There’s an eight race card this afternoon at Monmouth Park, headed by a pair of maiden special weight races. After carding 50% dirt/turf races over the past two weeks, the turf course is getting a bit of a rest with only two races carded on the lawn today. First post for the Friday card is 2:00 (ET).
I’ll be covering the Monmouth Park meet for the third 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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The day begins with a $10K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares traveling 1 mile and 1/16 on the main track. Someone in this field is graduating today but the lack of consistency from several runners in this race makes this race quite the puzzle. I landed on Derwin’s Paynter (#1) on top after finishing second to a runaway winner in her last start. She had a favorable trip in that race against a slightly deeper field, but she figures to get another reasonably decent trip while drawing the rail for this two turn contest. Her last effort was her first attempt at two turns on the main track, so it’s reasonable to expect that she’ll improve here. La de Peluche (#5) acted up before the start of her last race, where she finished third at this level. She finished two lengths behind Elika on 7-7, who went on to beat Derwin’s Paynter by 6+ lengths two weeks later when they met on 7-21. That filly did take a sizable step forward, but there’s reason to believe that La de Peluche can too. She’s making her third start off the layoff and only her 4th start overall. She has a little more upside over several of the professional maidens that she’s up against here. Dusted (#3) took the short end of a three horse photo for second in the 7-21 race, when she was narrowly defeated by Derwin’s Paynter. She ran back nine days later and finished 6th in a more competitive sprint at the same $12,500-$10,500 maiden claiming level. I think the sprint races in these lower level maiden claiming races tend to be a little deeper than the route races, so it makes sense that she stretches back out to two turns. On deeper tickets I’ll include, Zippy Zinny (#4), who has the top last race Beyer Speed Figure. That did come in a sprint race on the dirt and she’ll be asked to stretch out again. Her first race on dirt was at a similar distance and she was a non-factor that day. She has shown that she can be competitive at two turns on the turf, so there’s reason to believe that she could back up her last start. Her poor effort on 6-25 is giving me a bit of hesitation though.
There’s an interesting name that shows in this conditioned $12,500-$10,500 claiming race. Country Miles (#3) has been racing also exclusively in state bred allowance races for the bulk of his 33 race career. He broke his maiden here in October of 2020 and with the exception of a few off the board finishes against tougher company at Parx and Penn National, most of his work has come against some of the better horses that have been bred in New Jersey over the last few years. He typically runs his race, whether it is on dirt or turf or in a sprint or a route. However, for the most part, he hasn’t been good enough to be competing at that level. He’s in his seven year old season, and he’s dropping in for a tag for the first time in New Jersey. I do think the six furlong distance of this race is the distance that he has been best at. Part of the struggle about running in just state bred races is being able to consistently find races where your horse gets to do what they do best. On figures, he should be right in the mix in this race, but how I’ll use him will come down to value. He’s been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite and at the end of the day, regardless of circumstance, I can’t recommend taking a short price on a horse that has lost 24 races in a row. He’ll be on the A line for me, but I’m going to take Awesomebrotherbill (#4) on top in this race. He’s taking a subtle class drop in this race, which is easy to miss when combing through the PP’s. He’s coming out of an open $16K-$14K N3L claiming race. While he is dropping a notch in class to the $12,500-$10,500 claiming level, the older horses in this field are forced to enter under the N2L condition. For comparison purposes, see how this field stacks up against the field in the 4th race, which is also a 12,500-$10,500 claiming race, but that race is restricted to runners that have never won three races. While he might be able to beat that field on his best day, there’s four other runners in that spot that I would pick ahead of him. While there are three other three year olds in this race with multiple wins, this is definitely a softer group than he saw last time when was well beaten. In fact the field he saw on 7-28 was stronger than the group in that 4th race today. His win three back came against the softest field that he had seen to that point in his career and I think he finds a softer group here. Dart (#2) is a backup play for me here, getting back on the dirt after a failed turf experiment two weeks ago. He hasn’t been the same horse since he was claimed off Claudio Gonzalez three starts ago. He was a popular winner that afternoon, but came back to be third at this same level two back after hitting some traffic woes on the turn. Susan Crowell claimed him and tried him on the grass against better where he was never involved. I think he will appreciate the class relief and the switch back to the main track, but I do wonder if he’ll have the same pop for a lower percentage trainer.
