The Belmont Stakes isn’t the only major horse race taking place on Saturday at Belmont Park. Five other prestigious stakes races are on the agenda, including the $250,000, Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes Presented by America’s Best Racing, which serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 7.
Three years ago, the talented Disco Partner won the Jaipur in the remarkable time of 1:05.67, setting a North American record.
But three-quarters of a mile is an unfamiliar ballgame for many turf sprinters. Most of the division’s biggest races are held at shorter distances, and running an extra sixteenth of a mile or two can make a big difference for pure speedsters accustomed to running virtually all-out from start to finish. Negotiating three-quarters of a mile requires a bit of nuance and pacing, as well as a subtle dose of stamina.
This could be a critical factor affecting the chances of #4 Pure Sensation, a 9-year-old veteran who has cracked the top three in 11 of his 13 races dating back to September 2017. The two exceptions were solid fifth-place efforts against tough competition in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and all told Pure Sensation has won 11 stakes races during his decorated career.
The Jaipur has been a summer target on Pure Sensation’s agenda three times in the past, and he actually nabbed first prize in 2016, holding off none other than Disco Partner to win by a neck in 1:06.76. But these days, Pure Sensation seems better running shorter — he hasn’t won a race longer than five-eighths of a mile since October 2016. In his last run at the Jaipur distance, Pure Sensation carved out the pace in the 2018 Belmont Turf Sprint Stakes, only to weaken in the final eighth of a mile and finish a distant third behind Disco Partner.
There isn’t much speed in the 2020 Jaipur field, so perhaps Pure Sensation can shake loose on an easy lead and stretch his speed farther than usual. But returning from a 7 1/2-month layoff is also a question mark, considering Pure Sensation is getting older and trainer Christophe Clement wins at just a 14% rate with horses returning from extended breaks.
If you’re searching for a runner who figures to thrive at the Jaipur distance, look no further than the lone female in the field, #2 Oleksandra. The 6-year-old mare by 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is 2-for-3 sprinting three-quarters of a mile, with both victories coming on the Belmont Park turf course. Just as importantly, Oleksandra has proven herself against a high level of competition, rallying to win the 2019 Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes by two lengths over the classy stakes winners Morticia and Girls Know Best.
Oleksandra kicked off her 2020 campaign with a gallant runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita, where she gained six lengths in the final eighth of a mile to fall just short of catching Brazilian Group 1 winner and heavy favorite Jolie Olimpica. Oleksandra figures to show improvement in her second start of the season, and stretching out to three-quarters of a mile should give this classy mare a little more time to unfurl her powerful closing strides.
The wildcard in the Jaipur field is #6 Hidden Scroll, who has shown flashes of brilliance while racing on dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. After finishing off the board in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, the 4-year-old Hard Spun colt attempted to give turf a try in a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Belmont. Unfortunately, Hidden Scroll stumbled severely at the start and unseated his rider before running off and completing the race for his own amusement.
Granted, Hidden Scroll was unencumbered by a jockey, but he seemed to handle grass just fine while sprinting to a commanding “early lead.” He’s also trained encouragingly on the turf course at Palm Meadows, and with his excellent tactical speed, Hidden Scroll figures to set or press a modest pace in the Jaipur. From there, he might just feel inclined to hang around and finish in the money.
#7 White Flag, the second sprinter hailing from the stable of Clement, is another who warrants respect after accumulating four wins, a second, and two thirds from seven starts on the grass at Belmont Park, including two wins and a second in three tries on this inner turf course. The son of War Front handles three-quarters of a mile just fine and has placed against Grade 1 company, but like stablemate Pure Sensation, he’s returning from a long layoff and might need to get a race under his belt before returning to peak form.
So how do we turn these opinions into a viable wagering strategy? Let’s focus our attention on Oleksandra, betting the mare to win and playing her in the top two slots of a trifecta. For the remaining slots, we’ll use Pure Sensation, Hidden Scroll, White Flag, and also #4 Stubbins, the stretch-running winner of the 2019 Grade 2 Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select.
Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget
$8 to win on #2 Oleksandra
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $8 to win on #2
$0.50 trifecta: 2 with 4,5,6,7 with 4,5,6,7 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta: 2 with 4,5,6,7 with 4,5,6,7
$0.50 trifecta: 4,5,6,7 with 2 with 4,5,6,7 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta: 4,5,6,7 with 2 with 4,5,6,7
Watch the 2020 Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20 from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.