Anybody who thinks that small fields make for poor betting affairs should take a peek at the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park this weekend.
Carded as the eighth race on Saturday, the Grade III Futurity features a compact field of six — and I can find serious knocks against each and every one of them, including the likely favorite, Engage.
Here’s the deal: Like many races for 2-year-olds, the Futurity is filled with horses that have only won on, or very close to, the lead. In fact, Barry Lee is the sole entrant to have triumphed after being more than two lengths back at the first call — and he’s donning blinkers for the first time on Saturday (blinkers often sharpen a horse’s early speed).
Engage did come from off the pace in his maiden score — and earned a 94 Brisnet Speed Figure in the process — but his late speed rations (a pair of -14s) are merely ho-hum and, in fact, do not meet today’s race par.
Trainer Todd Pletcher’s charge, Mojovation, looks especially vulnerable to me. In his maiden-breaker, the son of Quality Road went gate to wire and earned a 95 BSF, but his early speed ration that day was about five lengths slower than today’s par and his non-effort in the Hopeful (G1) doesn’t fill me with confidence that he’ll be able to come from off the pace on Saturday.
In fact, of the horses that look like confirmed frontrunners, the lone filly in Saturday’s field, Happy Like a Fool, looks best… or at least the quickest early. The Wesley Ward trainee broke her maiden at Keeneland going 4 ½ furlongs before shipping overseas, where she finished second in the Queen Mary Stakes (G2) and off the board in the Sky Bet Lowther Stakes (G2) — both on grass. The wild card is Happy Like a Fool will run sans blinkers in the Futurity, leaving one to question what kind of tactics Ward will employ.
Now, I mentioned the Futurity was a good betting race and one of the reasons I think that is because of Smooth B. Although he’s the longest shot on the board according to the morning line, I really like this guy’s last race. Yes, it was against inferior competition at Laurel Park and, yes, the Robert Reid trainee went coast-to-coast, but he did so after recording a very quick -11 ESR and he came home very quickly (-5 LSR).
Red Peril and the aforementioned Barry Lee round out the field. Both appear a bit on the slow side, but certainly fit in Saturday’s field. Post time for the Futurity is 4:46 p.m. ET.