Haskell 2023 is in the books, but there’s still 11 races left to figure out at Monmouth today. New Jersey breds take the spotlight as five of those races are restricted to horses that were bred in the Garden State. The Colleen Stakes for two year old fillies sprinting on the turf did not fill, so we’ll see if that race gets brought back next week or not. First post for the Sunday program is 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 rails are back at 24 feet for the turf racing today, meaning that nine runners will be the maximum that can start in the 5 and ½ furlong turf races, so that leaves four of the fillies and mares in this state bred maiden special weight race on the outside looking in. I see Tequesta (#12) as an interesting first time starter, but she’s deep on the AE list. She’s not locally based either so I’m not sure that Cathal Lynch is going to make the trip with her. He has great numbers with first time starters, and her pedigree favors turf more than most in this field. I see her as a must use with this group if she does participate. However, assuming that she’s not running, Sunnyridge Jaime (#9) is going to be awfully tough to beat in this field. She’s stuck in post nine, which isn’t great, however, there’s not much turf experience or turf pedigrees in this race. She was a strong 4th with open maiden special weight types in her first start on the turf last month. She drops in class to face state bred maidens today, while running for more money. Her dam produced two horses that were winners in turf sprints and this mare is sired by War Dancer, who gets 14% winners from his turf sprinters. With many trying the grass for the first time, there’s too much uncertainty to make this one a hard single, so I’ll try Kate’s Cuban Kiss (#7) as a backup, coming out of an open $40K maiden claiming race at Parx where the winner won by over 15 lengths. She showed speed that day, but couldn’t keep up with a superior animal on that day. The dam hasn’t produced much by way of turf sprinters, but she was a decent 4th in her lone try on the grass when sprinting at Atlantic City.
The Early Pick-4 will begin with a $7,500-$6,500 N3L claiming race going 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track. While the water is getting deeper, I’m not sure there’s anyone quick enough to go with Rerally (#5) in the early stages of this race. He’s won his last two races in gate to wire fashion, winning by a combined 10+ lengths. The Bearrish One, who was a distant second behind him last out, came back to win last weekend. He has to face some talented class droppers in this race, but he’s in great form and is very comfortable when racing on the front end. Jorge Vargas Jr. seems to be very comfortable aboard this one, and I think he’s a logical candidate to win his third straight race. I see Bourbon Thunder (#7) as the biggest threat to him here. He was claimed by Carlos David after a decent 3rd place effort with conditioned $5K claimers two starts ago. He tried the turf last out against better and ran a credible race, finishing midpack in a large field, beaten less than four lengths. He comes back to the dirt where he has both of his career victories. Those races were one turn races back in 2021, and he’s been winless since, however, I do see him fitting well at this level.
This New Jersey bred maiden special weight race for two year olds going five furlongs on the main track was split into two divisions, with the second division coming in Race 5. All signs are pointing to the debuting favorite, Electric Eel (#2) in this race. Paco Lopez takes the mount for Carlos David, whose barn has hit with four of their six debuting two year olds first time starters this year. Sea Wizard has done well with his debut runners, winning with 4 of 10 starters. The dam was a multiple stakes winner, who won her debut at five furlongs on this oval in 2013. Both of her foals to make it to the track are winners, with one of the two winning on debut with open maiden special weight company in March at Aqueduct. She makes an awful lot of sense in this race, and her odds figure to come down from her 5-2 morning line. I don’t want to take too short of a price on her, but she has a lot more pros than cons for a debut runner. Spiritinthenight (#7) was a bit slow into stride but he hustled up to challenge for the lead, while racing three wide throughout the turn. He was bumped by the race winner and was in tight quarters, but I liked that he kept battling to finish third, beaten only a head. The stewards ultimately disallowed the objection by Ramon Moya for the stretch run. I get the decision to leave him up, especially when he returned the favor a few strides later, however, when the margin of defeat was that slim, it’s hard to think that the initial bump didn’t cost him a placing. Regardless, the dam was a winner second time out and she has produced two winners, one winning on debut and the other winning second time out. I do think he’ll improve from his last race and with a clean trip, I think he can have an impact on the outcome here.
