Vekoma can capture Carter Handicap

The Grade I, $250,000 Carter Handicap puts sprinters in the spotlight this Saturday at Belmont Park. The seven-furlong affair, Race 9 on an 11-race program, lured 11 talented runners to the gate. Post time for the prestigious Carter Handicap is 5:36 p.m. ET.

#11 VEKOMA (7-2) aced his comeback race in the seven-furlong Sir Shackleton Stakes down at Gulfstream last time out. He hadn’t started since finishing off the board in the 2019 Kentucky Derby. But VEKOMA had won three of his first four races prior to the “Run for the Roses,” including the Grade II Blue Grass, so he’s classy enough to contend in the Carter. The George Weaver trainee is working well for this and gets Javier Castellano aboard.

#5 NETWORK EFFECT (8-1) could be the value of the race if his morning-line odds hold. Stakes-placed twice at two, NETWORK EFFECT broke through for a score against state-breds in the Big Drama in his second start at four when last seen. The always-dangerous Chad Brown sends this son of Mark Valeski postward with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. 

#1 FIRENZE FIRE (7-2) has won three straight, including the Grade III General George at this distance last time out, but switches trainers from apparent cheater Jason Servis to Kelly Breen. He’s won three times from five starts on this oval and shows a bullet work leading up to the Carter, but Ortiz jumping off is a negative, even as Manny Franco climbs aboard. FIRENZE FIRE is best used underneath as he may not care for the rail draw.

#2 PERFORMER (3-1, morning-line favorite) progressed nicely through the ranks from June to November of last year, culminating with a fourth consecutive score in the Grade III Discovery. He’s been working well for his return and is 2-for-2 at Belmont, but his being the favorite is questionable as some of his rivals have much stronger résumés. It would not be shocking if PERFORMER is merely using the Carter as a springboard to something like the Met Mile or the Stephen Foster going longer.

The play: $4 exacta 11/1,5, $2 win 5 ($10)

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