The 62nd and final day of racing for the year at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey is a 12 race card highlighted by a pair of handicaps for New Jersey breds sprinting on the turf. Next weekend, racing shifts to the Meadowlands for the nine day, all turf, Monmouth at the Meadowlands meet. Paco Lopez sewed up his 9th riding title at Monmouth a few weeks ago, as he has a 40 race lead over his nearest competitor. The race for leading trainer will be decided today. Claudio Gonzalez starts the afternoon with a two race lead over Kelly Breen after getting the better of Breen in the second race yesterday, where Breen sent out the favorite and second choice. Gonzalez has runners in four races today, while Breen has runners entered in five races. The closing day post time will be 12:15 (ET).
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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||10||6,9,10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|7||11||5,11||4,8||DBL, PK3, PK6|
|8||1||1,7||2,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|9||10||3,10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The lid lifter today is an optional $12,500 claiming/$6,250 starter allowance for fillies and mares sprinting six furlongs. Free to Fly (#7) has won three times at this meet and looks to make it four on closing day. She comes into this race in very good form, coming within a nose of winning four straight wins. She’s a tremendously consistent animal, winning 20 of 53 career races, and finishing in the money 68% of the time. She’s been too good to leave off tickets, but I will try to beat her on top with Domineer (#5). She isn’t as consistent as her rival, but she was a winner with open $12,500 claimers in the mud at Saratoga in her last start. When these two hooked up back in June, Free to Fly dominated. However at that point in the meet, the rail wasn’t the best place to be. There isn’t much early speed signed on here, and I think these two mares will be first and second all the way around the track. Domineer has the best early foot and she’ll be the target. On deeper tickets, the Illinois invader, Field Letters (#3) would be where I’d look. She’s a seven year old mare who has only made 23 career starts. However, nine of those races have been wins, and her winning percentage on dirt is 50%. She’s been on the sidelines for 11 months now and is making her first start for Patricia Farro. I’m not as concerned about the layoff as I am the pace scenario in this race for her. I’d need to get better than 9-2 (ML) to be in on her, but I do think she has an outside chance, especially if the top two wind up battling on the front end.
Ten horses entered this conditioned $30K-$25K claiming race at six furlongs. All ten runners qualified under the N3L condition. There are horses that are coming into this race from a variety of conditions, creating quite a handicapping puzzle. I’ll take a shot with a price and use Risk Vs Reward (#10) as my top pick. I liked his effort with $16K N2L claimers two starts back when sprinting, and I think this is his best distance. He faltered in a two turn, N1X allowance race in his last start two weeks ago against a sharp field. He drops back into the claiming ranks, and while this is a tough field, I like how Cardenas has handled him, since getting the mount three starts back. He’s improved throughout the meet, and if he goes off at or around his 20-1 morning line figure, I’d be willing to take a shot with him. Tenebris (#6) has been running Beyer figures that are consistently in the mid-70’s, which puts him right in the mix at this level. He cleared the N2L condition last month at this tag in a race where his claim was voided. As a result, I’d be leery taking too short of a price on this gelded son of Violence, however, I still see him as a player that will be on my tickets here. B B Bad (#9) closed well to get into third at this level when making his first start off the Kelly Breen claim. His most recent victory came in a two turn race, but he broke his maiden in a sprint at Pimlico last summer. He was pace compromised in a smaller field last time. With more runners and some more early foot signed on in this race, I think he’ll stand a better chance today.
Open $12,500-$10,500 claimers go one mile on the turf here. The last three two races at this condition have come down to a three horse photo with the same result, Cabinet Pik (#10) finishing first, Bird’s Eye View (#7) in second, and On the Couch (#2) getting third. While the races have been absolutely close, Richard Mitchell has been the difference on Cabinet Pik in both of those races. He was posted wide in both races, but was able to avoid losing too much ground going into the first turn. He moved early in both races, getting the jump on his rivals, and leaving enough left in the tank to hold them off late. Mitchell has a great feel for this horse and I think he certainly can win his third straight. I picked On the Couch over him last time out, but I was shocked to see Cabinet Pik went off at 11-1 and On the Couch was even money. There’s less speed signed on today than there was last out, and Cabinet Pik is still a larger price on the morning line (6-1) than both Bird’s Eye View (9-2) and On the Couch (4-1). If the public fades him again, I definitely took advantage of him at those odds that afternoon, and I wouldn’t be sad if the public fades him again today. I’m not really sold on any of the new faces that are coming into this level. I’m not comfortable with claim and drops for Crafty Daddy (#3) or Dazzling Truth (#11). Reconvene (#1) probably fits better at this level, but he leaves himself too much work to do, and he hasn’t sniffed the Winner’s Circle in a long time. I’ll backup with both On the Couch and Bird’s Eye View here, trusting their consistency over the others.
