Monmouth Park is hosting the Pick Your Prize Handicapping Tournament this afternoon, which is a hybrid tournament held both in house and online. This is one of the best tournaments in the country, with several seats to the NHC and the BCBC up for grabs. Players will be feasting on a 12 race card this afternoon, highlighted by the Jersey Derby and the first two year old races of the year in New Jersey. Shug McGaughey is going to send out Talk of the Nation in the feature today. He’s a highly promising three year old with a stakes win on his resume and an undefeated record on the turf. He was scratched minutes before attempting to run in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He’ll be a heavy favorite in that race, but he looks like he could be a very talented turf runner. First post will be the usual 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 day starts off with $16K-$14K conditioned claimers, and it’s hard to look past Mispelled Mooon (#1), who was a winner in her only start on this course last season. Her effort here was good enough for her to go to Saratoga and run two strong races in starter allowance company at this distance last season. She was a little flat in her next two starts at Aqueduct and Laurel in the fall, however, she is a horse that loves a very firm course, which she should be getting today. Raymond Handal has very good numbers with runners off the layoff as well. The concern that I have with her is the drop in class for her first start of the year. She’s never run for a tag less than $40K, so to come off the layoff for such a low tag does make me a bit uneasy. However, if she escapes this race without being claimed, it gives Handal more options for her over the summer. He could be playing a bit of poker, especially with a horse that isn’t training locally. If she’s close to the same horse she was last year, I see her in the Winner’s Circle. Whatchamacall (#8) is the logical alternative, but my concern with this one is that she is that she’d rather be running on a synthetic course. She was a winner at the Meadowlands going five furlongs against a modest group of $25K maiden claimers and her only other try on the turf came at Gulfstream in allowance company against a better group. I also worry about her being able to get the distance on the turf, especially with a proven runner like Mispelled Mooon to her inside. Instead, I’ll back up with Sedona Rocks (#3) and Attached (#7) in hopes of finding some longer priced alternatives. Sedona Rocks was gradually improving last season, and her only race on the turf was a turf sprint at Aqueduct in state bred allowance company. She didn’t run that bad, going off at odds of 109-1. She ran poorly in her next two starts on dirt, both with blinkers off. She might need this race, however, I think she’s interesting at this level getting back on grass and dropping the blinerks. Attached has two dirt starts, one last year, and one this year. She was an easy winner against a soft field of state bred $40K maiden claimers at Aqueduct last year. I do like that she came from off the pace that day. She was off from September to April, and she was dull in her return effort against open optional $50K claimers/$50K starter allowance group, also at Aqueduct. Horses sired by Fed Biz connect 14% of the time in turf sprints and 14% in their first time sprinting on the turf. The dam won twice on the dirt and never tried the turf and her full brother is a four time winner, also never trying the turf. The 6-1 morning line feels a little light for me, especially since this barn doesn’t have great numbers with horses trying the turf for the first time. However, this field is lacking depth and there’s some definite upside with her.
The first two year old race of the year in New Jersey is a maiden special weight for two year old fillies going 4 and ½ furlongs. A field of six has signed on, with two of them already having a race under their belts. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Omaha Beach two year olds thus far, and he’s already got a win under his belt with his freshman crop (Easy Red, 5/27 at CD). He’s the sire of Omaha Girl (#5), who debuts for Jorge Delgado. This barn has great numbers with two year olds and first time starters in general. He’s won with 21% of his two year old debut runners over the last five years. Chuck Spina and Jose Delgado are the trainers of the other first time starters in this field. Spina has two winners with 32 debuting two year olds over the past five years, with the last one coming in 2020. Jose Delgado is 0-8 with two year old first time starters in the past five years. Samy Camacho will get the ride on this filly where all things are pointing to her. Spina sends out a pair of runners with Vivid Artiste (#1) and Utopia Rose (#6), both under the same ownership. They have followed the same work schedule, but Vivid Artiste has outworked her stablemate in their last two workouts leading up to this race. Both sires, Munnings for Vivid Artiste and Outwork for Utopia Rose, can boast a 16% win percentage with two year old first time starters on dirt over the past five years. However, the dam for Utopia Rose has foaled a pair of debut winners. The dam for Vivid Artiste is mare sired by Orb who was winless in her career. This will be her first foal to race. It’ll come down to price to me, but at 8-1 on Utopia Rose, who breaks on the outside, and 4-1 on Vivid Artiste on the inside, I’ll roll the dice with the longer price of the two, while backing up with Vivid Artiste on deeper tickets.
