The Belmont Stakes undercard has morphed into a mid-season Breeders' Cup of sorts in recent years. There's a Grade 1 stakes in the noon lunch hour, and the 13-race card is packed with 9 major stakes events. The traditional lead-in to the Belmont is the mile and one-quarter Manhattan on turf, and it's part of all the key late-day, multi-race sequences as the 10th race on the card.
The field packs sterling credentials. Grade 1 winners include DOMESTIC SPENDING, CHANNEL CAT, GUFO and COLONEL LIAM among the 10 entries. ROCKEMPEROR is Grade 1-placed, while MASTEROFFOXHOUNDS and TRIBHUVAN have won at the Grade 2 level. You're highly unlikely to top all these on the class hike.
CHANNEL CAT and TRIBHUVAN exit nearly wire-to-wire scores in top-class races, but neither is a need-the-lead burner. Early interest also could come from CITY MAN and BYE BYE MELVIN, both drawn inside. This should be a moderate pace for the class and distance.
COLONEL LIAM and DOMESTIC SPENDING re-match after a dead-heat for the win 5 weeks ago at Churchill Downs in the Turf Classic over a mile and one-eighth. MASTEROFFOXHOUNDS, eighth in the Turf Classic, also takes another swing. DOMESTIC SPENDING appears a bit stronger on the back end of his races, and his heavy European pedigree should suit the trip and likely soft-ish turf conditions stronger than COLONEL LIAM. I tabbed COLONEL LIAM as a near-lock in the Turf Classic, and was surprised he seemed to idle in the same neighborhood he had been in previous starts. There's some concern that he's peaked and just holding form, not improving. DOMESTIC SPENDING had not started since November, met his challenge to the wire, and should have the form cycle edge this time in addition to distance and course condition positives mentioned.
In addition to COLONEL LIAM, trainer Chad Brown also has ROCKEMPEROR, TRIBHUVAN and MASTER PIECE among his Manhattan quartet. ROCKEMPEROR missed by a neck as the favorite in this race last July, but the '21 edition appears to have come up considerably stronger. He's lost 10 in a row with 8 minor checks, so you're free to use him in the exotics, but there's no reason to expect Saturday will be his day. TRIBHUVAN blew open the Fort Marcy from the start when looking to be a supposed rabbit for ROCKEMPEROR, but no one told him he was supposed to stop. There will be some tougher hombres knocking late this time as the trip extends another furlong. MASTER PIECE won a solid Keeneland allowance in his only start this year. The Chilean export doesn't seem too far off of these and will be the healthy price.
CHANNEL CAT and GUFO are proven stakes winners over the course. CHANNEL CAT snapped a 9-race losing streak last out in the Man o' War when going a furlong farther than this trip. But his form may have been muddied a bit by a dislike for the Gulfstream turf as he's perked up since struggling there. GUFO has never misfired in 9 attempts and is a genuine finisher with a 10-furlong course victory to his credit. He'll make them sweat late; he always does.
CITY MAN and BYE BYE MELVIN look an awful lot alike on class, running style and post draw. Neither seems up to the test of besting all of the big wheels in this one, but their best could offer something for the bottom of the exotics with favorable trips up front.
Most Certain Exotics Contender:
DOMESTIC SPENDING is 5-for-6 lifetime, never missed the trifecta, and is a course winner who appears to want the distance.
Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
CHANNEL CAT has gotten good, rarely gets bet and should be overlooked amongst the sea of Brown-Pletcher-Clement runners destined to attract the public.
Sending it in ($100 bankroll):
$50 win DOMESTIC SPENDING. $25 daily double part-wheel DOMESTIC SPENDING to KNOWN AGENDA and ESSENTIAL QUALITY in the Belmont Stakes.
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