Why I'm Betting Shaft of Light in the Belmont Sprint Championship
The field might be small, but you can’t knock the quality of Saturday’s $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) in November at Churchill Downs.Six horses, ranging in age from four to seven, have been entered in the seven-furlong sprint, with weight assignments ranging from 116 to 122 pounds. In a bit of an oddity, the oldest horse will carry the lightest assignment, and when you consider that he’s also among the fastest horses in terms of speed figures… well, there could be an opportunity for a nice betting score!
The horse in question is #4 Shaft of Light, a seven-year-old gelding trained by Jorge Navarro, known for his fine work training the talented sprinters X Y Jet, Private Zone, Delta Bluesman, El Deal, and Catalina Red. Certainly Shaft of Light is progressing steadily toward joining his above-mentioned stablemates as a graded stakes winner—the son of Smart Strike has improved in leaps and bounds thus far this season, winning a waiver claiming race at Gulfstream in January and most recently finishing a gallant second, beaten just half a length, in the one-mile Salvator Mile Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth Park.
In between, Shaft of Light caught eyes with an easy 8 ¼-length win in a starter optional claiming race at Gulfstream (in which he clocked seven furlongs in a blazing 1:20.85) and a similarly decisive victory in the Russell Road Stakes over the same distance at Charles Town.
In terms of BRIS speed figures, Shaft of Light boasts the highest number (106) posted by any horse in the Belmont Sprint Championship field. Perhaps more importantly, he’s got plenty of early speed in a race that isn’t exactly full of it—#3 Eye Luv Lulu could challenge for the led, as might #5 Lewisfield, but neither are all-out front-runners intent on throwing down sub-:45 half-miles, so Shaft of Light should find himself setting or stalking a fairly modest pace.
#1 Limousine Liberal and #2 Whitmore are both accomplished sprinters with numerous graded stakes wins under their belts, but Limousine Liberal has achieved much of his success at Churchill Downs while Whitmore has been something of an Oaklawn Park specialist—away from their favorite tracks, they’ve been a bit vulnerable. They could also find themselves compromised if the early pace comes up slow, though Limousine Liberal has enough speed to stalk the pace is necessary.
With this in mind, I’ll key Shaft of Light on top of my tickets with Eye Luv Lulu, Limousine Liberal, and Whitmore underneath. I’ll also play a backup ticket with Eye Luv Lulu on top, recognizing that the slow pace could aid his chances while also keeping in mind that his trainer—Jason Servis—has won with 14 of his 30 starters thus far at the Belmont Park meet:
$4 exacta: 4 with 1,2,3 ($12) $3 exacta: 3 with 1,2,4 ($9) $1.5 trifecta: 4 with 1,2,3 with 1,2,3 ($9)