I had a lot of trouble with this state bred optional claiming/N1R allowance race going one mile on the main track. I ended up making Cash Kid (#3) the top pick, in hopes that Steel Drivin Man (#2) will take more money at the windows, thus maintaining some value on the morning line favorite. His last race was a career top speed figure, so the possibility of regression is there for this five year old. However, he has finished in the money in his last four starts, winning one of them. He’s been second twice at this level, so there is a school of thought that suggests that it’s his turn today. Jockey Abner Adorno got his first win of the meet here yesterday with Alagon in the Wolf Hill Stakes, so that is an effort that could inspire some confidence from him moving forward. Steel Drivin Man feels like his odds are too short at 3-1 on the morning line. However, Paco Lopez, fresh off three strong wins yesterday, gets the assignment for Kelly Breen. He;s making his second start off the layoff and returning to the dirt after a dull try on turf. His dam improved at two turns, and he’s sired by a Belmont winner, so there’s reason to believe that he’ll improve with the added distance. He didn’t beat much, but his maiden score was strong two starts ago. I’ll back up with both Hello Pop (#5) and Saltin’ The Rim (#7). Hello Pop is a four year old gelding that is in the process of trying to figure out what he does best. He was very sharp two back in a turf sprint, but he did not appreciate the mud in his face when catching a sloppy course in an off the turf race here last week. This is a quick turnaround, but you could also argue that his last effort was not likely very taxing. I think he’s going to be best when sprinting on the grass, but he’s run well enough on the dirt to at least consider using him here. I’d like to get better than the 9-2 morning line to do so, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Saltin’ The Rim should be a longer price, as he has only one win in 20 career tries. He is making his third start off the layoff though, and he was competitive at similar distances at Parx on dirt over the winter. He feels better suited to be a horse to use underneath, however, there are enough holes in the shorter priced runners’ resumes to make me consider including him on deeper tickets, especially at double digit odds.
The second division of the state bred maiden special weight is headed by Dont Rock the Boat (#8), who is trying to win for the first time in his third career start. Of the runners with experience, he’s clearly the best of that group at this moment. He gets blinkers for the first time and his outside draw should be a plus. He’s had four maintenance works since his last start, which is also a positive. My concern is that I feel like he should have shown a little more in his last, especially after getting the raceday experience two starts prior. I’m going to use him because I don’t think there’s a ton of depth in this field, however, I’ll make Charlie’s Express (#4) the top pick in his debut. Gregory Sacco has won with 11% of his first time starts since the start of 2022. He’s scored with 13% of his two year old debut runners over the last five years, and he sent out a debut two year old winner on Friday. His dam was unraced and he’s her first foal to compete. His works are solid enough to suggest that he can be a factor with this group.
Win-Early Pick-5, $48 Ticket:
After connecting for over $2K with yesterday’s ticket, I’m going to try to survive this sequence by going only two deep in both of the two year old races. I think Electric Eel (#2, R3) makes a ton of sense in the third race, but these two year old races have been unpredictable enough to make more want to have a little more coverage. Even though she’s including on this ticket, I’m assuming Tequesta (#12, R1) will not be competing in the opener. That would take the cost of the ticket down to $32, if I choose not to look for a replacement.
The Jersey Shore-6 begins with a $16K-$14K maiden claiming race going 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf. Let’s try a big price in this race and use Recused (#7) on top. His two dirt efforts are awful, but his turf effort with $40K-$30K maiden claimers, going two turns, wasn’t terrible. There’s not much to love on the dam’s side, but Tapizar has sired 14% winners in one turn turf sprint races over the past five years. The dam did all of her best work on the Tapeta, so there’s reason to believe that his form can carry. Win No Joke (#8) makes his first start off the Claudio Gonzalez claim and comes back in just eight days after a second place finish with $12,500-$10,500 maiden claimers on the dirt last week. I like the confidence to wheel him back, and his maiden special weight tries on the turf were solid enough to be able to overcome his wide draw in this race. I’m not sure that Sir Goosa (#2) really wants to sprint on the turf, never running a one turn race on grass before. He did run well enough in sprint races on the Tapeta to make me think that he could be contending with this group.
