There’s another unseasonably warm afternoon upcoming in Kentucky, with high temperatures in the lower 80’s. The weather pattern will shift prior to tomorrow’s card. The featured race today is the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes, giving three year olds and up a chance to run for $300K when going 12 furlongs on the turf course. First post for the Friday the 13th program is the usual 1:00 (ET).
I’ll be covering this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|1||2||2||6,8||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||9||1,7,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||7||3,5,7,14||DBL, PK3, PK6, All-Turf PK3|
|6||1||1,2||6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||9||3,8,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The day starts with a very tough $20K N2L claiming race at nine furlongs. I’m not sold on the favorite, Sound Doctrine (#5), who was claimed for $50K two starts ago and has never raced farther than seven furlongs. Punctuality (#2) faced a similar type of field last out at Churchill. The early pace was solid and he was stalking the leaders from third most of the way around the track. He was beaten by a superior horse that had the better trip, but the margin of victory was a little bit deceiving, as the horse who crossed the wire second came in and interfered with both him and another horse. I thought the effort was good enough to be competitive with this field. Others may have a higher ceiling, but in a race where there are several red flags and question marks, I’ll side with his consistency. Oneparticulrharbor (#6) ships in from Horseshoe Indianapolis after a dull effort on the turf. He’s a bit of a grinder, a style which might play well at this distance. I expect him to be overlooked in this race, while coming in from a lesser circuit, but I think his numbers stack up with this group and the nine furlongs might be the equalizer. Apollo Rising (#8) hasn’t raced since July and, like the favorite, he was also claimed for $50K in the not-so-distant past. He did run well on this course last spring when his number was put up via DQ. I don’t love him at short odds, but unlike the favorite, we know he can handle two turns.
Two year olds go six furlongs in a $50K maiden claiming contest. Robertino Diodoro sent out Debt Paid (#9) for his second career start. He was competitive at this level at Churchill when he debuted last month at this same distance. Blinkers go on and Cristian Torres, who won a ton of races for Diodoro at Oaklawn last season, retains the mount. He makes a lot of sense in this one. Mr. Big Stuff (#1) draws the rail for his debut for Michael Puhich. He’s sired by Numaany, who gets 12% debut winners, most of which are based in Canada. The dam was a stakes winner at Hastings as well and her first foal to race was competitive in his first few starts as a two year old. Puhich has good numbers with horses debuting in maiden claiming races, which makes him worth a look, especially at longer odds. Doug O’Neill sends out Kobe W (#7) for the second time this afternoon. He debuted on the turf in maiden special weight company at Ellis last out where he was dull after a wide journey. He cuts back to a dirt sprint for his second start, while also dropping in class. His dam was a winner on turf and dirt, but her best runners have been dirt sprinters.
Fillies and mares travel seven furlongs in this $10K starter allowance race. The two short prices in this race are Samarita (#7) and Invaluable (#8). Samarita has ripped off a five race winning streak, beating up on starter allowance foes at Hawthorne and Fanduel, all while running shorter distances. While she looks like a horse that could get the distance, she’s facing tougher foes and her only two races at longer than six furlongs were disasters. Invaluable on the other hand is 4-7 at this seven furlong distance. She was a winner at this condition and distance when it was carded in the spring. She was claimed for $25K at Churchill with a race like this in mind by Joe Sharp. Ifihadachance (#3) is shipping in from Parx for Michael Pino. She’s not in the best form right now, however, she’s a seven year old mare that still has won five of ten starts this year. She likes to be on the front end, and she won’t have to deal with a sloppy course, like she did last out. Starter allowance races at Parx can get very salty, so she is battle tested. She is more appealing than others in this
All killer, no filler in this five horse optional $125K claiming/N2X allowance race for three year olds. We saw Little Prankster win her third straight race yesterday at this level, clearing her third straight condition. Brad Cox is asking Elite Forces (#3) to do the same in this compact field. I think he has the edge, as the other four horses have really only won races when they’re on the lead. He stalked and pounced with a prolonged drive to clear the N1X condition last time out at Ellis. He’s making his third career start, so this should be another plus effort for this son of American Freedom. Blue Light (#5) was inexplicably bad at this level last out at Churchill, however, he has rebounded from poor efforts in the past. He was second on this course back in April and I don’t think this race is as deep as his last.
