Saturday, August 23
Race 2: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for two year-olds
4 – The Truth Or Else
The Phipps-owned second time starter Face the Music figures to take the a good chunk of the play here after an encouraging debut, which saw him rally well from the back of the pack with the aid of a perfect ride. He can certainly win, but I feel that THE TRUTH OR ELSE (#4) ran just as well last time, and is likely to be a much larger price.
The Truth Or Else was rated well off of a slow pace last time, but was really rolling through the stretch, as he made up significant ground on all but the runaway winner, Kamarius, who appears to have talent. He has reportedly been working very well since that race, even holding his own against the older graded stakes runner War Dancer in a workout over the Oklahoma turf course. With a fair pace and another small step forward, I think The Truth Or Else can win this at a price.
$10 Win 4
Race 4: Maiden Special Weight at six furlongs for two year-olds
6 – Waging War
There may be a well-intentioned first time starter in this race, but any newcomer is going to have to be pretty good to beat WAGING WAR (#6) if that one runs back to his debut effort. Waging War took plenty of money first time out, but somewhat surprisingly did not show much speed out of the gate, that is, until about a quarter of a mile into the race, when he began to drag Joel Rosario forward into a contending position. Rather than run into a wall of traffic, he was guided out into the five-path for the run around the far turn, and sustained his forward move until he was challenging for the lead while still very wide. He understandably flattened out in the final eighth of a mile, but he should have gotten a lot out of that race and I expect to see a more professional effort today. He would be fair value at odds of 5-2 or higher.
$15 Win 6
Race 5: Allowance N1X at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
9 – Divine Luck
I know that you’re not supposed to bet horses like DIVINE LUCK (#9), and her 1-for-20 lifetime record, but I believe that she’s taken a subtle step forward this year. You can make the argument that she might have won both of her last two starts with clean trips. Two back, she was stymied in behind horses coming to the top of the stretch, and John Velazquez was never able to find clear sailing. He was basically just along for the ride through the lane, but it did appear that Divine Luck had some run had she been able to find room. Then last time, Velazquez was forced to take her back farther off the pace than she would ideally like to be to secure a coveted position on the hedge. The plan worked perfectly until the quarter pole, when Divine Luck was bumped and thrust into a traffic jam near the rail. It took Velazquez about a furlong to get her into the clear, but she was really running on strongly in the late stages.
Today, her outside post position should allow to her get the stalking trip that she prefers. Palace Dreams (#5) is the main speed and a formidable rival as she steps up in class after dominating a group of New York-breds. Divine Luck should be following her early, and I think she’s good enough to run that one down. They may just be the two best horses in the race, so I’m not expecting the closers to have a major impact here.
$15 Win 9
$5 Exacta Box 5,9
Race 6: Allowance N1X at one mile on the turf
3 – Santa Elf
The horse to beat is McIlroy (#8). He’s posted two field-best 90 Beyers out of three recent starts and he’s one of a few runners with tactical speed in a race lacking a clear frontrunner. I can’t argue with anyone who likes him, but like many Chad Brown runners in this situation, I’d imagine that he’s going to be a heavy favorite, and probably an underlay. I’ll certainly be using him, but I’m more interested in others at generous prices.
My pick is SANTA ELF (#3). I know that he looks like more of a dirt horse, but his two turf efforts are worth watching. In his turf debut going a mile here last summer, he just appeared to run an unfocused race. He was never able to really get into a comfortable spot when attempting to make his late rally, but he did carry some momentum across the line. He was claimed by Bruce Brown out of his win two back, seemingly with the intention of getting him back on the turf. He ran in a tough 5 1/2 furlong sprint last time, and one can argue that he might have run the best race of all that day. He was unhurried early while allowed to settle in last place, but unleashed a furious late rally in the stretch to get up for third. He is in career form right now, and this distance is more appropriate for him than the sprint last time. He has shown tactical speed on the dirt, and I’m hoping Manuel Franco uses it here. At what should be double-digit odds, I’m taking a shot.
I will also use him underneath the aforementioned McIlroy, Monmouth shipper Picozza (#2), who comes in off two less than ideal trips, and Shatak (#4), who showed some promise at Gulfstream over the winter.
$10 Win 3
$5 Exacta Box 2,4,8 with 3
Race 7: Allowance N1X at seven furlongs for fillies and mares
7 – Whispering
Divided Attention (#10) is the horse to beat if she takes even a small step forward from her two year-old form, and Pretty Fancy (#3) figures to appreciate the turnback after facing a solid field routing last time. I’ll be using both of them, but I’m taking a shot with WHISPERING (#7), my crazy bomb of the day.
