The weekend at the Jersey Shore will wrap up with a ten race Sunday program. New Jersey breds will continue to be featured as a field of ten sprinters will go in the John J. Reilly Stakes, which is the 9th race of the afternoon. After a wet day yesterday, the forecast is beautiful for Sunday afternoon. There are two races carded for the grass, and after the amount of rain that seemed to fall yesterday afternoon, I suspect they’ll both be moved to the main track. However, I have handicapped both the 6th and the 8th races for both surfaces. First post today is at 12:40 (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!
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The morning line favorite in this maiden special weight contest that will start the afternoon is Life On the Nile (#1). He’s a beautifully bred horse that I’ve been following over the last two meets at Oaklawn. He’s making his 11th career start, while searching for that elusive first win. While his figures are solid, he always seems to come up a bit short. While I could use him underneath in the bottom of the vertical exotics, I won’t be using him on my multi-race tickets. Instead, I’ll make the Keeneland shipper, Rush Center (#2) my top pick. I don’t typically like horses from maiden claiming company coming back to race in maiden special weight races. However, there are some things to like about this three year old McCracken gelding. He crossed the wire first in his $50K maiden claiming race at Keeneland last month, however, he was wandering in the stretch and interfered with the second place finisher, thus warranting the disqualification. That was his first two turn race, and his speed figure improved from his first two sprints. He was claimed by Robert Mosco, who is based at Parx. He doesn’t make a habit of bringing his horses here, as this will be only his 18th starter here in the last five years. He does have three wins from that group though, and his overall numbers first off the claim have been very good lately. Screaming Uncle (#4) is one of two Chad Brown runners in this race. He’s a Bolt d’Oro first time starter that has attracted Paco Lopez to ride. Chad Brown has won with 23% of his first time starters, and 23% with debut runners routing on the main track in the last two years. Malibu Springs (#3) is one that I’d use as a backup in this race. He debuted for Todd Pletcher in a very salty maiden special weight race at Keeneland. He was beaten by Saudi Crown, a Brad Cox runner that put up a gaudy speed figure for his debut. Shortly after that race, he was sold for $85K at the Keeneland April Sale, and now he’ll come north to make his first start for Kent Sweezy. While I don’t love the fact that WinStar was willing to part with him so quickly, I do think he fits at this level. I think I’ll like him better in his next start, as Sweezy’s horses typically improve as the meet goes on.
Conditioned $7,500-$6,500 claimers are going 1 mile and 70 yards here. New York invader, Fire King (#1) feels logical in this spot with his early speed and rail draw. Front end speed has been good so far at this meet. A few closers were able to get home later on in the day, so we’ll have to wait and see how the track will be playing as it dries out. He will be going two turns on the main track for the first time today, however, he will be dropping significantly in class to do so. His lone win came in a one turn mile at Aqueduct, so I’m not worried about the distance. Speights’percomete (#6) feels like the main danger. He’s 1 for 20 in his career, so taking a short price on this runner is less than ideal. He struggled at Parx, which can be a tricky track for some horses. His NYRA form from last fall would likely be good enough to get his picture taken. Kelly Breen takes over the training as he’ll give Paco Lopez a leg up here.
This is a tricky $10K maiden claiming race at 5 and ½ furlongs. Every horse is cutting back in distance and five of the eight runners are cutting back from two turn races. Four of the eight last ran on dirt, three on turf, and one on synthetic, all at a variety of class levels. This feels like a spread race to me, where I’d want as much coverage as possible. Cajun Occasion (#4) is the top pick for me. He’s one that I’m not concerned about with the cutback in distance and the surface switch. His last two have been poor, but his best races were in dirt sprints. I think he reverts back to his better form today. Depoli (#1) is another one cutting back in distance and moving back to the main track. His two runner up finishes came in main track sprints, so there’s reason to believe that he’ll move forward. Shea On the Lam (#7) may offer the best value in this field. His effort at this distance on the Tapeta two starts ago was by far his best race. He’s run six times, never on the main track though. His pedigree leans dirt, so at longer odds, I’d be willing to take the chance. On deeper tickets, Vegas Playboy (#3) adds blinkers after finishing 4th last week at two turns at this level. He didn’t show much early foot last out when there wasn’t much pace on. I’m worried about how his style will play on a course that has not been kind to closers early on in the meet. However, there is some upside with him, which I don’t see with some of the others.
