Day 2 at Monmouth is highlighted by the Serena’s Song Stakes, named for the champion filly who beat the boys in the 1995 Haskell Invitational. A field of seven has entered that race, which featured the 2023 debut of the 2021 Monmouth Oaks winner, Leader of the Band. On the main track, being on or near the front end was a good place to be as every winner was no less than 2 and ½ lengths from the lead at the first call. No particular running style seemed to have an advantage on turf in the three grass contests. However, the rail was at 12 feet yesterday and they have been moved out to 24 feet for today’s three turf races. Paco Lopez already finds himself in a familiar spot atop the leaderboard, winning three races yesterday. Chad Brown, who has more stalls here than in previous years, had a pair of winners to start his meet. Post time for the first race is 12:40 (ET) with the featured 9th race slated to go off at 4:35 (ET).
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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||4||1,4||3||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||2||2,4,6||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|6||1||1||5,8||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||7||1,7||3||6||DBL, PK3, PK4|
I think the opener, which is a $7,500-$6,500 N3L claiming contest runs through Mr. Extension (#8). He was a winner on the turf at the 2022 Monmouth Meet, but he was competitive in his last three dirt starts here as well. He came back from a layoff while entered with the waiver at Parx, where he demolished a $7,500 N2L field. He struggled next out in starter allowance company and tried better N3L claimers at Laurel last time out. He finished off the board in both starts, but I see him as a major player on the drop in class at this level. Paco Lopez is named to ride the morning line favorite, One Whirlwind Ride (#3), who is a big class dropper coming in from Aqueduct. I like NYRA horses coming here for class relief, however, his recent form hasn’t been that sharp. I think there’s a decent chance that he’ll go into the starting gate below his 7-5 morning line figure. My hope is that will drive the price up a touch on my top pick, who is 5-2 on the morning line. I’ll get defensive and use him as a saver, but most of my money in this run will run through Mr. Extension.
My strategy for this $20K-$18K N3L claiming race is trying to beat both the morning line favorite, Steely Danza (#5) and Paco Lopez’s runner, Fenway (#7). I don’t love the last two efforts from Steely Danza while facing optional claiming/starter allowance foes at Parx and Penn National. I don’t think he’s getting the class relief that it appears to be on paper. Fenway was claimed in February at Aqueduct, and returns today, racing for a tag that is $20K than his claiming price, which is a move I don’t love. He’s all speed early and has struggled to hold on late. I think Advance Cash (#4) who has tactical early speed, will benefit from cutting back from a route in this race. He has a good record at this six furlong distance, which is definitely a plus for a horse that is going from a route to a sprint. His lone career start outside of South Florida came at Colonial last year on the dirt and he earned the best Beyer Speed Figure of his career, while narrowly losing to a much better field. Super Rocker (#1) is an improving three year old taking on older horses. I’d prefer to see him enter a conditioned claiming race where he can get more of an advantage as a three year old, however, I do think he’s improving into a horse that could be effective at this level. Jose Gomez won the opener here yesterday and could be primed to have a big meet. I see Title Shot (#3) as the main danger to my top pick, although, I’m not sure he has enough tactical speed to win this without a total pace meltdown. I’m also a little weary about his chances after watching the way the main track played yesterday. Hollendorfer claimed him after a strong 4th place effort last month. His numbers first off the claim are solid and we often see some of these Oaklawn horses fire when they ship here. I think he’s still good enough to be on your multi-race tickets.
I think the Laurel invader, Running River (#7) is going to be tough to beat in this $25K starter allowance race restricted to three year olds. He broke his maiden with $20K maiden claimers in the slop two starts back for John Salzman. He was ambitiously spotted last out when facing optional claiming/N1X allowance foes, where he finished second after dueling on the front end. He’s never finished worse than second in his three race career, and while there are some other speed threats here, I don’t think they can keep up with him late. Z’s So Good (#5) would be where I would back up in this spot. After five lackluster starts at the beginning of his career, he’s strung together three solid efforts in a row at Penn National. Jose Gomez rode two winners yesterday and he’ll get the call for Jose Salinas, who is the new trainer of record.