$16K-$14K maiden claiming two year olds dash 5 and ½ furlongs here. Gro (#5) came up empty after dueling with a soft group at this level last month. Darien Rodriguez claimed him and brings him back at the same level. He’ll need to improve, but horses typically do just that after being claimed by Rodriguez. At 6-1 or better, I’d be comfortable taking a chance with him. There’s a decent amount of speed signed which could set the table for either Trophy Room (#1) or Shadow Chaser (#2). Trophy Room will be trying the dirt for the first time today after running on turf for the first two starts. He came up short going a mile on the grass in his last start. I’m hoping the cutback and surface switch, along with the drop in class, help his cause. Shadow Chaser drops in class as well, but he has been facing maiden claimers in all three starts. He raced two back in the mud when going six furlongs wasn’t bad. The mile may have been too far for him last out, so he’s another one that could be finding late while others are getting leg weary.
Race 5, The $85K Pinot Grigio Handicap:
The final Win-Early Pick-5 of 2022 wraps up with a handicap for New Jersey bred fillies and mares sprinting five furlongs on the turf course. This race was originally carded for last weekend, but ended up supporting the closing day card today. Exactly one year ago today, Roselba (#4) held off Bramble Bay (#2) by a desperate neck to win this race. I loved Roselba that afternoon, but there wasn’t much early speed for her to contend with. There appears to be other speed to pressure here, and she doesn’t appear to be as sharp this season as she was last year. I’ll side with Bramble Bay, making her first start since being claimed by Mike Maker at Saratoga. He’s such a shrewd trainer, and he seems to make such smart claims with turf horses, especially this time of year. This is the last handicap opportunity for New Jersey breds in 2022, so I assume Maker had this race in mind for her next start. While thi may not be her best distance, she’s certainly shown she can be competitive in sprints like this. I think she’ll get the job done as a worthy single here.
WIN-EARLY PICK-5, $40.50 Ticket
I’ll try to hit the last one these by looking for some prices in the middle legs of this wager. Risk Vs Reward (#10, R2) is a live runner that is 20-1 on the morning line. Cabinet Pik (#10, R3) was ignored at the windows in his last two and he won them both. He comes back at the same claiming level where he might be able to get the jump on this field for the third straight time. I’m out on the three shortest prices in the maiden claiming contest for two year olds in Race 4. I’ll be singled to Bramble Bay (#2, R5) in the last race, knowing that most people will also use last year’s winner, Roselba on their tickets. While that one has a shot, I think there’s too many positive signals coming from Bramble Bay to go in that direction.
A full field of 12 colts are entered in this maiden special weight race for two year olds at six furlongs. 11 of the 12 runners are first time starters, so there’s not a lot to go off of here. I’ll play That Sun of a Gun (#6) on top here. He’s a half to Golden Brown, one of the more successful New Jersey bred runners over the last few years. His dam, Suzee Sunrise, was a useful mare, winning 25% (11-44) of her career dirt races. She was second in her debut and both runners that she foaled to hit the track, were winners. Gun Runner is by far the best stallion that she’s been paired with, so I have some high hopes for this son of a gun. Point Liam (#12) draws outside for this race, which might not be a bad thing. The dam has foaled four runners, all of which were winners, and all showed interest in their first dirt race. Liam’s Map gets 11% winners from horses that debut on the dirt. On the opposite end of the starting gate will be Whistlejacket (#1), on the rail for Graham Motion and Angel Suarez. They’ve won at a 35% clip over the last two years when pairing up. He’s been working well at Fair Hill, so you know fitness won’t be an issue. Offspring of Violence wins at 19% on debut. He’s the first foal to race from an unraced Empire Maker mare. The rail is no picnic with a big field, but there is some upside here. One Bite (#8) is another runner that has been working well in the morning. He fired a four furlong bullet last week at Parx for JT Servis, in preparation for his debut. Freshman sire, McCracken, has one win with eight debut runners thus far.
A full gate of conditioned $16K-$14K claimers will sprint 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf. I’ll look to the outside and try Deregulation (#11) to pull the upset. He’s dropping in class while shipping in from New York for John Terranova. He has two turf sprints on firm courses at Belmont in his career and both races are decent. There’s off the turf and two turn turf races that muddy up his form a bit, but sprinting on grass might be what he does best. Standup (#5) ran last week in a two turn race with conditioned $30K-$25K claimers. He faded late against a solid bunch in that race. Gonzalez drops him in class and gets him back to sprint. His two previous sprints with N1X allowance company were sharp. Boom Boom Kaboom (#8)is another New York shipper that is dropping in class for this race. The starter caught him in a bad moment last out at the Spa, which is not how you want to start a turf sprint. He’s another one that has some good form in sprints at Belmont, and if he can run back to those races, he should be tough in this spot. Shanghai Warrior (#4) is 10-1 on the morning line and might go off at longer odds than that. I like his turf sprint last out when he faded late to be 5th at this level. I also liked his maiden score in a five furlong race on the synthetic at Gulfstream earlier in the year. This is a tougher field at the same condition, but he is a three year old that is improving, and could be worth using in a race where he should be forwardly placed.
