Belmont Stakes, Santa Margarita Headline Busy Horse Racing Weekend

Written By Dave Bontempo on June 8, 2023 - Last Updated on June 9, 2023
Two big races, Santa Margarita and Belmont Stakes, headline a big weekend for horse racing, from

This weekend is a big one in the horse racing world. On one side of the country, it’s Bob Baffert and a California Dreamin’ connection to the biggest stage in the industry, Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.

Baffert’s National Treasure, who won the Preakness Stakes back on May 20, is one of the favorites in this 1 1–2-mile showcase. The eyes of California will be on him, along with jockeys and other horses, for the Triple Crown finale.

On the other side of the country, California bettors will be right here, at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, for a weekend of live racing. Gamblers can access the action via all the usual California horse racing apps or in person at the Arcadia facility.

Let’s break down all of the betting info you need to know for both races.

Multiple races on deck

This weekend, Friday has an eight-race card starting at 1 p.m. Saturday has a blockbuster lineup with a total of 10 races and a 1 p.m. first post. Highlights include the $200,000 Santa Margarita Stakes and the $100,000 Honeymoon Turf. Sunday offers a nine-race package including the $100,000 Cinema Star Stakes.

Let’s take a closer look at Saturday. Check out this four-event package in the middle of the card.

Race 4 features the $200,000 Santa Margarita. This is 1 1-8 miles on the dirt and has a short field of five. Bettors will try to nail one good win bet payout and perhaps one exacta pairing.

Monster field sizes follow in the fifth and sixth with 12 and 14 horses respectively. This is a breeding ground for upsets and 10-cent trifecta and superfecta keys.

The seventh has a field of eight for the 1 1–8-mile Honeymoon Turf, worth $100,000.

This will also go off right around the time of the Belmont Stakes. Bettors may have to get this wager in a little early if they want to focus on the Belmont, which has listed its post time an anywhere between 3:50 and 4:02 p.m. PST. The Honeymoon has a 4 p.m. post.

A closer look at the Santa Margarita

When it comes to the big race of the weekend, the Santa Margarita, one story line to keep an eye on is what kind of betting odds gamblers will obtain with highly-regarded Adare Manor. She trounced the field in the $200,000 Santa Maria in April and opposes two of those graduates, Kirstenbosch and Smoothlikebuttah, in this one.

The other story line is the rematch between Adare Manor and Desert Dawn, who nipped her in a thrilling Santa Anita Oaks stretch duel last year. Desert Dawn prevailed at 14-1, taking advantage of a speed duel that softened Adare Manor up.

The perception since then is that Adare Manor has improved, while Desert Dawn has not. We will find out.

This is the field from the rail out:

Desert Dawn

Still trying to get over the top in a big race. Wasn’t bet much in the $500,000 La Troienne, going off at 28-1 and finishing a distant fifth. Drops to $200,000 in a circuit for which she’s knocked on the door, getting second in the Hirsch and Torrey Pines stakes at Del Mar last year.

Will she benefit from another horse engaging Adare Manor in a speed duel this time? Tiz A Macho Girl comes out of a sprint race and would be the most likely.

Adare Manor

Slumped for a while last year. During that downturn, she was nipped by Desert Dawn. But the last two victories have been ultra-impressive.

She toyed with the field in winning the Santa Maria. Took the lead from the start and avoided a duel. It looked so easy that Santa Anita track announcer Frank Mirahmadi said jockey Juan Hernandez was “motionless,” meaning he did not even have to urge the horse.

Will be short price for sure.


No match in the Santa Maria. Hard to envision a scenario by which she reverses form on Adare Manor.

Tiz a Macho Girl

Comes out of two sprint races and could be naturally inclined to push the pace. Came off a nice win in the Bell of the Ball Stakes at Turf Paradise, but that was only for $39,000. This is a major step up.


Throws in a good one from time to time, like in the La Canada earlier this year, but the last matchup with Adare Manor does not inspire confidence.

