Happy Independence Day! Fourth of July weekend is going to be a busy one in the sport of horse racing. No fewer than five graded stakes races are on the Saturday agenda at Belmont Park, including the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes.
Contested over 1 ¼ miles on Belmont’s inner turf course, the Manhattan is typically a supporting feature on Belmont Stakes day, but with the restructuring of the racing calendar due to COVID-19, the race is being held a month later than usual. The purse has also been sliced from $1 million to $400,000, but this change has had only a modest impact on the quality of the field. Five graded stakes winners are among the eight horses entered in this prestigious steppingstone toward the Nov. 7 Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown has won the Manhattan five times since 2012, and he’ll saddle a trio of formidable contenders in the 2020 renewal. #1 Instilled Regard is the most accomplished with three graded stakes wins to his credit, including a narrow triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Fort Marcy Stakes at Belmont on June 6.
A veteran of the 2018 Kentucky Derby, where he finished fourth behind Triple Crown champion Justify, Instilled Regard has found new life since switching to grass and is versatile enough to win from almost anywhere in the field. There are only two problems – he doesn’t have much experience running 1 ¼ miles, and he’s come up short in his six previous tries against Grade 1 company, including a couple of defeats on grass.
That’s not to say Instilled Regard can’t win, but as the 2-1 morning line favorite, he doesn’t offer much value. A more enticing option is to play against Instilled Regard on some tickets, in an effort to beat him with a horse offering better odds.
#2 Rockemperor and #5 Devamani are the other two Brown trainees, and both bring solid credentials to the mix. Rockemperor has run well over 1 ¼ miles, charging hard to finish third in the 2019 Grade 1 Belmont Derby and more recently finishing second by a nose in the May 23 Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes (placed third), though the Irish-bred 4-year-old has yet to win a graded stakes race and will need a step forward to win against this caliber of competition.
Devamani might have more upside considering he’s only run twice under Brown’s care, unleashing strong rallies to finish second this year by small margins in both the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes and the Grade 2 Fort Marcy Stakes. In the latter race on June 6 at Belmont, Devamani gained 3 ¼ lengths through the final eighth of a mile to finish just a neck behind Instilled Regard, and it’s worth noting this improving 6-year-old won an allowance race over the course and distance of the Manhattan in May 2019.
#4 Sadler’s Joy and #6 Channel Maker are Grade 1 winners capable of vying for victory on their best day, but these aging veterans have struggled in recent starts and have arguably lost a step or two. They finished third and eighth, respectively, in the 1 3/8-mile Tiller Stakes at Belmont on June 4 and will need to turn back the clock to factor in the fight for the winner’s circle.
The wildcard in the Manhattan is #3 Cross Border, the only clear speed horse in a field full of late runners. A former claimer trained by Mike Maker, who is renowned for his skill at claiming horses and turning them into successful stakes performers, Cross Border ran a big race in the 1 ½-mile Grade 3 W. L. McKnight Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25, battling for the lead before settling for second place behind late-running longshot #8 Spooky Channel.
This was a solid effort, and it wasn’t a fluke either. Last fall, Cross Border endured a tough trip in the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park, but fought on to finish fifth by just 2 ½ lengths. Cutting back to 1 ¼ miles could enhance Cross Border’s chances, and he prepped for the Manhattan with a solid runner-up effort in a one-mile allowance race on June 3 at Belmont. That was his first start off a four-month layoff, so Cross Border can show improvement on Saturday while reuniting with jockey Jose Ortiz, who guided the son of turf champion English Channel in the McKnight.
Rounding out the field is #7 Dot Matrix, narrow runner-up in the Tiller and winner of the 1 ½-mile Grade 3 John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes during the winter. A 7-year-old veteran with 33 starts under his belt, Dot Matrix probably isn’t up to winning against Grade 1 company, but he’s got tactical speed and is consistent enough to finish in the money.
So how do we turn all of these opinions into profitable plays? Let’s favor the Chad Brown trio, counting on at least two of them to finish in the trifecta. For the remaining slot, we’ll add Cross Border, Dot Matrix, and Channel Maker:
Wagering Strategy on a $24 Budget
$0.50 trifecta: 1,2,5 with 1,2,5 with 1,2,3,5,6,7 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $0.50 trifecta: 1,2,5 with 1,2,5 with 1,2,3,5,6,7
$0.50 trifecta: 1,2,5 with 1,2,3,5,6,7 with 1,2,5 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 10th race, $0.50 trifecta: 1,2,5 with 1,2,3,5,6,7 with 1,2,5
Good luck, and enjoy the race!