The All-Turf Pick-3 starts off with a nine furlong maiden special weight race for three year olds and up. Auden (#7) is a well-bred Juddmonte homebred that is looking to improve in his second start. Mott campaigned his Grade 2 winning dam, Filimbi, and she has produced a few useful horses. He debuted at Kentucky Downs and had some issues after the start, and then came wide. I think that was an educational experience and now Mott hands the reins to John Velasquez, who has been riding very well at this meet. Smart Uncle (#3) is the favorite in this race for Jonathon Thomas, who won with his first starter at the meet the other day. He was close when going 11 furlongs at the Spa this summer, coming up just short. Augustin Stables bred him to be a good one, as her grand dam was the champion, Forever Together. Others might be a bit short at this distance, but that won’t be a worry with him. Raise High (#5) is another second time starter that is eligible to improve at this level. The dam hasn’t had a ton of success with her runners, but I liked that this one was moving well late on debut. Luis Saez taking the mount for Victoria Oliver is a plus. Utah Beach (#14) is going to need some defections to participate, but if he does get to run, he’s definitely a major player in this race. He ran into two good horses that drew off to win by open lengths in his first two starts. Blinkers come off and he’s been gelded since his last start. He’ll need to work out a trip, because he’ll likely be stuck in post 12 if he does go, but he’ll have the length of the stretch to tuck in somewhere early.
The Late Pick-5 gets under way with an open $16K claiming race. Some runners haven’t won in a while, so I don’t want to take too short of a price on anyone. Code Runner (#1) is intriguing to me at 15-1 on the morning line. He was a longshot that didn’t run a step in the Brooklyn three starts ago. Caio Caramori had him on the turf in the last two starts where he didn’t run that well either. He was a dominating winner on this course in the fall and his two turn dirt form stacks up very favorably with this group. 15-1 feels fair because it’s fair to ask if he can still be that horse, but at those odds, I’ll wager he can be. Huge Bigly (#2) runs for Robert Falcone, who has horses running all over the place today. He was claimed for $25K at Saratoga this summer and went to the sidelines for a little while. Falcone has had great numbers first off the claim this year and these mini-layoffs were working well for him throughout the summer at Monmouth. I think this six year old still has some gas in the tank and I expect him to fire his best shot today. My Bariley (#6) is one that will likely be a little too short of a price for my liking, but his consistency matters in a race where there are plenty of question marks. He hasn’t won since March of 2022 in an off the turf race at the Fair Grounds. He’s a nine year old gelding that isn’t as quick as he used to be, but he’s still fast enough to contend at this level.
The Late Pick-4 begins with a $140K conditioned allowance race, which definitely is stakes quality. The morning line favorite, Highestdistinction (#5) won a Grade 3 race in his last start and has ripped off three straight wins for Lindsay Schultz. Jairo Rendon could be riding several horses at the Meadowlands tonight, but he opts to come out here to take a swing on a nice horse like this before returning home to Colombia over the winter. He’s definitely a player in this race, and I think his last two races stack up with anyone in this field. However, I do wonder if he’s peaked. He’s been too good not to use, but I’ll try Ocean Atlantique (#9) on top here. He’s coming off a big effort at Kentucky Downs in his last start, losing in a narrow photo. He had two poor efforts in New York prior to that, but it looks like Maker figured out what was ailing him. I’m looking for a strong follow up effort from his last start today. King Vega (#8) is third off the layoff for Graham Motion today. He did the heavy lifting on the front end in the Baltimore Washington Turf Cup, the race that Highestdistinction won. He was very good on this course last fall and he should be primed for one of his better efforts today.
Two year old fillies are going 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track in this maiden special weight race. Brad Cox might be flying under the radar with Enigmatic (#2), making her second career start. She debuted at Kentucky Downs and went to the front in the one mile race. She led until the top of the stretch and faltered late as they went uphill toward the wire, finishing 4th, beaten seven lengths. I think that race should do a lot for her stamina as she transitions to the main track. She certainly could have been entered in one of the maiden allowance races on the turf earlier in the week, but Cox opted for this spot. She draws well and could be tough to deal with today. Genetics (#4) came close to pairing her Beyers in a pair of seven furlong maiden allowances at Saratoga. She stretches out in her third career start, which as a daughter of Tapit, is probably what she wants to do. There’s already been a winner from her last race at Saratoga, where things really didn’t go her way. She cost her owners over a half million dollars, so expectations are there. Arijana’s Pearl (#6) debuted at Delaware for Motion in a six furlong sprint there. That wasn’t a particularly fast race, but she also feels like a horse that wants to go long. That was a race designed to educate as opposed to win, and she still was good enough to be second. This is a tough group, but I think she’ll be in the mix.
