There’s plenty of Irish interest in New York this weekend as Willie Mullins continues his quest for global domination both over jumps, and on the flat. And it’s two of his better known jumpers – Wicklow Brave and Clondaw Warrior – who line up in the Belmont Stakes on Friday night in the hope of taking home some of the $400,000 on offer.
Of the two, Wicklow Brave looks to have the stronger claim. He’s a Group 1 winner on the flat (taking last year’s Irish St Leger at the Curragh) and also recently added a Grade 1 hurdles win at the Punchestown Festival. He has to concede weight all around though and his best for has been on Soft and Heavy ground – a world away from what he’ll encounter here.
Clondaw Warrior finished 2nd in last year’s American St Leger having just run out a convincing winner of the Galway Hurdle. He may very well finish in the money but just seems to lack that extra bit of class that will be needed here.
The Europeans may score however courtesy of Wall of Fire. Hugo Palmer’s 4-yr-old has only run once over 2 miles but that was a more-than-respectable effort in a Group 2 on Dubai World Cup night – behind the likes of Vazirabad and Big Orange, form that looks rock solid in the context of this race. He races on Lasix for the first time and has big race rider Florent Geroux in the saddle. He looks like an each-way steal for Tote punters.
On Saturday we see the last of the ‘Triple Crown’ races and the Belmont Stakes looks wide open with early prices indicating possible co-favourites. The Kentucky Derby winner (Always Dreaming) and Preakness Stakes winner (Cloud Computing) don’t run and the likely favourite (Classic Empire) will miss the race because of a foot issue. This year’s Belmont Stakes lacks the buzz of the last few years: there’s no Triple Crown on the line, as there was in 2014 and 2015, and last year’s edition featured the winners of both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
But there still has to be a winner and Meantime, at likely long odds of around 14/1, is the one to be on. He is probably the main speed angle of race and is a lightly raced horse who is improving. He ran a nice second in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont and, perhaps most significantly, he is picking up jockey Mike Smith, who wouldn’t get out of bed to ride a race at this point in his career unless he thought he had a serious chance. My only concern is that his pedigree does not scream long distance ability, but that’s a chance definitely worth taking at these odds.
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