Saturday, July 19
Race 2: Allowance N1X at six furlongs for NY-breds
2 – Ogermeister
The first thing you must decide when handicapping this race is what you want to do with Groupthink. Obviously a repeat of his 95 Beyer maiden score would likely win this race, but it’s reasonable to doubt that he’ll give that kind of performance off the long layoff. There’s also the possibility that he just loved the mud that day and will not be able to run as fast over a dry track.
Sidearm stepped up his game last time in his first start since March, when earning a vastly improved 89 Beyer. He finished in a photo with Horatio that day, and that one came back to validate the figure with a romping win next time out. Sidearm also ran a bit better than today’s rival, Ogermeister, but I believe that one can turn the tables.
When the three horses drawn nearest the rail today were all two year-olds, I was fairly certain that OGERMEISTER (#2) was the best of the bunch. His debut was very impressive and he followed that up with an excellent effort in the Law Enforcement up here last year, battling three-wide all the way before succumbing to the closing Free Mugatu in a race that fell apart late. Like many Wesley Ward horses, he needed his return race in April, and while he did take a step forward last time, perhaps he didn’t quite handle the mud. Ogermeister should get a great trip today sitting just off the speed of Sol the Freud and Handy Stan, and I think he’s good enough to win at what should be a fair price.
$10 Win 2
Race 5: Claiming $50,000 at seven furlongs
2 – Sam Sparkle
If David Jacobson decides to run Cherokee Artist (#1A), the others will have their work cut out for them. This horse has regained his good form after returning from the layoff and will be tough to beat if he participates. [Update: Cherokee Artist was scratched.]
The pace scenario needs to be discussed, because there is only one true frontrunner in the race, the enigmatic Majestic Hussar. He has been brilliant on occasion, but more recently has disappointed, and has not run a race that would make him a wire-to-wire threat in nearly a year. I can’t take him in his current form, but I do think his early speed will have an impact on the outcome of the race. Contenders Frazil and Piquant both prefer to be stalking and may have to be put on a hard chase early to stay close to the fleet-footed Majestic Hussar.
For that reason, I took an especially long look at the closers, and the one that I’m most interested in is SAM SPARKLE (#2). It actually isn’t really fair to call him a closer since he’s run his best races when he’s been able to sit squarely in midpack and make an early move to the front coming to the top of the stretch. Jose Lezcano seems to understand this, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he’s been aboard this horse in two of the best races of his life, both using those aforementioned tactics. While he ran in a slightly cheaper spot last time, Sam Sparkle did beat a decent field, as the gritty Hackleton came back to win, and fourth-place finisher Coolusive came back with an improved Beyer speed figure next time out. Some may be turned off by the two-month break since his last race, but Sam Sparkle actually appears to thrive off brief freshenings such as this.
$10 Win 2 (Payout: $83.00)
Race 7: The Sanford (G3) at six furlongs for two year-olds
2 – Silverhill
5 – Mr. Z
This is the first of two perplexing featured stakes races on this card. The two horses likely to take the most play are drawn to the far outside—Nonna’s Boy and Cinco Charlie—but this is no match race, as there are quite a few two year-olds with chances to take down this Sanford.
I’ll start off by discussing the Bashford Manor. Cinco Charlie was game in victory that day, but I’m equally as interested in runner-up SILVERHILL (#2). Whereas Cinco Charlie has won both of his starts in front-running fashion, Silverhill showed the ability to come from just off the pace in his debut after breaking slowly. He actually wasn’t away that well in the Bashford Manor either, but was able to run up into a chasing position in a smaller field. I hope that he breaks a step slowly again today, because I want a closer in this race. There may be as many as five or six horses who are trying to make the front here and it appears likely that this race will fall apart in the late stages.
Nonna’s Boy impressed at 1-10 odds in his debut and figures to take plenty of money once again, especially after second-place finisher Bustin It came back to win. Reports indicate that he’s training well, but he’s one of many who will be gunning for the lead here and he still needs to show that he isn’t just a mud lark.
Of the other recent maiden winners, I’m intrigued by MR. Z (#5). This horse should have gotten plenty of valuable racing experience out of his six-furlong debut. I know that the race came up fairly slow, but unlike other debut winners in this race, who merely coasted to the front and drew away, Mr. Z had to face some adversity. He was battling inside of another horse through fast fractions down the backstretch, and was visibly uncomfortable racing in a tight spot towards the inside as the field rounded the turn. Corey Lanerie even had to give him a few smacks of the whip to keep him engaged. At the head of the stretch, realizing that Mr. Z was not going to continue on through that hole, Lanerie eased him back and altered course to the outside. Many two year-olds would have thrown in the towel by this point, but Mr. Z gamely fought on and re-rallied to grind out the victory. Unlike many others entered in this race, Mr. Z has already proven that this six furlong distance is no problem for him. He’s actually bred to run a lot farther, being by Malibu Moon out of a dam that is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Chief Bearhart and Hollywood Derby winner Explosive Red.
The two favorites can definitely win, but I’ll focus my play on the two horses who should offer the best value: Silverhill and Mr. Z.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 5
Race 8: Allowance N1X at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares
11 – Weave
4 – Mei Ling
This race kicks off an incredibly daunting Pick-4 sequence, which features a quartet of confusing races. I’ll do my best to navigate three legs of the sequence, starting with this eighth race. Rather than diving into an exhaustive discussion of every horse that merits consideration, I’ll focus on the two that I’ve landed on.
