Race 1: Claiming $20,000 at one mile for NY-bred fillies and mares
Most will probably look at today’s first race, identify three evenly matched contenders, concede that one will probably win, and move along. While I agree that Physical Delivery, Platinum Bombshell, and Broadway Music Gal can all win this race paying somewhere between $6 and $8, I have a more interesting idea.
JERUSALEM STONE (#3) intrigues me. She’s a filly who showed some promise when trading decisions with the good New York-bred Miss Da Point at Aqueduct a year ago. She was then stepped up into a stakes race to face the brilliant Lovely Syn before a couple of failed turf tries closed out her abbreviated season. She returned earlier this winter in a New York-bred optional claimer and didn’t run all that badly in finishing seventh of ten while earning a Beyer speed figure that nearly matched her previous best. However, things have gone downhill since. She was no factor when against the inside speed bias on March 16th and then was just awful last time, beaten over 20 lengths by today’s rival Platinum Bombshell.
She’s been off for two months since that race and returns here sporting a worktab that catches the eye. She’s been drilling with remarkable regularity, every seven days dating back to April 21st, posting very respectable times. Compare this string of workouts to her exercise regimen earlier in the year and the difference is noticeable. Prior to her last race on March 28th, she had worked six times since early January, never finishing five furlongs in under 1:04 and accomplishing only one half-mile faster than 50 seconds. This is not the profile of a horse who is still heading in the wrong direction, so perhaps Mark Hennig has gotten her past whatever problems were nagging at her earlier in the year. If Jerusalem Stone can manage to return to form today, she’s a threat to win this at a decent price.
$10 Win 3
Race 2: The Jersey Girl Stakes at six furlongs for three year-old fillies
I see two main players in this race—Our Amazing Rose and Elena Strikes. Our Amazing Rose deserves to be favored here, but it is a minor concern she has yet to recapture the brilliance she displayed in her debut in two starts since the layoff. She was supposed to take a step forward last time in the Eight Belles, but she did just the opposite. I know she had minor traffic trouble on the backstretch, but afterwards she was given every chance to get into the race around the turn and into the stretch and just came up empty. I suppose it’s possible that she just didn’t handle the Churchill Downs surface, but I don’t want to make too many excuses for a short-priced favorite, especially since there’s a viable alternative to her.
ELENA STRIKES (#6) has yet to run as fast as Our Amazing Rose, but there are a few things to like about her today. She’s coming off two tries against older horses, which cannot be downplayed at this time of the year. Six Queens and Calistoga, the winners of her last two races, are a pair of very talented four year-olds who may yet have stakes in their futures. While Elena Strikes was losing ground to those horses at the end of each of those races, she did all the dirty work. On April 10th, she was involved in an intense speed duel with eventual last place finisher Love to Score and put that foe away before succumbing to Six Queens in the final furlong. Then last time she forced Sky Skier through fast fractions, which set things up for the stalking Calistoga to run them down late. With she’s drawn an advantageous outside post position, Javier Castellano should have more options today and I expect him to rate Elena Strikes just off inside speeds Red Velvet and Size before pouncing at the top of the stretch. Her last two efforts leave me with the feeling that she may be just as good as Our Amazing Rose right now and the odds are unlikely to reflect that.
$15 Win 6
Race 4: The Pennine Ridge Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for three year-olds
I am incredibly high on MR. SPEAKER (#4). He had shown promise on the turf previously, but his Palm Beach (G3) was a breakout performance. After breaking slowly and being shuffled back to last place entering the clubhouse turn, he launched an Arazi-like move down the backstretch to reach contention by the time the field was rounding the far turn. He continued to sustain that run through the stretch and just missed getting up for the win in a race that was essentially dominated on the front end. He followed that up with a facile score on Polytrack in the Lexington Stakes, but gets back to his preferred surface this afternoon. There is a noticeable lack of pace in this race, so Jose Lezcano should be able to use Mr. Speaker’s tactical speed to either stalk Gala Award or go on to the front and try to wire the field. Either way, I think all of today’s rivals have their work cut out for them.
Behind Mr. Speaker, Flamboyant and Gala Award figure to be the second and third choices in the wagering, but I’m more interested in Can’thelpbelieving (#3). This horse possesses an electrifying late kick, but since he lacks Mr. Speaker’s positional speed, he was pace compromised in his biggest test to date, the Palm Beach. Last time, he feel too far behind in a large field, but was absolutely flying down the center of the course in the final quarter of a mile. In this compact field, he should be able to sit closer to the pace and may be able to use his late burst of speed to run past the two rivals breaking to his inside in the late stages. At the price, I think he’s worth using underneath the favorite in the exacta.
