Key Races & Bets for Saturday, September 29


Pilgrim Stakes – Race 9 at Belmont Park – Post Time 5:16 PM Eastern


Vineyard Sound is impossible to ignore, opening at 12/1. Sent to post at 15/1 in his debut last month at Saratoga in a turf sprint (7 furlongs), the race was moved to dirt. Sent to the front shortly after the start, Vineyard Sound led set fast fractions on the lead into the stretch before settling for 2nd in a big effort while earning an 81 Equibase figure in the process. To put that in perspective, favorite Opry made his career debut one week earlier in an off-turf 7 furlong dirt sprint, finishing a close-up third with a 75 figure before breaking his maiden in the With Anticipation Stakes by improving markedly to a 92 figure running in his first turf route. There is every reason to believe Vineyard Sound can repeat that same feat as Opry did in the With Anticipation by breaking his maiden in the Pilgrim Stakes, particularly as he’s bred to adore the turf. Vineyard Sound is a full brother to multiple turf route stakes winner Bittel Road, who won as a 2 year old, and two of his other three siblings on the dam’s side are also turf route winners. Veteran jockey Edgar Prado takes the call and Vineyard Sound has put in three recent workouts on turf coming into the race so be familiar with the surface.


Forty Under tried turf and two turns last month in his 2nd career start and showed a lot of maturity sitting off the pace in 2nd in the early stages before showing a nice kick to win. He’s improving, gets a good inside post and the 93 Equibase figure earned is on par with the 92 Opry earned in winning the With Anticipation stakes, so likely to improve in his 3rd career start and 2nd route, Forty Under is another to be respected, particularly as his starting odds are 6/1.


Opry rounds out the main trio of contenders, already a stakes winner and with improving to do in his 3rd career start. The only knocks are his 9/5 starting odds.


There are a trio of horses who we can consider for the runner-up spot, starting with Social Paranoia, who finished 2nd to Forty Under last time out and who, like Vineyard Sound, is trying to break his maiden in a stakes race. Somelikeithotbrown finished 2nd to Opry in the With Anticipation Stakes and can improve, having broken his maiden by eight lengths before that, which helped make him the 6 to 5 favorite in the With Anticipation. Spirit Animal ran fourth in an off-turf race in his debut then improved nicely to break his maiden in a turf route in his second start. His 87 Equibase figure is lower than the other contenders and lower than the figure Vineyard Sound may improve to, but Spirit Animal has improving to do and can’t be discounted as a contender.


Win or win/place bets: Vineyard Sound to win and place at 3 to 1 or more.

Consider a second win bet, on Forty Under, at 7 to 2 or higher, adding a place bet at 5 to 1 or more.


As always, when making multiple win bets, use a “Dutching” tool with which you can enter the amount you want to spend or the amount you want to win and the calculation of how much to bet will be done for you. Amwager provides a free “Dutching” tool, among other great benefits for the handicapper and bettor.


Exacta bets: Vineyard Sound, Forty Under and Opry over Vineyard Sound, Forty Under, Opry, Somelikeitbrown, Social Paranoia and Spirit Animal.


Doubles: Vineyard Sound, Forty Under and Opry in Race 9 with Diversify and Thunder Snow in Race 10.

Jockey Club Gold Cup – Race 10 at Belmont – Post Time 5:50 PM ET


If Mendelssohn puts pressure on Diversify early, Thunder Snow can win. Although Thunder Snow won the Dubai World Cup on the lead from start to finish, I doubt those tactics will be used in the Jockey Club Gold Cup because Diversify is a horse with a high cruising speed and a very strong desire to lead from the start. More likely, it will Mendelssohn who will be attending the pace early to keep the Diversify honest and insure he does not control the pace as he did when winning the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The reason Thunder Snow went to the lead at the start in the World Cup was it had been shown earlier on the card that running style was beneficial compared to others, particularly as Mendelssohn had led from start to finish in winning the U.A.E. Derby by 18 lengths. Prior to the World Cup, Thunder Snow proved to be capable of tracking the pacesetter and running well, such as when winning the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 in February. The Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 was the second of three successive big efforts in which Thunder Snow earned 106, 111 and then 116 Equibase Speed Figures, before a tremendous 142 figure earned winning the World Cup. Since arriving at Belmont and coming out of quarantine, Thunder Snow put in a half-mile workout over the main track and moves back to dirt after a poor effort on turf last month and that could be the key to repeating his World Cup effort and collaring Diversify in the stretch to win the Gold Cup.


That being said, Diversify has proven time and again to be one of the toughest horses in the handicap division to pass in the late stages of a race. The first time Diversify ran the distance of one mile and one-quarter was in last year’s Gold Cup, a breakout performance with a 119 figure and his second such figure in a row. After a pair of poor efforts last fall and this spring, Diversify recovered that form in April with a win in the Commentator Stakes with a 104 figure, improving to 114 winning the Suburban Stakes at the distance in July and then to a 118 figure easily winning the Whitney Stakes last month at Saratoga. Diversify has shown an incredible liking for the main track at Belmont, with six wins and two runner-up finishes in eight races, which helps make him the other horse with a high probability to win this race.


