With the 2009 Triple Crown season behind us, it’s time to start looking forward to the summer campaigns ahead for many of the top horses in racing. On Saturday at Churchill Downs, racing fans will be treated to at least one such horse in the marquee race of the day, the 28th running of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap. Einstein, a 7-year-old son of Spend a Buck, looks to inch closer to the $3 million dollar mark in lifetime earnings and cement his place as the top older male in the nation.
Earlier in the day at Monmouth Park, the sensational 2008 Kentucky Derby champion Big Brown will be honored with a free bobblehead giveaway in his likeness for each paid admission. From coast to coast and from noon to sundown (at least over here on the east coast), major stakes races dot the calendar at Belmont, Philly, Churchill, Monmouth, and Hollywood. Here’s a quick rundown of the major stakes races I’ll be focusing on this weekend.
Belmont Park – Race 4: The Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1) – 2:26 ET
- #3 Seattle Smooth (5/2)
- #1A Music Note (2/5*)
- #1 Seventh Street (2/5*)
We’ll start things off in the Ogden Phipps, for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward going 1 1/16 miles over the main Belmont track. Godolphin and Darley send out a very tough looking triple entry in #1 Seventh Street, #1A Music Note, and #1x Sea Chanter. From a betting standpoint, let me just say that it’s absolutely infuriating to see a 7 horse race where 3 of the horses, nearly half the field, are a combined entry. That’s real fair. Thanks. You know what? I say we refuse to eat chalk here by playing against the obvious choice, and there just might be a horse in here who can get it done.
It’ll take the race of her life, and we’ll be playing into the teeth of the overwhelming favorites, but why not take a ride on #3 Seattle Smooth? Listed as 5/2 on the morning line, the improving 4-year-old daughter of Quiet American may have yet to reach her ceiling. Another move forward and she’s suddenly very competitive with the favored trio, and note that she beat one of them last time out in the Shuvee. The chalk looks tough, but there’s no fun in giving out 2/5 selections. Live a little and take a shot with Seattle Smooth.
Philadelphia Park – Race 8: The Jostle ($200k) – 3:22 ET
- #2 Cinderella’s Wish (5/1)
- #11 On the Menu (9/2)
- #10 Union City (8/1)
We take a rare journey to Philadelphia Park for the 3rd running of The Jostle, for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs over the main track. We’ve got a full field of 12 runners in what appears to be a very interesting betting race. As is usually the case with me when it comes to the ladies, I’ve got my heart set on one girl here. Anyone who was following along with our tweets on Black Eyed Susan Day during Preakness weekend will have no trouble figuring out who it is.
#2 Cinderella’s Wish absolutely wowed me in the paddock…until she got a bit unruly and began kicking wildly. She was up against a very sharp looking Steven Asmussen runner in the overwhelming favorite that day, Heart Ashley. Cinderella’s Wish was 10/1 on the line that day, while Heart Ashley was odds on top choice. As the field turned for home, it looked like Heart Ashley was toying with the field. With about a furlong to go, however, Cinderella’s Wish made up her mind to put in a serious charge, and darn near nailed Heart Ashley at the wire. It took a photo finish to sort things out, and in the end she was just a head short. From where I sat it looked a lot closer than that, and in fact I thought she had actually defeated Heart Ashley. She’s my pick of the day. Lock and load. Go get ‘em, baby girl!
#11 On the Menu and #10 Union City are two I’d pay close attention to in the post parade, provided you have the opportunity to do so. Either one could run big today. I’m taking a stand against the morning line favorite, #5 Saarlight, despite that one’s speed. This race should be quick, which should set up nicely for Cinderella’s Wish and On the Menu.
Monmouth Park – Race 9: The Monmouth Stakes ($200k) – 4:50 ET
- #1 Proudinksy (3/1*)
- #7 Presious Passion (9/2)
- #4 Grand Couturier (7/2)
What’s this? I must have gone mad. After playing against rather solid favorites in the first two races we’ve covered, I’m now going with a lukewarm 3/1 favorite in the Monmouth Stakes? Strange things happen when bobbleheads are introduced into the equation. Nothing is as it seems. I actually thought Grand Couturier would be the favorite here, and he still may be come post time. While I think he’s a factor here, it’s the long layoff that concerns me the most, and the fact that he seems to be prepping for the Man O’ War later this summer.