A field of eight conditioned $30K-$25K claimers will go a mile here. Impetud (#2) will be getting some class relief in this spot, after struggling against a strong field in a N2L allowance race last time out at Parx. He was very sharp two starts back when breaking his maiden at Penn National. His three races at two turns are significantly better than his one turn efforts. Sailor’s Return (#1) has been going well of late. He was sharp in New Orleans two starts back when breaking his maiden in his 21st career start. He went to Keeneland where he was a less effective 5th place finisher. Jose Delgado plucked him out of that race and ships him here into a spot that is winnable.
A maiden special weight race for New Jersey breds oversubscribed, so the racing office opted to split this race into two divisions. This race will be the first division with the second heat coming in the 10th and final race of the afternoon. Chuck Spina had a winner yesterday in New Jersey bred stakes company with Mia’s Crusade, coming off a layoff and outrunning the field from the start. Today he sends out Bustin Loose (#1) who could be set to have the same kind of trip here. He showed some early interest in his debut last year before fading to 6th at this level. He came back to finish third in his second career start. Spina tried him on the turf where he was a very competitive third back in June. An injury forced him to the sidelines, missing the rest of the meet. Jose Ferrer, who has always been a terrific rider from the gate, keeps the mount. There’s some interesting first time starters in this field and the one that I like the best is Uncaptured Deputy (#4) for Greg Sacco. Samy Camacho gets the mount for his debut today. His full sister, Parisian Vibe, who is a Florida bred, debuted with state bred maiden special weight types last March at Gulfstream, and finished a competitive third. She would go on to break her maiden in her next start. The dam, Leonia Lady, foaled has foaled two runners to make it to the track and both are winners. He’s sired by Uncaptured who gets 12% winners with first time starters sprinting on dirt. The morning line favorite is Chaz the Chief (#5) for Kelly Breen. He’s been working well in preparation for his debut. His dam, I Ain’t P.T., has foaled some talented New Jersey breds in her broodmare career, and most of them were sired by Not for Love. However, this will be her first runner on the racetrack since 2019. This is also her first runner to be sired by Uptowncharlybrown, who has become an influential sire of Pennsylvania breds. 10% of his runners have won on debut on the main track. I think he has a decent chance, but I also think he might be overbet, which is why I’ve slotted him on the B line.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $36 Ticket:
I’m going to build this ticket around Fire King (#1, R2) as my single. His trainer, Jose Camejo, has won 17% of his races at Monmouth Park over the last five years and he has 22% of his races over the past 12 months here. He does well with horses going from turf to dirt and he finds a spot where I think he can use his rail post to wire this field. While there aren’t a ton of big prices that I’m interested in using for this sequence, I do see these races as being somewhat wide open, where there’s not a favorite (barring scratches) that should into the starting gate below 2-1. To me, that means there’s potential for decent payout here.
The racing office carded the two turf races for later on in the program, in hopes that the extra time would give the turf course a chance to dry out and be ready for racing after a rainy Saturday. The course took a lot of rain yesterday, and if I had to guess, I’d think they’d be off the turf, but I’m going to handicap these races for both surfaces. On the turf, I think this $12,500-$10,500 claiming race is wide open. I think Jorge Delgado has a pair of aces with Magical Jaime (#7) and Forest Survivor (#8). With Paco Lopez riding Forest Survivor, I think there’s a chance that Magical Jaime is flying under the radar. Delgado claimed him in his last start at Tampa. He’s a seven year old New Jersey bred, who still has his state bred allowance conditions open. He’s run well on this course in the past and is now running for a higher percentage trainer who has been successful first off the claim. I was a little surprised to see Forest Survivor come North for Delgado, as there are several options for him on the synthetic course at Gulfstream this time of year. However, he has good efforts on the turf and getting Paco Lopez to ride is always a plus on this oval. One of my favorite horses from the 2022 meet, Cabinet Pik (#9) makes his eight year old debut in this race for Pompeyo Gomez. He finished first in three straight turf races last year, (he was disqualified two back though). He just missed in a blanket finish at the Meadowlands to end his seven year old season. He returns in a sprint, which isn’t necessarily his game. However, he’s shown that he can be competitive in one turn races and this is the level that is just right for him. Valmont (#10) ran a big race in his only start on this course two years ago. He’s had some physical ailments that have limited him since then. He did end his season with a solid effort at the Meadowlands with $10K claimers last season. This seems like a logical spot for him at this point in his career and Brown is capable of winning with runners coming off the bench.