Since the Colleen Stakes didn’t fill this optional $25K claiming/N2X allowance race at one mile on the dirt will be serving as the featured race today. I really did not like the effort from High Connection (#5) at this level, but on a tougher circuit last month. He followed up a dull effort in the Awesome Again two back with a race where he never looked interested. He switches circuits, which may help, but at short odds, I’m looking elsewhere. Senate Chamber (#7) was a bit flat when making his four year old debut last month. Prior to his 5th place finish in the Zia Park Derby last year, he was on a roll, putting together five strong races in a row. I think he needed that last race and is better at two turns on the dirt. Castle Chaos (#3) moves up the class ladder after a win here last month, when making his first start since June of 2022. He’s done all of his best work in sprint races, but he’s sired by Palice Malice who certainly could give him some distance influence. Simovitch (#1) has been running solid races with similar types of runners at Parx. This is the most consistent form he’s been in throughout his career, so there’s a bit of a strike now mentality here. The rail should set him up to run this kind of race that he’s looking for.
The Late Pick-4 will begin with another $16K-$14K maiden claiming race on the grass, this one for three year olds and up, going 1 mile and 1/16. East Side (#4) definitely feels like the one to beat in this race. He dropped in class and came within a half length of scoring at this level last time out. He’s a half to Moon Colony, whose biggest win came in the Grade 2 Penn Mile back in 2019. I am a little curious as to why Nik Juarez is off this one and Romero Maragh gets the call. Maragh started off slow at this meet, but his business has been picking up of late. He’s an A line runner for me, but I do think there’s a good chance that he’s bet down below his 2-1 morning line figure. I think the most interesting alternative in Flintshire’s Rock (#2), who will be my top pick. I’m always a little cautious about professional maidens in races like this, and I’ll swallow the fact that this one is 0-10 with only one second place finish on his resume. He’s one of five New York breds, shipping in from Belmont for this lower level maiden race. The angle for this runner is that only two of his 10 races have been at two turns on the turf, and those two races stand out as his two best. Now, you do have to go back to 2021 to find those races, and he’s only raced three times since the start of 2022. He’s making his third start off the layoff and he’s drawn well in a race where he could find himself on the lead or just off it, depending on what Dalton Brown opts to do with Saratoga Sky (#6). I’ll need to get at least 5-1 (ML) or better to play him to win, but I see him as a viable alternative to the likely favorite. Word for Word (#9) should appreciate a firmer course after struggling on a course labeled soft at Delaware. Their designation of “soft” courses at Delaware is probably closer to good or yielding at most North American racetracks, however, after watching several races from there, it’s apparent that some of the horses really struggle on that course when it has some moisture in it. His last race there was also a race for Amateur Riders, so it’s not surprising that he, along with several others, got rides that were less than ideal. To me, that race was a total toss, so if you go back to his last turf race on a firm course, his 5th place finish with state bred maiden special weight types, when making his first start of the year in May, doesn’t look too bad. The pedigree frog rass is there and I think this is probably the right level for this three year old. If his odds go over his 8-1 morning line figure, he would become more enticing to me.