Yes, I realize that we have no idea if Whispering can run well enough on the dirt to win this race, but I can understand why her connections are switching surfaces, because she really isn’t very good on the turf. I haven’t exactly been surprised by her mixed results on the grass, since she doesn’t actually have much turf pedigree. What she does have is a dirt pedigree. She is a full-sister to Quiet Power, who has been a solid runner on this circuit over the past two or three years, winning six of his 27 dirt starts. Her sire, Quiet American, is a negative turf influence, if anything.
Whispering wasn’t given much of a chance to excel on dirt early in her career, but based on her turf results, it does appear that she’s just a better horse now. And frankly, it’s not as if those dirt efforts were all that bad. She was way against a strong rail bias in her debut, so that effort is a throwout, and then in her only other dirt start, she actually made a decent late rally in a slowly-paced race against stakes performers Penwith and Got Lucky.
She’s a bit of a guess, but this is not the toughest N1X allowance race we’ve seen at this meet, and the price should be gigantic.
$10 Win 7
$5 Exacta 3,10 with 7
Race 9: The Ballston Spa (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
3 – Abaco
As I see it, the two main players are Abaco and Filimbi. Filimbi has been impressive in her three U.S. starts, but she is stepping up to face the toughest field she’s encountered yet. ABACO (#3) has been unlucky not to rack up more wins over the past two seasons since she has run some excellent races on occasion, most recently in the Diana, when she was one of the only horses to make a serious rally from the back of the pack into a slow pace. She likes a turf course with a bit of cut to it, and she is my pick to run down likely favorite Filimbi in what should be a pretty chalky exacta.
$15 Win 3 (Payout: $79.50)
Race 10: The King’s Bishop (G1) at seven furlongs for three year-olds
7 – The Big Beast
There are three main contenders in this year’s King’s Bishop: the proven stakes performers Wildcat Red and Coup de Grace, and up-and-comer The Big Beast. I’m not way against any of them, but I will be playing against likely favorite Coup de Grace, who I believe will be an underlay. I’ve decided that I don’t really want horses exiting the Amsterdam, since I didn’t feel that this year’s renewal of that race was particularly strong.
I’m taking THE BIG BEAST (#7) on top. All he needs to do is repeat his last race, and he probably is not going to lose. He drew a great post position for this, and I expect him to show up with his best performance yet. All indications seem to be that he’s been doing extremely well since the allowance win. Never before have I heard the often humble Tony Dutrow talk about a horse the way he’s been regarding this one. Wildcat Red (#2) is a serious challenger, and I expect him to be a part of this exacta, but I think we could see something special from The Big Beast today.
$20 Win 7 (Payout: $77.00)
$10 Exacta Box 2,7
Race 11: The Ballerina (G1) at seven furlongs for fillies and mares
6 – La Verdad
5 – Willet
The scratch of the Voodoo Tales changes the complexion of this race, and has prompted to me to alter my picks slightly. There are some fast fillies and mares in this race, but none remain that possess the speed to go with the fleet-footed LA VERDAD (#6) early. After a failed attempt to rate her last time, Jose Ortiz will not be messing around today—they are going to the front. There has always been a bit of question about whether she can get seven furlongs against top competition, but isn’t this Ballerina a Grade 1 in name only? I know that My Miss Aurelia was once a champion, but since the start of 2013, only three horses in this field have won graded stakes on the dirt: Artemis Agrotera, La Verdad, and Hot Stones.
If La Verdad gets loose early, the one serious challenge that I expect her to face late should come from fellow New York-bred and archrival WILLET (#5). Willet has been in excellent form since returning as a six year-old, and the seven furlong distance suits her perfectly. I think that La Verdad is the more naturally talented horse, but Willet could work out a trip today as she seeks an elusive graded stakes victory. I’ll be betting both to win and will be keying on them in exactas and multi-race wagers.
$15 Win 6
$10 Win 5
$5 Exacta Box 5,6
RACE 12: THE TRAVERS (G1) at 1 1/4 miles for three year-olds
6 – Tonalist
5 – Viva Majorca
10 – Mr. Speaker
Bayern enters this race off two powerhouse performances, in which he earned the two fastest Beyer speed figures posted by any runner in this field. He dominated the Haskell by over 7 lengths in fast time, and he’s likely to be allowed to once again set his own pace while unchallenged on the lead. All of that makes him sound like a pretty formidable obstacle for his Travers rivals, but I’m still taking a strong stand against him.
For years now, positive results in the Haskell have just not translated to success in the Travers. These are two very different races. Monmouth is a track with a short stretch, which often carries speed runners farther distances than they’d normally want to run. Once Bayern was allowed to get to the half in a soft 47 3/5 seconds, that race was essentially over. It also must be pointed out that, while the Haskell is historically the more prestigious prep for the Travers, this year’s field was seriously lacking in depth. Bayern did win by many lengths, but the horses that chased him home that day, Albano and Wildcat Red, would not have a prayer in this year’s Travers.