Five first time starters take on four experienced runners in this maiden allowance race for three year olds and up, going six furlongs. For what it’s worth at this time of the year, all nine runners in here are three years old. There are two horses that are likely going to take a bulk of the wagering attention; Pappy Problems (#5) and Just Beat the Odds (#7). Just Beat the Odds has three starts, all at this current meet, and he’s finished on the board in each one, not far off from the winner, putting up strong speed figures in each start. Someone is going to have to wither take a big step forward or run a big race on debut to beat him in this spot. I thought his last race at two turns was solid, so I’m not 100% convinced cutting back to a sprint is the best move. His two sprint races were strong though, and he had a rough trip two back when breaking from the rail and finding himself in tight at several different points throughout the race. That was definitely a race where the trip was much tougher than the trouble line suggested. The addition of blinkers along with a better post draw today might help push him over the top. Pappy Problems is the most expensive purchase in the field, debuting for Todd Pletcher. Pletcher has hit with 23% of his debut runners that are three years old or older over the last five years. However, that number drops to 12% when talking about those runners who debuted at Monmouth. His last older debut runner on the dirt was a horse named Silver Ticket, who took a decent amount of money at the windows, but faded badly and was beaten by 31+ lengths. That runner was also a pricy purchase for the same owners. That one also had solid works over this course but just simply wasn’t up to the task. Pletcher won with a debuting two year old on Sunday that paid $17.60, and I don’t think bettors are going to let that happen again. I think this one will be overbet, and I’d rather try to find some prices underneath than to go with this one. I’ll use both Aquarius Moon (#3) and Airborne Elite (#6) as backups in this spot. Airborne Elite (#6) comes over from Parx to make his debut for Guadalupe Preciado. Horses sired by Army Mule are off to a fast start, winning 22% of their dirt sprint races. That number goes up to 30% when talking about his dirt sprinters at Monmouth. He has hit with 24% of his first time starters that sprint on the dirt and this barn can certainly get horses ready to fire at first asking. Right now, I have him slated as a backup, but if he’s looking good in the paddock and warming up on track, I could certainly upgrade him and take a chance on him to win if the price is right. Aquarius Moon will need to find a way to make up about eight lengths on Just Beat the Odds in his second career start. He was sharp when breaking from the gate, but he kind of backed off when in tight while other runners were jockeying for position. He did continue running instead of fading and losing interest, which I do see as a positive. The four other horses that this dam has foaled that have raced have all been winners, one of them winning in their second career start. I suspect he might need one more race before he’s ready to beat a horse like Just Beat the Odds, but I am expecting improvement and if the favorite gets another rough trip, he could be able to take advantage of that.
I referenced this $12,500-$10,500 N3L claiming race when discussing the second race today, and three of the runners from the 7-28 $16K-$14K N3L claiming race that I mentioned are dropping a level into this spot. A strong effort from Awesomebrotherbill in the second race could be a reason to upgrade Practical Way (#2), Souper Royal Moon (#5), and Bayou Shack (#7). There are also two runners coming out of a conditioned $14K claiming race at Saratoga on a sloppy course. I thought the effort from Hereby (#8) wasn’t bad that day. It was not easy to make up ground on that course and I don’t think a sloppy course is what that one is looking for. He ran two competitive races in N3L allowance company at Finger Lakes prior to that start at the Spa. He’s back with Darien Rodriguez and getting a touch of class relief coming out of that race. While both of his wins came at two turns on the turf at Tampa, he has been competitive when sprinting at the right level of competition, when getting a fast track. I think we’ll see a better effort from Souper Royal Moon in this race. He was making his first start off a three month break when he faced that above average field for the condition in the 7-28 race. He drops in class and should be able to work out a nice stalking trip like he did at Gulfstream in April when he cleared the N2L condition. His trainer, Carlos Perez, is looking for his first win at this meet, but his horses have been live as 9 of 16 have hit the board. I also think Bayou Shack is a candidate to improve while dropping back down to this condition. He was dueling for the lead in that 7-28 race where the pace was on the aggressive side. He broke near the outside and got away a bit flat-footed. He was hustled up in between horses and took the lead, while moving to the rail. That was the first day where it looked like the rail might not be the best place to be on the dirt track at Monmouth. He faded to last that day. He likes to be forwardly placed, but he’s not a “need the lead” type. Ward is trying him with blinkers off today to see if that makes a difference. I do think we’ll see a better effort from him.
