The Racing Biz is pleased to welcome Shore Bets, with a revolving cast of Monmouth Park handicappers.  Today, 19-year-old aspiring announcer John Piassek hopes to make the right call.

by John Piassek

It’s the biggest day of the year, featuring the biggest horse of the year: Haskell day!  Fourteen races, including six stakes races, are on tap, before what is projected to be the largest crowd in Monmouth Park history. The Haskell is highlighted, of course, by Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, seeking his eighth consecutive victory. Let’s get started on the card.

Weather Forecast: 89*F, Sunny

Race 1: Allowance Optional Claiming (n/w1x), 3yo and up, 6 Furlongs

  1. 1- Tell Tale Friend (3/1)
  2. 3- Longfor the City (3/1)
  3. 4- Blings Express (7/2)

I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on this race, especially when one considers that the two likely favorites: the 1, Tell Tale Friend, and the 4, Blings Express, are prone to dueling with each other. Among those two, I’d prefer Tell Tale Friend. In his last race at Monmouth, he battled through a blazing :21.4 quarter and :44.3 half mile, but grimly hung in there to the end and missed by ½ length. Now, he’s dropping down to the n/w1x level, and possesses some of the strongest Brisnet figures in the field. If I’d want anyone in the field to hang in after a duel, he would be the one.

If both Tell Tale Friend and Blings Express fall apart on the lead, the 3, Longfor the City, could pick up the pieces late. He did that against New York-breds at Belmont last out, rallying from the back to get up by a neck. His late speed numbers are strong, and he cannot be ignored.

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Race 2: Maiden Special Weight, 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, 1 Mile (Grass)

  1. 3- Ansible (5/2)
  2. 9- Pointe Class (6/1)
  3. 7- Watusi (12/1)

The first of three—count ‘em, three!—pick 4s on the card begins here. I’ll go with the 3, Ansible, to begin this sequence. Last time out, she made a strong rally from the back of the pack, only missing by a neck. She makes her third start off the layoff here, an angle that trainer Christophe Clement hits at an astounding 27% with. Her figures are all among the most competitive in the field, to boot.

At a 6/1 morning line, the 9, Pointe Class, looks to offer some great value. She ran well over the winter at Gulfstream in these types of races, and is also making her third start off the layoff. The trainer-jockey combination of Todd Pletcher and Abel Castellano hit at a mind-boggling 40% when they team up, and Pletcher is 31% with his Monmouth invaders on the year. She’s been working well for this spot, and may be the best value play of the day. Both her and Ansible should be used in any pick 4 play.

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Race 3: Allowance Optional Claiming (n/w1x), 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles

  1. 7- Carajillo (9/5)
  2. 8- Percussion (6/1)
  3. 2- Box Office (5/1)

Castellano and Pletcher will team up once again for my third race play, the 7, Carajillo. He dominated the field breaking his maiden last out, winning by two easy lengths, earning a figure of 95. That towers over anything most of this field has done in recent memory. He’s coming into this race with good, improving form, and looks to be ready to fire a big one.

However, the 8, Percussion cannot be ignored. He’s making the stretch back out to a route, even though he dominated a sprinting field last out. The kicker, however, is trainer Jorge Navarro: he’s hitting at 41% with horses making their second start off the layoff. If he’s anywhere near his 6/1 morning line, he’s worth a play. The 2, Box Office, was second at this level last out, and has strong figures and Paco Lopez’s riding. Watch for him, too.


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Race 4: Lady’s Secret Stakes, 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, 1 Mile 70 Yards

  1. 4- Got Lucky (7/5)
  2. 1- Stiffed (7/2)
  3. 2- Power of Snunner (6/1)

The 4, Got Lucky, is as close to a “shore” thing as you’ll find on this card—and that counts American Pharoah. Against very similar horses in the Molly Pitcher Stakes last out, she dominated them, winning by five and half lengths. That includes Stiffed, who beat her in the Monmouth Beach Stakes two starts back, and is the only one to run figures even remotely comparable. Stiffed’s running style, however, means she’ll be coming from far back. Got Lucky figures to get the jump on her going down the backstretch, and that’ll be all she wrote.

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Race 5: Claiming $12,500, 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Grass)

  1. 7- Best Actor (3/1)
  2. 1- Majestic Jess (4/1)
  3. 12- Azure Dragon (6/1)

It’s not an easy race to handicap, and that’s made evident when your top pick hasn’t won a race since American Pharoah was a yearling. However, the 7, Best Actor, is coming off back-to-back second place finishes against similar here at Monmouth. His figures have been improving sharply as well, going up to a 91 in his last outing. Trainer Jason Servis has also been having a terrific meet, which includes a 26% strike rate with horses third off the layoff. He also gets a major jockey upgrade, from Gabriel Saez to Paco Lopez.