This N1X allowance for three year old fillies is a wide open contest with a lot of speed signed on. I think Fabulously Funny (#2) could be the one that runs them down late. She was up much closer to the pace two starts back in the Cicada, where she faded to 5th. Stalking and pouncing is what she likes to do, as she showed in her first two starts at Aqueduct. She tried the turf last out, which was not her best work. I think those last two tries muddy up her form enough to offer some decent value on this filly in this spot. Keeneland shipper, Ziaerati (#5) is coming off a troubled trip at this level at Keeneland when she went off as the post time favorite in a full field. She showed a lot of promise in her debut back in January, which was a sparkling effort. The Busher Invitational in March may have been too much, too soon for her second career start. She’s getting class relief and should be to sit right off the dueling leaders early on. If the course is speed friendly, I’m looking for a horse that could wire this group. Dream Concert (#4) appears to be the speed of the speed in this race, and she’ll get Paco Lopez to ride in her local debut. She just missed at this level last out at Tampa. I’m a bit curious as to why the blinkers are coming off, wondering if the move is to try to get her to rate in this spot. As a result, I’ll look to the Oaklawn invader, Yesternight (#1), and Isaac Castillo, who’ll be riding here for the first time this meet today. She was a gate to wire debut winner in a race where she battled early, going 21:3 for the first quarter mile. She pulled away to beat a maiden allowance field by a decisive margin. She has rail speed and could be dangerous if she’s able to run back to her last race.
There’s not much separating Aequor (#5) and Commanding General (#6) in this $5K conditioned claiming race. Both horses have not won a race since running here in 2022, and both were running in similar spots at Gulfstream. When they met on 3/25, Aequor finished eight lengths better than Commanding General, however, that latter wasn’t the best version of himself that day. Aequor on the other hand hasn’t shown his normal tactical speed in his last several starts, and seems like he’s declining in form in his eight year old season. Commanding General is a six year old that is much quicker in the early stages, which has been a major asset at this meet thus far. He came up short in the final furlong when facing a stronger group on open $6,250 claimers last out at Gulfstream. The other main speed, Starlite Walker (#2) had a lethargic work here the other day, and I’m not convinced he’s fully ready to be his best off the layoff. I see Commanding General making the front without having to work too hard, and being able to hold off his competition here. Aequor is where I’ll backup on the deeper tickets, but I see this as Commanding General’s race to lose.
The Win-Early Pick-5 wraps up with a $16K-$14K maiden claiming contest for three year olds and upward, going 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf. Cloud Computing has been an under the radar sire with some turf horses. He’s the sire of Resvalon (#7), who is trying the turf for the first time today. He debuted in an above average maiden special race at Tampa at the end of March. He was beaten 11 lengths that day, when going seven furlongs. He faltered after setting the pace with $25K maiden claimers last time out going 1 mile and 40 yards there. Darien Rodriguez is a 25% trainer, and while his numbers with runners in their first starts on grass aren’t great, I see this as a horse that could be overlooked in this wide open race. Mike Dini has a pair of runners coming in from Tampa, and both seem like they could be candidates to graduate from the maiden ranks today. Ballindine (#5) has been close in his last four starts with $32K maiden claimers at Tampa over the winter and spring. He ships and drops in class for this barn that is in search of their first winner at this meet. I see him sitting a good trip, while being forwardly placed. I am a little concerned that he’s come up empty in the final furlong in each of those four races, but this field is not quite as deep as those races in Florida. Stirling’s Gold (#6) has been moved into Dini’s barn for the first time after a second place finish at this level in Tampa at the beginning of April. That was his first start since June 2022, so there’s reason to believe that this four year old gelding could move forward in his second start of 2023.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $40.50 Ticket
I’ve put together a ticket that seeks coverage in four of the five legs, while using Commanding General (#6, R4) as a single in the 4th race. I think there are some longer price options in this sequence, such as Fabulously Funny (#2, R3) and Revasalon (#7, R5) that could add value to this ticket.
This maiden special weight race for two year olds is open to the boys, Six runners have entered, four of which were bred in New Jersey. Eddie Owens unveiled a first time starter by Sea Wizard on this weekend last year named Great Navigator. He would go on to easily win his debut at 17-1, and then go on to finish second in the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga, finishing in front of the eventual two year old champion Forte. (Sidenote: He’s back in action today in Race 8, where he is a heavy favorite). He sends out a pair of New Jersey bred firsters sired by Sea Wizard today, hoping to be able to repeat his 2022 success. Both of his runners, Ship to Shore (#4) and Don’t Rock the Boat (#5) are live in this race. They have worked faster in the AM than their counterparts, and Owens has done well, winning with 4 of 11 two year old first time starters in the past five years. Two of them came last year with Sea Wizard runners for Holly Crest Farms, who owns both of these runners. Ship to Shore has been slightly faster, but the dam for Dont Rock the Boat is slightly more accomplished. I’ll use both in this race, but I’ll try Dark Victory (#6) on top for Chuck Spina. This barn has started off well at the meet, and his dam, Bustin Out, was one of the better New Jersey female sprinters over the past several years. Her first two foals to race haven’t had the same amount of success she had. This one is sired by two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint Winner (one of those races coming at Monmouth), Midnight Lute, who gets 14% winners with debuting two year olds on the dirt.