$10 Exacta 4-3
Race 5: Claiming $20,000N2L at six furlongs on the turf
Mr. Speaker will probably be too short of a price to play to win, but I will cover him in multi-race wagers in combination with horses in the surrounding races. Most notably, I’m interested in using him with the entry in this fifth race. SHORE RUNNER (#1) put forth an effort last time that will be difficult for these to top. He battled for the lead through honest fractions before separating himself from the field late while just being outgamed to the wire by Golden Rifle. Golden Rifle returned to follow that up with another impressive win here on Friday, earning an 85 Beyer. The only horse I’d consider using as an alternative to Shore Runner is his stablemate, BROTHER RALPHIE (#1A). I don’t think he’s a very good dirt horse, but his pedigree for this surface switch suggests that he could show up with a vastly improved performance today. His dam was a turf horse and has produced a turf stakes winner as well as another stakes-placed runner on turf. He feels like one of these horses Linda Rice claimed with the intention of getting him on the right surface.
UPDATE: Shore Runner, part of the entry, has been scratched. I’ve accordingly reduced the size of my wager.
$10 Win 1
I feel strongly about this double, pairing Mr. Speaker (#4) and Brother Ralphie (#1A) in the fifth race. I’ll also use this strategy for playing the Pick-5.
$10 Double 4-1
Race 8: The Poker (G3) at one mile on the turf
I think that morning line second choice Peace and Justice is immensely talented, but I am against him today. This horse knows only one way to run, and that is fast and in front. The problem for him is that the horse breaking just to his outside has the exact same running style. I don’t think that Plainview possesses the same blazing speed that Peace and Justice has been flashing recently, but it’s hard to imagine that these two won’t hook up down the backstretch. That sets things up for a horse to come from off the pace and ZA APPROVAL (#5) appears to fit that role. However, it has to be mentioned that he has yet to show up with a top effort so far this year. He disappointed over a turf course he apparently likes in the Kilroe Mile and then was very disappointing in the Maker’s Mark. He did have some traffic trouble around the turn, but he still wasn’t supposed to lose that race by over six lengths. I don’t think he necessarily has to be at his best to win this race, but his current form is something to consider.
I’ve ultimately decided to take a small shot against Za Approval with BIG SCREEN (#4). This horse really put things together last year and showed that he is probably just as good on turf as he is on dirt. He has enough tactical speed to be positioned ahead of the closers, but he’s tractable enough to rate a few lengths off the dueling leaders. I think he’ll be sitting in a perfect position to get the jump on Za Approval today and I’ll hope that he can hold him off through the stretch at what should be a fair price. I’ll bet him to win and will box these two in the exacta.
$10 Win 4
$10 Exacta Box 4,5
Race 10: Optional Claiming $40,000/N2X at six furlongs on the turf for NY-breds
This finale is a real head-scratcher. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised by any of the entrants winning, save perhaps First Ranger. I respect horses like Special Selection, Mr. Rosenthal, Pretension, and Danceteria, but they are all coming off long layoffs and I’m not sure that I can fully trust them to deliver a top effort in such a competitive race. Another concern is that there appears to be quite a bit of speed signed on. The Big Deluxe, Glowing Ember, Danceteria, and Writingonthewall all prefer to be forwardly placed if not on the lead.
With that in mind, I’ve gone looking for a horse who can come from off the pace and I’ve landed on one who has recency and should be a decent price. LEILANI’S TICKET (#4) has returned better than ever as a four year-old and would be among the favorites if this were a dirt race, but instead has to make the switch to turf today. I think he’s going to handle it. He’s only raced on turf once in his career and that was his debut for Dominic Galluscio two years ago, going two turns at Saratoga. He had the misfortune of running into Notacatbuallama that day, but actually put in a decent effort, making a run at the lead on the far turn before flattening out in the stretch at a distance that is too far for him. It’s not that surprising that they thought he might be a turf horse prior to his first start. After all, his dam registered her best performances on the turf, winning once. Also, his lone full-sibling, while not a winner on turf, ran by far the best race of his life sprinting on the turf at Saratoga. He’s 12-1 on the morning line and I expect to get nearly that price.