We’ll get on the turf for the first time today with this maiden special weight for fillies and mares, dashing five furlongs. As per usual on Fridays, the rails will be out at 36 feet, meaning that the maximum number of starters at this distance will be eight. It’s been a tough meet for Jose Camejo, but he’s a good trainer that has had a decent amount of success here in past seasons. Classic Performer (#3) finished in the money for him in her first two starts at this meet. She shipped to Belmont where she struggled going seven furlongs on the turf there. She comes back here and gets a five furlong race after running out of the 5 and ½ furlong chute for her other two local tries. Historically, horses that lie closer to the front when the rails are at this position, have an advantage (although that wasn’t the case last week). There’s not a lot of speed signed on here, so I do think she has a tactical edge over many of her rivals. Blinkers are going on today, so I think the mission might be to make the lead and see if she can carry her speed for the full ⅝ of the mile. Get Loaded (#5) ran sneaky well in her debut with $40K-$30K maiden claimers on the grass last month. While I don’t love horses moving up to maiden special weight from maiden claiming races, I don’t think there is a vast difference in quality between the two fields. She drew the nine hole for debut, which is a tricky post for that 5 and ½ furlong distance out of the chute here. There’s a dogleg turn onto the main oval and it’s very hard for horses in those stalls to avoid some ground loss. She was widest of all coming out of the chute and was able to tuck in to the two path, where she sat until tipping out at the top of the stretch. She closed well to get into 4th in a race where the top three finishers were close to the front end the whole race. The winner ran a strong race on debut to break her maiden, but I saw enough from this runner to play her at this level. I’d like her a tough better at 5 and ½ furlongs, but I think she’ll be able to sit a closer to the front end before launching in the stretch here. Poet’s Woods (#1) was third at this level last out when setting the pace in a race at 5 and ½ furlongs. She was in the outside stall and was ridden hard to clear to the inside to avoid that ground loss. She faded to finish third, beaten only two lengths that day when making her first start in a sprint and her first start since the end of April. Paco Lopez takes over for Angel Arroyo today. I think she’ll run better than she did last out, but I do think this field is a little deeper than the group she saw that afternoon. She’s likely going to be well supported at the windows as well, so I’m thinking there will be better value elsewhere in this spot.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $54 Ticket:
I think this is going to graduation day for Just Beat the Odds (#7, R3). He’s coming out of three tough maiden special weight races and looks to be better than his rivals in this spot. He’s cutting back to a sprint after a strong effort at two turns, which I was a little curious about. However, his two sprint races were solid and he had a legitimate excuse for his defeat at this distance two starts back. He draws a better post and should win, albeit likely at a short price. I can hope that the public will back Pletcher’s Pappy Problems (#5, R3), who I think is a vulnerable first time starter in this spot. I’ll seek coverage in the other four races in this sequence, which feel fairly wide open.