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Baffert’s East coast objective

While Baffert’s horse will be heavily favored in the Santa Margarita, he’ll be trying to bring home the big one at the Belmont.

National Treasure is well-known on the California circuit. He was the scratched favorite in the San Felipe at Santa Anita and then a beaten fourth to Practical Move in the Santa Anita Derby.

But Baffert’s horse was improving and he triumphed in a gut-wrenching Preakness Stakes. That gave Baffert a record eight Preakness titles. The Hall of Fame trainer also has three Belmont triumphs with Point Given in 2001, American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018. American Pharoah and Justify capped Triple Crown sweeps at the Belmont.

At last count, Baffert had 65 graded stakes on the New York circuit, starting with Forestry in the Grade 2 Dwyer in 1999.

Fans of California horse racing will see that Baffert isn’t the only California luminary on this card.

Trying to beat him will be Flavien Prat, who has won nine riding titles at Santa Anita. Prat, one of California’s most popular jockeys, has done an excellent job aboard Angel of Empire, one of the Belmont Stakes favorites. He piloted Angel of Empire to two Derby prep wins and then a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Angel of Empire has the highest Beyer Speed Figure, 104, entering this race. He is figuring to charge at Baffert’s horse down the lane.

ALSO READ: Sports Betting vs. Pari-Mutuel Betting In California: What’s The Difference?

Other horse racing news

Geaux Rocket Ride, forced to miss the Santa Anita Derby because of illness, prevailed as expected in the $100,000 Affirmed Stakes last weekend. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella says that Geaux Rocket Ride will be pointed to the July 22 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

There had been Kentucky Derby aspirations for Geaux Rocket Ride, who finished a game second to Practical Move in the San Felipe, but missing the Santa Anita Derby re-charted his course. 

Baffert, meanwhile, reported that Taiba, who won the Santa Anita and Pennsylvania Derby’s last year, is not quite at top form. Taiba will skip the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont and return to the Del Mar circuit this summer.

Arabian Lion, who had been considered possible for the Belmont, will instead run in the Woody Stephens.

Takeaways from last weekend: The skill of the game

Gamblers saw class assert itself with victories by top horses like Window Shopping on Saturday and Geaux Rocket Ride on Sunday. They even saw a rare cavalcade of favorites on Sunday, which appeals to chalk bettors who love to play the win line.

But there was also a sense of majesty on Saturday that can simply be savored by anyone who loves the sport.

Picture the last race, 1 mile on the turf for $39,000 and a big field. The ultimate winners began sweeping through the field, one by one, starting from the back of the pack. It set up a cavalry charge through the stretch by several potential winners.

And after they barreled to the wire, the 1-mile run was too close to call. Hembree, a 13-1 shot with Edwin Maldonado, surged to capture Comradery, 8-1, in the final stride.

I had to marvel at how Maldonado could time a surge that would last a quarter of a mile through the stretch and get up by a nostril (not even a nose) at the wire. The skill required for that type of precision is remarkable. From start to finish, the race was exceptional.

Not to mention the payout. The $2 exacta paid $232 and the $1 trifecta with 6-1 overdue third paid $751.

What needed to happen was Moody Jim, the 4-5 favorite, running out of the top three. He did, finishing fourth. Anyone who left Moody Jim off the ticket had to go against leading rider Juan Hernandez, thus a tip of the hat for anyone who did.

Good luck with your bets this weekend!

Photo by AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is a writer for PlayCA, and has covered the horse racing and boxing industry extensively since the 1980s. He was an award-winning writer at the Press of Atlantic City. As a broadcaster, he has won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting, issued by the Boxing Writers Association of America. He has called major fights for HBO, ESPN, Showtime, and other networks since the 1980s. He is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Dave shifted gears to cover the emerging legalized sports-betting industry in 2018. He now serves as the go-to authority on horse race betting across multiple websites, including PlayCA and California Casinos.

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