Turf racing at Belmont Park - Photo by Coglianese Photography

Turf racing at Belmont Park – Photo by Coglianese Photography

Chad Brown and Aidan O’Brien. Few, if any, will dispute that these two men are among the leading trainers in the world, particularly when it comes to turf horses.

Both will be represented by well-regarded runners in Saturday’s $1.2 million Belmont Derby (gr. I) going ten furlongs at Belmont Park, but is it possible they could be overshadowed on this day by a talented horse from a smaller barn?

That’s the direction I’m leaning after handicapping the race. Granted, Brown’s #3 Analyze It has shown flashes of brilliance in four starts, winning his first three (including the Grade 3 Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland) with remarkable ease before suffering a surprising defeat in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont. And O’Brien’s #4 Hunting Horn was much the best in the ten-furlong Hempton Court Stakes (Eng-III) at Royal Ascot just over two weeks ago, even if that race did come against relatively easy competition.

But despite their credentials, I’m siding with #8 Hawkish, who caught my eye when he won a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream in January with a freakish burst of acceleration. Five lengths back at the eighth pole, the son of Artie Schiller got up to win by half a length while running the final quarter-mile in an excellent :22.43 seconds.

Hawkish was subsequently beaten with a poor trip while stepping up sharply in class for the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III), but rebounded nicely to win a one-mile allowance race at Aqueduct by an authoritative 4 ¾ lengths with a final quarter timed in :22.57 seconds. For good measure, he threw down another sub-:23 final quarter when winning the Penn Mile Stakes (gr. II) last month with yet another tremendous burst of acceleration, swallowing the field with utmost ease to win by three lengths.

Some might peg Hawkish as a miler, but I see no reason why he can’t stretch out in distance, given that he appeared to be just getting underway at the finish of the Penn Mile. He’s shown the versatility to win while tracking the pace or rallying from far behind, and trainer James Toner has done excellent work conditioning top-class turf horses in the past, including several members of Hawkish’s family. With a clean trip, I expect to see Hawkish step up and deliver another sensational performance to secure a Grade 1 victory.

I’ll play that opinion boldly and key Hawkish of top of my tickets while using Analyze It, Hunting Horn, #6 Kingstar, and #7 Catholic Boy underneath. I would also consider betting Hawkish to win, especially if he starts at 4-1 or higher:

$5 exacta: 8 with 3,4 ($10)
$2 trifecta: 8 with 3,4,6,7 with 3,4,6,7 ($24)

Good luck!