It’s opening day at Monmouth Park, “The Shore’s Greatest Stretch”, in Oceanport, New Jersey. The meet gets underway with a ten race program, and a new post time, 12:40 (ET). The featured race of the day is the Long Branch Stakes for three year olds going 1 mile and 70 yards. This race will kick off the local road to the signature race of the meet, the Grade 1 Haskell Stakes on July 22nd. A field of 8 is scheduled to go to post at 4:05 (ET). The perennial leading rider, Paco Lopez, is back again to defend his title. Claudio Gonzalez was the leading trainer in 2022, and he’ll start the meet off with horses entered in the first, third, and seventh races.
I’ll be covering the Monmouth Park meet for the third consecutive year on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
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The meet gets started with an interesting optional $16K claiming/N1X allowance sprint. I think this race sets up nicely for Rod Two Rod (#4), who will get the services of Paco Lopez. He was a decent third at this level, while facing a stronger group, here last season for his only local start. He ran well first off the Jorge Delgado claim last time out, despite a less than ideal start. He took a while to settle after the awkward start, but he was moving with purpose while going very wide on the turn, getting up to be third. Both the winner and the runner up of that race came back to win in their subsequent starts. I think there’s plenty of early speed signed on here, which should suit him well. There’s a lot of speed signed on here, but Lohengrin Two (#3) might be the speed of the speed. Apprentice Madison Oliver will be making her local debut, and she’s ridden this speedball with confidence in the past. She rode him three times at Aqueduct, winning twice and finishing second another time. Early in the meet last season, the track was not as kind to front end speed, so that is something to keep an eye on in this race, as a gauge for future races on the card. Forty Stripes (#2) is a bit of a crazy longshot in this race, but my angle with him is that he’s returning to his favorite course. He’s started 16 times in his career, 6 of which have been on this oval. He has never hit the board in his ten starts outside of New Jersey, but he’s two for six here, with a pair of second place finishes as well. There’s no denying that his last three starts were awful, but his trainer, Anthony Foglia, did win with a 41-1 at this meet last year, a horse that he took over training for the first time. I expect him to be overlooked, and I think he might be better suited for lesser competition, however, at long odds, he might be worth taking a small flyer on, especially if he looks good on the track.
This $10K maiden claiming route feels like it will be a war of attrition. Brandon’s Smile (#8) makes his third career start after losing by combined total of 24 lengths in his first two starts. He’s taking a small drop in class for his second start off the layoff and the third try in his career. First time Lasix has been a solid angle for Juan Avila. I don’t love horses that are plummeting to the bottom in their second starts, especially when they were purchased for considerably more at auction. However, that’s where we’re at with both Vegas Playboy (#1) and Excess Demand (#6). I prefer Vegas Playboy of the duo, as he’ll be making his first dirt start today. He showed noting on the grass at Tampa on debut, however Gregory Sacco horses typically run better after getting a start under their belts. I’ll forgive the poor effort on grass, as I do see her as being better suited for dirt racing. Excess Diamond is a total head-scratcher to me. He’s a half to Rockefeller, and he’s foaled by the multiple graded stakes winning mare, Dance to Bristol. Chad Brown brought this colt, whose connections paid $400K for him, to Parx for his debut, which was not an encouraging sign. He was hard ridden to keep up early and he had nothing late. My gut tells me that this horse will have nothing, however, there’s not a ton of depth to this field, which will force me to cover with her.
Fillies and mares will go 1 mile and 70 yards in this conditioned $30K claiming race. Lynn Ashby has trained a ton of horses at Delaware Park over the years. She doesn’t train much over the winter and has not started a horse yet in 2023. Linahasspecshoes (#3) broke her maiden for Ashby in her last start in October at Delaware, and she’s been working there for the last month. I find it interesting that she is bringing this filly to Monmouth, where she has not started a horse in over five years. That tells me that she must feel that this horse is ready to race off the layoff. She’s sired by The Big Beast out of a Langfuhr mare, so I’d think she’d be better at one turn than two, however, her lone route was her best career effort. She’s playable in a wide open race. Coal Mine (#4) is a three year old filly, and the only two-time winner in the field. She’s went off form for a bit, but her last effort suggested that she could be turning the corner and looking like the better version of herself that we saw last fall. Last year’s leading trainer, Claudio Gonzalez, saddles her and finally tries her at two turns today. Being sired by Mineshaft, I would think she can the trip. My Maggie Moo (#6) comes back fro, Florida for Patrick McBurney after a pair of dull efforts on turf and synthetic. Her main tracks starts here have been her best, so I do see her thriving on her home course. A little rain would be an added bonus for her, so if the track is less than fast, I would upgrade her chances.
