Racing resumes with a 10 race card today at Monmouth Park. New Jersey bred fillies and mares will take the spotlight this afternoon in the Spruce Fir Handicap, which will be the 8th race on the program. Speed was very good on the main track on opening weekend, but there is some rain in the forecast this afternoon, which certainly could alter the way the track has been playing. All three turf races on the card (Races 4,7, and 9) are sprints, out of the 5 and ½ furlong chute. If there is measurable rainfall, I’d expect these races to come off the turf and be run on the main track. I will handicap those races for both surfaces.
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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|2||4||2,4||1||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||7||7||4||6||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|6||4||4,9||1||8||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|5,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The card kicks off with $5K conditioned claimers going one mile and 70 yards. Jupi’s Lightning (#5) is looking to rebound after being outclassed by a tougher field here last weekend. This is a better level for him, as he has hit the board in his last several starts when facing fellow claimers. I liked his race in the slop here last season, and I think he’s a definite upgrade on a wet track today. Brasstown (#4) is the morning line favorite and the logical alternative in this spot. He’s an eight year old that has seemingly lost a step or two since some big efforts at Gulfstream last winter and spring. He was claimed for $20K two back and now is running for $5K, which I see as less than ideal. However, his front running style fits with how the course played last weekend. Vintage Hollywood (#6)is also getting class relief while coming across the river for Orlando Noda. He’s struggled with open claimers in his last two tries, but his effort three back prior to the claim was sharp. Prior to his last two starts, he was more consistent, so perhaps the class relief will be the cure for what ails him.
The morning line favorite in this maiden allowance contest is Avant (#2) for Todd Pletcher. She’ll be making her first start at two turns on the dirt after a series of one turn races at Aqueduct this winter. She finished in the money in those three starts, but was handily beaten by a superior rival in each start. With more talented runners shipping north from Florida for the summer in New York, changing circuits makes sense for this daughter of Uncle Mo. She will certainly be getting class relief, and she’ll be on my A line, however, her last few races don’t inspire a ton of confidence. I ended up making the longest shot on the board, Portage (#4) the top in her second career try. She was dismissed as a 30-1 longshot on debut two months ago at Gulfstream. She didn’t break cleanly that day and was last throughout. The Beyer figure for her effort wasn’t terrible, and Kent Sweezy’s runners tend to improve in their second starts. She’s sired by Tonalist, so I do see her improving as the races get longer. Her Tomlinson Figures are the highest in the field, which could be important if the track comes up wet. Last Glimmer (#1) would be a horse I’d backup with on some deeper plays. She debuted three weeks ago in the slop at Aqueduct and finished a dull 4th in a four horse race. She’s another horse that looks like she’ll get better with more distance she’ll be covering. She didn’t love the slop in her debut and she may catch a wet track once again. I do think she’ll improve, but I’m not sure if she’ll be able to improve enough.
Conditioned $5K claimers are going a mile and 70 yards here. This is a wide open race, so I’m hoping to get some value. I made Heleonortiz (#9) the top pick for Antonio Machado. Macshado has had a solid 2023 so far, winning with 20% of his starters. Her last two tries haven’t been great, but her 2022 form stacks up very well with this group. She may need another race or two before she hits her best stride, however at 10-1 (ML) or better, I’d be willing to take that bet. Claudio Gonzalez was the leading trainer here in 2022, and I’ve been playing against many of his horses at the beginning of this meet. He’s going to get his share of wins this season, and Voice of Spring (#6) may give him the best shot to get his first win of the new meet. She takes a necessary drop in class after struggling with better at Laurel in her last try. Gonzalez has had a lot of success after giving his horses a little rest. Look for a better effort against this group. Knot Anymore (#5) is another runner that is looking to improve off of a dull effort in her last start. She adds blinkers after fading badly in a race at Penn National where she was forced to check badly. She drops to the bottom in hopes of being able to find her 2022 form that she showed in Maryland and West Virginia.