The 1, Majestic Jess, has won two races this year at Monmouth, earned with gate-to-wire trips. If he can get a clear early lead—which is no guarantee—he’s going to be tough. The 12, Azure Dragon, rallied from the back of the pack to win his first start off a two-month layoff. He can easily improve off that effort.

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Race 6: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, NJ-bred, 1 Mile 70 Yards

  1. 9- Candy Mine (12/1)
  2. 1- Cheddar Chub/1A- My Uncle Sam (4/1)
  3. 3- Tribal Honour (9/2)

A wide-open field like this means that it’s a time to explore a price. With a 12/1 morning line, the 9, Candy Mine, is worth a look. Yes, he is stretching out to a route from a sprint. However, his late speed in those races suggests that he’s not necessarily exclusively a sprinter. His figures are also solid, averaging a 79 in his last three races. Now, he’s no cinch, and I’m not “shore” if I’d bet him if he wasn’t his generous morning line price. However, no one else in the race looks that great either, so it’s worth trying Candy Mine out.

The 1, Cheddar Chub, closed from far behind to score second at this level in a route last time out. Looking at his last two, he’s proven himself in these kind of spots. The 3, Tribal Honour, has been second twice at this class, and has the dependable combination of Claudio Gonzalez training and Trevor McCarthy riding.


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Race 7: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Grass)

  1. 3- Cordero (5/1)
  2. 7- To Your Health (8/1)
  3. 9- Irish Strait (8/1)

The 3, Cordero, looks very tough to beat. While his last race at Belmont was not impressive on the surface—he lost by nine lengths at this level—he earned a figure of 89 for that outing, among the best recent figures in the field. Not only that, his average late pace is a 97, which is the fastest in the field by a bunch. He’s had some impressive tune-ups for this race, and will probably find the company here in Jersey easier. Should he get a clear trip, his style indicates that he will be blowing by his rivals heading into the stretch, and (hopefully) drawing off to an easy score.

The 7, To Your Health, broke his maiden last out in his grass debut. Trainer Wayne Catalano is strong with horses in their second start off the layoff, and he retains the riding of Paco Lopez. The 9, Irish Strait, has been third and fourth in this class in his last two. Trainer Graham Motion has been an ice-cold 0-18 with his Monmouth starters this year, but this horse may have found a spot where he’ll be closer.

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Race 8: Teddy Drone Stakes, 3yo and up, 6 Furlongs

  1. 2- Fabulous Kid (6/1)
  2. 7- Stallwalkin’ Dude (3/1)
  3. 9- Loverbil (10/1)

At long last, the stakes races start to pick up. This race will begin the Jersey Shore 6, offered on races 8-13.

I begin the sequence with the 2, Fabulous Kid. He was less than impressive routing in the Salvator Mile last out, finishing a disappointing fifth. However, he still earned a figure of 96 for that effort. Going back further, he’s earned as high as a 101 while sprinting. He also has one of the best last pace figures in the race, while being close enough to the lead that he’ll get a jump over the rest. This is a race with a lot of speed-dependent horses, and should this race melt down, Fabulous Kid can just swoop by them all and win it. At a 6/1 morning line, he should be good odds.

The 7, Stallwalkin’ Dude, won the Diablo Stakes earlier in the year at Belmont, and exits a third in the Belmont Sprint behind stars Private Zone and Clearly Now. If nothing else, he’s getting plenty of class relief in this spot. The 9, Loverbil, is a Jersey-bred stalwart who has already won three races on the season. His late speed is also great, and he may very well pull off the upset.

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Race 9: G3 Matchmaker Stakes, 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Grass)

  1. 5- I’m Already Sexy (2/1)
  2. 6- Testa Rossi (5/2)
  3. 8- Baffle Me (8/1)

The 5, I’m Already Sexy, will be my play in here. She’s already won a graded stakes at Monmouth this year, in the Eatontown Stakes. Before that, she narrowly missed in the Mint Julep Handicap at Churchill. Her figures have been top notch, earning as high as a 97 in her last race. The way the race sets up, too, also works in her favor. If she can rate off a clear, fast-folding leader, she’ll roll by, and has enough late speed that she’ll hold off the rest.

The 6, Testa Rossi, was second in the James Penny last out at Parx. Trainer Chad Brown also hits at a sharp 5-11 with his Monmouth invaders. Watch for her, too. The 8, Baffle Me, disappointed in that James Penny, but had shown good form before that. She hopes to rebound from way off the pace.