Conditioned $7,500-$6,500 claimers go a mile on the main track to start the last Pick-5 of the meet. Three runners are coming out of the 9/4 race at this condition, going 1 mile and 1/16. Both American Forces (#2) and Melina’s Dream (#6) had difficult trips, where Bird Ruler (#1) had a more advantageous journey. All three runners finished within two lengths of each other that afternoon. Melina’s Dream had the rail that day and American Forces was in post three. I’m still puzzled as to how both ended up with such wide trips. While I feel that a better trip could certainly shift the balance here, neither horse particularly has much early speed. Bird Ruler should be able to grab the lead if he wants it, and Isaac Castillo will likely be able to set some moderate fractions on the front end. He battled back to win gamely under similar circumstances two starts back. Beatthatflew (#7)could also be forwardly placed in his 5th start of the year. He’s been gradually improving throughout this season, most recently finishing second with similar at Delaware. If he can get back to his 2021 New York form, he’ll be a handful here at a decent price. I’ll back up with both American Forces and Melina’s Dream, covering all bases in case the top two engage in a duel up front.
An overflow field of 14 has been put together for this N1X allowance race going 5 and ½ furlongs on the turf. Tap Em (#10) has only ever known the rail, but he gets a wider draw this afternoon, which might work to his advantage. His game is front end speed, but not being down inside might give him the option to be more tactical in the early stages. He was caught late last out after running a monster race to beat $16K maiden claimers two starts back. The runner up in that race, Suit of Armor, was a winner from post 12 the other day when breaking his maiden. Vocalize (#3) is a very logical horse to use here, coming in from Virginia for Linda Rice. He was put via disqualification two starts ago when facing $50K starter allowance foes at Saratoga. He was shipped to Colonial Downs where he crossed the wire first at this level, only to have the stewards take that win away for interference late in that one. The seven furlong trip three back looked to be a little too long, but his four career turf races that have been run at six furlongs or shorter have all been very good.
I’m going to side with a couple of longshots and the morning line favorite in this $16K-$14K N2L claiming race at six furlongs. By virtue of being entered with the waiver, Kurt’s A Keeper (#2) was in no risk situation last out when making his first start since October of the previous year. Russo brought him back, employing a jockey that hasn’t won a race in a long time. He had some trouble at the break and was never really asked foir his best that afternoon. Clearly that start was a tightener, and his trainer, Frank Russo, should have him tighter for this one today. Russo has good numbers with sprinters on the main track and he upgrades the rider to Jorge Vargas. Three year old Rominksi (#10) can be a player, depending on which version of himself shows up this afternoon. He is taking a rather deep plunge to this level after not being offered for a tag in his first six starts. He was eased up late last time out at Laurel with N1X allowance types. His prior efforts were much more competitive though, which has me thinking that this drop in class is a very logical move by Gonzalez. Fitts (#7) already has a win at this meet when going off at 50-1 two starts ago. He beat $10K maiden claimers that afternoon, running a big race seemingly out of nowhere. He followed that effort up with a 7th place finish against a solid group of N1X claimers two weeks ago. The speed figure showed improvement though, so the drop in class could be the remedy for this Maclean’s Music gelding. He;s listed at 20-1 on the morning line, and if those odds float up, I;d be willing to make a small investment.
Race 11, The $85K Joey P. Handicap:
New Jersey breds sprint five furlongs in the male counterpart to the Pinot Grigio Handicap earlier on in the card. Smithwick’s Spice (#8) has been a revelation since switching to the grass two starts ago. He was a dominant winner that day when facing open starter allowance foes. He moved to handily clear the open N1X condition last time out at this distance, opening up late. He comes back to facing state bred company in this stakes race where he should be able to work out another strong trip. Quibberon Bay (#5)is a monster longshot at 30-1 on the morning line, but he’s not without a chance in this race. He was last seen finishing up the track in the Irish War Cry Handicap here in July. He was very good in this race in 2020, but something seemed to be amiss in 2021, when he was 6th at this level and headed to the sidelines. He’s only making his third start of the year, so if he has anything left in the tank, this would likely be a spot to show that. Like What I See (#2) might have the more advantageous post over the top two, and gets the riding champion, Paco Lopez to pilot him in this start. He’s coming off a win with state bred optional claiming/allowance runners. He’ll be well backed, but I’m not convinced he’s that far ahead of his rivals to justify that number.
The meet will conclude with an eight horse maiden special weight sprint on the main track. Frosted Faith (#2) looked like a horse that needed his last two races. He was very dull two back when Our Prude N Joy easily passed him to go on to victory. That one went on to beat open allowance foes the other day. He was a little better last time out, but now he makes his third start off the layoff, and he does so in a race that feels devoid of any serious early speed. I’m thinking that he’ll be able to take them gate to wire without them ever catching him today. I’ll try a longshot as a saver in this race using J J’S Justice (#3) in his debut. The AM drills are good enough and Joseph Mazza can certainly have them ready to run. There’s enough speed in that pedigree to make me think that he could be a thorn in a lot of sides here.
Top Pick Winners: 143/545 (26.2%) – $1,018.60/ $1.87 ROI