Race 10 at Belmont | Saturday October 24 | Post Time 5:05 PM Eastern
Empire Classic Handicap | Purse $175,000 | One Mile and One Eighth | Three Year Olds and Upward
Bankit (5) and Chestertown (4) both hail from the barn of North American leading trainer Steve Asmussen. Bankit gets North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. while Chestertown gets the leading rider at Belmont, Irad’s brother Jose Ortiz. I am not picking these two horses at the top two contenders for any of those reasons, however it must be noted that with this much firepower in their corner, their starting odds of 6/1 (Bankit) and 10/1 Chestertown may warrant lots of attention in and of themselves, although both horses are strong win contenders for many other reasons.
This race is restricted to New York breds, and Bankit (5) is one of those who has only run against statebreds four times in the past 15 months. He’s been facing some tough “open” company, for example when second, beaten a head in February in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap or when third of 11 behind Tom’s d’Etat in the Oaklawn Mile in April. Bankit won the New York Derby in 2019 then missed by a head in the 2019 Albany Stakes at Saratoga, at this distance as well as was beaten a neck for second in the Commentator Stakes in June. His most recent race is the telling one in my opinion, in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Stakes, in which he lagged far back in last of 12 for the first six furlongs then came home fast to be beaten three lengths at the end although seventh. In this year’s Empire Classic, Mr. Buff and Sea Foam will both want the lead from the start and in their prior similar races at Belmont they have run the first six furlongs in 1:10 and change. That’s fast enough to set up Bankit for a big late kick to win this race.
Chestertown (4) is a lightly raced three year old with eight starts including five first or second place finishes. He faced older just once prior to this race when second in an allowance race at Belmont in June following three months off. His best race ever came two races later in his most recent stat, rallying from fourth to win this year’s Albany at this distance. Jose Ortiz was up for the first time for the Albany and that, plus second race blinkers, may have made all the difference in the world. Chestertown earned a 96 Equibase figure which he certainly can improve upon and which isn’t that far off the 99 Bankit earned in the Ack Ack. As such, Chestertown gets co-top billing with his stablemate.
Funny Guy (3), Mr. Buff (2) and Sea Foam (7) all deserve some respect when considering wagers involving this race. However, their starting odds are 4/1 or less and they all have slight knocks which make Bankit and Chestertown more attractive as win bets. Funny Guy won the 2019 Albany which most of these have in common and he drops from the open Grade 2 Vosburgh in which he was second. He won the last two times he raced in statebred company and he doesn’t need the lead to win. Still, I find it interesting Joel Rosario, up for his last four races and last two wins, chooses Sea Foam here although John Velazquez is a more than adequate replacement. Sea Foam has won two in a row, the last at this distance at Saratoga in open allowance company. The effort earned a 100 figure but his best is 103 which may not be good enough to win. Additionally, when Rosario is aboard the horse is almost always on the lead and that’s the ONLY way the pair have won. Due to the fact Mr. Buff has the identical running style, I think the two of them are going to just fast enough to set up the stalkers and closers. I will note that if either Mr. Buff or Sea Foam should scratch, the chance the one which remains can lead from start to finish goes up considerably.
Win bets on BOTH Bankit (5) and Chestertown (4) are called for at odds of 5 to 2 or more.
Exactas: Funny Guy (3), Chestertown (4) and Bankit (5) over Funny Guy (3), Chestertown (4), Bankit (5), Mr. Buff (2) and Sea Foam (7)