FIllies and mares travel 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf in this competitive N1X allowance race. Caironi (#4) was knocking on the door at this level in New York last season where she gradually improved. She was 4th, beaten less than a length at the end of October at Aqueduct. She regressed a bit when trying 11 furlongs at the end of the meet there. She struggled on the dirt over the winter, so Miceli opted to freshen her up for the spring. She returned at long odds at this level in April where she finished 4th in a seven horse field. This group is not as deep and a few of the major players are coming off a layoff, so they might not be at their best. I think she lands in a good place to finally clear this condition. Customer List (#6) feels very obvious in her first race of the year for Chad Brown. She was a debut winner on this course in a strong two year old maiden special weight race in September of 2021. She was on the sidelines until making her return in the Penn Oaks last spring. She was not a fan of the turf course at Penn National that afternoon. She rebounded nicely, running a close 4th two times and then narrowly missing at this level at Aqueduct in October. She’s listed at 7-5 on the morning line and feels like she’s going to be very tough in this race. However, this feels like a spot where she might not be at her very best.
There’s not a lot of value here, but Great Navigator (#3) feels too good for this field. He was beaten as the even money favorite at this level on Opening Weekend. However, he drew a rail post on a track that was very kind to front end spee.d He was used hard early to keep pace with Wild Mule, who has more natural speed. He’s better when he’s allowed to relax off the front end and make his run at the leaders. Those were the tactics he employed when finishing 2nd in the Grade 3 Sanford last July, finishing in front of the two year old champion, Forte. He finished in the money in a pair of N1X allowance r. aces in Florida before coming here in May. He may not have progressed a ton from two to three, but he feels like he’s just faster than this group. If front end speed is dominating races earlier in the card, I may upgrade Bustin Loose (#8) a bit. He’s a recent maiden breaker who was very good when making his first start of the year last month. He was the 8-5 favorite that day and was never challenged. He’s never faced a horse as talented as Great Navigator, so this is an acid test. He has drawn well for the race he wants to run and there isn’t a ton of early speed for him to deal with.
Edit (12:29): With Great Navigator scratched, Bustin Loose (#8) becomes the top pick scale also upgrading Kaz Sweet Heist (#6), who now makes a lot of sense in his second start off the layoff.
I’m going to be against Chad Brown and the morning line favorite, Enchantment (#6) in this N1X allowance race for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf. While he normally does well with his imports, winning at a 23% clip since 2022, I’m not sold that this filly is anything special. Her races in France were slow and she’s been on the shelf since January of 2022. Her works aren’t anything special and Brown’s first call rider at Monmouth, Samy Camacho, is riding Maria’s Honor (#3) for Jane Cibelli. While this field isn’t the strongest field for this condition, I think there’s value in trying to beat her. I’m going to try Tryinmyheartout (#5) for Jose Camejo. She beat a pair of Chad Brown runners in her first start on turf at Aqueduct in April. Utilization Rate came back to break her maiden in her subsequent start at Belmont. This filly faced a stiff group of three year old fillies at this level in a one turn race at Belmont last month. She went off at 35-1 and had trouble at the start. She didn’t run poorly though, finishing 6th, beaten almost seven lengths. Although she’s facing older horses again today, she clearly has some turf ability, and I think after pairing her Beyers in her first two turf starts, she can move forward in this race, where there isn’t a ton of early speed. I see her stalking Blue Times (#4) to her inside and making a run on the turn. She was all heart in her first try, and I think this aptly named filly has been facing better competition than her rivals. Maria’s Honor did not break well at all from her outside post in her last start in March at Gulfstream, when facing a better field at this condition. She broke out badly and spotted the field several lengths, while also losing valuable position in a race where the pace was not very strong. Miguel Vazquez waited and launched a wide rally, where she was gaining ground late and passing some tiring horses. She was the only runner that was making up ground while coming from off the pace that day, but she was left with way too much work to do. She finished in front of Blue Times who set the pace and faded badly. Her prior race with a win with $25K starter allowance company on the grass, where she was a little closer to the early pace. I like to see Camacho here and her three prior turf tries were solid efforts. Pentagon (#1) showed a lot of promise on grass in 2021, breaking her maiden with a powerful late charge at Keeneland in October of that year. She only made two starts in 2022, and neither were very impressive. She came to run three times this year, once on turf, once on synthetic, and once on dirt. After watching those three races, I think turf is where she is going to do her best work, and McGaughey tries adding blinkers in this spot. There were no takers for her at $50K last out at Keeneland, but I’m encouraged that she’s not offered for a tag today.
