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Sunny Ridge, winning the State Dinner at Belmont, back in January of 2016, races today at Monmouth.
Sunny Ridge, winning the State Dinner at Belmont, back in January of 2016, races today at Monmouth.|NYRA / Chelsea Durand
Thoroughbreds

Saturday Stakes Races: Garrity picks from a loaded card at Monmouth and finds two out west at Santa Anita

His first post time is 2:40 pm EDT

Chris Garrity

t's a relatively quiet day in the horse racing world, at least as far as stakes races are concerned. This is not particularly surprising: the two weekends between the Preakness and the Belmont are relatively low-key. But there's still enough action to keep us busy: there are stakes races from coast to coast. There's a mammoth 13-race card at Monmouth Park, featuring four stakes races -- Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore, of course -- and there's also a trio of stakes, all of them graded, at Santa Anita. We expect the weather to be fine on both coasts, so we are handicapping for fast dirt and firm turf. Let's go.

The first stakes race of the day at Monmouth is the John J. Reilly, a 6-furlong dirt sprint for New Jersey-bred horses 3 and older. It goes as Race 5, with a post time of 2:40 pm (as always, all times here are Eastern). We like the outside horse in here, 7-Cozy Lover. This 6-year-old gelding has been running very consistently on the deeper dirt at both Laurel and Parx; as a horse with some early foot, we think that he will absolutely love the more speed-friendly surface at Monmouth. He's got good stalking speed, an outside post position, and superior speed figures. He's a go; we'll bet him to win at 5/2. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 5, $20 to win on 7-Cozy Lover.

The 7th at Monmouth is the Boiling Springs, a 1 1/6 mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. It goes to the post at 3:32 pm. This has an incredibly good field for a $75,00 overnight stakes race: the training lineup looks like a race on the Kentucky Derby undercard, with Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher, John Servis, and Bill Mott all having entrants here (there's also a full field of 12, which is good to see, as the one issue that seems to plague Monmouth the most is field size). The hunch play here would be 7-Shoobiedoobydoo -- betting a Shoobie on Memorial Day Weekend at the Jersey Shore approaches metaphysical perfection -- but we don't like his chances, and we don't do hunch plays here. Instead, we are turning to 10-Karama. This Michael Pino trainee showed high ability in a couple of seven-furlong dirt sprints at Gulfstream, breaking her maiden and finishing second in an allowance, but she is bred top and bottom (Kitten's Joy, out of an Irish mare) to go long on the turf. Transferring her dirt form to grass could be good enough to win this for her, but we think she will actually improve, as turf will probably be her favored surface. Plus, she's a juicy 6-1 on the morning line, and with the presence of all the name trainers, she seems likely to be overlooked in the betting. We will bet her to win. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 7, $25 to win on 10-Karama.

Race 9 at Monmouth is the Grade 3 Salvator Mile, which is on dirt and which, as the title suggests, is run at a distance of a mile. Brothers John and Jason Servis have runners in here, and they are both contenders, but we give the nod to Jason's colt, 2-Sunny Ridge, because he is a strong late runner in a race that is absolutely loaded with early speed. We see a pace meltdown here, and we see Sunny Ridge picking up the pieces and taking the prize. We will bet him to win at 2-1. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 9, $15 to win on 2-Sunny Ridge.

The last race we'll cover at Monmouth today is the featured race, the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes, which has horses 3 and older going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. It goes as Race 11, with a post time of 5.32 pm. This is a good race, with a good field; but it's also a fascinating race to handicap, because one could go in many different directions. But we've settled on a familiar angle: a Chad Brown horse in a turf stakes, and the pick is 2-Almanaar. This 7-year-old son of Dubawi has not exactly been a win machine lately -- he's finished off the board in his last three -- but these races were A) against some of the best horses in training, B) mostly shorter races (two of them were at a mile), and C) on soft turf: his last three were all on grass rated "good," and his past performances suggest that he very much prefers firm turf. The 9-furlong distance suits him perfectly; he'll like the firm turf; he's facing lesser competition today than he has recently; and he's trained by Chad Brown. That checks all the boxes, so we will bet him to win, aggressively and enthusiastically, at 3-1. The bet: Monmouth Park, Race 11, $40 to win on 2-Almanaar.

Out west at Santa Anita, there are three stakes on today's card. and we are going to look at the last two, the Charles Whittingham, which goes as Race 7, and the Triple Bend, which goes as Race 8. Post times are 7:03 pm and 7:33 pm.

The Whittingham is horses 3 and up going a mile and a quarter on the turf. We're going for an upset here, and it's with 5-United. This 4-year-old gelding is out of superstar sire Giant's Causeway, and though the results of his six career starts have been mixed, we think this is partly because he has been running in races shorter than he wants. We think this 10-furlong distance is right in his wheelhouse, and to put it diplomatically, we are not overwhelmed by the merits of the other runners in the field. He's trained by Richard Mandella, which is another big plus. We think United runs big today, and takes the money at a good price. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-United.

The Triple Bend (Race 8) is a 7-furlong dirt sprint for older horses. We're going with a very simple angle in here: the horse with the best recent race, and the best last-out speed figure, is 7-The Hardest Way. This 5-year-old Ron Ellis trainee came back from a long layoff (over a year) to win an allowance race in very fast time at Keeneland in April. A repeat of that would probably be good enough to win this one, but we think he will actually improve. And improvement -- any improvement -- will put him right in the winner's circle. We will bet him to win at 3-1. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 8, $30 to win on 7-The Hardest Way.

We will also, because this is a holiday weekend, and because Santa Anita very kindly put these two stakes races back to back, hammer a daily double with United in the Whittingham and The Hardest Way in the Triple Bend. The bet: Santa Anita, Race 7, $40 double, 5 (United) with 7 (The Hardest Way).

That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and enjoy the weekend. And as always, good luck at the windows.