We’re exactly one week away from the biggest day of thoroughbred racing in New Jersey, with the Haskell Stakes highlighting a monstrous card. Today, there’s an 11 race program highlighted by the Blue Sparkler Stakes which is a turf sprint for three year old fillies. The Coronation Cup at Saratoga was run yesterday, and five fillies were cross-entered in both races. Sweet Solare, Mystic Eyes, and Empress Tigress ran at Saratoga, where Benbang and Marissa’s Lady scratched from that race, presumably in favor of this one. Leading rider Paco Lopez continues to have a hot hand, winning four races on yesterday’s card. It’ll be interesting to see how today plays out, because I think a lot of his mounts are vulnerable today.
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!
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Fillies and mares start the afternoon in a maiden special weight race at 5 and ½ furlongs on the grass. This field is not as deep as the maiden special weight race on 6/25 where four of the eight fillies and mares last met. The pace was solid that day, setting things up for Misspelled Mooon to come over the top and run them all down late. There are three horses that have shown a decent amount of early speed in their prior efforts, but two of those fillies, Epic Queen (#1) and Always Aware (#8), have never run on the turf, and that early speed doesn’t always carry over when moving to the turf. As a result, I’ll make Kamenshek (#4) the top pick, and hope she can take this group gate to wire. She’s saddled by Claudio Gonzalez, who has struggled with turf sprinters on this course. However, he’s the leading trainer at the meet, and she’s shown improvement in her first two starts of the year. She makes her third start off the layoff in a race where I think she’ll be under less pressure in the first half mile. Prudent Song (#2) is trained by Luis Carvajal, who has not won a turf sprint in over five years. However, this four year old filly has been one of his best performers in that span. She’s finished second four times in her career,all of those races coming on this course. She had a rough trip last time out, but was still rolling late to get up for second. She was well backed that day and should be the post time favorite in this race. Hazardous Humor (#7) also ran in that race, but she wheeled back the following week in a maiden claiming race. Frank Russo claimed her that afternoon where she finished 3rd. Her effort two back was stronger, so there’s reason to believe that she can run back to that effort. I’m not sold on either of the two fillies trying the turf for the first time. I presume Always Aware will take some money at the windows with Paco Lopez aboard. However, she’s shown little in her three dirt starts, and Jorge Duarte doesn’t have great numbers with horses going to the turf for the first time. Her half sister won two turf sprints, however, she’s sired by Speightstown, where this one is sired by Street Sense, who doesn’t have the same track record with producing turf sprinters.
Fillies and mares go 1 mile and 70 yards on the main track in this optional $12,500 claiming/$6,250 starter allowance race. She’ll be a short price, but Golden Grant (#1) feels like a single in this spot. She dominated a seven horse field at this level last month, while working out a wide trip from post seven. She draws the rail today, which should allow her to save ground just off the pace, or go to the front if there isn’t much interest from the horses that have drawn to the outside. She has been in very good form lately, winning six of her last nine races, with three of them coming in starter allowance races like this. I have concerns about some of her rivals going this far,, but she’s been very comfortable at this distance, winning three of four starts. Her main opponent is Catania (#6) with Paco Lopez for Kelly Breen. She’s dropping in class after being claimed for $20K in her last start, and runs for a $12,500 tag today (which is about a 40% drop). Breen is 1-8 when dropping horses in for $50% less than their claiming price in thier first start off the claim in this last five years. Even though this mare doesn’t quite fit into that range, it’s worth noting that 6 of those 8 runners weren’t really competitive. I’ll pass on her, hoping that those connections will keep the price from going too low on Golden Grant. Obstinate (#3) would be where I’d land for a backup. She seems like a mare that prefers racing at Parx, and Golden Grant has beaten her by five lengths or more in their last two head to head starts on this oval. They finished closer when they faced each other two back at Parx, but Golden Grant still bested her that day. She’s been acting up pre-race lately, so a calmer version of herself might be a good sign. She’s better suited underneath, but her efforts in February and March at Parx were good enough to make her a logical saver.