The first turf race of the afternoon is a $12,500-$10,500 claiming race for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 1/16. I think Current Situation (#3) is a bad favorite in this race, but she’ll still take money with Paco Lopez riding. Her last two races on synthetic at Gulfstream were solid, but her figures on the turf don’t stack up with the top runners in this race. I’ll spread out in this race with the hopes of hooking a price, but I think the eight year old mare, Pugilist (#7) is going to be tough to beat. She was a winner here and at the Meadowlands last year at this same condition. She was claimed out of both of those races, as she is still clearly a very useful runner. Jesus Cruz claimed her on behalf of Wasabi Ventures Stables at Tampa back in November. She ran in a pair of starter handicaps there and was third most recently with $16K claimers. She drops back to the condition where she fits so well. Angel Rodriguez rode her to victory at the Meadowlands he gets the assignment today. Red Wind (#9) is interesting to me in this race. She was claimed for $10K in January by last year’s leading trainer, Claudio Gonzalez. Her moved her back on turf with $20K-$16K claimers, where she was overmatched. She had a brutal trip though and still ran a respectable figure. She struggled on synthetic and the dirt in her last two starts at Gulfstream, but I’m thinking a change in scenery might be the cure for what ails this Mizzen Mast mare. She was very good in her three route races at Colonial last season, so there’s reason to believe that she can move forward in her local debut. Driven By Speed (#6) is a nine year old mare that was competitive in her first start of the year last year when she was a close up 5th in a starter allowance at Parx. She ran well at long odds behind Pugilist when racing at this condition last year. She’s often overlooked, but she is a hard trying horse that usually gets close. On deeper tickets, I’ll include Summer at the Spa (#4), who is coming in from Tampa in good form for Darien Rodriguez. I assume that Hector Diaz will be putting this Summer Front mare on the front end in the early stages of this one. She cleared the $16K N3L condition two starts back and was a game third with open $16K claimers in her latest race. Rodriguez had a winner on yesterday’s card, winning a N1X allowance race on the turf with Katies a Lady.
Todd Pletcher tabs Paco Lopez to ride Seduction (#4), who will be the heavy favorite in this N1X allowance race for three year old fillies. She was a dominating maiden winner going a one turn mile at Gulfstream in her last start back in February. She’s had two significant gaps in between races to start her career, which is a bit worrisome. She will be asked to get two turns for the first time, and I never love taking a short price on a horse that is trying something new. I’ll use her on the A line, but I think both Gold Medal Anna (#2) and Royal Dame (#6) are runners that are more than capable of pulling off the upset. Jeremy Laprida gets the call on Gold Medal Anna, who is finally getting back to a two turn race after sprinting seven furlongs in her last two starts. Her lone try at two turns came at Parx three starts back, where she finished second to Social Selection. Her dam is the multiple Grade 1 winning turf mare, Voodoo Dancer. She has produced several foals, but none of them have had her ability. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her try the grass soon, as she’s been based at Parx and she began racing last year after the turf season had concluded. She did show that she can handle the distance though and I think she’ll be a tough customer for the favorite, I could say the same about Darien Rodriguez’s Royal Dame, who seems to run well on any surface. She comes into this race, riding high on a three race win streak. Her last two races came on the grass at Tampa, but she was a winner at 1 mile and 40 yards on the dirt to break her maiden three back. She’s been an exceptional claim thus far for this barn as she continues to climb the class ladder.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $36 Ticket:
I like this sequence today because there are some favorites on the morning line that feel vulnerable to me. In most instances, I’m going to leave them off this ticket, in hopes of being able to generate some value. I think Mr. Extension (#8, R1) is a logical single in the first leg, and I’d be comfortable using Running River (#7, R3) as a single on a lower budget ticket. I’ll plan to
I’ll side with Wasabi Boy (#1) on top in this maiden special weight race, He made three starts as a two year old. We finished second to Forte in his debut and he had a rough start when he ran into Blazing Sevens at Saratoga. In between, he ran a decent second on this oval in July. He’s been on the sidelines since , but he’s been working well for his return. His dam was the speedy, Gas Station Sushi, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nik Juarez send him early along the rail. The morning line favorite is Woodline (#5), who will be making his 11th career start today. He met a salty field at Laurel last out where the second and third place finishers came back to break their maidens in their next starts. They stopped the clock in 1:09:4, which is a serious time at Laurel that time of year. He wasn’t involved in that race, but he has several races in 2022 that would make him competitive with this group. Trombetta, who trains him for the second time now, adds blinkers, which may prove to be helpful. El de Chirel (#8) is a second time starter that finished 5th in his debut in March at Laurel. He hopped at the start before finishing midpack, never threatening to win that race. Avila gave him a little extra time, which could have been due to the track issues in Maryland. His work here last week was solid, so I could see him moving forward in this race.
