Opening day was canceled yesterday, so the nine race card today will be the first thoroughbred races of the year in the state of New Jersey. There’s a nine race Sunday card that’s anchored by the Serena’s Song Stakes, which goes off as the 9th and final race of the afternoon. First post is 12:15 ET.
I’ll be covering the Monmouth Park meet for the second straight 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|
|1||3||3||4,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|2||2||2,3||5,7||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|4||10||10||6,7||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|5||8||8||1,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||4||4,7||3||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The Sunday opener is a $25K-$20K maiden claiming race for three year olds and up and six furlongs. Let’s take a shot with Dear Faith (#3) in this race. He debuted in a maiden special weight race for Greg Sacco at Turfway Park, on the Jeff Ruby Steaks undercard. He didn’t do much running on the synthetic, but Sacco’s horses aren’t great at first asking. The drop in class is probably the right move, although I don’t love it for a horse that cost $60K. I liked the way Turfway horses were running on the main track at Keeneland this spring, and we just saw a Turfway horse pull of a historic upset in the Kentucky Derby. I think he’s a candidate to move forward in his second start. If there’s any leftover moisture in the track, that would likely be pleasing for Rhumjar (#6), whose best career race came in a maiden special weight race in the slop at Aqueduct in December. His form is all over the map, so that has to be in the back of your mind when taking him. I assume the Paco Lopez horse is going to take a lot of money, so the value could be fair on him. Paco Lopez is riding Mr. Extension (#4), who ran a big race, seemingly out of nowhere when running at this level at Gulfstream. If he can do it again, I think he’s going to win. However, he’s 6-5 on the morning line, which feels accurate in terms of how the race will be bet, but very low for a horse that will need to prove that he can run that kind of race again.
The back half of the Early Daily Double is a $25K starter allowance for three year olds that have also never won two races. That is definitely a footnote to keep in mind at this early point in the meet. This is a tough race to figure out, so I’ll probably want some coverage at this point. Jolly Heretic (#2) is likely coming out of the strongest race of anyone in the field, which was an optional claiming/starter allowance race with this same starter allowance conditions as this race. He didn’t get the best trip that day when going seven furlongs at Aqueduct. I like the cutback and the circuit change. He’s another horse that would appreciate a wet track. It’s Over (#3) might get a good set up if closers are able to get home on this course early on in the meet. There are three or four horses that want to be out on the lead, so the pace should be honest enough. He’s another one cutting back from seven furlongs trying to rebound after a tough stretch drive last out. Baagy (#5) has two very sharp races with a miserable effort sandwiched in the middle. He won going gate to wire with an average maiden special weight field at Penn National last out. I like this he’s going in a protected spot after debuting for a tag, but I’m not completely sold on him at short odds. Sunsanddrinkinhand (#7) is another one that has a shot. His last at Gulfstream was not good, when he was making his first start since a private purchase. He can come from off the pace, which could be a valuable trait in this race. I don’t love him as the favorite, but I also see him as a tough horse to leave off your tickets.
Little Vic (#3) getting back to a sprint should make him very tough in this N1X allowance race. He was very good when winning his debut in September in the slop at Gulfstream. He gave future graded stakes winner, My Prankster, all he could handle back in December, finishing a close second that day. He tried two turns twice, finishing 7th in the Sam F. Davis from starting from post 12 and then finishing a distant 4th back at Gulfstream at this level. Avila gave him a little time and ships his North where he finds a field where he has a definite class advantage. There are other speed horses in here, so I’d like to cover with a horse that could be involved late. Don’t sleep on Forty Stripes (#4) coming back here after some dull efforts this winter at Oaklawn. His two dirt races here were good last season, winning his debut when rallying in the mud. He was a non-factor in on grass in the Tyro Stakes, but he finished a solid second when getting back on dirt in the Smoke Glacken. He hasn’t hit the board since that race, but perhaps a return home will be the cure for what ails him.
New Jersey breds sprint 5 and ½ furlongs in this maiden special weight contest. Maryland invader, Irish Boolum (#10) looks very interesting with his outside post in this race. He’s a son of Exaggerator, so if the track stays wet, he might not mind it. He’s been working well at Fair Hill and ships here to run for a purse that is $20K higher than he raced for at Laurel, while also getting some mild class relief in doing so. Cathal Lynch has good numbers across the Mid-Atlantic region. Kaz Sweet Heist (#7) ships in from Penn National to make his first start in three months. His first two starts in Grantville, PA were solid, despite a funky race that was declared a non-wagering race. Lasix is added for his third career try today. One Time Willard (#6) has been on the shelf since August, after finishing third by ten lengths behind an impressive runaway winner last out. He might need a race to be at his best, but his first try was good enough for Paco Lopez to accept the mount in this race.