Over the last several years, we’ve seen New York and Kentucky adopt maiden allowance races restricted to horses that sold or RNA for $45K or less in their last sale. Those races have been highly supported on those circuits, and they’ve produced some quality runners, most notably, 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile FIllies winner, British Idiom. Monmouth has brought that condition here for this five furlong contest for two year old fillies. When looking at the PP’s down the road, there’s no restricted designation for these races in the running lines, so it’s helpful to make a note that this is the condition for this race. The base purse is also $10K less than the typical maiden allowance races here. Girl Trouble (#3) is one of two with a race under her belt, and it was a solid effort, running second to a very game Sweet Harmony, who was entered in the Grade 3 Schuylerville on Thursday (she scratched though). Butch Reid has hit with 30% of his two year old second time starters in the past five years with a positive ROI. Her dam was unraced and she is her first foal, but her sire, Fast Anna, hits with 25% of his two year old second time starters. She had a solid work at Parx prior to her debut last month and she is following the same pattern into this race. The logical horse to cover with feels like Belmar Summer (#6) for Greg Sacco and Paco Lopez. This is a barn that has hit with 15% of their two year old first time starters over the last five years. Paco Lopez has only ridden one of those 47 runners, and he rode him to a second place finish. The dam’s only other foal to race has yet to win in three starts. The sire, Mastery, despite showing some precocity, winning all three starts in his two year old season, has only sired three debut winners out of 44 horses to start thus far (7%). On the bright side, only two of them have started at Monmouth and one of those two debut winners (Surprisingly) ran on this oval last year.
New Jersey bred fillies and mares sprint 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf in this optional $15K claiming/N1R allowance race. The N1R is essentially the same as the N1X condition as this race is open to any horse that has never won a New Jersey bred race other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or which has never won twice. Seven of the eight runners have only one win, while Wicked Jane (#8), on the outside, trying the turf for the first time, is the only multiple winner in the field. The only runner in for a tag is Politely Crowned (#4), although she does qualify for the allowance conditions here. This feels like a total spread race to me, since there’s not a ton of turf form to go off of. My strategy is to go four deep, basically using a process of elimination as to who won’t be on my ticket. Wicked Jane might take some money with Paco riding, but her sire has never produced a horse that has hit the board in twelve starts on turf. These horses are all full siblings to Wicked Jane and the fact that she’s never been on the grass in 23 career starts tells me all I need to know. She’s a toss for me in this race. Tale Lights (#3) and Rob the Treasure (#6) are both making their first starts of the year for barns that typically don’t have good numbers off the long layoff. In addition, they’ve run their best races at two turns on the turf, so this race seems like the kind of race to set them up for their next starts, which I fully expect to be route races. I’d consider using them underneath, but I don’t see either one winning this race. Joy’s Pride (#1) is a six year old mare that has lost her last 18 starts. She tries sprinting on the grass for the first time today. While her only career race and her best career effort by far was on the grass, that race was a two turns, and I don’t think at this point in her career, she’s fast enough to beat these. That leaves me Sherry Oriental (#2), Politely Crowned, Amazing Graces Joy (#5), and Pomtini (#7) to use on my multi-race tickets. Of that quartet, I like Amazing Graces Joy on top. She ran a credible effort with open maiden special weight company at Tampa in her lone turf sprint back in March. She broke through, getting her first win last out with state bred maiden special weight company on the main track. While the dam of this one has yet to produce a horse that has won a turf sprint, both runners that have tried ran poorly when they debuted in a turf sprint, but showed considerable improvement in their second try. She might be fast enough to wire this bunch. Politely Crowned is in for the tag, and in this spot that doesn’t concern me. She’s been running against open company on the dirt in her last two starts for a lower tag. If she were to win here, she’d remain eligible for the state bred N1X condition, which gives her trainer, Eddie Owens, another option down the road, should she have success in this race. She ran a respectable try at this level to end her 2021 season over at the Meadowlands. She was all but eliminated at the break in her lone start sprinting on the grass in 2020. Sherry Oriental ran a decent race last year when sprinting with $10K N2L claimers at Colonial. She had a wide trip when she came back here to sprint in a five furlong race last year, which is never a good thing when the rails are at 36 feet like they were that day. She’s been routing on the grass since, but she could figure on the cut back while getting an inside draw. Pomtini is trying the grass for the first time in her third start off the layoff. She has one monster win on her resume and five average tries. Stay Thirsty has only hit with 7% of his turf sprinters as a sire, and the dam has only had two horses try sprinting on the grass, each doing it only once. Mello Groove was third on a yielding course at this level at the Meadowlands when making his only career start in turf sprint. Get Groovy tried the turf in open allowance company here two weeks ago and ran 8th, but she had a legitimate traffic excuse in that race when facing a solid field for that condition. There’s at least a little more there from a pedigree standpoint for her turf debut as opposed to Wicked Jane.
