Monmouth Park Racing Preview – 8/26/23 – By Eric Solomon

Monmouth Park is hosting another NHC/BCBC Qualifier, Handicapping Contest, featuring their races and the races on the Travers card this afternoon at Saratoga. The buy-in is $800, $400 of which goes as your bankroll for the afternoon. Like before, there are in-person and hybrid options, but there is a bonus for winning cash prizes when you participate live on-site. The featured race this afternoon is the $200K Sapling Stakes, which drew a solid field of ten, including a full brother to Kentucky Derby winner, Mage. In addition, there’s a carryover of over $40K going into the Win-Early Pick-5, as no one had 5-5. First post for all of the Saturday action 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!


Race Top Pick A B C Exotics Menu
1 3 3 6,7 DBL, PK3, PK5
2 8 2,8 5,7 DBL, PK3, PK4
3 7 5,7 9 DBL, PK3
4 8 8 7 DBL, PK3
5 5 2,5,9 DBL, PK3, PK6
6 2 2 6,10 DBL, PK3, PK5
7 6 3,6 4 DBL, PK3, PK4
8 3 1,3,9 6 DBL, PK3
9 1 1,9 4 DBL
10 3 3 2


Race 1:

Conditioned $16K-$14K claimers will start the afternoon in a 5 and ½ furlong turf sprint. Most of the runners in this race qualified under the N2L condition, with the exception of Bustinupishardtodo (#3), who is a two-time winning three year old. I like him quite a bit in this spot, as I think he offers solid value at this level. He ran a respectable in allowance company at longer odds over at Pimlico on Preakness Day. He came here to conditioned $40K-$30K claiming company and was well backed. The PP’s have that race list as a firm turf course, but it was contested in a driving rain storm, so the course was slick and likely closer to good. He was forced to steady early, which was significant interference on that course. I’m willing to draw a line through that effort. He dropped to $12,500-$10,500 claiming company where he struggled on a course that was playing kind to horses coming from off the pace. Carlos David claimed him out of that race and he’s very sharp when running horses back first off the claim. Bustin Stones has been a very useful turf sire and I love the influence from Freud as the dam sire underneath. Drama’s Player (#7) is another runner that comes in here after being claimed by a high percentage outfit. He ran two solid races at this level before fading to third in a hotly contested pace battle in a five furlong race. I see him as a runner that is better suited for 5 and ½ furlong distance that he’ll be getting today. I’m expecting him to move up today. Devils Only Friend (#6)is the morning line favorite and will likely head into the starting gate at odds south of his 5-2 morning line. Paco Lopez gets the assignment for George Weaver who drops this horse in class after a respectable third place effort with $35K N2L claimers at this distance at the Spa. He was a $35K purchase who has earned $31K on track so far. He was a debut winner at Gulfstream in a maiden/optional claiming race. He went off form in stakes company in his next two tries before resurfacing in that claiming race. He’s based at Belmont so shipping here is easier than shipping back to Saratoga, but I’m still a little uneasy about dropping this far in class in only his 5th start. While he’s getting class relief today, his second career start after a big debut race was a major regression. I’m also not sure that this is going to be the distance where he’s going to do his best work. I’ll use him in the multi-race exotics because he is the class of this field and his connections are rock solid, however, I think his presence will drive the price up on some worthy contenders here. 


Race 2:

Two year olds will go a quick five furlongs on the dirt in this $25K-$20K maiden claiming race. It’s hard to get excited about taking a short price on a debut runner in a race like this, but Hay Hay Harry (#5) with Paco Lopez for Kelly Breen has been installed as the 2-1 morning line favorites. The works are better than others in this race, but that’s not saying a ton. He could easily be good enough to win on debut, but there’s no value at that figure. I’ll cover with him, but I’ll try another first time starter that could be overlooked, Castlecove Spirit (#8) on top. He draws the outside post, which should be advantageous. He’s from the freshman crop of World of Trouble, whose best runner so far is Shea D World, who finished third in the Tyro Stakes after winning on debut. He’s the lone debut winner for World of Trouble so far and that race came on the dirt. She’s the first foal to race from her dam, Spirit of Shanghai, who was a winner on debut, I think Jose Camejo has an interesting duo worth covering, giving the preference to Involvednteraction (#2). His debut was on dirt wasn’t too sharp, but he did show improvement when going to turf. I do think that form can translate to dirt though and if he does, he’s going to be awfully tough to beat. I Am Dada Moon (#7) is the other Camejo runner. He didn’t show much on the grass at the Spa, so Delgado brings him back here to try to get right. The dam has produced several winners, so he could easily take a step forward in start number two. 