The late Pick-3 will begin with an optional $12,500 claiming/$6,250 starter allowance race going 1 mile and 70 yards on the main track. There’s nine entered in this spot, but it’s hard to look past the duo drawn to the inside. Coach Adams (#1) drops back to this level where he’s been very tough at in the past. He was a winner at this condition two starts back and he won his last two races this spring at Oaklawn, also at this level. He moved up to face a salty group of N1X allowance types on the Haskell Undercard last time out. He ran his race, but that was only good enough to be third, beaten eight against an above average field for that condition. He comes back down to this level and is drawn well for the stalking trip that he wants to get. He’s by far the most consistent runner in the field and should be awfully tough in this spot. His main opposition is going to break in the stall next door. Fast Break (#2) comes back for Robert Falcone after being on the sidelines since a narrow defeat with conditioned $5K claimers at the end of May. This barn is firing on all cylinders at this meet, winning with 11 of their 34 starters so far. I think Nik Juarez, who rides Coach Adams, will be willing to concede the lead to this gelding in order to get Coach Adams off the rail and ready to pounce from outside of his rival. He’s put up big figures in the past when left alone on the lead though, so if speed is holding today, he might be worth upgrading. It’s going to come down to price for me when trying to separate these two.
Conditioned $40K-$30K claimers will go 1 mile and 1/16 in a wide open race on the turf. I landed on Provision (#7) shipping in from New York for Rob Atras. This race feels like a bit of a Plan B spot for him after the $35K N3L claiming race at Saratoga last week was washed off the turf. While the purse is lower here, he does run for a higher tag, while facing a field where most all but one of his rivals qualifies for the N2L condition. He ran well enough to be a distant third behind a dominating winner in state bred allowance company last month at Belmont. He was a winner when clearing the N2L condition there in June, which is essentially the level that he’s back at today. Most of his races on the grass have been solid and I think he can be forwardly placed in race where there isn’t a ton of early speed signed on. Love Me Not (#6)is the other two time winner in this race and depending what Naga’s Boy (#5) wants to do, he’s also the likely pacesetter. He tired late in the Kent Stakes last month when aiming high and going 11 furlongs on a course labeled soft. At Delaware, they don’t seem to use the label yielding, but I think that would be the better comparison to the condition of that course compared to the labels used at most North American tracks. He ran a huge race at Belmont two back at big odds when facing N1X allowance company. I do think the cutback in distance and the potential slow to moderate pace should work in his favor, while also dropping in class. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have been a fan of Affable Monarch (#2) for quite some time. He ran a big race to be third two starts ago behind a very nice import in Kingmax, who should be stakes bound soon. He lined up in Post 13 in another N1X allowance race on the Haskell Undercard. He broke slowly and trailed early on. He had to take up around the ⅜ pole when an injured rival was being pulled up, but the reality is that there was no way he was going to pass all those horses that day. I do think the drop in class will be beneficial, and despite a female family that has excelled on grass, perhaps a return to the main track is warranted. I like this horse and refuse to let him beat me, but my reason for not making him the top pick is his lack of early energy that he’s shown as a four year old. He’s never been a horse that has showed a lot of early foot, but he’s been leaving himself way too much work to do in his last few starts. In his defense, the pace two starts back was ridiculously fast and he did have to navigate the incident last time. I’m hoping that his inside position and the more moderate pace will help him stay closer to the pacesetters in the early stages here. On deeper tickets, I’ll include Face Abarrio (#1), who I thought ran a big race in his turf debut at this level last out. He was getting a little leg weary in the stretch, which was not particularly surprising as he was stretching out to nine furlongs after a series of sprints. The winner has much more foundation routing on the turf. He showed he can handle the grass without an issue and I would label him as a candidate to improve off that effort. Paco Lopez took the mount on a horse that I liked from last year, Tap the Gavel (#3), who is making his first start in over an year. His three turf races were solid last year, winning with maiden special weight company against a nice field in May. He struggled against another decent field at the N1X condition in July before going to the sidelines. He showed enough promise last year to think that he at least earned a shot to compete at the N1X level before being entered for the tag. It’s definitely a calculated risk for a horse that cost $230K at the OBS April Sale in 2021. There’s enough positives for me to backup with him on the deeper multi-race tickets, but I think there will be value in trying to beat him. 6-1 is probably the lowest number I’d likely need to play him to win, but I don’t think we’ll get that today.