The Win-Early Pick-5 wraps up with a conditioned $30K-$25K claiming race at six furlongs. Six of the seven qualify under the N2L condition, where Catch the Smoke (#4) is a three time winner, coming in off a win going two turns while running at this same condition. While trying to determine trainer intent here, it feels like Gonzalez is trying to exploit this condition with a decent three year old that could be facing older horses that may struggle to win. Gonzalez has gone route to sprint with horses after a win 65 times in the last five years, winning 17% of the time and finishing in the money in 43% of those races. This runner was a winner at six furlongs at Aqueduct at this distance with three year old $20K claimers back in April. He’s definitely a player here and he’ll be on my tickets, but I’ll try Gonzalez’s other runner, Mugsy Malone (#2) on top. He ships in from Maryland after a pair of on the board finishes after he was claimed three back. Since joining this barn, he’s improved considerably in his last two starts. Carlos Rojas is riding for Gonzalez for the first time. I like to see when a younger rider who doesn’t get a ton of opportunities, but does well with the ones they have, gets an opportunity for a bigger stable. Both Distorted Limits (#6) and Flatter Me (#7) are horses that I don’t know exactly what to do with, but both have shown enough to be worth including on some tickets. Distorted Limits was a $400K purchase for Newtown Anner Stud Farm back in 2019. He showed some potential as a three year old, but went to the sidelines for 15 months after finishing off the board in an optional claiming/allowance race at Gulfstream. He showed up here at this level last month, joining Michelle Hemingway’s barn, and he ran a solid second at long odds behind Forty Stripes, who ran huge. Third place finisher, Exalted Charm, came back to win in his next start. That was a big effort off the long break, and he was gelded since. He returns at the same level, so I am worried about a bounce. However, Hemingway’s horses have run very well all meet, some at decent prices, so I can’t toss anything from this barn right now. Flatter Me drops in for a tag for the first time in his 12 race career. He’s another runner that showed potential prior to going on the shelf for an extended amount of time. His two races since his return has been lackluster at best, finishing off the board both times, beaten by double digit lengths. Trainer Timothy Hills has hit with 31% of his runners dropping in for a tag for the first time over the last five years (12-39). Paco Lopez taking the mount is another positive sign. With this being the third start off the layoff, coupled with the class relief, we should know how much is left in the tank for this one.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5: $48 Ticket
I like this ticket because I think Paco Lopez is riding five vulnerable horses in this sequence. Three of them, Always Aware (#8, R1), Catania (#6, R2), and Wicked Jane (#8, R4) are going to be tosses for me. I’ll include Belmar Summer (#6, R3) and Flatter Me (#7, R5) in the sequence, but I’m suspicious of both of them as well. Golden Grant (#1, R2) is the runner that this ticket will be built around. She’s been winning a lot lately, (6 for her last 9), and was a handy winner at this level last out. She gets a better post after conceding ground last out, and I am suspicious of many of the other rivals in that spot. Girl Trouble (#3, R3) could wind up being the shortest price in the sequence, and she looks very tough there. I’ll hope to get some value in the 1st, 4th, and 5th races, spreading out in all three.
A field of six conditioned $5K claimers going six furlongs will kick off the Jersey Shore 6 this afternoon. Nick the Cardshark (#4) drops back in for a tag after running in some starter allowance and optional claiming/starter allowance races. He was a winner three back when getting a decent pace to close into. He was pace compromised in his last two tries though when both times, the front runner went the first quarter in over 23 seconds. There should be a more honest pace here with four runners that like to be forwardly placed. If closers can get home, I think he’ll be right there. The same could be said for Town Classic (#5) who runs for a lower tag after beating time restricted $8K-$7K claimers last out. While the tag is lower, which I don’t love, I’d argue that this field is deeper. As a result, I think he’ll be overbet in this race, especially with Paco Lopez riding back. He’s easily good enough to win this race, but value will be a sticking point for me. Front end speed has been a valuable weapon on this course over the last few weeks, so if that trend is continuing, it’ll be hard for me to roll with two horses that will likely be 5th and 6th after the first quarter mile. Mojac Kat (#6) won at this level last out, while finding a favorable pace scenario for his front end speed. He’s in his third start off the layoff and when he was right, he was consistently running races like he did last out. He’ll have outside position on the other speed, but I think he has the best shot of the others that want to go early.
