Digital Age winning the American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Digital Age winning the American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

How should we go about narrowing down the main contenders in Saturday’s $1 million Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park?

Fifteen horses (one an also-eligible) have been entered in the 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-olds, and you can make a case for pretty much any of them. Determining which horses warrant inclusion in deep exotic wagers like the trifecta or superfecta is challenging.

But after analyzing the brief history of the Belmont Derby—it was held for the first time in 2014—I’m going to keep a couple of general trends on my side and follow three rules.

  1. I will completely oppose horses switching from dirt to turf, a strategy that has not worked in the past for horses like My Boy Jack (fifth in the Kentucky Derby), Senior Investment (fifth in the Belmont Stakes) and Toast of New York (winner of the UAE Derby). This move tends to be a “Plan B” attempt to regain form after disappointing runs on dirt. That means I won’t be using #5 Plus Que Parfait (eighth in the Kentucky Derby), #7 Master Fencer (sixth in the Derby and fifth in the Belmont) or #10 Spinoff (17th in the Derby and sixth in the Belmont).
  2. I will lean against international shippers for two reasons. They’ve gone just 1-for-14 so far in the Belmont Derby, and this year’s group does not appear particularly imposing. I’ll consider playing #9 Cape of Good Hope, #11 Blenheim Palace and #14 Rockemperor underneath, but not on top.
  3. I will respect the four runners conditioned by top turf trainer Chad Brown (#2 Standard Deviation, #12 Demarchelier, #13 Digital Age and #14 Rockemperor), but I won’t assume one must prevail. Brown is winless with eight starters so far in the Belmont Derby, and generally speaking his young fillies tend to be more dominant on turf than his young colts.

This cuts down the field considerably and steers me toward #3 Seismic Wave and #4 English Bee as viable contenders at solid prices.

Seismic Wave, a Juddmonte Farms homebred trained by Bill Mott, doesn’t have much tactical speed but possesses a strong turn of foot, which he used to rally and win the one-mile Cutler Bay Stakes at Gulfstream in March.

Seismic Wave was left with too much to do in both the 1 1/16-mile American Turf Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs and the 1 1/8-mile Pennine Ridge Stakes (G3) at Belmont, but he didn’t run poorly in either race. He gained 4 3/4 lengths in the final furlong of the American Turf to finish fourth by 1 1/2 lengths, and he gained 2 3/4 lengths in the stretch of the Pennine Ridge to finish second by a neck.

The stretch out to 1 1/4 miles could be ideal for Seismic Wave, with a little more time to unfurl his rally, but the distance should be just as beneficial to English Bee. A son of English Channel out of a Kitten’s Joy mare, English Bee has never run farther than 1 1/16 miles, but is bred to relish the added distance he’ll encounter Saturday. Last time out English Bee produced a strong burst of acceleration to win the one-mile James W. Murphy Stakes at Pimlico, where he sprinted the final quarter-mile in about :23 1/5. Trainer Graham Motion has won with four of his eight starters at the current Belmont meet.

Let’s bet Seismic Wave and English Bee on top of a deep trifecta, then key them in the exacta with Demarchelier and Digital Age.

$0.50 trifecta: 3,4 with 2,3,4,12,13 with 1,2,3,4,9,11,12,13,14 ($28)
$2 exacta: 3,4 with 3,4,12,13 ($12)
$3 exacta: 12,13 with 3,4 ($12)

Good luck!