Irish invader Zhukova intrigues in Man o’ War

The Grade I, $400,000 Man o’ War Stakes is the feature on a potentially soggy Saturday at Belmont Park. This field of eight will have their mettle tested at 1 3/8 miles on a grass course that’s likely to be listed as yielding or soft. Post time for the Man o’ War, the eighth of 11 races, is estimated at 5:13 p.m. EST. Be sure to check out FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game this weekend!

#4 ZHUKOVA (5-1), the lone mare in the field, is a top candidate for win honors in this one. She gets in light (112 lbs) and lures John Velazquez while getting Lasix for the first time. Most horses shipping in from overseas face some kind of layoff but ZHUKOVA is fresh, having just run last month. That was a confidence-building victory, and more importantly it came over a yielding course. ZHUKOVA won two Group 3 races in 2016, one over good turf and one over soft, so she can handle any condition she may encounter this Saturday. She’s also won in open company on two occasions during her current 5-for-6 form cycle. An apparent lack of speed in this field also helps ZHUKOVA, as she likes to be forwardly-placed. A gate-to-wire victory would be far from surprising.

#1 SADLER’S JOY (3-1) appears to be the best of the local horses in the field. He closed out 2016 with three straight wins, including one over Belmont’s turf course in September. SADLER’S JOY opened 2017 with a narrow defeat in Gulfstream’s McKnight Handicap to TAGHLEEB despite running with the emergency brake on during most of the stretch run. He returned to his winning ways last time out in last month’s Pan American, also at Gulfstream, despite angling wide under Julien Leparoux. SADLER’S JOY seems to be classy enough and quick enough, and Leparoux retains the mount.

#3 WAKE FOREST (5-2, morning-line favorite) and #6 PATTERSON CROSS (4-1) are late-closing contenders for minor spoils. WAKE FOREST is the defending champ of the Man o’ War and comes in off a victory in the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream back in March. Javier Castellano stays aboard for meet-leading trainer Chad Brown. PATTERSON CROSS is 0-for-3 this year but has three ITM finishes in stakes this year. However, all of those came behind some of these aforementioned rivals at Gulfstream. Jose Lezcano keeps the mount for Bill Mott.

The play: $4 exacta 4/1, $2 exacta 4/3,6, $2 exacta 1/4 ($10)

DFJ analysis: Javier Castellano commands a high salary but should be worth the cost on Saturday. He’s listed in seven different races and begins his day in Race 3 on 4-5 favorite Switzerland. Immediately following that race, Castellano rides probable Peter Pan Stakes favorite Timeline (7-5). If Race 5 comes off the turf, Castellano has a live MTO in Major Force (4-1). He even rides a live longshot in Prophet’s Cat (20-1) in Race 7. All of this precedes (potentially) his most lucrative mount of the day, WAKE FOREST, in the Man o’ War.

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