2024 Matt Winn Stakes Belmont at Saratoga - Analysis, picks, and predictions

Pick Pony |June 8, 2024, 11:18 p.m.

About the Matt Winn Stakes

The Matt Winn Stakes is typically held in mid-June, but in 2020, it was rescheduled to mid-May. The race was first run in 2002 to honor Col. Matt Winn, who was the president and general manager of Churchill Downs from 1902 to 1949 and played a significant role in establishing the Kentucky Derby as a premier race. Winn, often referred to as “Mr. Derby,” is credited with elevating the Kentucky Derby to a top-tier event in American sports. The inaugural race covered a distance of six furlongs.

Post Triple-Crown start with a bang

The post-Triple Crown season starts with a bang at Churchill Downs. Held the day after the Triple Crown comes to an end with the running of the Belmont Stakes, the Matt Winn stakes are run over 1 1/16 miles on the dirt track at Saratoga. This is a Grade III race with a $400,000 purse and is restricted to three-year-olds.

The Matt Winn Stakes are considered a lead-in to several regional summer derbies.

2024 Matt Winn Stakes entries, picks, and predictions

Northern Flame

Northern Flame has decent speed, which is trending up and towards a peak in his cycle, off a very fast early pace that is also trending up. In most other areas, he’s only slightly above average. Even his works are average. Given all this averageness, we have to ask - what happened in his last two races where he finished nearly last in both? And that’s where the problems with Northern Flame begin.

Northern Flame’s speed in his prior two races was well below normal. But we’ve seen this before with him. He’s consistently raced on dirt, at a mile-like distance, with the same jockey but demonstrates erratic speed changes, seemingly dependently solely on whether or not he feels like running that day. We did not have time to interview him before the race to see what his mood was, so we were forced to toss him. He’ll finish slightly out of the money, somewhere around 5th (or last if he’s in a cranky mood).

Who Dey

Who Dey finished a head behind Nash in the Pat Day Mile (G2). He’s one of the fastest horses in this race, with only Nash and Rocketeer clocking better performances. He excels on fast tracks at this distance.

He normally runs at a top-notch late pace, but in his last three races, he’s turned in average early pace higher than anyone else in the group. The pace change seems unusual at first glance - until you notice how Thomas Drury is moving Who Dey through all sorts of configurations looking for for a good fit. He’s tried sprints. He’s tried routes. He’s run on firm, good, and sloppy surfaces. And he’s won on all of them. It took Drury four first-place wins to figure out that this is the class level Drury belongs in.

Why Dey has one of the highest in-the-money percentages of the group and track bias won’t impact Who Dey. He landed just one post inside the bias (posts 3-5). He won’t beat Nash but will surely give him a run for the money. For us, given the underlay, it really won’t matter.

Scatify

Scatify ships from Santa Anita for the Matt Winn Stakes. Her latest works have been sharp, and Jose Ortiz in the irons is a big plus. He’s 75% in the money on fast dirt and 45% ITM overall for this year.

Scatify’s speed is trending flat, if not declining. Her average speed falls about the middle of this pack, but her speed average for the last three races is dead last. That’s an alarming signal that proves to us this three-year-old colt belongs back in sprint races. Toss.

West Saratoga

The popular West Saratoga was a Kentucky Derby (G1) longshot but is the lone G1 winner in this group. Why the popularity? We have no idea. Neither JL Castanon in the saddle nor Larry Demeritte behind the wheel is enough to get us excited about him.

His works haven’t been particularly sharp although his speed is trending higher with AI predicting a bounce up in this race. But even a bounce upward in speed, landing maybe around his best run ever, still doesn’t put him in the same class as Nash or Rocketeer and would just barely match Who Dey’s average speed.

We can hear the boos building up even now, but here we go. Toss.

Rocketeer

Something’s off with Rocketeer. This will be his second start after a nearly two-month layout. Before that, he was off the course for more than five months. And he’s only raced a total of two races in his career. Still, Brad Cox’s three-year-old colt (his second entry in this race) has earned $68k in just two runs.

Speaking of Brad Cox, it’s clear he’s been working hard to condition Rocketeer for the longer-distance route. We’re guessing that if Rocketeer doesn’t show us something in this race, it’s back to sprint distances for him. That may not happen, though, because we feel Rocketeer is indeed going to show us he can hang with the big boys. In fact, we’re putting him in the Show slot but he could take home the gold. Watch the overlay.

Nash

Godolphin’s Nash is the top speed in this race, a tad bit faster than Rocketeer and Who Dey, and has the second-best speed on dirt. He also has the best speed at this distance and yes, has the highest prime power rating. He’s never finished outside the top three in seven starts. It’s pretty clear who the favorite will be. But is Nash all he’s cracked up to be?

Nash finished second in the Pat Day Mile (G2), just behind Seize the Grey, who went on to win the Preakness (G1). This race will mark his return to two-turns, which may benefit him because…

Nash’s speed is on a slight decline and is erratic at times. If anyone can straighten this out, it’s Brad Cox, the top trainer in this race (who also has Rocketeer in this round). His works look like they have peaked and his early speed in his last outing was stellar.

Track bias won’t impact Nash. He landed just one post outside the bias (posts 3-5). And the decline in speed is concerning but AI is predicting a bounce up in this race. If that occurs, he’ll take the in over Why Dey. If not, he could even finish out of the money. There will be no overlay so it won’t matter either way.

Society Man

Danny Gargan’s Society Man was another Kentucky Derby (G1) runner, albeit a longshot bet, and a Wood Memorial runner-up. He finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby after taking an unusually wide jaunt to get to the finish line. Still, that second-place finish at the Wood Memorial is an eye-opener. Unfortunately, it’s the only really good race Society Man has ever run. But man, was it ever good, enough to give him the highest speed figure of any horse running. Yes, it was even higher than Nash’s best. And it came after he showed two prior improvements in speed. Another improvement, and he could blow this field away. Given the overlay, this might be the one to make some money.

Despite the Kentucky Derby finish, which skews the trends and blasts his odds through the roof, his speed numbers have been rising. So have his E1 and E2 pace figures. His average early pace is the highest in the group, but his average late pace is the lowest. All said, ignore the Kentucky Derby performance and assume his speed once again improves, he could steal this thing from Nash. For that reason, we’re placing him 4th but leaving the door open for any ITM bet that produces a good overlay. He does have a shot at this, but nobody seems to notice.

Mighty Message

Thomas Amoss’ Might Message is coming off a win in an OC $100,000 race at Ocean Park that had significantly less talent than this race. His latest works have been sharp, and his speed is on a consistently rising slope. Even his pace numbers, early and late, are on the rise. But none of that helps when your average speed is the lowest in the race, and even your best run ever is only a tiny step ahead of Luna Tap. He’s simply outclassed here. Toss.

Next Level

It’s been a while since Next Level won a race. In fact, he’s only won a single race - when he broke his maiden. But don’t toss in the towel just yet. Next Level’s speed is trending positive, an important development for the runner whose speed lands him in about the middle of the runners. He clocked his best speed just weeks ago, dishing out the second-best speed rating in this race.
His works have been erratic lately, but likely nothing to worry about given his performance at Churchill Downs last month when he took third in a race that featured only slightly less class than those he will face today. Keith Desormeaux is bouncing Next Level’s works between conditioning runs and speed workouts.

Assuming we see another good performance from him, he’ll finish a few spots out of the money.

Luna Tap

With only a single race in her repertoire and the slowest average speed in the lineup, could Luna Tap surprise us? Indeed he could - but it’s way too early to tell. Toss.