We saw a New Jersey bred filly, Girl Trouble, take advantage of this condition yesterday and win for fun. Today, there are 11 New Jersey bred three year olds set to go 6 furlongs in this allowance race for horses that have not won a New Jersey bred race other than a maiden, claiming, or starter race. This condition allows horses that have had success in open company to essentially drop in class, and run for this $75K purse. As a result, these races are going to be worth noting moving forward, because I do think they are tougher than the standard state bred N1X allowance race. One Time Willard (#7) was a winner on opening day last year, breaking his maiden by seven lengths in the slop. He’s been unable to win since, while being spotted in some odd races. His sprint form is good and he gets the veteran rider, Jose Ferrer aboard. I don’t think there is much other early speed in here, and I think he’ll be a little more keen than usual from the gate, since he hasn;t run since August. I think his style fits the way the track played yesterday. Paco Lopez, who rode him a few times last year, opts to ride Great Navigator (#1), who is the morning line favorite for Eddie Owens. He was an impressive winner on debut here last season. Owens decided to send him to Saratoga for the Grade 3 Sanford for his next start. He was a solid second that day behind Mo Strike. By finishing second that day, he is one of only three horses ever to finish in front of Forte on the racetrack, as the eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Two Year Old Champion, ran 4th that day. He came back at Gulfstream and finished in the money in his first two starts of the season. He looms as a major player in this race. I’ll still side with One Time Willard on top though, because I do think he could have a tactical advantage. On deeper tickets, Cathal Lynch sends out Hay Room (#3) for his second career start. He debuted at the Meadowlands in October in a five furlong turf sprint, where he came from off the pace to score in a state bred maiden allowance race. The dam is an unraced 17 year old mare, and he is the only foal of hers to have made it to the track. He’s sired by Redeemed, who is a multiple graded stakes winner at 12 furlongs on the dirt. He is definitely a wild-card in this race, but I trust Cathal Lynch, and I think he’s an interesting horse to cover with and use underneath in the exotics. Wild Mule (#6) will be the likely second choice in the wagering after some respectable efforts at Oaklawn. He won his first two starts on this oval, so I’m sure he’ll be happy to be back home. However, I haven’t seen a ton of improvement from him, and I’m not sure his running style fits with how the track played yesterday. He’s more of a saver play for me.
This is a wide open N1X allowance race on the turf for three year olds and up. I landed on Greatheart (#1) for Jerry Hollendorfer. This is a gelding that can run on any surface. He ran five times at the recently concluded Oaklawn Park meet, and he finished in the money in all five, winning once and finishing second another time. He was just as good on the grass last year in Kentucky. Hollendorfer claimed him for $30K back in January and has made a point to keep him protected ever since. Ready to Fly (#7) continues to improve, making his second start as a four year old today. He came back last month at Tampa with a strong third place finish in starter allowance company when making his first start in seven months, He’s a two-time winner on this course, which are his only two career wins. Shady McGee (#4) gets Jairo Rendon, who won twice yesterday, to ride for his local debut. Lindsay Schultz claimed him from a synthetic try at Turfway two starts back, He ran second in his first start for this new barn, when facing conditioned $25K claimers at Sam Houston in March. He clearly prefers the turf, so it felt like a bit of a waiting game, trying to get him into a race. Forever Souper (#9) is a lightly raced four year old, making his 6th career start. He was last seen fading to finish a close up 6th at Saratoga when going nine furlongs last July. A lot has happened since then as he has been gelded and now runs for Mike Trombetta. His three career tries on the grass have all been solid. There are some other horses that want to be forward, but he looks like the pacesetter. If they let him walk up front, he’ll be tough to catch.