There was rain in the forecast earlier in the week, but it looks like whatever precipitation that would be headed to the shore has dissipated. That’s a positive sign that the first turf race of the meet will remain on the grass. Open $12,500-$10,500 claimers will do the honors, going 1 mile and 1/16 out of the turf chute with the rail at 12 feet this afternoon. I’m going to try to get out of this race using only two runners, making Smile Bryan (#5) the pick in his local debut. Derek Ryan was the trainer of record for this gelding for his last two wins last year, both coming the Colonial Downs. He was claimed for $10K after his second score and he would go on to run three quality races against better fields at Laurel in the fall. When turf racing wrapped up, he was claimed for $5K out of a race on the dirt in Maryland, reuniting him with Ryan. His first two starts at Tampa weren’t great, but Paco Lopez sees fit to take this mount, who I think will give an honest effort today. Birds Eye View (#9) had some tough trips at this level on this course last season, however he was in very good form when he left New Jersey for Tampa Bay. He was a winner in his first start there last season, but has fallen out of form since then, while facing stronger fields. He was moving well late to get into 4th last out, while Daniel Centeno was riding him for the first time that day and he’ll follow him up the coast to ride him on the sod this afternoon.
I thought that this maiden special weight race that will wrap up the Win-Early Pick-5 was a tough race to gauge. I landed on She’s Awesome (#4), with Carol Cedeno riding for Steve Klesaris. Others might have a higher ceiling in this race, however, I think this daughter of Flatter is well-spotted to get that elusive first victory. There are several speed and fade types in this race and she’s pretty much the only horse that has shown the ability to stalk and pounce, when nearly graduating in December at Gulfstream. She’s been the runner up in four of her seven career tries, but I’ll hope that today will be her day. Coolcalm Collected (#6) makes her second career start after a solid 4th place finish at this level in March at Aqueduct. Tim Hills is a mainstay at this meet, so it’s not surprising that he waited for this spot to make her return. I do see the pace battle being a little more ambitious than it was in her debut, so I’ll be interested to see how Jairo Rendon handles that task. Spouty’s Girl (#3) should be a bit of a price in this race while making her second start off the layoff. She showed some early zip before backing out of the picture in her return at Gulfstream. Kelly Breen has good numbers with runners making their second start off a layoff and I thought he first local drill was sharp. Exhalation (#1) debuts for John Servis today, and has been installed as the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. Her dam, Belterra, was a debut winner, but none of her foals to race have been able to duplicate that feat. Paco Lopez taking the mount is a definite plus, however, she feels more like a saver play in this race to me.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $54 Ticket:
Without having knowledge of how the track is going to be playing, I found it hard to find a true single in this sequence. Rod Two Rod (#4, R1) is my lone A in the opening race, so if you’re paring down your ticket, I wouldn’t hate having him as a single.
The Late Pick-5 starts off with a state bred allowance race for fillies and mares, sprinting six furlongs. There’s a huge favorite, Girl Trouble (#4) that qualifies for this race based on the nature of the condition. She’s had a good amount of success while facing open company winning a pair of stakes races at Parx and finishing second in a stakes sprint at Aqueduct. Her races at Parx were dominant victories by open lengths. She tried two turns in a pair of stakes races where she wasn’t as effective. She’s able to face this overmatched field because she has not yet won a race (other than maiden or claiming) restricted to New Jersey breds. Many of the runners in this race are making their first starts off layoffs, and many of runners from those barns get better as the meet rolls on. I won’t be trying to beat her in this spot.