A field of nine will sprint six furlongs in this optional $16K claiming/N1X allowance race. Catch the Smoke (#1) was a two-time winner on this course last season before going away for ten months. He came back to run an even 4th at this level on a day where it wasn’t easy for horses coming from off the pace to make any real headway. I’m expecting an improved effort in his second start off the layoff, while also sitting a favorable trip off the front runners. Never Early (#6)was an impressive winner in an allowance race at Finger Lakes last month while making his first start since August at Saratoga. He’s moving up in class for this race, but Jeffrey Englehart has very good numbers with horses in their second starts off layoffs. Despite winning his last with ease, he looks like a horse that could improve today. Trash Talker (#4)is the tepid 3-1 morning line favorite in this race. He’s another one that is coming to town after a solid win. He was claimed for $25K in that last race at the Big A. He seems to be best equipped to set the pace in this race, however, Tenebris (#2) could go from the inside and Castle Chaos (#8) is a total wild card in this one. I’ll use Trash Talker, but I do want some coverage with him.
Race 11, The $100K Jersey Derby:
This is one of four stakes races for three year old turf horses East of the Mississippi River this weekend. The Grade 2 Penn Mile was held last night at Penn National, the Audubon Stakes is the 7th on a stakes heavy card at Churchill, and the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge is scheduled to go off six minutes before this race at Belmont. Talk of the Nation (#3) was a wiseguy horse for a lot of people in the American Turf Stakes at Churchill on Derby Day. He was on my tickets, but he was a vet scratch prior to loading into the starting gate that day. His odds were cut in half from his morning line figure prior to his defection. That race has come back strong as the top two finishers in last night’s Penn Mile, Major Dude and Behind Enemy Lines both last met in that spot. He’s worked twice since that incident and Shug brings him here instead of one of the Grade 2 races. He was never tested, winning both turf races with ease at Tampa over the winter. He was much the best when winning the Columbia Stakes in March and then Mo Stash, who was second, flattered him by winning the Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland. I’m not concerned about the time off and I think the presence of two Chad Brown horses will keep his odds from going too low. He’s another favorite that seems to be well-spotted for a short priced victory. If I backup, I’m going to try doing so with Offaly Cool (#9). He was a live longshot on the dirt in the Long Branch Stakes here last month, losing by a desperate head to Howgreatisnate. He has improved dramatically since being claimed by Jacinto Solis in February. While his numbers have shot up on the dirt, it’s not like his races on turf or synthetic were awful. I think he’s much better now than when debuted on the turf last year. I fully expect him to outrun his odds in this race.
A half dozen $10K maiden claimers wrap up the afternoon in Oceanport, New Jersey. Dad’s On a Roll (#1) tried the dirt for the first time and ran a solid second to a runaway winner on Opening Day. Speed was good that day and the winner, Excess Demand, was much the best. There doesn’t appear to be anyone in this field capable of running that kind of race. On the outside, I’ll also be using Stormandy (#6), getting back on the dirt for Charlton Baker. He just missed with $20K maiden claimers at Aqueduct back in February, but he struggled at that level against a better field in March. Baker had him try the turf two times, with little success. There’s really not a level for him to be competitive in New York so shipping and dropping in class here makes plenty of sense. I think some of the other shorter priced runners are vulnerable in this spot, so I see him as a horse that could offer a little bit of value.
After the first few weeks of racing favoring front end speed, the main track seems to be playing more fairly. Horses were able to win from off the pace, stalking the pace, and on the lead yesterday. Jomar Torres was the only rider with multiple wins on the program, winning the 3rd and 8th races.
The featured race was won by Chad Brown and Power in Numbers, who won his second straight start. I thought that was a strong effort from the lone three year old in the field to clear the N1X condition. We’ll see what’s next for this son of Girvin. The Pegasus Stakes in two weeks likely comes up too quickly and he’s not a serious contender for the Haskell. New Jersey bred, Lib’s Contento ran huge to be second in his five year old debut. He’s not the most consistent runner, but he’s always showed potential. I’m interested in seeing what he does in his next start. My top pick, Rhumjar, had an odd trip where he was away a bit slow and then rushed up to be wide into the first turn. He came with a bold looking move on the turn, but flattened out in the stretch. I see that a race that will look better visually than it will on paper, so he may be one to tab as a horse to watch if he lands in the right spot.
Top Pick Winners: 13/45 (28.9%) – $85.00/ $1.89 ROI