Race 9, The $100K Serena’s Song Stakes:
The morning line favorite for the featured race this afternoon is Leader of the Band (#3), who is set to make her 2023 debut. She was last seen finishing off the board in the Grade 2 Falls City Stakes at Churchill in November. She does love this course, winning the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks here in 2021. She ran in this race last year and had a bad start, which led to her finishing 4th. I am a big fan of this filly, but I see her as a vulnerable favorite in this spot, and seeing as how Paco Lopez will be taking the mount, I think the chances of getting 2-1 on her are slim to none. My biggest knock of her is that she needed a few races before she hit her peak form last year. I’ll back up with her, but I prefer a pair of Gun Runner four year old fillies, giving the edge to Shotgun Hottie (#4), who was the runner up in the 2022 Monmouth Oaks last season. She was moved to Cherie DeVaux’s barn to start her 2023 campaign, and she kicked it off with a win in allowance company at Oaklawn. She met a very salty field in the Grade 3 Doubledogdare last out at Keeneland where she finished 5th at long odds. She makes her third start off the layoff in a race where there isn’t much speed signed on. I don’t think she’ll be on the lead, but I think Jorge Vargas will have her up close in good striking position. Radio Days (#7) is another horse that was a runner up in stakes company on this oval last year. She began her career with a pair of impressive wins in New York, signaling that she could be in for a big 2022 campaign. HHowever, she ran some good races, but she was no match for horses like Matareya, Interstatedaydream, and Green Up. She went to the sidelines after finishing second in the Boiling Springs here last July. Shug brought her back in a pair of sprint races at Gulfstream and Keeneland. She struggled last out after breaking poorly and being forced wide in a large field. I think she’s sitting on a better effort today when getting back to a two turn route.
Maiden special weight horses go 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf to wrap up the first week of racing. I tried to beat Chad Brown on the turf here yesterday, and it didn’t end well for me. He sends out a pair of live first time starters in this race. I prefer to longer price, Sacred Rhyme (#2). He’s a half to the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner, Fire At Will. That one was 6th on debut at Saratoga, but he was wide, while breaking from a tough post and didn’t run poorly by any means. Brown typically rides Samy Camacho first call, so Program Trading (#3) might be higher on the barn pecking order at the moment. He’s a Lope de Vega first time starter out of the mare Dreamlike. She has yet to foal another horse to make it to the track. We see Brown win with horses like this on a regular basis. Coast Along (#7) will be the main danger, making his 4th career start today. He changed tactics and went to the lead last out at Laurel, where he was nailed on the line. He appears to be trending in the right direction and certainly looms large in this race.
Top Pick Winners: 2/8 (25.0%) – $10.20/ $1.28 ROI
We got home a pair of short priced winners ridden by Paco Lopez and two of our top picks were scratched. Closers seemed to have trouble getting home today, and I was looking for some runners to pick up the pieces late in races where I thought horses would be struggling to get home early on in the meet.
While no one jumped off the page as a Haskell contender in the Long Branch Stakes yesterday, I thought it was one of the more exciting races of the afternoon. Howgreatisnate and Offaly Cool both ran big races and dueled up front for the last half mile. Howgreatisnate made an early move and was wide. Offaly Cool looked like he was going to inch away, but Howgreatisnate responded, getting up at the wire. Slip Mahoney was a disappointing 4th and was never involved. I would think the top two certainly earned the right to move forward to the $150K Pegasus Stakes next month. That result also flatters both horses that were scratched out of this race, Coffeewithchris and Hayes Strike. I’d suspect both will run in the Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico next week, assuming both are healthy.
Coolcalm Collected is a horse that I’m interested in seeing when she faces winners next time. She ran a strong 4th in her debut at Aqueduct, fading late. There was no fade today and she drew off to win by almost nine lengths. It is worth noting that speed was very good today, so that is something to keep in mind moving forward when the runners from this card come back to the track.