On either surface, Mundle of Joy (#9) feels like the one to beat in this open $12,500-$10,500 claiming race. She was very good in her three turf starts to end her four year old campaign last year. Kathleen DeMasi has her working well in the mornings at Penn National and her numbers with runners coming back from layoffs are good. She has enough speed to wire this group of the race does come off the grass, assuming she participates. She feels like a solid single on turf. If I do backup, it’ll be with Epicurean (#7). Her speed figures are light, but her efforts on the grass have been respectable. Ness hasn’t been able to crack the code since claiming this mare in September. Her pedigree says turf sprints should be favorable for her. If this race does come off the grass, I’d be more likely to back up. I’ll include both Epicurean, whose figures on dirt fit better with what might be remaining in this field, and Forty Smooth (#3) for Bruce Levine. Her form is all over the place, but she does have a very nice effort when going seven furlongs at this level at Saratoga last year. She wants to be forwardly placed, which has been a good thing early on in the meet.
The Win-Early Pick-5 will wrap up with a conditioned $50K-$40K claiming race for three year olds and up, sprinting six furlongs. I think Pudge Boy Palace (#7) is the one to beat, making his first start since February for Hugh McMahon. He’s moving up in class, but several of his rivals are three year olds in this race. He’s cutting back in distance, which, as a son of Palace, should be to his liking, even though his best efforts have come when going two turns. He has enough tactical speed to get himself into a good spot early on, and his two turn foundation, along with his two, one mile drills over the last few weeks, should give him the stamina to finish better than most of these. Flash Kiss (#4) is a deserving favorite that checks a lot of boxes for me in this race. However, I do have to wonder why he’s in for a tag today. He was purchased for $175K so a win and claim will still guarantee a losing investment. His two races on this oval last year were by far his two best races. He broke his maiden in June and ran a solid third at the N1X level three starts ago. He was dull at Tampa two back and had no interest in the turf at the Big A last month. I’d prefer to see him compete once more in allowance company here before dropping him in class. If the track comes up wet, I think Lookin’ Super (#6) might be one to upgrade on some deeper plays. He was off the board in his last two with better company at Tampa. He’s never been on an off track, but I see Posse as the dam sire for this one. I remember Posse winning the Riva Ridge over Midas Eyes in a sea of slop on the Belmont undercard in 2003. I’ve done well playing his progeny on off tracks over the years.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $40.50 Ticket:
I’ve put together a $40.50 ticket for the Win-Early Pick-5, which may need to be altered a bit if the weather forces the 4th race off the turf. Regardless of surface, I think Mundle of Joy (#9, R4), is a solid play who figures to be tough to beat in that race. I think Portage (#4, R2) is an interesting value play in this sequence, listed at 15-1 on the morning line. On paper, she looks as good as, if not better than Shug McGaughey’s runner, Last Glimmer (#1, R2), who opens at 7-2. The morning line favorite, Avant (#2, R2), racing for Todd Pletcher, looks beatable, although, there isn’t much else jumping off the page. I’ll use all three, but if Portage could be a horse that causes this sequence to pop.
A dozen New Jersey bred fillies and mares are set to go 5 and ½ furlongs on the main track in this maiden special weight race. I landed on Sunnyridge Jaime (#4) making her second start off a long layoff for Patrick McBurney. She returned with $25K maiden claimers on the Tapeta at Gulfstream last month. She didn;t have a great start in that race, but I think it served its purpose of getting her ready for a race with New Jersey breds. Everyone else, with the exception of a big longshot, Twyla (#11), in this race is either making their first start off a layoff or making their first career start. I think that race sets her up for an improved effort here. Duchess of Destin (#9) looks like the firster with the best shot of having an impact with this field. Her dam produced three runners, with two of them being winners thus far. One of them just missed when making their debut. Her works are solid and Breen is more than capable of winning with runners at first asking. Rocky Seas (#1) makes her second start and her first since August for Eddie Owens. Her sire, Sea Wizard, didn’t cover many mares last season, but his runners have shown some ability. She was away slow in her debut and ran evenly to get into 4th. Lasix will be added today, and while I don’t love the rail for her return in this big field, I see more upside with her than some of the others in here. On deeper tickets, I’ll use Fixed Odds (#8), who is the morning line favorite in this race. She was one of the biggest money burners in New Jersey last year, going off at 3-1 or lower in all five starts. Perhaps she’s matured over the winter. Normally, I’d toss a horse like this, but I will cover with her, especially if the track is playing like it did last weekend, favoring front end runners.
The upcoming Late Pick-4 is featured in the first segment of the ITM Players Podcast – Preakness Day Simulcast, hosted by Spencer Luginbuhl. In addition to my segment, there’s a lot of great content from Klaus Ebner, John Pinder, and Frank Scatoni to get you ready for a great Saturday of racing!