On dirt, I think Raise the Rent (#12)is strictly the one to beat. Paco Lopez is named to ride him and I think he’d lean this way if the race comes off the lawn. He was a handy winner in his first start of the season last year when beat $12,500 N3L claimers on the dirt. He follows a similar pattern for Breen this year. Genghis (#1) would be my backup plan, shipping in from Parx for Susan Crowell. He’s been facing conditioned $15K claimers on the dirt, so this would actually be a small step up in class, since he’s in open company. However, if the race is taken off the turf, I see this race as a spot where he’d betting class relief, since many of the runners would have grass as their preferred surface. All of his best work has come on the dirt and he’d love an off track. I’m not sure how wet the track is going to be at this point in the card, but he’s worth using as well.
The Late Pick-4 begins with a $40K-$30K maiden claiming contest for three year olds and up. Kasimba (#4) for Carlos David, is one of my stronger opinions on the program. He debuted with $20K maiden claimers at Keeneland where he just missed. David claimed him off of Wesley Ward and he brings him here for his second career start, while moving him up in class. I don’t think there’s a ton of difference between this field and the field he saw in Kentucky last month from a talent standpoint. David has great numbers with runners first off the claim, winning 30% of the time since 2022. While he’s had a bit of a down year so far, winning only 12% of his races to start 2023, he’s won 26% of his races at Monmouth over his career and already has a winner with his first starter at this current meet (Atthecrossroads on 5/14). To me, all signs point to this being his graduation day. Samaritano (#8) would be a runner that I’d use underneath, hoping to get a price to pair with Kasimba. He’s a first time starter by Cloud Computing, who has hit with 8% of his debut runners thus far. The dam has foaled one other horse to make it to the track, and she was a winner in her second career start after showing promise in her debut. Kathleen O’Connell has a winner at the meet already and she’s more than capable of winning with a horse at first asking.
If this N1X allowance race stays on the grass, I really like Apache Tears (#5) and I think we can get a solid price on him. He has run his best races on good turf courses, and if they do run on the grass today, I think the course will be labeled somewhere between good and yielding. He ran very well at this level at Keeneland last year, just missing at long odds that day. He ran well there again, beaten only 2 and ½ lengths by Kaufymaker, who is a very talented Wesley Ward horse. There were two races after that where he wasn’t sprinting on the turf. Being based at the Fair Grounds this winter, there weren’t many turf sprint options for him. He missed two races that he couldn’t get into as an also-eligible. He went to Keeneland last month, and was 7th in a race at this level at long odds. The course was very firm that day, which is not ideal for him, and he probably needed that race after not racing since January. This field might actually have more depth if it comes off the grass, so he’s getting class relief as well. If this race comes off the grass, I’m definitely interested to see where he runs next. Balistico (#4)is a consistent runner that is making his first start since January for Jorge Delgado. His last win came with $10K claimers at Colonial last August, but he’s been a solid earner, finishing in the money 13 of 20 times on grass. Delgado claimed him at the Meadowlands and gave him two races over the winter at Tampa, where he finished second and third. This will be his first try on this course today. Declaration Time (#1) is one that I’ll back up with because I think there’s a scenario where he jumps out to the lead and he wires this group. He’s making his first start since September, so he’ll likely be a little keen early on. He’s never finished out of the money in one turn races on the turf and DeMasi has good numbers with runners off these longer layoffs.
On dirt, I see V Mart (#9) as an interesting runner that will be getting class relief. As a son of Hard Spun, Avila wants to get him on the grass, but his debut at Saratoga was good enough to inspire confidence that he can get back to that form on the dirt. He was no match for Lost Ark when going one mile in the Sapling back in August. He faltered in allowance company at Parx on the dirt and struggled mightily in stakes company there over the winter. Avail gave him some time and he finds a nice spot for his return. His main competition with be both of the main track only runners, Freedom Road (#11) and Great King (#12). We saw Oaklawn Park allow horses that cleared the N1X condition at a smaller track for less money, remain eligible to compete at that level there. Monmouth does something similar, so Great King, who cleared this level at Tampa in December, remains eligible for this N1X condition here. He just missed to Topper T in N2X allowance company at Tampa in his last start in February. That one came back with another strong effort to easily win a deeper allowance race in March. I like that Delgado gave him a little extra time off that big effort, as that seems to be something this one needs. Freedom Road was last seen finishing last of 12 behind Tapit Trice in the Tampa Bay Derby. I don’t think he wants to go that far though as his two prior races in sprints at Tampa and Delaware were strong and would make him very competitive in a spot like this. I see him as a logical rebound candidate while facing a softer group and getting back to what he does best.