Race 3:

I think Cast Your Net (#7) is an interesting longshot in this $40K-$30K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 1/16 on the turf. She made her second career start three weeks ago, trying the grass for the first time. She was steadied after the start and relegated to the back of the field in a race that didn’t have a lot of early speed. She finished last, but she was gaining a decent amount of ground late. This is an angle that I like to play with longer priced horses in turf races. My reasoning for this is that when a horse is racing on a new surface, sometimes they seem to need a few furlongs to adjust to the new experience. She had a rough start and then was too far back with a slower pace up front to have an impact, but she was moving well enough in the stretch to make me believe that she’ll do her best work on the grass. While his sire Majestic City only has had 7% winners on the turf with most of those wins coming in sprints, his dam was a stakes winner at this distance on the turf. She’s 15-1 on the morning line and could go off at 20-1 or better and I see her as a live longshot in this race. Nice Baby (#5) is another sprint to route runner here, adding distance after a solid first career try on the turf last month. This might be at the edge of her distance capabilities, but I trust Paco Lopez and Darien Rodriguez in a spot like this. The dam has not produced any winners on turf, but two of her runners won in routes on synthetic. She was an 8 time winner, winning all of those races between six and eight furlongs. I think she can move forward in this race against a softer than average field for this condition. Get Loaded (#9) is a deeper back up for me, making her third start of the month for Greg Sacco. He does employ Jose Lezcano, a great turf rider who is in town to ride a horse for Sacco in the Sapling later on in the card. However, I didn’t like her effort last week when trying maiden special weight company in a five furlong sprint. Perhaps the five furlongs is not her style, because she was running well late in the same race that Cast Your Net was in three weeks ago. Blinkers go on, but she’ll have to overcome the wide draw here. 


Race 4:

This $7,500-$6,500 claiming race is all about He’s Pure Talent (#8) to me. Draw a line through his last race with conditioned $16K-$14K claimers on the turf. He drew a wide post and never looked comfortable racing on the grass. He met a salty field two starts back when facing winners for the first time. His maiden score at Laurel back in June would likely be good enough to easily defeat this group. Claudio Gonzalez wins with class droppers like this on a regular basis and the switch to Carlos Rojas, who has won 30% of the time he’s run for Gonzalez here at Monmouth over the last two seasons. I think he rebounds and scores fairly easily with this group today. Z’s So Good (#7) would be where I’d land as a backup in this spot. His first two starts since being claimed by Jorge Delgado haven’t been great. However, he gets a significant rider upgrade to Samy Camacho and has races earlier in the year that would be competitive at this level. 


Race 5:

The Win-Early Pick-5 concludes with a conditioned $40K-$30K turf sprint fir three year olds and upward. Eight of the nine runners qualified for this race under the N2L condition, with the morning favorite, Outlaw Country (#9) being the only multiple winner. There is a stout difference in the competition that he faced last time out and the competition that Playground Legend (#5) was up against. Playground Legend ran in a 14 horse N1X allowance race on Haskell Day, while he was routing for the first time. He had a rough trip that while going wide and being forced to check behind an injured rival. He finished 12th that day, but now returns to a sprint and drops in for a respectable $40K tag. I think both of his turf sprint races were sharp, including a very game maiden special weight victory two starts back at this distance on this course. Lezcano is a great pick up for him and I think he can get the jump on Outlaw Country. I still expect that one to be a player in this race. He has two starts on turf and has won both of them, beating up on $16K-$14K conditioned claimers. Breen claimed him out of his last race and he could have run him back in the first race on the card today, but I like the confidence in entering him in this spot. His last effort was huge, so a bounce is not off the table. In addition, the nine hole is not the best place to break from in races at this distance. I do think Paco can get him over somewhat near the back of the field to avoid too much ground loss out of the dogleg. Look for him to be rolling late. Captain Quick (#2) just missed behind Playground Legend in that maiden allowance race in May. He came back to win in his next start and he ran a credible third in a sprint at the N1X level. He was 13th in that same race that Playground Legend ran in on Haskell Day, and the addition of Lasix for the first time indicates the bleeding, in addition to the longer distance, could account for the poor effort. I like him cutting back to a sprint and he has a post advantage over some of the shorter prices here. He’s the longer priced runner that makes the most sense to me.


WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $54 Ticket:

With the pot being seeded with a carryover, I’ll put together a $54 ticket, building it around He’s Pure Talent for leading trainer, Claudio Gonzalez.  Rojas taking the mount today suggests that this one is ready to rebound while dropping in class. I’ll try for some prices it other legs, using both Bustinupishardtodo (#3, R1) and Cast Your Net (#7, R3) among others. 


Race 6:

The Late Pick-5 gets started with this $7,500-$6,500 conditioned claimer. Seven of the runners qualified under the N2L condition and both The Bearrish One (#3) and Westover (#4) are two time winners. Financial Strength (#6) is interesting to me in this race, dropping in class after a dull effort when facing winners for the first time. Even though her effort was not good, I think that race looks worse on paper than it actually was. It was a four horse race and when it became apparent she could do no better than 4th, Maddie Oliver wrapped her up to save her for another day. His maiden score with $12,500-$10,500 maiden claimers two starts back was strong enough for me to try him again.  The Bearrish One left himself too much to do in his last start. His win at this level two starts back was strong though and if he can run that kind of race again in this spot, someone is going to have to step up to beat him today. Westover was really good with state bred company in Arkansas over the winter,m but since being claimed, he hasn’t lit the world on fire by any stretch of the imagination, I do think he’s better than what he’s shown since coming to New Jersey, so perhaps he;s sitting on a better effort today.


Race 7:

$12,500-$10,500 claimers will dash 5 and ½ furlongs here. Heals the Soul (#2) will be looking to win his second straight win at this level today. While it’s never easy to win back to back, especially in wide open races, I do like what I’ve seen from him on turf, winning both career tries. He won three straight races earlier this year, so winning in bunches might be his thing. His adaptability is what separates him from either Corduroy Road (#6) or Balistico (#10) in this race, both of whom still have a big chance. Corduroy Road tried stakes company last out after beating a field at this level two starts ago. He wasn’t fast enough to go with stakes caliber horses in the Wolf Hill Stakes, but he certainly made an impression two back when getting his first win in his first start on traditional dirt. He has 11 wins in 36 starts, with five coming turf, five coming on synthetic, and his lone turf start here two starts back., He feels like he’s going to be tough once again here. Balistico is going to have to overcame his post position, however he does have several races in his running lines that would make him a factor with these. He’s a consistent type that has finished in the money in 8 of his last 10 tries. 


Race 8, The $200K Sapling Stakes:

This is a strong ten horse renewal of this stakes race for two year olds. Todd Pletcher is trying to win this race for the third straight year. He won the 2021 version with Double Thunder and Lost Ark was an impressive winner in this race last year. This year he sends out Noted (#10), who is coming here off a two turn win on the turf at Saratoga. While he’s the only horse in the race with two turn experience, he’ll be trying the dirt for the first time today and he’s stuck out in the ten hole. He’ll take money, but I’ll choose to watch him in this race as opposed to backing him. The full brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mage, Dornoch (#9) is also entered here, on the same day as his big brother tries to take down the Travers at Saratoga. He’s the lone maiden in this field, but he ran a strong race in the slop in his debut. The distance shouldn’t be an issue as Mage has been strong in two turn races. He drilled a bullet at the Spa last week and Kendrick Carmouche is scheduled to make the trip from New York. He’s more interesting than the Pletcher runner and he’ll be on my tickets, but I’m going to make Tuscan Ruler (#3) the top pick in this spot. I think the Tyro Stakes was a serious race last month. The winner, No Nay Mets, was awesome that day, drawing off to win by five lengths. The runner-up, Ship Cadet, came back to win an off the turf edition of the Skidmore and the third place finishing, Shea D World just crushed an allowance field at Delaware on Thursday. While I think he may still have a future on grass, his debut on the dirt was one of the better two year old efforts of the meet thus far. He’s drawn better than some of the shorter priced runners in this race and could be overlooked in the wagering in this one. Give It a Whirl (#1) is the only two time winner in the field, dominating both his maiden special weight group at Delaware and his allowance field at Laurel last month. This is a big stretch out for him and I’m hopeful that the Danzig influence from his sire Hard Spun will help him continue to find in the stretch after likely setting the tempo from his inside draw. On deeper tickets, Dewy’s Beast (#6) is coming off a monster score in maiden special weight company on the dirt at Colonial. I don’t think that he beat much in that race, but I do like how he handled the seven furlong trip, while gradually adding distance with each start. He’s another live runner in this strong field. 


Race 9:

I think Cabinet Pik (#1), who has won three times at this $12,500-$10,500 claiming condition in the last 14 months, is completely overlooked in the morning line at 20-1, and if he goes off at the number, I won’t be able to pass him up. He had an excellent meet here last season, winning twice and crossing the finish line first in another race, only to be disqualified. He ended his seven year old season with an excellent effort to be third in a photo with a stronger field at this level at the Meadowlands. His eight year old season has not gone according to plan though. He was off the board in an off the turf race at this level in May. Claudio Gonzalez claimed him and brought him back at this same level, where he was a winner. Pompeyo Gomez re-claimed him that afternoon and tried him in N1X allowance company on the Haskell Undercard. He had some serious traffic woes in that race when he finished near the back of the pack. He came back and was 7th, beaten less then three lengths with $22K-$18K claimers, in another race where he had traffic issues in the stretch. He drew into a race at this same level last weekend and was wide throughout, fading to 9th. I think the rail post will allow him to sit a much smoother trip, and I think he’ll appreciate a little give in the course, which could be expected after having the Friday races come off the turf. Olympic Romp (#9) comes back to the turf for the first time since last September when he finished 6th. However, he was a winner against a solid N1X allowance field last summer on turf and is a two time winner overall on grass. I think Michael Pino is wise to get him back to the grass and enlisted Paco Lopez to ride him when doing so seems like a no-brainer. Formal Order (#4) was buried behind horses in a 14 horses at this level on Haskell Day. He came back and was a distant second behind Coach Adams in a starter allowance race on the dirt last week, on a day where inside speed was very good and he broke slowly, getting away last that day. He gets a rider upgrade to Jose Lezcano and should improve while getting back on the grass. 


Race 10: 

Time restricted $12,500-$10,500 claimers will wrap up the ten race card this afternoon. Drena’s Star (#3) was a winner with lesser last out, beating $8K-$7K time restricted claimers. He’s an eight year old gelding that has won 11 of 47 career starts with another 20 second or third place finishes. He tends to need a few races to get going, but once he hits that mid-70’s Beyer figure range, he tends to stay there. That asset seems to give him a solid advantage of these runners in this race. Golden Spoke (#2) is capable of beating him, on one of his better days. His last win came at Parx in February. He’s run well in some similar and better spots, but hasn’t been able to break through. Paco Lopez gets the mount for Michael Simone, who has only started one horse at Monmouth in the last five years (that one finished second). He’s the second choice and certainly could overtake Drena’s Star as the favorite in this race. It will come down to price, but I do prefer the current racing pattern from Drena’s Star.


Meet Statistics/Notes:

Top Pick Winners: 93/396 (23.9%) – $672.00/$1.70 ROI 

Morning rain took yesterday’s three turf races off the grass and onto the main track, which was labeled sloppy. Front end speed was good early in the card, but horses rallying wide won the last two races as the track was drying out. That’s a trend to keep an eye on once again today. I am expecting that they’ll be on the turf this afternoon. 

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