Fillies and mares go 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf in this $16K-$14K N3L claiming race. I wrote about Luli’s Dancer (#6) yesterday when she was stuck on the AE list in a claiming race on the grass. She will have the opportunity to go here, which may not be the ideal spot for her, but I still think she has a big shot. She looked loaded last out in starter allowance company, despite having a miserable trip where she never got to run. She has shown serious improvement on the turf in her three starts on this course. She broke her maiden in May and was second with conditioned $30K-$25K claimers when La Costa ran a big race. For a horse that expended a lot of energy trying to find a clear path last out, she did finish with interest to be 4th in starter allowance company. Paco Lopez replaces Jorge Gonzalez, which is a significant rider upgrade. That will likely reduce the value on this filly, who is still eligible for a N2L race, but my hope is that if Paco Lopez is struggling on some vulnerable mounts early in the card, they might not hammer this one as much here. Both Lullaby Land (#1) and Mosler’s Image (#5) are logical players in this spot. They were second and third, respectively, when running at this level last out, both making their first starts off the layoff. Lullaby Land has several quality efforts on this course, breaking her maiden here last season. Mosler’s Image has considerably improved since getting off the dirt and switching to turf racing. She’s never finished worse than third in three career tries on the lawn. On deeper tickets, Mizzen (#2) making her first try on the turf might be worth including at longer odds. Juan Avila is 14% over the last five years with horses trying the turf for the first time, but he’s three for his last ten times making that move. Street Sense’s progeny aren’t great on the grass, hitting with 8% of their first turf starters and 11% overall. The dam has one winner on the utrf with four overall starters. The dirt form on this one is comparable, so a minor move forward on the turf could be enough to earn some money in a spot like this.
The Late Pick-4 starts with conditioned $7,500-$6,500 claimers going 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track. Melina’s Dream (#3) is the only one entered with multiple wins, scoring a hard fought neck victory over next out winner, Skillful, at this level in her most recent start. She’s 2-2 at this level on this course, with a third place finish against better fillies and mares sandwiched in between those wins. She makes a lot of sense coming back against many of these who she beat last time out. Bird Ruler (#4) is one of those horses that finished behind her that afternoon, fading late to finish 3rd. King Force (#1) who was in that race, drew the outside post that day and was forced to move early after being caught very wide on the first turn. His early move, created some solid internal fractions that likely softened up both himself and Bird Ruler, Since that race, Bird Ruler has joined Jose Delgado’s barn. He’s hit at a 19% strike rate with new acquisitions since 2021. However, he is 0-5 with horses running back in the 8-30 day window during that time span. Looking closer at those races, none of those horses were favored and most outran their odds with four of those five hitting the board. I’ll make her the tepid top pick, thinking that the price will be a little better on her than it will be on Melina’s Dream. However, these are the two that are likely to decide this contest.
Conditioned $16K-$14K filly and mare claimers go 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf here. Last week, when the rails were at 24 and 36 feet, closers had trouble getting home, especially when using the outside lanes. If that trend is holding true today, Zuboshi (#3) should figure to be tough to beat while getting back on the grass for Jerry Hollendorfer. She dominated the field of open maiden special weight runners that she faced back in July at Del Mar. She threw in the towel early when facing male California Breds in the Im Smokin Stakes there at the end of the meet. She resurfaced here last month on the dirt in a competitive N1X allowance race where she showed some zip before retreating badly. She drops in class and comes back to the surface where she scored her only career victory. If she’s right, she’ll be tough. Ofalltheginjoints (#6) was wide and sat farther off the pace than usual when facing similar foes last out. She rallied well when the rails were set at 12 feet, getting into third, less than a length behind the winner. She’s shown more tactical speed in the past, so perhaps the rider switch to Ferrer will be a positive. If Zuboshi starts to wilt, I could see her getting first run. Perhaps a bad break at the start uncovered a new dimension for Bahama Pearl (#5). She was flying late after having trouble at the break last out. The quick pace on the front end helped her cause that afternoon for sure, but she proved that she had the ability to lay back and make one big run. While that style doesn’t necessarily fit the track profile when the rails are at this position, there is other cheap speed signed on that could make like for Zuboshi out front. If that scenario plays out, don’t be surprised to see her rolling late again. She 42-1 last out, and at odds around 15-1 today, I’d consider playing her back.