The day will conclude with a $5K conditioned claiming race for fillies and mares, going 1 mile and 70 yards. The current form in this race is a little rough. I ended up with Cinnamon Dream (#2) as the top pick in this race, as I think she might have a few excuses for her two poor efforts since moving to Michael Catalano’s barn. Prior to the trainer change, she ran a solid third behind a filly that has won her next two starts. She was facing $7,500 N3L claimers at Parx that day and that field stacks up favorably against this group. She caught a sloppy course at that condition two back and then was outrun against a much better group in optional claiming/starter allowance company in a race that was taken off the turf. In addition, she’s the only runner that wouldn’t qualify for the N1Y condition, but is able to enter this race as a mare that has not won three times. The drop in class feels warranted and I see her being able to rebound for a solid outfit that doesn’t leave Parx too often. Pure Elegance (#1) and Shea On a Mission (#6) are an uncoupled entry owned and trainer by the same connections. Shea On a Mission was a private purchase after faltering at this level two starts ago when running for Charlton Baker. Pure Elegance is dropping in class after losing her rider after hitting a fallen foe in a compact starter allowance field back in June. She was claimed for $5K in N2Y company in January and came back to dominate at that level at the end of the month. She has been facing better since then and perhaps was waiting to be eligible for this N1Y condition to make her return. I also wonder if Shea On a Mission is going to be used to try to push Scott Alaia (#4) on the front end in this race to try to set things up for her more talented stablemate. While I don’t think there are too many rabbits being utilized in $5K claiming races, I do think Shea On a Mission is more effective when she’s closer to the front end, and blinkers are going for the first time since her first two career starts in 2021. I also see Scott Alaia as a horse that might be more effective at longer one turn races, so if there is someone that can keep her honest, I think the back markers have a good shot at catching her. I will back up with that one deeper tickets, just because I think the potential for her to walk on the front end is there if she is not challenged. Carlos David claimed her for this $5K tag last out and he has good numbers first off the claim. She was hammered down to 6-5 last out and I fear that her odds will be lower than what I’m willing to wager on again here.
Top Pick Winners: 83/363 (22.9%) – $594.40/$1.64 ROI
Two turf stakes races on Sunday produced two decent priced winners and two exciting races. The Select Stakes was made more interesting when the three year old Crispy Cat opted to race here while facing older runners instead of shipping to Saratoga to face fellow three year olds. By doing so, he made for a livelier early pace as he battled with longshot Real Talk in the early stages of that one. Favored Grooms All Bizness exerted a lot of energy while bottled up in behind horses. He ran well once he was free, but Eamonn recovered nicely after being forced to steady on the turn, to nail him on the wire. I
In the Oceanport Stakes, Big Everest got the setup he wanted, setting an easy opening half mile, however, once the real racing began, he came up empty, fading to 4th. Highest Distinction was a tough one for me to come up with, but Jairo Rendon continues to upgrade just about any mount that he’s on right now. He got the jump on the field and held off There Are No Words to pay 23.20 for the win. Both New Jersey breds, There Are No Words and He’spuregold both ran well to be second and third. There are no more turf stakes on the state bred calendar for this year, although there’s always a chance that something could be written in to the Monmouth at the Meadowlands condition book, which has not been released yet. However, I was really impressed with the effort from There Are No Words to be second in that race. He’s a horse that has always showed potential, but he was a horse that needed the lead and was unable to settle off the pace. He was nailed late after moving a shade early in the Irish War Cry, and he finished in front of He’spuregold, who is likely the best New Jersey bred turf horse in training right now. He looks like a horse that is maturing as a four year old and is running bigger races as he learns to stalk the leaders. The Red Bank Stakes comes up =on Labor Day Weekend, and depending on how tough that race comes up, he’d a be a horse that I’ll look at closely there.