, and we expect her to notch her 16th lifetime victory if she starts here. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some nice horses in this race. Tricky Zippy (#8) has gotten very good lately and appears most likely to give La Verdad a scare. Willet (#5) may not be the horse she once was, but she should still be able to run well enough to get a piece of this, especially if some pace develops. Even La Verdad’s half-sister, Hot City Girl (#7), is far from out of this.
Selections: 9 – 8 – 5 – 7
Race 5: One would think, based on the running styles of the contenders, that this race’s pace scenario will look markedly different from the slow paces we saw in both the Saginaw and Evan Shipman. Saratoga Snacks (#3) was right up on those paces, and, while we have respect for this hard-trying six-year-old, he seems like a horse that you’re supposed to bet against here. Empire Dreams (#8) was pace-compromised in both of those races, but we wonder if he’ll be able to produce his best effort at a mile and an eighth. Royal Posse (#5) has gotten very good lately, but we actually are more interested in his stablemate, the three-year-old GOOD LUCK GUS (#4). Good Luck Gus has plenty of things going for him in this Empire Classic. He does his best work as a grinding closer in a race that figures to feature an honest pace. He has been lightly raced this year, not starting his campaign until late May and having made only three starts. He improved with racing and additional distance as a two-year-old and has shown the same pattern this year, stepping forward in each subsequent start. We admit that Good Luck Gus is slow in terms of speed figures, but you only need to glance across to Royal Posse’s past performances to see just how quickly a young horse can improve when it’s doing well and gaining confidence. This could be the right time to have Good Luck Gus at a price.
Selections: 4 – 8 – 5 – 3
Race 6: Our top pick is ROSSEZZA (#10), who was off slowly in her lone start on dirt back in June, but put in a mildly encouraging run to pass half the field. This expensive yearling purchase is a half-sister to three turf winners, including Derby Kitten. All were by Kitten’s Joy, though this filly’s sire, Medaglia d’Oro, a fellow son of El Prado, is a strong turf sire in his own right. If Rossezza takes a step forward moving to the right surface, she’ll have a chance, but there are a lot of unknown factors at play in this race. Of the first-time starters, Ancient Secret (#9) and Tough Temper (#7) figure to attract some support after impressive works at the two-year-old sales. We’re also interested in long shot Eloweasel (#15) if she happens to draw in off the also-eligible list. She contested a very fast pace in her only turf start, an effort that is much better than it appears.
Selections: 10 – 9 – 15 – 7
Race 7: Kharafa (#3) easily handled LUBASH (#6) last time as the latter put in a rare subpar performance. Previously, Lubash had not finished out of the money since the summer of 2013. Given his overall consistency and the oddly slow pace of the Ashley T. Cole, we’re going to excuse Lubash’s poor effort. Lubash has always been best when he’s able to get some cover early in his races. That was not the way the Ashley T. Cole played out. Once Jose Ortiz and Iron Power did not try for the lead, Lubash was forced to race freely up on the pace, which is not his preferred style. This time, Iron Power, Notacatbutallama, and possibly even Orino should go out to the front early, allowing Lubash to slip in behind them. He’s going to need his best effort to contend with Kharafa, but at a much better price, he’s the one we want to bet today.
Selections: 6 – 3 – 2 – 1
Race 8: The horse we’re most interested in is MISS MATZOBALL (#1), who gets back on turf after a surprisingly strong performance in her off-the-turf return last time. Miss Matzoball battled for the lead through fast fractions (note the half-mile color-coded in red) and still nearly hung on for the victory. She took a significant step forward when switched to turf as a two-year-old and may prove too tough for these if able to show similar improvement getting on grass here. The Pace Projector is forecasting a fast pace, so we also want to use closing sprinter C d’Cat (#2), who has tried longer races in her last two efforts, but may be best going six furlongs. Animal Appeal (#10) also merits consideration off her impressive 107 TimeformUS Speed Figure maiden win, but she does not figure to be done any favors by a potentially contested pace.
Selections: 1 – 2 – 10 – 4
Race 9: She’s All Ready (#10) is the filly to beat off a good effort when setting a fast pace as the favorite in the Grade 1 Frizette against open company. However, she must prove that she can get a mile while dealing with a projected fast pace once again. Our top pick is the lightly raced TRAPPE PLAY (#1), who was very impressive in her only start, a race in which the mediocre final time does not do the performance justice. She contested a fast pace, was passed to her outside on the far turn, and battled back gamely along the rail to win going away late. Her pace-adjusted 90 TimeformUS Speed Figure makes her one of the top contenders, and Kiaran McLaughlin’s runners often improve in their second career starts. Of the few closers in the race, Trulamo (#6) and Flatware (#12) may come running late to get a piece of the purse, but neither appears to be quite as talented as the two aforementioned fillies.
Selections: 1 – 10 – 6 – 12
Race 10: This is essentially a two-horse race between the runners dropping out of Grade 1 stakes races: Hot Stones (#8) and WONDER GAL (#9). The latter is our top pick. The 108 Speed Figures that Wonder Gal earned in the Acorn and Mother Goose make her competitive with Hot Stones, and she should appreciate the return to a route after a failed sprint try in the Test. Whereas Wonder Gal has consistently performed quite admirably against Grade 1 company, Hot Stones basically fell apart when stepped up in class in the Beldame, and we wonder if she’s starting to head in the wrong direction after getting so good over the summer.
Selections: 9 – 8 – 4 – 1
Race 11: Discreet Marq (#5) is deserving of respect after having run well at the highest level of the game for three straight seasons. However, it’s hard to trust her off an unusually dull performance in the Yaddo. Our top pick is the vastly improved OLD HARBOR (#12). We’ve always been fans of this filly, and she has finally put it all together late her in four year-old season. She does her best running around Belmont’s sweeping turns, and a repeat of her John Hettinger performance may be too much for today’s rivals to handle. The other filly that we want to use is Distorted Beauty (#1). She was overmatched over a soft course in the Flower Bowl, but had previously run well in a pair of very tough open-company allowance races at Saratoga. Either of those efforts might be good enough to win this race. The Tea Cups (#10) took advantage of Old Harbor’s vulnerability around two turns at Saratoga but may not be able to beat her at Belmont.
Selections: 12 – 1 – 5 – 10