WEAVE (#11) has been steadily improving with each race for Graham Motion and should be set to run the best race of her brief career this afternoon. She really hadn’t show much in her first couple of starts, but she started to put things together last fall with an eye-catching maiden score at Laurel, which saw her alter course while racing in traffic, moving from the rail to the four-path in midstretch before coming with a late rush to secure the victory. She was given plenty of time off after that race and returned in a seven-furlong allowance race at Belmont, which was marred by a horrific accident in the stretch. I don’t recommend you watch this replay, but I will say that Weave was forced to race in traffic through much of the stretch before being steadied briefly as a result of the incident at the sixteenth-pole. Joel Rosario really didn’t put her to a hard drive at any point in the running, which makes sense since they were probably looking down the line to a race like this. A two turn mile is a much more appropriate distance for this filly, and I expect a vastly improved performance today. The sky is the limit with this one, since she is a half-sister to the excellent Wend, who went 7-for-15 in her career while winning the New York (G2) and Jenny Wiley (G2).
At a bigger price, I also want to use one of the first time turfers. The one that most handicappers will surely gravitate towards is Fade to Black, with her huge dam’s side turf pedigree. The influences in her pedigree are so obvious, and it feels like there’s some wise-guy buzz about this horse, so I wonder if you’ll get anything close to her 15-1 morning line. I wouldn’t want to take a shorter price on a filly who may just not be that good, as anyone who paid close attention to the winter racing at Aqueduct will concede.
Instead, I’ll take a shot with MEI LING (#4). I admit that I’ve never been much of a fan of this filly, but I do think this switch to turf will help her. You have to dig a little deeper to find the turf influences in her pedigree, but they are surely there. Her dam was perhaps best on the turf, and she is a half-sister to Master Command, who never tried the turf himself, but was a decent turf influence as a sire, with the best of his progeny being Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner Unbridled Command. Digging one generation deeper, this filly’s third dam is the influential Lady Winborne, who foaled a slew of top turf horses, including millionaire Al Mamoon, La Gueriere, and Lost Soldier. Empire Maker is a solid, if unspectacular, turf influence, and this filly has a very efficient stride that should lend itself well to this surface switch. It also doesn’t hurt that Mei Ling has a bit of speed in a race lacking a clear pace scenario.
$15 Win 11
$10 Win 4
Race 10: The Diana (G1) at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
3 – Somali Lemonade
7 – Caroline Thomas
As was the case with the eighth race, if I were to touch upon every horse with a chance in this race, I’d have to go through just about the entire field. Instead, I’ll cut to the chase with my selections:
Evaluating the Just a Game (G1) is an essential component of handicapping this race. In case you haven’t checked the Trakus times, it’s worth noting that there is a large discrepancy between the fractions posted on the teletimer and those recorded by Trakus:
Given the race flow, I find the Trakus fractions to be much more believable. If that is the case, then it becomes quite clear that SOMALI LEMONADE (#3) ran a spectacular race. Today, she draws an advantageous post position inside the other speed runners, Emollient and Discreet Marq, and Somali Lemonade’s connections know that the key to success with this filly is allowing her to run freely on the lead, so I’m sure that will be the game plan again today. Luis Saez needs to execute this ride to perfection, but if he can make a clear lead and back down the pace at any point, I do believe that this rejuvenated, front-running Somali Lemonade is good enough to pull off the upset.
The other horse I want to use is an old favorite of mine, CAROLINE THOMAS (#7). I realize that I’m reaching a bit here, but I do think that she is better than she looks and may be an overlay at upwards of 20-1 odds in this spot. I was impressed by her confidence-building win last time, and prior to that she had just been running in a series of races that were simply too far for her. Going back to last fall, she proved that she could compete at the Grade 1 level in the Queen Elizabeth II Cup, and she frankly hasn’t had a fair chance since then, barring her mid-June prep for this race. At what should be a huge price, I think she’s worth some consideration.
Finally, the classy Alterite (#8) is clearly the horse to beat based on her three U.S. starts and is a must-use in any larger multi-race wagers. I’ll bet Somali Lemonade and Caroline Thomas to win, but will use Alterite over my two picks in the exacta.
$15 Win 3 (Payout: $184.50)
$10 Win 7
$5 Exacta 8 with 3,7
Race 11: Allowance N1X at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
1 – Jonrah
The lack of a clear pace scenario complicates this race. There is literally not one horse who has been successful racing on the lead in this race, so you have to do a bit guessing to figure out who is going to work out the right trip.
I’m taking a shot with JONRAH (#1). It probably doesn’t hurt to take the horse drawn nearest to the rail in a race where position is going to be of utmost importance. Prior to his last race, Jonrah had been run in one impossible spot after another, and the combination of class relief and a fair pace scenario allowed him to run the fastest race of his life. He was claimed out of that effort by Gary Contessa and is stepped back up in class. However, this is not the strongest N1X allowance field and if Rajiv Maragh can use Jonrah a bit from the gate to secure a forward position, I believe that he’s good enough to win right back. The only other horse I can speak about with any confidence is All Included (#2), who appears to be the most likely frontrunner, and was impressive in his maiden score. The only drawback to him is the price, since he’s likely to be the favorite and may be overbet as the most obvious pace beneficiary. I’ll bet Jonrah to win and would be happy to get anything close to his 10-1 morning line odds, while also using him in exactas with All Included.
$10 Win 1
$5 Exacta Box 1,2