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At the Gate - Saturday

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While Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome gallops at Churchill Downs in preparation for next Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1), there are seven three-year-olds that will do battle on Saturday for a possible showdown with the Derby winner three weeks later in the Belmont Stakes (G1).
 
A field of seven will line up in the $$200,000 Peter Pan (G2), a nine-furlong test that serves as the local prep for the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
 
The Christophe Clement trained Tonalist makes his stakes debut, returning off a 2 ½ month break. The original plan for the promising colt was to go to the Wood Memorial (G1), but a series of setbacks took him off the Derby Trail. The colt is the 2-1 morning line favorite.
 
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Also making his stakes debut is Matterhorn, the Todd Pletcher trainee coming in off a third place finish against first level allowance foes. The colt is listed at 6-1 on the morning line.
 
Pletcher will also saddle Commissioner, who came up wanting in three Derby preps, the last a disappointing sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1).
 
Coming up on Sunday at Belmont Park we have the $400,000 Man o’ War (G1), a 1 3/8 mile turf test that drew a wide open field of seven. The race will be televised live on Fox Sports 1 as part of the Jockey Club Tour on Fox.
 
The co-feature is the $250,000 Ruffian (G2) with an interesting showdown between Fiftyshadesofhay and Grace Hall. The 2013 Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Palace Malice will also be in action on Sunday, taking on three foes in the $150,000 Westchester (G3).
 
More on Sunday’s stakes tomorrow.
 
To purchase my full card reports for Belmont Park and Best Plays click here.
 
Here is today’s opening from Belmont Park to get the day off to a good start:
 
BEL Race 1 OClm $62,500N2X (1:20 ET)   
7 Abra   7-2
6 Special Skills   6-1        
8 Awakino Cat   4-1         
4 Thomas Hill   5-1
 
Analysis: Abra dueled for the early lead and drew off late to beat Alw-1 foes last out on the inner track. The third place finisher Sokitumi Samurai came out of the race to beat $25,000 and $35,000 claimers in his next two starts. The gelding has three trips on turf in his career including a pair of runner up finishers, the last a good effort here last fall against $50,000 starter optional claimers. She comes back here off a three month break here for the Rice barn that is 10% winners with runners coming back off a 61-180 day layoff.
 
Special Skills makes his first start since last summer where the gelding pressed the early pace and tired to finish a well beaten sixth at this level going long on the turf at Monmouth Park. He broke his maiden over the turf here in his debut back in '12 and then won the Nick Shuk Memorial only to get DQ'd and placed second in his first go against winners. The Goldberg barn is 21% winners with runners coming back off a +180 day layoff.
 
Wagering
WIN: #7 to win at 5-2 or better.
EX: 6,7 / 4,6,7,8
TRI: 6,7 / 4,6,7,8 / 4,5,6,7,8
 
Today’s Featured Race of the Day from Belmont Park:
 
BEL Race 9 The Peter Pan G2 (5:28 ET)
4 Tonalist   2-1  
3 Commissioner   5-2     
1 Matterhorn   6-1          
2 Fabulous Kid   4-1
 
Analysis: Tonalist makes his first start since running second against Alw-1 optional claimers at Gulfstream Park in his first start against winners. He ran into a very tough group led by the winner Constitution, who came back to win the Florida Derby (G1). The fourth place finisher was Wicked Strong, who came out of that race to win the Wood Memorial (G1) and then run fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Our top pick has a lung infection and a few minor feet problems that knocked him out of the Wood. He is going to be tough here for the Clement barn that is 21% winners with runners coming back off a 61-180 day layoff. The colt is bred to like a wet track.
 
Commissioner beat the highly regarded Top Billing back in January in a first level optional claimer and it looks as if this guy was going to be a serious Derby contender. However, he came up short in three Derby preps, the last a sixth in the Arkansas Derby (G1). He has not been off cleanly in his last two starts and now picks up Castellano. This guy is bred to go long and handle a wet track. He is by A.P. Indy out of the stakes winner Flaming Heart ($245,961) who also dropped stakes winner Laugh Track ($577,715).
 
Matterhorn was outrun in that key race that Tonalist exits and then he came back to run a decent third in his last outing. He showed some promise last fall at Aqueduct breaking his maiden in his debut He gets a jock upgrade to Johnny V. and I do not think we have seen the best out of this colt, who was a $625,000 purchase. He is by red hot sire Tapit and out of the stakes winner Winter Garden ($902,288). The colt is a full brother to stakes winner Title Contender ($247,888).
 
Wagering
WIN: #4 to win at 9-5 or better.
EX: 3,4 / 1,2,3,4
TRI: 3,4 / 1,2,3,4 / 1,2,3,4,6
 
Today’s Featured Race of the Day from Santa Anita:
 
SA Race 7 The Lazaro Barrera G3 (4:11 PT)
3 Kobe's Back   9-5
2 Tonito M.   6-1
4 Chelios   3-1   
1 Ferocious   5-2
 
Analysis: Kobe's Back has had gate issues with his trainer John Sadler has stated the barn has been working on this guy, schooling him at the gate. Last out he was off poorly after hitting the side of the gate and came with a very wide run to rally and finish third in the Bay Shore (G3), beaten just a half-length for the top spot. His career best effort came three back over the surface here when winning the San Vicente (G2). He just needs CNack to get this guy out of the gate and see a little pace in front of him and he will be tough in this spot.
 
Tonito M. invades from Puerto Rico where the speedy colt has won six of his seven starts, the lone loss by a neck going looking. Four of his wins where Group wins, one at today's seven furlong distance. Tough read how this guy fits but he has been working sharply and is in good hands with the Hollendorfer barn that is 26% winners moving runners from route to sprint.
 
Wagering
WIN: #3 to win at 8-5 or better.
EX: 2,3 / 1,2,3,4
TRI: 2,3 / 1,2,3,4 / 1,2,3,4,7
 
Live Longshots:
These are price plays for exotic players looking to find a couple of extra contenders to use in their trifecta and superfecta wagers. Or for those with smaller bankrolls, you might want to get in a small win-place wager.
 
Belmont Park
R2: #6 Mr Rico Is Valid   15-1
R4: #3 Hot Sand   8-1
R5: #2 Talmadge Hill   12-1
R5: #6 C C’s Pride   20-1
R6: #3 Pacemakestherace   12-1
R10: #8 Pacific   8-1
 
Good luck today!

  
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Mike covers the New York racing circuit (Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga) year round as well as Keeneland, Churchill Downs, the Triple Crown, and the Breeders’ Cup.
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