Race 9, The Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes:
There’s a lot of familiar faces in this Grade 3 race, which drew an overflow field of 14. Names like Red Knight (#2) and Channel Maker (#7) are looking for yet another graded stakes win in their nine year old season. Red Knight scored in the Grade 1 Man O’ War in May and Channel Maker was the best in the Grade 2 Bowling Green at the Spa in July. Both runners are easy to root for, but I think the presence of Tawny Port (#5) greatly hinders Channel Maker’s chances in this one, as both are best when they’re loping along on an uncontested lead. I liked Cellist (#6) is a runner that might be able to get the first run on both of them in this spot. I don’t see these experienced runners engaging in a cutthroat duel, but I do think they’ll have to set an honest pace. Cellist has enough tactical speed to stay within range in the early stages of this one. His best races come when he’s going longer, so I’ll look past his below average effort when going 1 mile and 1/16 last out in allowance company. He was the winner of the Grade 3 Louisville Stakes last year and he was less than two lengths behind the winner in a wild finish in this race last year. Bold Act (#3) makes the trip from Europe for Charles Appleby. He’s won with 50% of his runners racing in North America for the first time since 2022, so I think he’s got this North America shipping routine down. You’re seeing more average European runners ship here in order to take a swing in graded stakes races over here, and it’s definitely adding more intrigue to some of these races. Jaime Spencer makes the trip over, and when I initially saw this, I was under the assumption they’d be entering a filly in the QEII Cup on Saturday. However, that is not the case, and this race is the reason this horse is in town. Highest Honors (#1) drew Post 12 in this race last year and he wound up farther off the lead than I think he wanted to be. He still closed with a lot of interest to get into 3rd that day. He’s a seven year old for Chad Brown that is still in search of his first graded stakes race, and his form might have dipped a bit this season. I still think he has some life in him though, and he’s another one with a live shot in this wide open race. Red Knight is one that I’ll be using as a saver because I do think the pace will be a little more lively than it was in this race last year when they went 10 furlongs in a pedestrian 2:05 flat. That’s not a recipe for success for him, and he definitely ran a better race in the Elkhorn at this distance in the spring.
$20K claimers going 6 and ½ furlongs will close the out the afternoon. Eleven horses are entered in this race coming in from nine different tracks (Penn National, Fanduel Racing, Del Mar, Churchill, Horseshoe Indianapolis, Ellis Park, Prairie Meadows, Oaklawn Park, and Aqueduct). It’s a little odd that there’s a Kitten’s Joy horse that might be best when sprinting on the dirt, but that’s the case with Palace Kitten (#10) for Robertino Diodoro. He was re-claimed by Diodoro after losing him for $25K two starts back. He ran into a pair of horses that put up massive efforts in the slop at Ellis two back. Maker claimed him in hopes that he might be a horse that would excel on the grass for him. However, he was a dull 6th in that race and Diodoro scooped him right back up. He was a patient winner three back at Ellis and I think he makes a lot of sense here. Herd Immunity (#4) was beaten one length when going seven furlongs with $16K claimers at Churchill last month. He has won seven times in 24 career starts. He can win on the front end like he did at this distance at Lone Star last year, however, he ran very well last time out when coming from off the pace. Nepotism (#5) is a horse for course, winning both starts on this oval. Asmussen claimed him three back and ironically gives the reins to his son. He went off form for a bit after a strong 2022, but his last few starts suggest that he might be turning things around.
How to Read the Picks-Grid:
This grid has become my favorite tool for helping to handicap a race card in advance. Keep in mind that these designations for me are flexible and may change depending on how the value in the betting market shifts leading up to post time.
The “Top Pick” Column is fairly self-explanatory, meaning that it’s the horse that I think will win the race.
The “A” Column is reserved for the horses that I feel have the best chances of winning. The more horses that are in this column per race, the more wide open I think the race might be. For multi-race wagers, these horses will be on the bulk of my tickets. If I’m betting on the vertical wagers (exactas, trifectas, superfectas), these horses would likely be candidates to be keyed on top.
The “B” Column are horses that I think have a chance of winning, but I don’t like them as much as the runners on the A line. If I put a morning line favorite in this column, I’m trying to find ways to beat them. For me, favorites on the B line typically will either be used underneath in the vertical exotics, or perhaps not at all. They’ll typically be used on some back up tickets in the multi-race wagers, especially in races where the other options aren’t as strong. I might also relegate a horse to the B line if I don’t think there’s good value on that horse with their morning line odds or how I think the race will be bet. For example, If I think a horse should be closer to 5-1, and their morning line odds are 3-1, he might start on the B line for me. If the betting public moves the line closer to the odds that I feel are fair, and I like the horse’s chances, I could move them up when I’m playing the race.
The “C” Column is reserved as a deep backup for me. Again, if a favorite is on the C line, that’s me telling you that I don’t like them that much in this race. I definitely won’t be using them on top in any vertical wager, as I’ll be trying to beat them with most of my tickets. Sometimes this spot will be reserved for a crazy longshot that checks one of the boxes I might be looking for when playing horses at long odds.