Zulu Alpha heads competitive Man o’ War field

The first Grade I of the spring/summer meet at Belmont Park, the Man o’ War, is set for this Saturday. The 1 3/8-mile turf event pits a field of nine in pursuit of a $700,000 purse. Post time for the Man o’ War, Race 10 on a stakes-laden 11-race program, is 6:24 p.m. ET. Betting analysis is below, and undercard picks are available here.

#2 ZULU ALPHA (4-1) was handed just the second loss in his last six starts in the Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland last time out. He made a middle move to challenge for the lead under Jose Ortiz and ultimately relented in deep stretch. Still, it was a solid effort by ZULU ALPHA to finish third, within a length of victor Bigger Picture.

He should get plenty of pace to work with as both #3 VILLAGE KING (15-1) and #7 EPICAL (10-1) typically vie for early command in their starts. ZULU ALPHA could also get some help from stablemate #9 KULIN ROCK (20-1), who switches to aggressive pilot Kendrick Carmouche and has demonstrated good tactical speed in recent efforts but is too slow on paper to really compete with these. Javier Castellano takes the reins on ZULU ALPHA in the Man o’ War. If he runs back to his efforts at Gulfstream from earlier this year (wins in the Mac Diarmida and W.L. McKnight), ZULU ALPHA will certainly have a say in the lane.

#5 MAGIC WAND (3-1) is the lone filly in the Man o’ War field. The Aiden O’Brien trainee is 0-for-2 in the states but was good enough to be second in two Group 1 races in France last fall. Bettors should probably forgive her fifth-place performance in the Dubai Sheema Classic, a much harder spot than this despite the identical Group/Grade I stature. Wayne Lordan flies in for the call.

#6 FOCUS GROUP (5-2, morning-line favorite) showed no signs of rust when he took the Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream off a five-month layoff last time out. He’s 2-for-2 at the sometimes-tricky 1 3/8-mile Man o’ War distance. Irad Ortiz Jr. pilots the deep-closing Chad Brown trainee. FOCUS GROUP should benefit from the aforementioned potential pace duel.

The play: $2 trifecta box 2/5/6 ($12)

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