Graded stakes racing returns to Belmont Park on Saturday, September 21, with the $200,000 Noble Damsel Stakes (G3) and the $300,000 Kelso Handicap (G2).
Potential Breeders’ Cup candidates will be in the spotlight, so let’s join in on the action with a couple of spot plays for the big day.
Race 8: Noble Damsel Stakes (G3)
Top turf trainer Chad Brown has won the last three editions of this one-mile grass race, so the obvious approach would be to focus on his two fillies, #2 Stella di Camelot and #5 Significant Form. The latter particularly warrants respect, off her victories in the Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) and Intercontinental Stakes (G3) this season. Her lone defeat this year came in the 5 1/2-furlong Caress Stakes at Saratoga at a distance much shorter than her best.
But there isn’t much speed in this six-horse field, which could make #6 Valedictorian dangerous. When allowed to waltz through slow fractions, Valedictorian can be tough to catch, as Brown’s accomplished mare Rymska discovered in the February 9 Suwanee River Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park. On that occasion Valedictorian sprinted the final three furlongs in :33.48 to win convincingly.
I’ll draw a line through Valedictorian’s fourth-place finish in the Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2) last time out, because she shipped across the country to compete at Del Mar. Back on the East Coast, where she hasn’t missed the trifecta in eight starts since July of 2018, Valedictorian can challenge for victory.
$10 exacta box: 5,6 ($20)
Race 10: Kelso Handicap (G2)
I don’t trust the established class horses in this steppingstone toward the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Consistency has not been a strong point for many of these, and one of the fastest runners on paper (2018 grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap runner-up #2 True Timber) is returning from a layoff after he finished way back in his last two starts.
Rather than back inconsistent runners at short prices, I’ll take a shot with #6 Plainsman. This stoutly bred 4-year-old son of Flatter won three straight races at the end of 2018, capped by a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Discovery Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct.
Subsequently transferred from trainer Brad Cox to Shug McGaughey, Plainsman recently returned from a long layoff to rally and finish second in a seven-furlong optional-claiming allowance at Saratoga. That was a fast race (victorious Uncontested finished the distance in 1:20.52), and Plainsman posted a 100 Brisnet speed figure for finishing ahead of graded stakes winners #7 Tale of Silence and No Dozing.
With his pedigree geared toward late maturity, I expect Plainsman to take a step forward in his second start back, and stretching out to a mile should also enhance his chances. He romped to an easy victory in his only start at Belmont last fall, so I’m optimistic Plainsman can catch this field by surprise and spring a mild upset.
$20 to win on #6 Plainsman