Papo picks the G3 Poker Handicap at Belmont

Belmont Park – Race 4 Poker Stakes 1 Mile Turf

A short but quality field of six older horses going a mile on the Belmont widener turf course. The morning-line favorite is Obviously (9-5) for trainer Phil D’ Amato.

The California invader has blazing speed from the gate and will attempt to wire this field. He has won eight of 16 starts at the mile distance and, in those wins, has never been headed. Obviously has been sparingly raced over the last two years with only four starts. While he has not won since the 2014 Shoemaker Mile, he has been running against top class completion as each of those races was either a Grade One or Grade Two events.

The question is does anyone try to put pressure on him through the early fractions and possibly compromise their own trip. If the Belmont turf course remains firm, it only enhances Obviously’s early speed and he will be awfully hard to beat.

If trying to beat the favorite, you could use Grand Arch (7-2) or Force the Pass (5-1). Both horses can sit a good stalking position and get first run on the closers in Chad Brown’s Offering Plan (6-1) and Takeover Target (4-1).

Grand Arch, like Obviously, has had his steady diet of G1 and G2 events. His last four races have been a 3rd in the Grade 2 Pimlico Special, 3rd the Breeders’ Cup Mile, 1st in the Shadwell Turf Mile, and 1st in the Fourstardave. Grand Arch excels at the mile distance, finishing in the exacta in eight of 13 starts. This will be his second start off the layoff and if Obviously comes back to the field, I would look for this seven-year-old gelding to be right there.

Force the Pass, for trainer Allen Goldberg, really blossomed last year winning four of eight starts while picking up a check in each of them. While he excelled in route races later in the year, he is proven at the one-mile distance, winning three of six. In his last race he pressed through the early half mile, a tactic that may have worked against him that day. If he can sit the stalking trip his ability to pull the upset would increase.

As for the others in the field I believe King Kreesa (10-1) could outrun his odds and get a piece. The New York bred has dabbed in open company successfully and last year won Grade 3 Poker and the Forbidden Apple Stakes. King Kreesa’s record at Belmont is superb, as he has finished in the money in 14 of 17 starts and there is nothing like home cooking to help elevate a performance.

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