Ten New Jersey breds are entered in this optional $30K/N2X allowance race, going 1 mile and 70 yards on the main track. I’ve been a fan of Great Navigator (#10) since he debuted a winner and finished in front of Forte in the Grade 3 Sanford last summer. However, I think he is a bad bet as the favorite in this race today, and I’ll be looking to beat him. He’s being asked to go two turns for the first time, and he’s drawn the far outside post for that task. Sea Wizard has made a name for himself as an up and coming sire of New Jersey bred runners, however, his horses have done all of their winning in one turn races. Four of his runners have tried routing seven times, with a distant third place finish being the only on the board finish. Obviously, the sample size is small, but none of those horses looked to be relishing the added distance. In addition, despite winning at this N2X level to clear the state bred N1X condition last time out, I think this is a deeper group that he’s facing today. Last Romance (#6) was excellent in a similar race last summer, drawing off to win by 2 and ½ lengths. As many Jersey breds do, he was given the fall and winter off and he returned with a pair of efforts in stakes company to start off his four year old season, losing by double digit lengths in the John J. Reilly Handicap and the Friendly Lover Handicap. Speaking and Irish Boolum are sharp horses that run bug races in both of those spots. He makes his third start off the layoff today and he’s getting some class relief at this level. I’m expecting a better effort from him today. Amatteroftime (#5) is an eight year old gelding that finished a little more than a length in front of Last Romance in the Friendly Lover last month. He wheeled back in six days to face a strong field of open N3X allowance runners, where he was 4th beaten by less than two lengths. The winner of that race, Whelen Springs, ran a very game second to Proxy yesterday in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup. He’s entered for the $30K tag in this race, and I’m not sure how consistent he is at this point, however, if he’s longer odds than Great Navigator, that feels like fair value to me. On his best day, Irish Meadow (#2) can hang with this level. He was a winner at this identical condition 364 days ago. Like Amatteroftime, he’;s an eight year old gelding, and he might have lost a step or two. He was second behind Irish Boolum in the Friendly Lover, and like Amatteroftime, he came back with a solid effort in open allowance company in his next start. Both of those runners are still game performers and while I respect both, I do think Last Romance has the most upside and is likely to offer the best value in the race.
The final race on grass for the afternoon will have conditioned $40K-$30K claimers going nine furlongs. All ten runners qualified for this race under the N2L condition. This is an interesting group with a few stretch out sprinters and some horses coming in from some different circuits and class levels. General’s Duty (#7) is likely to be at the back of the pack in the early stages of this race, and admittedly, that has not been a great running style on this course over the last few weeks. However, he’s been pace compromised in his last three starts since breaking his maiden at this nine furlong distance. His last two races have been one turn races at Belmont, and the fractions from his most recent effort were laughable. For the most part, the races here have been more honest in terms of pace throughout the meet and I think that’s going to be the case today. He has finished his last few races with interest and with a stronger tempo up front, I think he could be a force to be reckoned with in the stretch. Neutral (#6) is an interesting runner in this race. He was purchased by Repole and St. Elias Stables for $225K back in 2021. He faced eventual Belmont winner Arcangelo in his debut, where he didn’t run a step. He was immediately thrown into a $12,500 maiden claiming race at Laurel, in a 5 and ½ sprint in the slop, where Kieron Magree rolled the dice, claiming him for himself. He paid immediate dividends as he broke his maiden with $30K maiden claimers at Laurel. He moves up the class ladder to face winners for the first time, and Daneil Centeno will come to town to ride for Magee. The dam was a winner and stakes placed on grass, so there’s reason to believe that these are the types of races where this son of Curlin will be most successful. Nantasket Beach (#8) is the tepid morning line favorite, with Paco Lopez taking the mount for Kelly Breen. His last two races have not been good, struggling two back on the Tapeta at Gulfstream and having a wide trip against N1X allowance types last time out at Delaware. His previous efforts were on the board finishes at Gulfstream with $50K-$40K N2L claimers, so he should definitely fit at this level. His speed figures in those races are better than his nine opponents here, but his current form has been shaky enough to look for viable alternatives. I’ll cover with him, while trying to find a better price. Naga’s Boy (#2) is another horse that I’ll use to cover my bases. He was very good when breaking his maiden at this distance at Tampa three starts ago. He was a huge longshot in the Columbia Stakes where Talk of the Nation was a handy winner. He returned to allowance company in April where he finished a dull 5th. He was gelded since that last effort and was given a few months off to gear up for a summer campaign. He might need this race, and he might not be able to make the front end without having to work too hard. However, I think there is upside here on the drop in class.
