When Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert ships a horse to Belmont Park, you can bet he means business. The California-based trainer has won with seven of his last 12 starters at Belmont and has gone 18-for-42 there since 2013, a striking 43-percent win rate that includes two wins in the Belmont Stakes with Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. Pretty strong!
Therefore, it stands to reason that Baffert will be tough to beat in Saturday’s $700,000, Grade 1 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park, especially considering that his two entrants — Dr. Dorr (#5) and Hoppertunity (#8) — are among the fastest horses in the race.
I’m particularly drawn to the 7-year-old veteran Hoppertunity, who has been competing at the highest levels of the sport since 2014. He’s traveled the world and faced some of the best dirt horses in North America during that timeframe, and along the way he’s snagged a few high-level wins of his own, including the 2016 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on the same track and at the same distance as the Suburban. In fact, Hoppertunity is 2-for-2 at Belmont, having overcome a slow pace and a troubled trip to rally and win the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational Stakes at Belmont last month by a decisive 2 ¼ lengths.
Hoppertunity has run well at many different tracks, but he seems to have a special affinity for Belmont, and the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Suburban should be perfect for him. In my opinion, he looms as the horse to beat in the Suburban, yet he might still offer decent odds.
As for Dr. Dorr, he’s been on quite a roll as of late, winning the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 2 Californian Stakes by 7 ¼ lengths before finishing a respectable second behind the accomplished Accelerate in the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. Dr. Dorr, who was cross-entered in Friday’s Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, has excellent tactical speed and will be among the main contenders on the front end. That would be good for Hoppertunity, since Dr. Dorr could help keep speedy 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Diversify (#10) from sneaking away on an easy lead.
Tapwrit (#4) won the Belmont Stakes last year in a career-best performance and recently returned from a long layoff to finish third in a Belmont allowance race going 1 1/16 miles. On the surface, that effort could be considered a disappointment, but the race featured a high-quality field and Tapwrit hit the starting gate at the beginning before making a strong middle move into a hot pace. Under the circumstances, his 1 ¼-length defeat wasn’t bad at all, and I expect him to take a step forward while stretching out to 1 ¼ miles for the Suburban.
So how should we bet the race? My strategy will be to make Hoppertunity the key to my wagers and require him to finish first or second in order to hit a winning ticket. Dr. Dorr and Tapwrit will be my other main plays, while I’ll use Diversify and War Story (#2) in my trifectas.
Wagering Strategy A: Exactas on a $20 Budget
$5 exacta: 8 with 4,5 ($10)
$5 exacta: 4,5 with 8 ($10)
Wagering Strategy B: Trifectas on a $30 Budget
$2 trifecta: 8 with 4,5 with 2,4,5,10 ($12)
$1 trifecta: 8 with 2,4,5,10 with 4,5 ($6)
$2 trifecta: 4,5 with 8 with 2,4,5,10 ($12)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!