There's good variety in the national stakes schedule today. Rather than all the top-flight action being at one track, as it will be for next week's Belmont Stakes Racing Festival at Belmont Park, there are interesting and playable stakes races from coast to coast. We've taken a look at all of them, and will break down those that we find noteworthy. We're handicapping for fast and firm everywhere. Let's go . . .
At Monmouth Park, they should get perfect early June weather for the $75,000 Tale of the Cat Stakes, a 1 1/16 mile turf race for 3-year-olds. It goes as Race 9 in Oceanport, with a listed post time of 4:47 pm (as always, all times here are Eastern), and there are seven entrants, plus a main-track-only also eligible.
1-Standard Deviation is the strong pick here. This son of Curlin is trained by Chad Brown, and while he has run exclusively on dirt, mostly unimpressively -- he has one win in five career starts -- they thought highly enough of him to run him in last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile, where he finished last at a massively underlaid 8-1. His running lines show a noticeable lack of early speed, but they also show an ability to rally from off the pace. While this kind of slow early/fast late style is terrible on dirt, it is the perfect style on turf. And we think the switch to the sod will suit him nicely. The other runners all have question marks, and we think Standard Deviation will beat them all. We will bet him to win at 9-2 -- though we will note that we think his post-time odds will probably be much lower than that.
Monmouth Park Race 9
$30 W 1-Standard Deviation
Up on Lawn Guyland, there's another turf route for 3-year-olds: it's the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge, which goes a mile and an eighth, and goes as Race 8, with a 5:18 pm post time. This is a terrific race, filled with very promising looking colts: Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher have two entrants apiece who look like they can really run. When it comes to picking a winner, however, we are looking elsewhere, and it's to the Bill Mott/Juddmonte Farms entrant, 7-Seismic Wave. This son of Tapit is going to be absolutely flying late, and we think that will be enough to hit the wire first. He's not the only runner here who will be zooming down the lane, but we do think he has the best closing kick,and that should set up a thrilling finish, and a trip to the winner's circle for Seismic Wave. We will bet him to win at 6-1.
Belmont Park Race 8
$25 W 7-Seismic Wave
At Woodbine in suburban Toronto, they're also running a turf stakes: it's the Grade 2 Connaught Cup, a 7-furlong affair for older horses. It's Race 8 on the card, with a 5:00 pm post time.
In grass racing, 7 furlongs, as our colleague Mick McMudder has pointed out, is an oddball distance: there's nothing wrong with the distance itself, but it's a distance at which turf races are rarely run in this country. We see a lot of sprints in the 5 or 5½ furlong range, and routes a mile or longer, but 7 furlong races don't come down the pike too often. When we see them, as Mick has also pointed out, the fields are usually filled with stretch-out sprinters or cut-back distance horses.
They do run this distance with great frequency in Europe, and we mention that because there is an entrant in the Connaught Cup who is perfectly suited to 7 furlongs: it is the Conor Murphy-trained 6-Emmaus. This Irish-bred 5-year-old son of Invincible Spirit has run this distance six times in his career, five of them in Europe, and finished in the exacta in five of them. He's coming off a good runner-up finish in a 7-furlong stakes race at Belmont, and he looks to have this field over a barrel. We think he's the best bet of the day, and at 2-1, we will bet him to win with gusto.
Woodbine Race 8
$50 W 6-Emmaus
Out West, there are two stakes races on the card in Santa Anita, both featuring females, and we had better play them while we can: we don't do politics here, but it is looking increasingly likely that because of the ongoing fiasco there, Santa Anita will close, either voluntarily or involuntarily, before the end of the current meeting, which is scheduled to run through June 23. So we'll play there while we can.
The two stakes races in Arcadia will be run consecutively, the Grade 3 Honeymoon and the Grade 2 Santa Maria going as races 7 and 8, respectively, with post times of 7:03 and 7:33 pm. The Honeymoon is a 1 1/8 mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies; the Santa Maria a mile and a sixteenth on the dirt for fillies and mares 3 and up.
In the Honeymoon, 6-Maxim Rate is strictly the one to beat. This daughter of Exchange Rate is a nose from being unbeaten: she's won two of her three career starts, and lost the other by a whisker. We don't think any of the other runners can match her ability, but because she will be a short price, even money or so, we will pass on making a win bet on her.
The Santa Maria has a short field of five, and it's for a reason: 2-Paradise Woods is 1/5, and probably scared away her competition. We made the mistake of picking against her in her last race, the Santa Margarita, so naturally she won by about the length of the stretch, in one of the most impressive performances during the current Santa Anita meeting. We will not be picking against her today. Rather than a win bet at 1/9 -- she may be the shortest price of the year here -- we'll go back to the Honeymoon, and play the Chalk-Eating Weasel special: we'll bet the two favorites, 6-Maxim Rate and Paradise Woods, in the double. This won't pay much, but it should pay something, which is more than what a bet on any of the other runners will do.
Santa Anita Races 7-8
$25 Double 6-2
That's all for today. Enjoy this wonderful Saturday, and good luck at the windows.