We’ll end Haskell Week with a conditioned $5K claiming race for fillies and mares, sprinting six furlongs. I think this race runs through Del Ray Dolly (#3), shipping in for Jose D’Angelo, and getting some class relief. She has six career wins in 16 starts and was 4-8 in 2022. Something went amiss last August when she jogged home with better runners in Florida. She was given over ten months off and she returned with $12,500 claimers in a seven furlong race. She looked like she needed that race though. She joins a higher percentage barn that has had some success with limited starters at this meet. This feels like the right spot for her to right the ship. Kashan (#5) is the alternative for me in this race. She likes racing here, breaking her maiden here last summer and finishing third in her first two starts at this level. She improved enough last time to make me believe that this six year old mare still could get close to her better form from 2022.
Top Pick Winners: 64/274 (23.4%) – $451.40/$1.65 ROI
There’s a lot to unpack from yesterday’s Haskell card, and I’ll continue to add some thoughts going into next week. Geaux Rocket Ride was clearly the star of the afternoon, coming back to California with his first Garde 1 win. When I talk about finding value, this race was a perfect example, as I was able to cash a decent win ticket on this colt at 12-1. I liked both him and Salute the Stars, putting both on the A line while making the Brad Cox colt the top pick. I thought around 8-1 was a fair number for both in this race. On the morning line, Salute the Stars was 8-1 and Geaux Rocket Ride was 9-2. Salute the Stars was a bit more of a risk to me, because a lot of the trouble that he overcame to win the Pegasus Stakes last out was self-inflicted. I was okay with taking that chance at higher odds, but when he was bet down to 9-2, close to the same price as the Grade 1 winners, Mage and Tapit Trice, I made the decision to downgrade him in my personal wagering. The risk was no longer worth the reward.
Conversely, the public was cold on Geaux Rocket Ride, who was really good in all three career starts. The public was largely ignoring his efforts, despite having a similar resume to Arabian Knight, who was a ridiculous even money favorite. More importantly, he had a race off his layoff, winning the Affirmed Stakes last month. When he was at double digit odds, I saw that as an opportunity to take a swing. For me, if I think it’s close between two runners, and there is a significant price difference, I’m always going to side with the better price.
I think both Mage and Arabian Knight ran decent races. I don’t think Mage was fully cranked for this race, which perhaps explains why he drew nearly even with Geaux Rocket Ride, but wasn’t able to continue to gain. He’ll point to the Travers as one of the main contenders and possibly the favorite, depending on the outcome of the Jim Dandy next weekend. Arabian Knight was done in when the longest shot on the board, Awesome Strong, took it to the favorite in the first quarter mile. Like he did in the Southwest, Arabian Knight broke like a flash, immediately gaining a few lengths on Extra Anejo, a horse that is also fairly quick. However, the longshot made him work every step of the way, while Geaux Rocket Ride waited in the wings. Both of those runners are headed to California, and neither appears to be headed to Saratoga for the Travers. Arabian Knight would be an interesting runner in the Allen Jerkens, but I think the connections would rather Arabian Lion in that race.
Salute the Stars was rank once again going into the first turn. I had hoped that behavior in the Pegasus was more of a result of the traffic issues he encountered after blowing the break. However, he started fighting Rosario, much like he did last month, as they went into the first turn. He was a little better at Churchill when breaking his maiden, however, he didn’t have horses in front of him going into the turn that day. You could see that he didn’t like it when an outside horse took command and came over in front of him (once he was in the clear to do so). He still ran on gamely that day, like did in the Pegasus. He did settle, but I thought that he wasn’t going to be able to overcome those antics at this level. The conundrum with him right now seems to be that he’s going to run his best race on the front end, but he doesn’t have elite speed from the gate to get himself there. I still believe that is Brad Cox can get this one figured out, he does have a high ceiling because of his toughness.
There were four other stakes races to talk about, which I’ll get into next week. The 7th race, which was a N1X allowance race with 14 runners had a lot of tough trips, so that is another race that I’ll try to unpack to see if there are any local runners that could offer value for their next start.