Any of the other six can finish third. With the exception of likely early pace presser Mendelssohn five of those six likely to be coming from far back in the early stages and hoping to rally past most of the rest.


Bets: Thunder Snow to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.


Exacta: Box Diversify and Thunder Snow.


Trifecta: Diversify and Thunder Snow over Diversify and Thunder Snow over Carlino, Patch, Uno Mas Modelo and Discreet Lover.


The reason for the strategy based on the fact I have no interest in either Mendelssohn or Gronkowski finishing second. If Diversify wins, the trifecta turns a few bucks into a higher return than a win bet on Diversify. Of course, if Thunder Snow wins then the trifecta may pay handsomely.


Chandelier Stakes – Race 9 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7:07 ET, 4:07 PT


Der Lu won as she pleased in her career debut last month in a sprint and as a daughter of Orb should stretch out and run even better. The 99 Figure is the best last race figure in the field and she’s trained by Baffert (who also saddles Mother Mother) with Van Dyke riding back after being up in the debut, in which she ran very maturely as she stalked in 2nd early before drawing off. The only other horse with a better figure in any race is her stablemate, who regressed badly when second in the Del Mar Debutante four weeks ago, won by Bellafina, with Brill fourth. Bellafina, who opens at 9/5, regressed badly off the 101 figure earned in the Sorrento one month earlier, as did Brill and Mother Mother, which is of big concern as 2 year olds should be improving from race to race, not declining. As such, Der Lu has a big shot to post the mild upset here, opening at 4 to 1.


Del Mar May is the other horse we can consider as a win contender and bet as such. She led late then finished 2nd in her debut in July with an 85 figure then went into the Sorrento Stakes as a maiden. Although 2nd to Bellafina, Del Mar May improved to a 92 figure but unlike Bellafina, Del Mar May did not go in the Del Mar Debutante and so enters the race fresh and on an improving pattern.


Bets: Der Lu to win at 9 to 5 or more AND Del Mar May to win at odds of 2 to 1 or higher.

As always, when making multiple win bets, use a “Dutching” tool with which you can enter the amount you want to spend or the amount you want to win and the calculation of how much to bet will be done for you. Amwager provides a free “Dutching” tool, among other great benefits for the handicapper and bettor.


Doubles: Der Lu and Del Mar May in Race 9 with Queen Blossom, Vasilika and Cambodia in Race 10.

Also, ALL in race 9 with Queen Blossom in Race 10.


Pick 3: (Two Tickets)

Race 9 – Der Lu and Del Mar May

Race 10 – Queen Blossom, Vasilika and Cambodia

Race 11 – West Coast and Accelerate


Race 9 – Der Lu and Del Mar May

Race 10 – Queen Blossom

Race 11 – West Coast and Accelerate



Rodeo Drive Stakes – Race 10 at Santa Anita – Post Time 7:41 PM ET, 4:41 PT


Queen Blossom, who opens at 8 to 1 odds, has as much probability to win as either of the two favorites, Vasilika and Cambodia, who open at much lower odds. Better still perhaps, Queen Blossom has run this 10 furlong turf trip, and further, previously, winning the Santa Barbara Stakes in April over the course at 12 furlongs and finishing 2nd in a pair of stakes since then at 10 and 11 furlongs, respectively. Prat rode her in all three recent “A” efforts, and he moves to Vasilika, but Geroux comes in to ride to there are no issues. With a career best Equibase figure of 112 earned one before last not far from the 115 and 113 figures Vasilika and Cambodia earned when finishing first and second, respectively, in their most recent race, with out of line odds and experience at the trip the favorites lack, Queen Blossom has every right to post the upset.


Vasilika goes for her seventh straight win, including her first graded stakes win four weeks ago in the John C Mabee Stakes. She loves to win and except for never having run this 10 furlong trip would be no surprise. Cambodia won the Yellow Ribbon Stakes in August before rallying from 9th to 2nd in the Mabee behind Vasilika. Another horse who loves to win and is immensely talented, she must be considered a win contender for any double and pick 3 tickets played but with such great value offered on Queen Blossom, Cambodia is a poor win bet.


Bets: Queen Blossom to win and place at odds of 5 to 2 or more.


Exactas: Box Queen Blossom and Vasilika. Box Queen Blossom and Cambodia.


Optional Double (particularly if live in the pick 3 with one of the two contenders in the ninth race winning):

Queen Blossom in Race 10 with West Coast and Accelerate in Race 11.


Note about race 11, the Awesome Again Stakes: There’s no reason to bet that race in and of itself because a short six horse field is assembled and it would be a shock if either West Coast or Accelerate did not win. Value on one of these two winning the race comes solely in playing the doubles or pick 3.

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Ellis Starr

Ellis is a well respected handicapper and contributor of AmWager. He has been a public handicapper for more than twenty years, educating racing fans of all skill levels with detailed commentary few other handicappers provide.

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