The racing office opted to split this N1X allowance for fillies and mares sprinting 5 and 1/2 furlongs on the turf, into two divisions. I think this heat is a bit more wide open than the second division. That being said, I still think Lost My Sock (#3) is going to be very tough in this race. She had several spots of traffic when breaking from the rail at this level at Keeneland last month. She closed with interest in the final furlong to get up for 4th. She showed a lot of promise last season, running a very game 4th in the Limestone Stakes behind three very nice fillies. She should be more fit for this race, after making her first start following a ten month layoff last time out. She feels like a serious filly in this race. Last year, Tapestry Colors (#9) threw down the gauntlet early on when facing a nice group of maiden two year olds. She went right to the front and no one was able to catch her that afternoon. That race broke and 0-20 start to the 2022 season for her trainer, Kathleen DeMasi. She has good numbers with horses coming off the bench and her speed should be a definite weapon with this group. Glitter Up (#5) broke her maiden last year when making her 7th career start, which was also her second career start on grass at the time. She’s been getting closer and closer while facing similar types of fields at this level. She was excellent at two turns in her last start, which came in February, so I’m not completely crazy about the cutback to a sprint. However, she still feels like one of the main players in this one.
On dirt, Baby Steps (#1) feels like she is going to be the one to beat. She has a ton of early speed, which was a highly valuable weapon here last week. She handled her business while clearing the state bred N1X condition last month at Gulfstream. I’ll keep Glitter Up (#5) on tickets on the main track. While she’s always been better on grass, her off the turf effort at the Big A last fall was enough to indicate that she’s going to be tough to beat in this spot, regardless of playing surface.
Race 8, The $85K Spruce Fir Handicap:
One year ago, four of the ten runners entered today, signed on for this race, which was contested on a sloppy course. An off track is possibility once again this year, and that could work out well for Mia’s Crusade (#9), who was a winner on that same card, but while facing allowance foes. She asserted herself early and wound up on the front end that day. She led for every point of call, winning by over four lengths. She cleared the N2X condition here last season as well, and will be making her first start since on off the board finish in the Pinot Grigio Handicap last September. She was good enough last year and I think she could be tough once again today. Beach Daze (#8) is a Parx shipper that has a recency edge over many of her rivals in this race. She finished in the money in her last four races against open company in Bensalem, all of which were contested at two turns. She was a winner on this course in sprint when facing Jersey breds here last season, however, her sprint speed figures are not as high as her route numbers. I still think she fits well with this group, however, I;m not sure how much value we’ll be getting. Bramble Bay (#1) is better on turf, but she’s one that I would upgrade on an off track in this spot. She won the Pinot Grigio Handicap here last fall, sprinting on the turf. She would go on to run four credible efforts with open N2X allowance types. She was claimed for $62,500 last month at Aqueduct, and while I like the move to have her face state bred foes, I’m not completely sold on the surface switch. I Can Run (#6) is another horse that might not offer fair market value in this race, so as a result, I will be cautious with how I use her. She was handily beaten by Mia’s Crusade in the aforementioned allowance race on 5-14 last year. While her trainer, Claudio Gonzalez, has decent numbers with horses coming from off the bench, she has seemed like a horse that need a start before she fits her peak form. She did with the Eleven North Handicap here last September, so I can’t completely eliminate her. She’s a saver play on my multi-race tickets for me.
I think there’s a standout in the second division of this N1X allowance race, assuming the race stays on the turf. Chad Brown sends out Anna Karenine (#5), coming here off a third place finish against a stronger group at Aqueduct last month. She met a very good field in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes in her stateside debut at Gulfstream two starts back. She was a nonfactor that afternoon, but her game in Europe was sprinting. She ran a much better race at six furlongs last time out, chasing a runaway speed horse, who was able to gut out a win in a speedy final time. Brown’s horses ran huge last weekend, winning with four of the six runners he sent out. She’ll be a short price, but she’s strictly the one to beat. I’ll use both Chromeplated Heart (#8) and Explosive Exchange (#4) as backup plays. Both of these runners want to be forwardly placed. Chromeplated Heart is a five year old mare who continues to gradually improve. Trombetta brings her up from South Florida after finishing second with optional claiming/starter allowance foes on Tapeta last out. She’s hit the board in eight of her eleven career turf starts, but I do think she might be slightly better on the synthetic. Explosive Exchange debuted here in a solid race last summer (The same race that Tapestry Colors, Race 7) broke her maiden in. She went on the shelf for five months and resurfaced in a turf sprint at Tampa where she was a gate to wire winner. She ran on Tapeta in her next start and then went two turns twice at a similar level, facing just three year olds though. I do think that she;s back doing what she likes to do, which could certainly give her a boost that could make things interesting.