I respect Bayern as a talented sprinter/miler, but I still have serious questions about his ability to get 10 furlongs, with or without a pace advantage. Contrary to popular belief, I do not think that Bayern is the best horse in this race over a route of ground, and therefore I think he’s a terrible bet as the favorite. In my opinion, there’s plenty of value to be had elsewhere in this race and Bayern’s presence will just inflate the prices of the true contenders. He will not be a part of any of my wagers. If he wins, I will lose.
The Belmont winner is my pick in this year’s Travers. I believe that he is the best horse at this distance, and I expect him to take a step forward from his runner-up finish in the Jim Dandy. Keep in mind that this horse won the Belmont Stakes in just his fifth career start, and still likely has more maturing to do.
Whether or not Tonalist was really cranked up to win the Jim Dandy is difficult to say, but I do know that he had a worse trip than the winner. After breaking a step slowly, as he is wont to do, Tonalist was taken in hand by Joel Rosario and guided to the outside to rate off the slow pace. The leaders noticeably picked up the pace exiting the backstretch, and that is when Rosario asked Tonalist to move, into the fastest part of the race. He made a serious bid for the lead, but understandably flattened out late.
Today the mission is clearer. Rosario needs to come out looking for position and must use Tonalist’s natural speed to go after Bayern early enough to break him. We already know that Tonalist possesses the stamina to issue a serious challenge and still see out the full 10 furlongs. I believe he’s the best horse in this race and I view him as the most likely winner.
WICKED STRONG (#7)
There’s no doubt that Wicked Strong is a talented horse, but he can be inconsistent. When he’s gotten absolutely perfect trips (the Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy), he has been awesome, but when things have not gone perfectly at the highest level, he’s come up short. I certainly won’t be surprised to see him in the winner’s circle after this Travers, but I prefer Tonalist today at what should be a comparable price.
MR. SPEAKER (#10)
This is the most intriguing runner in this year’s race. There’s little doubt that he’s the best U.S.-based three year-old on turf, but can he transfer that form to the main track? As Shug has said, I don’t think it’s fair to hold his lone dirt race in the Holy Bull against him, since 1) he’s a much better horse now, and 2) he did not get his preferred trip that day. The pedigree is there since his dam won and was stakes-placed on dirt, his half-sibling is 1-for-1 on the dirt, and his dam is out of the great Personal Ensign. All reports indicate that he has been working extremely well for this race, and you know that he’ll have no problem with the distance. I’d be slightly concerned about the trip that he’ll have to work out, since it sounds like Shug wants to see him near the back of the pack early, but I still view him as a major contender for top honors.
KID CRUZ (#8)
I’m not his biggest fan, but his persistency and steady improvement are certainly admirable. Aside from his non-effort in the Preakness, he really has never run a bad race on the dirt. I don’t think the pace will favor him today, but I won’t be surprised to see him running late for a minor award.
VIVA MAJORCA (#5)
Tonalist is my pick in this year’s race, but I’m going to fool around with this horse as well. I know that he looks too slow and inexperienced on paper, but I was impressed by his effort in the Curlin for a number of reasons. Prior to that stakes debut, Viva Majorca had never raced beyond seven furlongs and had certainly never faced a field that tough. All things considered, I thought that he acquitted himself very well and probably would have won with a cleaner trip. Julien Leparoux tried to do the right thing by saving as much ground as possible, but he found himself in a very bad spot coming to the quarter pole, and he was forced to ease Viva Majorca back, losing a few lengths of position before coming out to re-rally in the stretch.
This rangy, long-striding son of Tiago is supposed to want to go this far, and he clearly possesses a great deal of talent. You just have to go back and watch his maiden-breaking score at Gulfstream to get a glimpse the potential that resides here. Ian Wilkes is not one to rush a horse along, but he’s been saying all week that he cannot reasonably pass up the opportunity to run a horse that is training as forwardly as Viva Majorca has been since the Curlin. I don’t know what the game plan will be, but he does have tactical speed if they choose to use it, so there is at least the possibility that he could work out a favorable stalking trip. At what should be a pretty big price, I’ll be using him strongly.
$40 Win 6
$20 Win 5
$10 Exacta Box 5,6,10
$5 Trifecta 6 with 5,10 with 5,7,8,10
Race 13: Allowance N1X at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
6 – Equilateral
The Travers will be over, but there’s still one more wagering opportunity on this card. Sky Painter (#5) is the horse to beat based on her two year-old form, but I’m also interested in EQUILATERAL (#6), who has shown some ability on dirt, but is bred to move up on the turf. Arch is a very good turf sire, and there is plenty of turf pedigree in this one’s female family since her dam is a half-sister to graded stakes winning turfer Rush Bay.
$10 Win 6
$5 Exacta Box 5,6