Ballagh Rocks should roll to Poker repeat

The Grade III, $300,000 Poker Stakes is the Father’s Day feature at Belmont Park. A field of eight has assembled for this one-mile turf challenge, including defending champ BALLAGH ROCKS and multiple Grade I winner OSCAR PERFORMANCE. The Poker, Race 9 of 10 on the day, goes off at 5:50 p.m. EST. In addition to watching and wagering, be sure to play along in FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!

#3 OSCAR PERFORMANCE (5-2, morning-line favorite) seems vulnerable in his first start since November. He has a win in his only start at exactly one mile but seems to prefer going longer. He’ll also have company early in the form of speed merchants #6 BLACK TIDE and #7 VOODOO SONG. Due to these circumstances, we’ll look elsewhere for a winner.

#4 BALLAGH ROCKS (3-1) stands to benefit from a projected pace duel in the Poker. He’s 0-for-4 since taking last year’s renewal of this race but faced Grade I competition each time and hit the board in three of those four tries. He owns some of the best speed figures in this field and should get a great setup under Luis Saez.

#1 FORCE THE PASS (5-1) was off for well over a year but managed to take Monmouth’s Cliff Hanger Stakes last time out. Prior to that, his most recent win occurred in the 2015 Belmont Derby. FORCE THE PASS has shown an affinity for the one-mile voyage in his career, accumulating eight exacta finishes in 11 starts, including a 2015 Penn Mile win and a runner-up finish in the 2016 running of the Poker Stakes. Jose Lezcano has the call.

#8 FIRE AWAY (4-1), last seen taking the rained-off Dixie Stakes on Preakness day, has won two of his last three on turf but has never won a graded stake on the grass. He’s shown some prowess on this course in the past though, posting a 9-2-3-2 record. Manny Franco maintains the assignment.

The play: $10 win 4

DFJ analysis: Sunday’s card at Belmont features several wide-open races, so volume of mounts should be considered more strongly than usual. Luis Saez fits the bill, as he rides in nine of the day’s 10 races. That includes his mount in the Poker Stakes on BALLAGH ROCKS.

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