I like Fleet Warrior (#8) quite a bit in this conditioned $5K claimer. He was last seen in an optional claiming/$5K starter allowance race going 4 and ½ furlongs on opening week at Finger Lakes. He hasn’t won a race since last spring, but he has been running credible races against some saltier foes. He’s 0-3 on this oval, but he wasn’t awful here in those races. Englehart is a high percentage trainer who spots his horses well. This is a subtle drop for him in a winnable race. I could use him as a single in the multi-race sequences. On deeper tickets, I’d look to cover with both Delgado horses that are first off the claim, Uncle Ned (#1) and Youshouldbesolucky (#6). Youshouldbesolucky has been knocking on the door with time restricted claimers at Tampa. The barn and location change might not be the worst thing for him. Uncle Ned is likely better a two turns, so this definitely could be a fitness race. However, Delgado could have seen something in his training to think that he’d be worth trying in a one turn race. He fits from a figure perspective, so there are definitely mixed signals.
Win-Early Pick-5 Ticket:
I think you can build a ticket around Fleet Warrior (#8) in Race 5. Jeffery Englehart is a high percentage trainer and I think the horses that he’s bringing to this meet are well-meant. This one takes a drop in class that should prove to be the key to his success in this race. I really like Irish Boolum (#10) in Race 4 as a horse that might go off at a decent price. He’s 6-1 on the morning line and could be overlooked while moving from open maiden special weight company to the state bred maiden allowance level. if you’re on a tight budget, I would consider using him as a single as well.
The Late Pick-4 starts off with an optional $30K claiming/N2X allowance race at six furlongs. This condition produced some strong races last year and this is a solid looking group of seven today, all of which have entered under the N2X allowance condition. This sequence as a whole is very nice, with three allowance races and a stakes race to wrap it up. Growl Tiger (#4) could be stakes bound for his next start if he’s able to run another race like he did last out at Tampa. He was making his first start in almost an entire year for Arnaud Delacour with against an optional claiming/N1X field there and he blew them out of the water, winning by over nine lengths and putting up a strong speed figure. He was consistently improving as a four year old last year before going on the shelf so there’s reason to believe that he can run back to that last race. Scocciatore (#7) is a New York bred that spent the early part of his career focused on turf racing. He stayed in an off the turf sprint this summer at Saratoga and ran a huge race. Since then, all but one of the rest of his starts have come on the main track. He had a string of second place finishes at Aqueduct snapped last time when he cleared the open N1X condition in the slop. I’ve been a fan of He’s in Charge (#3) since his first few races at the Fair Grounds last winter. His career stalled for a while and was recently claimed after beating time restricted $50K claimers at Keeneland a few weeks ago. Kelly Breen takes over the training and Junior Alvarado, fresh off a win in Friday’s Alysheba Stakes at Churchill, gets the assignment. I prefer the top two, but if I can get better than the 3-1 morning line on him, I’d be more interested.
Eight fillies and mares are entered in this optional $16K claiming/N1X allowance sprint at six furlongs. The morning line favorite is Love in the Air (#4) for John Servis and Paco Lopez. Servis took over for Mark Casse after this horse was purchased by Main Line Racing Stable. All but one of her career races have been at two turns. She’s run on grass three times, synthetic twice, and dirt twice, both times in off the turf races. She’s never gone shorter than seven furlongs on race day. I’m not sure what the plan for this versatile filly, but, despite a nice local work five days ago, I’m not sure sprinting on the main track is where she’ll thrive. This feels like an experimental race, which could certainly expand their various options for this PA bred daughter of Constitution. However, I’m not willing to take a short price in this situation. I’ll cover with her on deeper tickets because of the respect I have for the connections, but I prefer the Maryland shipper, Escape Fund (#6) to rebound off her last race. Shestruggled going seven furlongs in optional claiming/starter allowance company at Laurel. Her three previous efforts were all wins at that level and while she moves up in class here, the classier horses that she faces seem to want to go longer distances than six furlongs. Last year, Chuck Spina ran My Beautiful Belle (#8) in a similar race on a sloppy course on opening weekend, while making her first start since December. She ran into a future stakes winner and graded stakes placed filly, Ova Charged that day. My Beautiful Belle finished second to her in that race at long odds and clearly in front of the third place finisher. Today she makes her first start since the end of November, and she ran a bullet 5F work on this course last week to prepare. She likes this course and could be a gate to wire threat in a race where there isn’t a ton of early speed. Chuck Spina doesn’t have great numbers off the layoff, but his horses tend to run well. That may help to boost her value over the 5-1 morning line figure. Happy Ride (#7) is one of two three year old fillies facing older rivals here. She didn’t show much in her debut with $25K maiden claimers, but Brenda McCarthy showed confidence when entering three weeks later with $40K maiden claimers at Tampa. She was forwardly placed and was ridden confidently to a 2 and ½ length win. This is a big step up in class, but I think she does benefit from facing some other horses that might not be at their peak today.