$7,500-$6,500 N3L claimers go 1 mile and 70 yards on the dirt in this race. I see this as one of the tougher races on the card. I ended up with Beatthatflew (#8) as the tepid top pick, hoping to get some value in this wide open race. He just missed with a lesser group at this level last out. Rider Jorge Panaijo followed a similar trajectory last year at this meet, where he struggled a lot at the beginning of the meet. He went winless for over two full months here, but he was definitely getting closer, losing a few heartbreakers, including one with this runner on 7/3. He appeared to be home free, but he just couldn’t hold off Grandmary that day who nipped him on the wire. Since that, Panaijo had two winners last week, so his confidence should be improving. He’ll have to navigate a trip from a wide draw, but I think this is a horse that showed some ability in the past, and now makes his third start off the layoff. I can see him taking another step forward here. Lawlessness (#4) is a claim and drop horse for Scott Lake that hasn’t started since April. This is not a move I love, but Lake has won 19% of the time after giving a horse a break after the claim. His lone time doing with a claim and drop runner on the dirt in the last five years was a win. Paco Lopez taking the mount is never a bad thing on this oval. Lion Charmer (#3) was an unexpected favorite at this level two back when switching back from turf and dropping in class. He was beaten by Liveyourbeastlife that day, who I was certain would have been the post time favorite. Toss his last on a sloppy course, and his three starts on fast tracks would all play well with this group. Rogallo (#1) is an X-factor here that I’m not sure how to handle. His dirt races at Thistledown in 2021 would make him very competitive in this spot. However, his last two races have been awful. One of them was in the mud at Oaklawn where he was claimed for $16K. Lindsay Schultz brought him back with $20K conditioned claimers on the turf in his first race in six months. He didn’t run a step that afternoon. He’s back to his preferred surface, but this is a significant drop in class. There’s enough there to cover with him on some deeper plays. I’d be willing to upgrade him if he’s cold on the board as well.
Race 11: The $100K Blue Sparkler Stakes:
Five of the 11 three year old fillies in this cross were cross-entered yesterday in the Coronation Cup Stakes at Saratoga, going the same distance. As mentioned above, I’m handicapping this race under the precipice that Sweet Solare (#4), Mystic Eyes (#8), and Empress Tigress (#11), will be scratched from this race. With the MTO runner, Drifaros (#10) not racing if this race goes on grass as scheduled, that leaves us with a field of seven, where the morning line favorite, Marissa’s Lady (#5), will be trying the grass for the first time. SHe’s the class of the field and is coming off her first off the board finish when she was 4th in the Grade 2 Eight Belles on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Both Matareya and Wicked Halo, who were first and third that afternoon, won their next starts, with Matareya, most notably, winning the Grade 1 Acorn. Morey recognizes that she probably can’t compete with the top fillies in training in a race like the Grade 1 Test next month at Saratoga, so he has decided to try her on the turf. While she is the class of the field, she is not a stone cold lock. There are other fillies that want to be on the front end, and she might have to work harder than usual in the early stages with the shorter distance. She’ll be on my tickets, but I’m looking at Benbang (#1) as a win candidate here. She has only one start on turf and that came last November in the Stalwart Manor Stakes at Aqueduct, when she tired late to be 4th, less than a length behind the winner Mystic Eyes. Like some of the others here, she wants to be involved early, and the rail post into the bend should give her an edge over the others that will likely lose a bit of ground while trying to keep up. On deeper tickets, I’m not willing to give up on Insatiable (#6) who lost the rider early on in a nice allowance race for three year old fillies on July 3rd. That was the spill that has kept Isaac Castillo on the sidelines for the last few weeks. Her debut in May was very good, coming from off the pace to get up in time to beat a nice maiden special weight field. Hector Diaz might need to work out a trip, but I think she has a chance if the pace does melt down.
Top Pick Winners: 66/254 (26.0%) – $525.30/ $2.07 ROI