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Race 10: G2 Monmouth Cup, 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles

  1. 7- Protonico (2/1)
  2. 8- Valid (4/1)
  3. 5- Freestyler (8/1)

A deep, competitive field lines up for this renewal of the Monmouth Cup. The prospective favorite is the 7, Protonico, and for good reason. He’s coming off back-to-back stakes wins in Kentucky, earning a 107 figure in each one. He narrowly defeated Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird in the Alysheba last out, and finished well clear of Met Mile winner Honor Code in that same race. While he is obviously the best horse in this race, I can’t endorse him strongly, only because he’s coming off a three-month layoff, and he’s likely to be a strong, possibly odds-on favorite. Of course, he has to be used in multi-race wagers, but why waste your money trying to bet him to win? Furthermore, there’s the fact that he’s in this $200,000 race, and not the much richer Whitney on Saturday at Saratoga. That suggests he’s not being fully cranked for this race, and is looking at this one at a prep for races down the road. Don’t overthink Protonico, but don’t take him at short odds, either.

The 8, Valid, was third in the Salvator Mile last out, and has a frustrating tendency to finish second and third every time. However, his figures are above 100 just about every time. He’s very hard to ignore. The 5, Freestyler, has won four in a row, all of them in very gutsy fashion against allowance horses. He steps up into stakes company here, and he may be out-classed. However, you know he’ll put up a fight, for “shore”.

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Race 11: G3 Oceanport Stakes, 3yo and up, 1 1/16 Miles (Grass)

  1. 7- Kharafa (5/2)
  2. 3- Old Time Hockey (8/1)
  3. 5- Heart to Heart (2/1)

The 7, Kharafa, looks very tough to beat in here. He was much, much, much the best against similar competition in the Elkhorn Stakes last out, winning by a neck after having a brutal trip. Now, he moves into a race with only six other horses, so he should have a much cleaner trip. That will enable him to flaunt his superiority over this field: his figures are all in the high 90s. No one else in the field can consistently pull that off. The fact that he’s not the morning line favorite makes me salivate; if he’s even close to his 5/2 early odds, that will be a huge bargain.

The 3, Old Time Hockey, ran strong races at Tampa Bay Downs over the winter, and makes his second start off the layoff. Watch him in the exotics. The 5, Heart to Heart, has the most early speed in the field, and will be dangerous if he’s allowed to get an easy lead.

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Race 12: G1 Haskell Invitational, 3yo, 1 1/8 Miles

  1. 4- American Pharoah (1/5)
  2. 1- Upstart (6/1)
  3. 6- Keen Ice (12/1)

There’s no need to overthink this race. On straight handicapping, there is absolutely no reason to think that the 4, American Pharoah, is not the most likely winner here. During his seven-race winning streak, he’s done nothing wrong. His Belmont was an absolute tour-de-force. He won it in the fastest time for that race in fourteen years, while absolutely dominating a classy field of three year olds. Nobody in this field is on the caliber of Frosted or Materiality, and American Pharoah just blew them away last out.

As such, the way to try to make money in this race is by looking to see who will round out the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta. Looking past American Pharoah, the 1, Upstart, looks much the best. He ran big races over the winter at Gulfstream Park, consistently running figures above 100. Following the Kentucky Derby debacle, he returned to the worktab in late June, and was been firing strong bullets for this race. His best won’t be enough to beat American Pharoah, but he is the clear-cut second best in the race. The 6, Keen Ice, ran well in the Belmont Stakes last out, but may have a difficult time on Monmouth’s speed-favoring track. Nonetheless, he can still clunk up for third or fourth place.

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Race 13: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, 1 1/16 Miles (Grass)

  1. 8- Big N Toasty (7/2)
  2. 7- Silverville (3/1)
  3. 1- Quarla/1A- Midnight Bounty (8/1)

Among all the routers in here, the 8, Big N Toasty, has by far the most early speed. She pulled off back-to-back gate-to-wire scores at Gulfstream over the winter, and with not many other challengers, it looks as if it will happen again. Trainer Jason Servis is a strong 26% with shippers, and she gets a jockey upgrade to Paco Lopez.

The 7, Silverville, has come up short in three straight races at this class. Don’t discount her completely, but be aware she’s more likely for an exotic position than a winner’s circle photo.

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Race 14: Allowance (n/w1x), 3yo and up, Fillies and Mares, NJ-bred, 6 Furlongs

  1. 5- Sunshine Sandy (3/1)
  2. 2- Gingge (4/1)
  3. 6- Let’s Parlay (5/2)

The Haskell day finale is a two-horse race. The 2, Gingge, and the 5, Sunshine Sandy, are both coming off dominating maiden wins versus Jersey-bred competition. I give the slight advantage to Sunshine Sandy, even though her maiden win figure was three points lower than Gingee’s. She was claimed out of her last race by the dominant Jorge Navarro, who hits at 39% first off the claim. With that barn move, I expect a lot of improvement out of Sunshine Sandy.

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John Piassek is a rising sophomore student at Loyola University Maryland, who has been going to Monmouth Park since before he could walk. Last year, he lived a dream by getting to call a live race at Monmouth.  Check out his “Monmouth Shore Things” blog for daily picks and recaps.