Best Horse Racing Picks This Weekend: Belmont, Churchill Downs & Woodbine

Big money and Breeders’ Cup berths will be on the line on both turf and dirt this weekend all over North America. We’ll start at beautiful Belmont Park where a pair of rich turf races for 3-year-olds will lead the way. The $1 million Jockey Club Derby offers a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, while the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks closes out the Turf Triple series for the fillies.

Next, we’ll travel north to Woodbine, where the $1 million Woodbine Mile and the $600,000 Canadian International top an excellent weekend at the Suburban Toronto oval. Both turf races are Grade 1 events for older males and could prove key preps for Breeders’ Cup races.

Finally, we’ll close out the big weekend of handicapping with a pair of “Win and You’re In” races from Churchill Downs. Not only will the Iroquois, for males, and the Pocahontas, for fillies, provide an all-expenses-paid trip to the Breeders’ Cup, but they will also give us an early look ahead on the road for the 2022 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Saturday Races

Jockey Club Oaks, Belmont Park, 1 3/8 miles (turf), 3-year-old fillies

The Charlie Appleby-trained Creative Flair and the Andre Fabre-trained Harajuku come from across the pond with solid credentials as they take on five United States-based contenders in Saturday’s second running of the $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks. The 1 3/8 miles test on the inner turf at Belmont Park is the final leg of the filly division of the NYRA’s Turf Triple series. Creative Flair was a rallying third last in her American debut, the Grade 1 Saratoga Oaks. Harajuku, meanwhile, is a Group 3 winner who has been keeping the top company in France.

Topping the American contingent will be a pair from the powerful barn of Chad Brown. Higher Truth is the only filly to compete in all three legs of this year’s Turf Triple series for fillies. In the first two legs, the daughter of Galileo was beaten by margins of less than a length in both the Belmont Oaks and Saratoga Oaks. After a tough trip second in the Boiling Springs, Shantisara was an impressive winner of the Grade 3 Pucker Up last time at Arlington Park.

Our Pick: Harajuku (4/1) – The daughter of Deep Impact should love the added distance of the 11 furlong Jockey Club Oaks.

Bet on Harajuku Here!

Jockey Club Derby, Belmont Park, 1 1/2 miles (turf), 3-year-olds

When last seen at Belmont Park, Bolshoi Ballet was an impressive winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. Two months later he is back for more riches when he leads a powerful group of four European invaders primed to sweep the top spots in Saturday’s $1 million Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park. Trained by Aiden O’Brien, Bolshoi Ballet was upset last time in the Saratoga Derby, but returning to the turf course where the son of Galileo won decisively, he will take some beating in the 1 1/2-mile turf test for 3-year-olds.

Other Europeans to fear on Saturday include Yibir, who will be making his first start in America and figures to present a big challenge to the favorite on Saturday. A Godolphin homebred, the son of Dubawi is a four-time winner on the turf and exits his best race yet when he proved best in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur at York. Two other Europeans should also be given plenty of consideration in the Jockey Club Derby. Soldier Rising made his American debut at Saratoga and finished well to be two spots ahead of Bolshoi Ballet in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby. Tokyo Gold skipped that one, but was also a strong late run when second in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby in his first start in the country.

Our Pick: Yibir (7/2) – Godolphin homebred has the pace advantage over the other talented Europeans.

Bet on Yibir Here!

Woodbine Mile (G1), Woodbine, 1 mile (turf), 3-year-olds and up

Multiple Grade 1 winner Raging Bull is the morning line favorite but is only one of several live contenders in a wide-open edition of Saturday’s Grade 1 Woodbine Mile, a Breeders’ Cup Mile “Win and You’re In” event. A winner of the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile earlier this season, the 6-year-old son of Dark Angel returns to Woodbine for the first time for trainer Chad Brown since finishing a fast-closing and troubled fourth in the 2019 edition of the $1 million race.

A three-time stakes winner this year, Set Piece finished ahead of Raging Bull last time when second in the Grade 1 Fourstardave. Before that the Brad Cox-trainee scored his biggest victory to date in the Grade 2 Wise Dan at Churchill Downs. Among the other top challengers in the 25th edition of the Woodbine Mile include a talented trio from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. In March to the Arch, Olympic Runner, and Ride a Comet, he sends out three serious contenders, who are all graded stakes winners at Woodbine.

Our Pick: Set Piece (7/2) – Better than ever, this English-bred gelding looks primed to become a Grade 1 winner on Saturday.

Bet on Set Piece Here!

Canadian International (G1), Woodbine, 1 1/2 miles (turf), 3-year-olds and up

The Canadian International was not held last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the Irish-bred gelding Desert Encounter in search of becoming the first horse to capture three consecutive runnings of the prestigious 12-furlong turf test. Now 9, the European-based runner comes into this one off a long losing streak but has been keeping excellent company and is always a threat at his favorite course.

The biggest obstacle for the two-time defending champion figures to be Walton Street. Bred and trained in England, he will be making his first start in North American for trainer Charlie Appleby. Most recently, the Godolphin homebred finished third after leading through most of the way in the Group 1 Longines Grosser Preis von Berlin in Germany. He began the year with two nice wins at Meydan, including the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold.

Our Pick: Belichick (6/1) – Look for the Canadian-based colt to return to his best running at the 1 1/2 distance.

Bet on Belichick Here!

Pocahontas Stakes (G3), Churchill Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 2-year-old fillies

A points producer for the 2022 Kentucky Oaks, Eleven juvenile fillies are set to do battle in Saturday’s 53rd running of the $300,000 Pocahontas. The Grade 3 event at 8 1/2 furlongs on the main track looks to be a very wide open event with no clear favorite. Ontheonesandtwos, a daughter of Jimmy Creed trained by Norm Casse, could go favored. She won her debut in May at Churchill Downs and came back to finish second in the local Debutante Stakes, before failing as the favorite in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga last time.

Chief among her rivals in the Pocahontas include a trio of debut winners in Hidden Connection, trained by Bret Calhoun; Code for Success, trained by Vicky Oliver; and Maxine Machine, for trainer Brad Cox. The former won her debut at Colonial Downs, while the latter two both debuted and won at Ellis Park.

Our Pick: Maxine Machine (4/1) – She had a professional looking debut when rallying for the win behind a slow pace; should improve second time out.

Bet on Maxine Machine Here!

Iroquois Stakes (G3), Churchill Downs, 1 1/16 miles (dirt), 2-year-olds

The road to the Kentucky Derby will officially begin on Saturday night as Churchill Downs hosts a big field of largely untested juveniles in the 40th running of the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. Also, a “Win and You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the 11-horse field full of potential is topped by Stellar Tap, who was a very impressive winner of his debut five weeks ago at Saratoga. Trained by Steve Asmussen, the son of Tapit will again have Ricardo Santana Jr. in the saddle.

Chief among his competition will be the stakes winner Roger McQueen Trained by Larry Rivelli, the son of Unified returns to Churchill Downs where he finished third in his debut. Since then, the $530,000 2-year-old in training purchase rattled off two nice wins at Ellis Park. Most recently, he was a game half-length winner of the 7 furlong Ellis Park Juvenile on August 15.

Our Pick: Bourbon Heist (8/1) – The Practical Joke maiden should like the distance and has been improving with each start, including his last when he had plenty of trouble.

Bet on Bourbon Heist Here!

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Brian Zipse

Expert on Horse Racing

Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.

Email: [email protected]