Race 9, The $85K John J. Reilly Handicap:
Yesterday, New Jersey bred fillies and mares sprinted six furlongs in the feature, and today, the Jersey bred boys will do the same. A strong field of 10 has been assembled for the first state bred stakes race in this division this year. Four of the top five finishers from last year’s edition of this race are back in action today. I think this race is set up for the morning line favorite, Speaking (#10) to wire this group. He was very good last year as a three year old. He finished 5th in this race last year when making his first start of the year, facing older, more experienced runners. He would go on to run four very good races after that, winning the New Jersey Breeders Handicap at the end of the meet. He struggled in graded stakes company after that. Owens tried him on the turf in March at Gulfstream, and while he wasn’t horrible, I think that race did exactly what it was meant to do. I think he’ll have a fitness edge over his rivals, some of which who might be tailing off at this point in their careers. He feels like he’ll be very tough to beat in this race, which seems to lack any other clear frontrunner. If Speaking is not the same horse he was at three, I think both of Cathal Lynch’s runners have a shot here. Last Romance (#7) may be the better price of his duo. He cleared the state bred and open N1X conditions in consecutive races here last summer. He was not able to get to Speaking in his two starts after that, but he finished his meet with a strong allowance win at two turns. He’s been working well at Fair Hill for his 2023 debut. He might need this one, but I think he could give Speaking a run for his money in some of these races this year. No Cents (#1) was narrowly defeated in this race last year, running a close second while making his first start in 17 months. He ran well here with state bred company and was very competitive at Delaware in open races. Like his stablemate, he seems to be enjoying himself in the mornings at beautiful Fair Hill in Maryland. He was very keen from an inside draw off the layoff last year and while that is usually his game, he may be the one that applies the pressure to Speaking in the early stages here.
The week will wrap up with the second division of the state bred maiden special weight race at 5 and ½ furlongs on the main track. I see the first division as a bit of a deeper race. Many of the runners with experience seem to be using this race as a springboard to a route race in their next start. On the other hand, I think Jersey Gregg (#4) is definitely a sprinter. He’s a newly gelded runner who showed a lot of speed in his first few starts as a two year old. He faded late in those races, but he certainly could have grown up over the winter. Greg Sacco had him working at Tampa for his return and the course has been playing perfectly for the race he wants to run. While I think he might be better on grass, I think he makes a lot of sense in this race, which is a softer field for this condition. Social D (#2) is a first time starter, and there’s an interesting pedigree note in connection with the first division of this race. His dam Ch Ch Cherry Bomb was foaled by I Ain’t P T, who foaled Chaz the Chief, who is the morning line favorite for the same connections in the 5th race. Ch Ch Cherry Bomb was not one of the more successful runners that her dam produced, and none of her three runners that she foaled to make it to the track, have yet to win a race. Paco Lopez does see fit to ride and this American Freedom gelding won’t have to be great in order to win this race.
Top Pick Winners: 8/27 (29.6%) – $58.60/ $2.17 ROI
It was a wet and dreary day yesterday where the track was sealed for all ten races. All three turf races were moved to the main track. The track was labeled wet-fast for the first two races, but it was downgraded to sloppy for Races 3-10.
Mia’s Crusade was our top pick winner in the Spruce Fir Handicap, paying a very fair $13.60. She was a winner in the slop under similar circumstances last year, so the historical trends held up in that race. Beach Daze is a runner that could be a major player in the Smart N Classy Handicap at one mile for New Jersey bred fillies and mares going one mile in two weeks. I would think I Can Run would be considering that spot as well. She’s a filly that does not like the off track, which is likely the main reason for her price floating up to 7-1 after being installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite. While the two week turnaround time is less than ideal, there aren’t a lot of stakes races for New Jersey breds, so I would think these connections will try to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as they can, assuming the horse is telling them they’re ready.
Front end speed was good for most of the card once again. We did get a closer, Antonov, winning the nightcap after being in 7th at the first call. Although, I think that effort could have been more of a function of that race falling apart, he’s been the only winner on dirt at this young meet to win a race coming from more than three lengths off the lead at the first call. I see him entering in a conditioned $7,500-$6,500 claiming race for his next start, where, depending on the field, he could have a live look, as routing on the dirt seems to be what he is most comfortable doing.
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