Presious Passion is a very dangerous horse who would be the pick if we were going just a bit further. It doesn’t appear that 1 1/8 miles is his best distance. He’ll be tough though. That leaves Proudinksy as the selection, and he appears to have many things going for him. He’s lethal at this distance, he’s making the 2nd start of his form cycle, and he’s dropping in from the Grade 1 ranks where he came up a bit flat in his last effort. I always seem to wind up with this guy in my picks. I’ll hop aboard again this weekend.
Another runner that I think has an outside shot here (quite literally) is #9 Kiss the Kid. His effort in the Dixie has the effect of darkening his form, but he did finish within 2 1/2 lengths of the winner. Lord knows I love me some Lemon Drops. If he looks good in the post parade, I might take a stab with him.
Churchill Downs – Race 10: The Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) – 5:29 ET
- #6 Bullsbay (10/1)
- #3 Einstein (2/1*)
- #5 Researcher (4/1)
The feature race of the day is the return to the dirt for the versatile Einstein. The old boy is making quite a name for himself with the ability to win on seemingly any surface. I’m on record as saying I prefer him slightly on turf, but he’s got the class and the guts to get the job done here.
He won’t get away with it easy, however. Two rivals in particular look very intriguing. Bullsbay is currently listed as 10/1 on the morning line. That’s absolute theft for a gutsy son of Tiznow who hasn’t been out of the exacta in the last 6 races he’s finished (he did pull up in the Donn Handicap back in January). I guess folks are worried about the class hike, but this is a Tiznow we’re talking about. They’re always fighters. Plus, look at the connections. It’s Graham Motion! One of my favorite trainers. That’s too much for me. A favorite sire that I like to play and a favorite trainer against what is sure to be an overwhelming favorite? I’ll take the chance and go with Bullsbay in a win bet here.
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe Einstein will come home on top, but at 10/1 it’s impossible to ignore Bullsbay. Researcher is another intriguing runner who is stepping up in class and is exiting back to back big wins at Charles Town. The presence of jockey Calvin Borel means that he’ll take plenty of play at the windows, but he’s another that must be considered if you’re looking to catch a price.
One other note about Churchill – don’t miss Warrior’s Reward in the Northern Dancer (race 8, post time 4:29 ET). He’s a Medaglia d’Oro 3-year-old. Enough said.
Hollywood Park – Race 9: The Californian (G2) – 5:00 PT
- #4 Aitcho (8/1)
- #3 Rail Trip (5/2*)
- #6 Song of Navarone (8/1)
We wind up the afternoon with the feature race from Hollywood Park, the 56th running of the Grade 2 Californian for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles over the main track. Rail Trip and Ball Four look to lock horns again and are likely to be considered the top threats for this race. Last out, Ball Four was able to pull the upset by wiring the field and holding off today’ top choice, along with another useful runner in this field, Dakota Phone. This race looks wide open, so make sure you spread fairly deep if playing the exotics. Ultimately, I thought Rail Trip would prove to be the better horse, but it’s entirely possible that the distance may not be to his liking.
As such, I went with the improving Aitcho for trainer John Shirreffs. As is the case with Zenyatta, Shirreffs teams up with jockey Mike Smith here with Aitcho, and the son of Stromy Atlantic looks to test the stakes waters for the first time following his most recent victory at the allowance level. Is this an acid test? Sure. Do his previous races stack up with the best of other runners in this field? Not exactly, but he does have upside, and at 8/1 he offers value on the tote board. Mary Forney recently caught up with Aitcho schooling in the paddock and has a nice picture if you’d like to get a glimpse. Looks like a fine colt to me.
Another interesting bomber that should be a large price on the board is Song of Navarone. He’s never been on synthetics before, which will scare most folks away. But c’mon…he’s run (and won multiple times) at the vaunted Sunland Park. You aren’t going to toss anything coming from Sunland are you? Victor Espinoza’s in the saddle. Obviously this will all come down to how well this runner likes the surface, but the possibility is there. I’m just sayin’. Let the post parade factor into your ultimate decision, but do not totally overlook Aitcho or Song of Navarone.
That’ll just about do it for this weekend. Don’t forget to check out Indian Blessing and Kip Deville on Sunday. ‘Blessing will be sprinting in the Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park, while Kip Deville will return in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes.
Best of luck to all and enjoy the weekend.