The Late Pick-4 starts off with a maiden allowance for three year olds and upward, going 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf. I like La Pachanga (#6) in this race, making her second career start on turf and her fourth career start overall. Shug McGaughey will have stalls at Monmouth this year and she’ll be his first runner of the meet. She broke well while settling in behind the dueling leaders. They tried to slow things down on the front end, as she advanced closer to the front end. When they turned for home, she was in the middle of three horses battling for the lead. She backed out a bit, finishing 5th that day, less than three lengths behind the winner. I see her taking a step forward in her second grass race, where she should be more fit for this assignment. Bollinger (#7) is a second time starter for Graham Motion that is worth paying attention to after an adventurous debut last month at Aqueduct. She was away last in a race where the early pace was not very strong. She moved up into a striking position between two rivals, but she had to back out of there and come with a wide run through the stretch. She finished sixth behind a 23-1 longshot that day, who was ridden by Jose Gomez. Gomez will get the assignment on La Pachanga and Paco Lopez will get the return call on Bollinger. What’s Good (#1) is one that I’ll be covering with in this race, getting back on the grass today for Kent Sweezy. Her game is trying to get the field to crawl on the front end, which is not ideal for this field. However, Her turf efforts at Gulfstream during the Championship Meet stack up favorably with this field
Race 8, The $100K Long Branch Stakes:
Part of the struggle with handicapping this race is trying to figure out how many of the eight runners will be going postward. I think Slip Mahoney (#1) is definitely live in this spot, but Brad Cox has him cross-entered in the Peter Pan at Belmont today. Ninetypercentmaddie (#7) is the more desirable runner that Butch Reid will be sending out, but there is no rider listed, so I’m wondering if Reid is going to start Didinger (#5) here and possibly send out Ninetypercentmaddie in the Sir Barton Stakes next weekend at Pimlico. Howgreatisnate (#4) was cross-entered at Gulfstream on Thursday, but he did defect from that race. Even if there are a few defections, many of these runners want to be forwardly placed, which should benefit Hayes Strike (#8), who drops in for some class relief after finishing 7th in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland last month. Ken McPeek and Samuel Marin won this race last year with Dash Attack, and they’re trying to repeat with this son of Connect. I thought his effort in the Private Terms in March at Laurel was very good, beating Ninetypercentmaddie on the wire. He bobbled slightly and was bumped when breaking in the Blue Grass. He found himself well off the pace in a race that wasn’t particularly fast in the early stages. He came through with a cent move along the rail to pass some runners and get into 7th. He wasn’t far behind Raise Cain, who ran fairly well in the Derby last weekend. I think he can beat this group today. Slip Mahoney is a major player if he opts to race here. He’s coming off a miserable trip in the Wood Memorial. He was jostled hard early and relegated to the back of the field. He was making some progress, but he seemed to idle a bit when going into the second turn. That was his first career try at two turns, and he was able to re-break a bit after he appeared to be going in the wrong direction. Brad Cox seems to be live with every runner at every racetrack he runs them at. After going off form in the Withers in February, Ninetypercentmaddie has responded with a pair of strong efforts in non-graded stakes races at Parx and Laurel. He was the easiest of winners in the City of Brotherly Love Stakes in March, and he was just nipped on the wire by Perform in the Frederico Tesio last month. He will need to prove that he can win races when he leaves the friendly confines of Parx, where he won all four of his career victories. If both of these runners opt out, I think Offaly Cool (#6) is an interesting longshot to upgrade. He tried two turns on the dirt for the first time in his career last month at Parx, where he was a handy winner. He isn’t as quick as some of the others from the gate, so he’ll need to be able to prove that he doesn’t need to be on the lead to win. However, I see his speed figures trending up, so there’s reason to believe that he can take another step forward when making his second career dirt start.
Overall, it’s been challenging to make a case for many on the deeper longshots on the program, however, I do think Kitten’s Collusion (#1) is an interesting runner in this N1X allowance race for fillies and mares on the turf. She’ll make her four year old debut this afternoon for Graham Motion, who is excellent with runners off long layoffs. She’ll be facing open company to start her four year old season after crossing the wire first in her last two races with Jersey breds on the grass. She’ll likely need to take a step forward, but that could be expected of her since she’s making her four year old debut today. On the opposite end of the starting gate is Now Yus Can’t Leave (#11) who is making her second start off a lengthy layoff today. She was a winner two starts back, in May of 2022, with starter allowance company. She was very sharp last out when making her first start in 10 months, finishing second to Heartyconstitution, who was a next out winner, clearing the N2X condition at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks day. She’ll need to work out a trip, but she’s dangerous in this spot. There’s a decent amount of early speed signed on for this race, which should benefit the morning line favorite, Coconut Beach (#3), She was a two-time winner here last year, and she would go to finish third at long odds in a competitive race at this condition. She’ll be making her first start since January today, so she could be a little rusty. Thisnameisokay (#8) was very good at Delaware last year, winning three of five starts on their turf course. She has gone off form a bit, so I’d demand a little value on this four year old filly. Toss her last, which felt like a public workout in order to get her sharp for a race like this.
I see News Box (#1) as being tough to beat in the nightcap today. He shipped back up after a pair of consecutive victories against similar foes at Oaklawn. His trainer, Lindsay Schultz, is coming off a fantastic meet at Oaklawn, and she might be able to get things started with a win with her first horse of the meet. Paco Lopez will ride for her for the first time in his career, which is an encouraging sign for her business at this year’s meet. Hushion (#7) is another runner coming off a victory with similar company last month at Parx. He has a pair of wins and a pair of second places in six career starts on this oval. Joseph Trejos will follow him across the river and down the shore after riding him regularly at Parx.
2022 Meet Statistics:
Top Pick Winners: 145/557 (26.0%) – $1,027/ $1.84 ROI
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