Key races set for Belmont Park, Santa Anita

The next eight days will tell a lot about the horses prepping for the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 1 and 2 at Santa Anita Park. By the way, the grand Great Race Place is opening today and will show off more than $15 million of improvements.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 6, 19 Grade 1 stakes and 18 Grade 2 and 3 stakes will be run from coast to coast. Only a handful of horses, including Game On Dude for the Classic, are training up to the Breeders’ Cup. Thus, nearly all of the top North American Cup contenders will race within this time frame.

On Saturday, five Grade 1 stakes will be run at both Belmont Park (Beldame, Flower Bowl, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Joe Hirsch and Vosburgh) and Santa Anita (Awesome Again, Chandelier, Frontrunner, Rodeo Drive and Zenyatta).

If you like quality and quantity together, and what horseplayer doesn’t, then you’ll be studying the Daily Racing Form tonight like a first-year law student studies his text boks.

I’ll go over the Belmont races, and my handicap for the entire Santa Anita card will be in the newspaper on Saturday.

The Beldame goes through Royal Delta (3-5), who, under the right circumstances, can be a serious Horse of the Year contender. Princess Sylmar (2-1) will garner a lot of support, too. The edge goes to Royal Delta, a top older horse who has big advantages over a nice 3-year-old.

The Vosburgh seven-furlong sprint looks like the hardest of the five Grade 1 races to decipher. The field is loaded with early speed, leading me to my top choice, Forty Tales (7-2). He is a dead late closer who was compromised in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga by a speed-favoring main track.

The Flower Bowl marathon turf stakes is headed by a complementary entry of Laughing and Tannery (8-5) for Alan Goldberg. Laughing looks like lone early speed, and her stablemate, Tannery, is a late closer. A mare I’ll also be using is Qushchi (3-1), who excels at marathon distances for Graham Motion.

The Joe Hirsch has a strong favored entry in Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution and Joes Blazing Aaron (8-5) for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Real Solution was first in the Grade 1 Arlington Million, and Big Blue Kitten won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and United Nations in his past two starts. This entry looks like a logical Pick 6 single.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup looks like the Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott invitational. Pletcher has three starters in Cross Traffic (5-2), Palace Malice (4-1) and Vitoria Olimpica (20-1). Mott has two in Flat Out (3-1) and Ron the Greek (12-1).

Flat Out has won five of six starts at Belmont Park. Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes this spring, and Cross Traffic won the Whitney. If you’re looking for a price play that can outrun his odds, look at Last Gunfighter (10-1).

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.