I’m thinking that several runners in this New Jersey bred N1X allowance race are going to need to get this race under their belts before they are at their best for their 2022 campaign. I think that makes Last Romance (#1) very logical in this race. He narrowly lost in open stakes company at Laurel in December, finishing second in the Heft Stakes. He struggled in his next start, which was the Spectacular Bid Stakes in January, where he finished a beaten 5th. The runner up was a next out allowance winner and the third place finisher from that race was a next out stakes winner. He came back after 2 and ½ months away to finish third in an open optional claiming/N1X allowance race at Laurel when going a one turn mile. I think the shorter distance and the drop in class, despite racing for a higher purse, suits him very well in this race. My only knock on that horse is the rail post in this big field, so I’ll cover with Lemon Creek Louie (#4) was claimed by Douglas Nunn after beating $10K-$8K maiden claimers at Tampa in his last start. He dominated that race, winning by 11+ lengths. He’s third off the layoff, and his two races this year have been much better. This is a horse that debuted well at this track last year, but went off form for a while. The improvement he showed this season so far might indicate that he is a different horse. Nunn, who has won at a 20% off the claim in the last year, opts to run him in a protected spot. I think he’s a sneaky horse in this race, that might be overlooked.
Race 9: The $100K Serena’s Song Stakes:
Opening day will come to end with a ten horse stakes race for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 70 years. The race is named after the Hall of Famer, Serena’s Song, who won the Haskell Invitational Stakes in 1995, beating the boys. She was also third in the Phillip Iselin here the following year, which at the time, was also a Grade 1 race. While it’s unlikely there’s any future Grade 1 winners in this group, this is a solid field, and a very nice betting race to end the week. Leader of the Band (#7) is my top pick, making her third start of her four year old season. She was the upset winner of the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks here last August, and she followed up that effort with a game second place finish in the Cathryn Sophia Stakes at Parx. She tried Grade 1 company in the Cotillion, but was soundly defeated by Clairiere that day. That was her only off the board finish in her 11 race career. She was a little rusty when facing PA bred allowance runners in her first start of the year back in February, but she looked good dominating that level last out, winning by over 10 lengths. Flight to Shanghai (#8) is another four year old that has some upside in this race. She made her first start of the year in a one turn stakes race at Laurel, finishing off the board. She’s better at two turns and has some early speed in a race where there isn’t much of that to go around. I’m expecting a better effort from this Jane Cibelli trainer. Cafe Society (#3) is the lukewarm morning line favorite for Shug McGaughey and Junior Alvarado. She’s coming off a second place finish at Aqueduct, when she was crushed by Make Mischief, who had everything her own way. She’s been running at one turn most of her career. Her only start at two turns came against Malathaat in the Demoiselle at the end of her two year old season. She missed most of her three year old season and has been patiently campaigned by Shug. She’s sired by Empire Maker out of a Tapit mare, so I don’t expect any issues with the transition to two turns. This is the first step toward the $400K Grade 3 Molly Pitcher Stakes here on the Haskell undercard, which may be an attainable mid-season goal for this well bred four year old filly. Moraz (#2) is another Empire Maker four year old filly that is a bit intriguing, and one that I’ll cover with on deeper tickets in this race. She moves to Jerry Hollendorfer after being based in Southern California for her whole career. She’s been focused on grass racing, but she is graded stakes placed on the dirt as a three year old. I’ll be interested to see what Hollendorfer can get out of her, as she feels like a horse that hasn’t quite lived up to her potential yet.