The summer solstice was Friday, and that is an appropriate milepost to note that we are now entering the summer season in horse racing. The Triple Crown races are receding in the rear-view mirror, Monmouth Park and Arlington are in full swing, and the true bellweathers of summer, Saratoga and Del Mar, are right around the corner. To celebrate the arrival of astrological summer, we will do a Pagan dance, and we'll look to play the excellent stakes races on tap for Saturday.
We're going to start at Monmouth, which has a good card, highlighted by the Grade 1 United Nations. And we'll also drop in for a quick look at the Ohio Derby at Thistledown, and for a few stakes at Santa Anita. We expect fast dirt and firm turf at all these places. So let's go . . .
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Race 7 (4:33 p.m. ET) is the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes. It's a mile and a sixteenth on the turf for fillies and mares 3 and up. The 8-5 morning-line favorite is 1-Valedictorian, and while she's a nice 5-year-old mare, she does her best work when she's able to set an easy, uncontested lead, and we don't see that happening here.
We like 2-Maid to Remember. This 5-year-old mare is making her second North American start, after a bunch of races in Europe, and she figures to improve in that spot, especially early in the race. In her last one − her North American debut − she basically blew the start, and very nearly overcame it. She ended up finishing second, three-quarters of a length behind the winner. We think she will do better here, and at 8-1, she offers tremendous value. She will be flying late, we just hope she gets up in time. We will bet her to win.
Monmouth Race 7
$20 W on 2-Maid to Remember
The Philip H. Iselin Stakes goes as Race 10 (5:00 p.m.) at Monmouth. It's a mile and a sixteenth on the main track, for horses 3 and older. Seven are entered.
The dirt at Monmouth Park is generally a pretty speed-favoring surface, but despite that, this race to us has "pace meltdown" written all over it. There are some talented horses running here, but they all seem to have the same style, which is to be either on the early lead, or just off it. This includes a Charles Town shipper, 3-Runnin'toluvya, who has used his abundant early speed to control races on the sharp turns at the bull ring that is Charles Town. We think he's going to find that going eight and a half furlongs on the much larger oval at Monmouth.
We think the races sets up almost perfectly for 7-Monongahela. This Jason Servis trainee should get a good trip behind the pace-setters, and as an inveterate late-runner, he should be ready to pounce when the leaders falter in the race's late stages. We see Monongahela making a big move in mid-stretch, and that will be enough for him to get the money. We will bet him to win at 7-2.
Monmouth Race 10
$25 W on 7-Monongahela
Race 11 (5:28 p.m.) − The Grade 1 United Nations − is the marquee race on the Monmouth card, and it's one of the highlights of the summer. It's a great race with a deep and rich history that goes back to the now-shuttered track in Atlantic City. All-time greats like Round Table and Dr. Fager have won this, as have, in more recent years, high-quality animals like Sandpit and English Channel. It's a mile and a half on the turf, its for horses 3 and up.
This year's field is a good one. There may not be a standout here, but it's a talented and evenly matched bunch of eight runners, and it's a good race to handicap.
4-Focus Group is a strong play here. This Chad Brown trainee has been knocking on the door of a Grade 1 win for a while − he was third in the Canadian International last fall, and 6th in the Man 'o War at Belmont last month − but we think he breaks through here. His is, like most of Brown's turf stakes runners, a horse who does his best running late, and we think he'll make a powerful move turning for home to take this one. We will bet him to win at 2-1.
Monmouth Race 11
$40 W on 4-Focus Group
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The Ohio Derby goes as Race 9 (5:10 p.m.). It's for 3-year-olds, it's 1 1/8 mile on dirt, and seven are entered.
4-Global Campaign is a strong pick in this one. He's coming out of a win in the Peter Pan at Belmont, which is looking like a key race. The horse who finished second behind Global Campaign that day, in fact, was Sir Winston, who merely parlayed that runner-up finish in the Peter Pan into a win in the Belmont Stakes. If Global Campaign was good enough to beat Sir Winston, he sure looks good enough to win this one. He speed figure in the Peter Pan also appears to give him an edge. We will bet him to win at 3-1.
Thistledown Race 9
$50 W on 4-Global Campaign
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Out in California, Santa Anita is running a trio of stakes on Saturday and we like two of them, both on turf. The Snow Chief, which goes as Race 6 (6:33 p.m.), is for 3-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth. The Grade 3 Wilshire, which is Race 8 (7:36 p.m.), has fillies and mares 3 and older going a mile.
The pick here in the Snow Chief is 7-Desmond Doss. This Phil D'Amato trainee broke his maiden, at this turf distance, in impressive fashion at Santa Anita earlier this month. He'll need to improve off that effort to take this, but he looks positioned for a forward move. We see him sitting mid-pack, and making a move turning for home. We will bet him to win at 4-1.
Santa Anita Race 6
$20 W on 7-Desmond Doss
The Wilshire has a good and deep field, but one filly stands out to us. It's 3-Simply Breathless, a 4-year-old filly who raced in England last year, and who made her U.S. debut a successful one in taking a minor stakes race at Golden Gate Fields in April. She comes into this off a brief freshening, and we are expecting big things of her here. Put simply, she looks to outclass this field. We will bet her to win at 6-1.
Santa Anita Race 8
$40 W on 3-Simply Breathless
That's all for today. Enjoy the racing, and enjoy the brilliant summer weather. And, as always, good luck at the windows.