Green Gratto Dangerous at Big Price in Belmont Sprint Championship
By Ellis Starr, courtesy America's Best Racing
The Grade 2, $350,000 Belmont Sprint Championship field consists of seven proven sprinters, six of whom won graded stakes races over the past year, competing for a spot in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. Even with a small field, it may be hard to rank the field in terms of accomplishments, depending on the criteria used. For example, Stallwalkin’ Dude, whose most recent stakes victory came on the Belmont Park main track in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap, leads the field in career earnings with $1.4 million but has never won a stakes race at this Grade 2 level. On the other hand, there are two previous Grade 1 stakes winners in the field. Mind Your Biscuits won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes last fall and exits a big effort when he won the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes on the Dubai World Cup card this past March. Green Gratto posted an upset win in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April and is second in lifetime earnings in the field with more than $1.1 million. Unified won the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes in February before a neck defeat to Green Gratto in the Carter, so he fits on all counts. Awesome Slew has two stakes wins to his credit, including the Grade 3 Commonwealth Stakes in April. Tommy Macho won the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope Stakes in January but finished a nonthreatening third in all three of his starts since then. Fellowship rounds out the field but has run no better than third in six graded stakes tries in his career to date.
Green Gratto was sent to the post at 54-to-1 odds when winning the Carter Handicap in April at Aqueduct with a 112 Equibase Speed Figure, but perhaps those odds were out of line as he had won the Toboggan Stakes three months earlier at 2.65-to-1 odds. Since the Carter, Green Gratto finished fourth in the Diablo Stakes and fifth in the True North Stakes, but in both races he didn’t have the early lead all to himself that he had in the Carter and that he is very likely to have again in this Belmont Sprint Championship. Five of the seven runners in this race have shown no early speed through the half-mile mark in nearly all their races, leaving only Green Gratto (20-to-1 on the morning line) and Unified to be in the first two positions in the early stages. With Green Gratto drawn inside of Unified and with a big jockey change to Irad Ortiz Jr. for the first time, as well as with a very swift :46.33 half-mile workout coming into the race that was the fastest of 56 on the day, it appears Green Gratto can successfully play “come catch me” with the field to earn the win in this race.
Unified is a very lightly raced 4-year-old who has won four of five one-turn races in his career. The best of those came in February when victorious over Mind Your Biscuits in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes, earning a career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure in the process. Not disgraced one iota when second by a head to Green Gratto in the Carter Handicap following that, Unified has been rested three months and has won all three starts in his career off a layoff. Jose Ortiz is a perfect 3-for-3 when riding this colt, more reasons to like the chances of Unified to win this year’s Belmont Sprint Championship Stakes.
Mind Your Biscuits was mostly so-so early last year as a 3-year-old, going 3-for-7 through September before a huge effort when facing older open (not restricted) company for the first time and finishing third in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint last fall. Showing even better form eight weeks later, Mind Your Biscuits won the Malibu Stakes in impressive fashion and with a 122 figure before a comeback loss in his 2017 debut to Unified in February. Shipped to Dubai to face some of the best sprinters in the world in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in March, Mind Your Biscuits did not disappoint with a winning effort by three lengths in a 14-horse field. Freshened again and with a pair of very swift recent workouts at Belmont in preparation for this race, Mind Your Biscuits certainly can win by repeating his Malibu Stakes effort. However, like four others in here, Mind Your Biscuits may be midpack to far back in the early stages of this race and his late kick could be potentially disadvantaged by a leisurely and uncontested pace set by Green Gratto.
About the rest: Stallwalkin’ Dude earned a career-best 121 figure when second in the True North Stakes last month and that’s just a point shy of the top figure Mind Your Biscuits has earned in his best race. However, Stallwalkin’ Dude has never won a Grade 2 race. Awesome Slew is a multiple graded stakes winner who, like Stallwalkin’ Dude, has never won a Grade 2 race. Much more lightly raced than Stallwalkin’ Dude, Awesome Slew is 4-for-13 in his career, including a 114 figure effort when winning the Commonwealth Stakes in April, so he may only need a bit more improvement to succeed, which is certainly possible as he is a 4-year-old. Tommy Macho is 5-for-15 in his career, including a maiden and first-level allowance win at Belmont. He has three Grade 3 stakes wins to his credit, including the Hal’s Hope (115 figure) in January, but he was soundly defeated by Green Gratto and Unified in April in the Carter when the three of them met previously. Fellowship appears overmatched as his most recent win in April came in a second-level allowance that earned only a 109 figure.
Mind Your Biscuits