runhappy carter Handicap
Held at seven-eighths of a mile and moved from Aqueduct to Belmont Park this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Carter is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, meaning it’s a “Win and You’re In” for the Sprint.
This year’s edition of the Carter will make the 121st running of the race, which has been won by many standouts over the years including Beldame, Old Rosebud, Sarazen, Gallorette, Tom Fool, Bold Ruler, King’s Bishop, Forego, and Housebuster to name just a few.
The Carter Handicap was named after Brooklyn contractor and tugboat captain William Carter, and it made history in 1944 when the first triple dead heat for a stakes win in the U.S. occurred when Brownie, Bossuet and Wait A Bit famously tied for the win.
Read on for more on this year’s contenders for the Carter Handicap, which will be televised on the NYRA/Fox Sports show "America’s Day at the Races" on FS1 from 3-8 p.m. ET.
1. Firenze Fire (7-2 morning-line odds): Won his season debut at this distance in the Grade 3 General George to extend his winning streak to three. Twice ran second in Grade 1 races a year ago but still seeking his first win at this level. Firenze Fire has an edge on competition when it comes to best Equibase Speed Figures and has run very well on the Belmont main track. Versatile enough to stalk or press the pace. Top win candidate.
2. Performer (3-1): Improving and well-bred 4-year-old by Speightstown has ripped off four straight wins and most recently earned a career-best 112 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the Grade 3 Discovery in November 2019. I was a little surprised he was the morning-line favorite since the six-month layoff is a bit of a concern, but he’s been working steadily and quite well for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. There is superstar potential here, but this is a salty return spot after being away for so long.
3. Still Having Fun (20-1): Every so often this Old Fashioned gelding steps up and fires a big one, but he’s winless in his last 11 since winning the Grade 2 Woody Stephens in June 2018. He’s finished in the top three in four stakes since that win, including a pair of graded races, and has run well at this distance, but I think a minor award might be the ceiling here.
4. Nitrous (15-1): This deep closer is always tries hard and makes up significant ground late, but there is not much pace in this edition of the Carter and that could compromise his chances. He finished second by a neck in a Grade 1 at this track and distance last June and figures to be improving late, so I’ll use him to fill out my exotic bets, hopefully at a solid price.
5. Network Effect (8-1): Lightly raced stakes winner has twice placed in graded stakes but is still looking for a breakthrough win. His most recent race – a two-length win in the Big Drama Stakes May 2 – was the best of his career, he’s 2-for-2 at this distance, and he boasts the potent trainer-jockey tandem of Chad Brown and Irad Ortiz Jr. Given his connections, I don’t expect there to be much, if any, value on Network Effect, who was well-beaten in his only previous try in a Grade 1.
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6. Midnightcharly (50-1): Has not raced since finishing second by 4 ¼ lengths to Firenze Fire in the Fabulous Strike Stakes last November. He’s finished first or second in 12 of 15 career starts, but this is a major challenge against this group in his graded stakes debut.
7. American Anthem (15-1): He has been a solid sprinter-miler for several years but has not quite lived up to expectations after an exciting stretch of four wins and two thirds in a six-race span from May 2017 to June 2018 that included all three of his graded stakes wins. From a speed-figure perspective, American Anthem is actually quite consistent, posting between a 105 and a 110 Equibase Speed Figure in each of his last seven races. Not sure he’s good enough to win, but he’ll run well with a chance to fill out the trifecta at a price.
8. Bon Raison (30-1): Every once in a while, Bon Raison will jump up and fire a big one, and if you believe in patterns, he’s probably due. But I’m a sucker for recent form, and based on what I’ve seen in his last five starts I think he’s punching above his weight here.
9. Majestic Dunhill (20-1): One of several closers in a field for a sprint that somewhat surprisingly looks like it has very little pace. He’s made his last seven starts at seven furlongs, so his connections must feel it’s his ideal distance. I prefer others who figure to have less ground to make up late, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him close for a minor share.
10. Mind Control (4-1): I’m a bit surprised he was not pegged the morning-line favorite coming into the Carter on a three-race, graded stakes winning streak that includes a Grade 1 victory. He’s also very good at this seven-eighths of a mile distance with four wins in six starts and could be the prime beneficiary of what projects as a fairly soft pace. Although he was eighth in his lone try on this main track, he got off to a terrible start and encountered traffic when making his bid. I think he’s poised to run a big one in his third start this year.
11. Vekoma (7-2): He looked fantastic in his first start off a 9 ½-month layoff following the 2019 Kentucky Derby when rolling to a 3 ¾-length runaway in the Sir Shackleton Stakes March 28 at Gulfstream Park. I’m glad they decided to shorten him back up to sprints and I think he can be a major factor in this division in 2020. I was hoping for a juicier price on the morning line, but I really believe in this 4-year-old by Candy Ride so he’s the pick in a deep field.
THE PICK: Vekoma
LIVE LONGSHOT: Nitrous