On dirt, I think Hazardous Humor (#9) makes a lot of sense. She ran credible races at long odds in her last two starts at Gulfstream on the dirt. She started her career as a turf horse, but now three of her last four starts have come on the main track. I do see a lot of horses defecting from this race if there is a surface switch, but I think it makes perfect sense to race her.Western Lane (#1) broke her maiden on an off track in a 6 and ½ furlong race on a good track at Aqueduct back in December. Her Tomlinson Figures are significantly better than her nine foes, so if the track comes up muddy or sloppy, I’ll definitely be using her. Captainsdaughter (#7) was a winner with state bred N1X allowance foes on the dirt back in December at Aqueduct, She ran some decent races in open N1X allowance company there over the winter, but she often left herself with too much work to do. If she runs on the dirt, there will likely be a compact field, so she’ll have to show a little more early initiative to be a factor for the win.
The nightcap is a wide open $25K-$20K maiden claiming race going one mile on the main track. Antonov (#3) and Home School (#7) are the first and second choices on the morning line, but they have 27 losses between them. Antonov at least is a bit more consistent, which is why he’ll be a deeper saver on the C line for me. However, I think there’s value in trying to beat this duo, and I see Prince Ghost (#6) as the runner that is most likely to do that. His two dirt efforts at six furlongs at Tampa were respectable, finishing 2nd last out at this level. The dam did her best work sprinting, however he does have the Ghostzapper influence on top, so I think the mile will be within his realm of capabilities. His half brother, Woodline, broke his maiden here last week when sprinting in his 12th career start. Wednesdaynightlad (#2) is a runner that I’ll need to get a fair price on, but I see him as a candidate to improve while getting significant class relief. He showed a bit of interest in his debut in January before fading badly after being forced to take up going into the turn. Slip Mahoney was the winner of that race and that one would go on to be the runner up in the Gotham Stakes in March. He lost all chance at the start last out when finishing a dull 7th. He definitely needs to get better, and perhaps the two turn trip will help him take a step forward, while also dropping in for a tag for the first time.He was also gelded after his last start, which may prove to be a useful decision. Gun Right (#1) made his first two starts on the turf at Tampa against $32K maiden claimers. The debut was solid, finishing 4th, but beaten less than two lengths. He wasn’t as effective last out though, so dropping him in class and trying the main track seems like a logical thought. On the B line, I’ll include Pine Alley (#5). He might be overbet in this spot, seeing as how he has four in the money finishes in five career starts. However, he was never really close in any of those races, so that’s why I think you should demand a fair number on him.
Top Pick Winners: 5/18 (27.8%) – $34/ $1.89 ROI
Two of my stronger opinions came through with Mr. Extension feeling like a steal at 2-1 in the first race and Running River winning handily in the 3rd. Unfortunately, a few of the horses I was trying to beat, got the better of my runners, squashing my Win-Early Pick-5 tickets.
Chad Brown’s runners continued to run very well as he won two more races on Sunday, including the Serena’s Song Stakes with Distinctlypossible. I thought that was an excellent race from both the winner and the runner-up, Leader of the Band. Leader of the Band led early, setting a moderate pace, while Distinctlypossible sat just behind her in second. The duo dueled for the last ⅜ of a mile, with Distinctlypossible pulling away in the final strides. Leader of the Band typically needs a race or two before she’s at her best. She loves this course, so I’d be willing to play her back next time in a race like the Lady’s Secret Stakes next month.
I also would be willing to give the third place finisher, Shotgun Hottie, another chance. She was a bit flat-footed from the gate, and as a result, she lost some early position. She was behind a wall of horses and Jorge Vargas had nowhere to go with this four year old filly. When the two frontrunners began to pull away from the pack, she was still stuck behind horses. She outfinished the other four runners and was gaining on the leaders late, but once they got the jump on her, the chances of her winning became almost nil.