Summer's in full swing, and that means plenty of high-quality racing on the turf.
A baker's dozen graded stakes are on the menu across the country this weekend, and 10 of them (weather permitting, of course) will take place on the lawn.
There's a Grade 1 turf event on each coast. The Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park, a race won by the likes of Point of Entry, Cape Blanco and Gio Ponti in recent years, features a salty group of eight runners with an impressive 166 starts between them. The field will be missing last year's winner, the injured Point of Entry, but is led by Optimizer and Boisterous. At Betfair Hollywood Park, three-year-old fillies, including Scarlet Strike and Emollient, are in the spotlight going 1 1/4 miles on the grass in the 13th running of the G1 American Oaks.
There are competitive turf races elsewhere, including Arlington Park, Colonial Downs, and Delaware Park, so bettors should find this an appealing weekend to try to make some green.
Last week, both teams showed a nice profit, thanks to successful wagers in the United Nations Turf Stakes at Monmouth Park. John “Johnny D” DeSantis of Xpressbet.com scored with a $50 win bet on Big Blue Kitten that returned $175, while Ray's $10 exacta box of Big Blue Kitten and Teaks North produced a winning return of $234.
Play along with us this week, and let us know who you like!
Xpressbet Handicapper: Mike Penna, Horse Racing Radio Network
Modesty Handicap, Grade 3, Arlington Park, 1 3/16 miles Turf
This year's Modesty ‘Cap drew a contentious field of eight older fillies and mares hoping to use this as a stepping stone to the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes. #8 COLONIAL FLAG has been tackling some of the top fillies in her division and should be able to rack up her fourth lifetime win in this spot. She makes her second start following a nearly seven-month layoff for a trainer in Mike Matz, who does well with horses making their second start back. She has just enough tactical speed to be placed wherever her pilot, Joe Rocco Jr., deems appropriate and this way she'll get first jump on the closers. She always seems to close with a rush, and considering the Modesty's added distance, that'll put her at an advantage over most of her competitors, many of whom have never run this far. There are no Centre Court's or Lady of Shamrock's in this race, making COLONIAL FLAG the one to beat.
The Play: $25 Win/Place on #8 Colonial Flag ($50)
Arlington Handicap, Grade 3, Arlington Park, 1 1/4 miles Turf
Nine-year-old #6 RAHYSTRADA returns to his favorite turf course – he's 3-for-6 in his career at Arlington Park – in an attempt to earn his third Arlington Handicap victory. He used his early speed to win in wire-to-wire fashion last year and should once again have a tactical edge over a field loaded with late runners. It doesn't look like anyone here will want to tangle with him early on. In addition, he is the only member of today's race to own a win at this distance.
In fact, he's won going 1-1/4 miles 3 times. As my HRRN partner Jude Feld likes to say, ‘Old Guys Rule,' and my gut tells me RAHYSTRADA will get another big win and move on to another Million run. #1 KEEP UP is interesting and could inject some value into the exotics. He has won 4-of- 6 starts on lawn and is a perfect 1-for-1 over the green at Arlington. He has a heck of a late kick and will be flying through the lane under jockey James Graham.
The Play: $10 Win on #1 Keep Up, #6 Rahystrada ($20); $5 Exacta Box #1 Keep Up, #6 Rahystrada ($10)
Delaware Oaks, Grade 2, Delaware Park, 1 1/16 Miles
#2 MARACUYA is the only runner in this field with graded stakes experience and she exits a credible fourth-place finish behind one of the best three-year-old fillies in the country, Fiftyshadesofhay, in Pimlico's Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. The slight cutback in distance from 1 1/8 to today 1 1/16 should help the daughter of Big Brown get to the finish line first, and her tactical speed will keep her on or just off the pace throughout. Without much competition here, she's simply the one to beat.
The Play: $10 Win/Place on #2 Maracuya ($20)
Paulick Report Handicapper: Scott Jagow, Editor-in-Chief
Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes, Grade 3, Delaware Park, 1 3/8 Miles, Turf
A race with a 3-1 morning line favorite is usually a good spot to invest some of your bankroll, and that's what we have here. Favored AIGUE MARINE is a nice filly trained by Christophe Clement making her fourth start in the States after racing in France. But she might need a bit of pace to run into, and there just isn't much. That's why I like LAUGHING (4-1), who returned to the races a couple of weeks ago from an eight-month layoff and won a Grade 3 at Laurel Park. If she doesn't go gate-to-wire, she'll certainly be prominent throughout and is the most likely winner for trainer Alan Goldberg, who does well with second-off-layoff situations. LAUGHING is coupled with another Goldberg runner, TANNERY, whose recent resume includes a win in the G2 Sheepshead Bay and competitive finishes in other graded stakes.
The Play: $30 to win, #1 Laughing/Tannery
Virginia Derby, Grade 2, Colonial Downs, 1 1/4 Miles, Turf
A pretty competitive field of 10 3-year-olds drew for this one, led by Kentucky Derby runner CHARMING KITTEN, trained by Todd Pletcher, and RYDILLUC, the Gary Contessa-trained colt who beat Charming Kitten in the $500,000 Penn Mile last month. But I'm going to try a different Kitten, a colt ridden by Colonial Downs killer Horacio Karamanos. Last month, Karamanos stunned the Colonial Turf Cup on 50-1 longshot London Lane. The all-time leading jock at Colonial Downs also won this race in 2007 aboard 37-1 Red Giant. Can he upset again? I don't see why not. His mount, FEAR THE KITTEN (15-1), is a Kitten's Joy out of a Dynaformer mare who has never set foot on the grass in nine starts. Fear the Kitten has the most graded stakes experience in this field, and his sire and dam hit with 17% and 14% of their first turfers, respectively. I say Fear Karamanos, and Fear the Kitten!
The Play: $20 to win, $10 place/show, #9 Fear the Kitten ($40)
American Derby, Grade 3, Arlington Park, 1 3/16 Miles, Turf
Another group of sophomores lines up here, and eight of the 11 runners have been victorious in one of their last two races, so there's good form on tap. I'm not in love with any of the likely winners, including PROCUREMENT, GENERAL ELECTION and yet another one of those felines, ADMIRAL KITTEN. So I'm just going way out on a limb and taking a chance on the longest shot in the field, MONGOLIAN SATURDAY at 30-1. His trainer, Enebish Ganbat, isn't exactly a household name, but he is winning at a 36% clip this meet. Mongolian Saturday has only had three starts, but he's won two of them by open lengths, and he's the only colt in this field with Beyer Speed Figures in the 90's, and he's done that twice. I have reservations about the stretch-out from a mile, but Any Given Saturday does well enough with his first-time grass runners (11%), and at 30-1, it's worth finding out if Mongolian Saturday can go gate-to-wire in his turf debut. He's also entered in another race on this same card, so if he scratches here, I'll put my money on Procurement.
The Play: $10 win/place/show #5 Mongolian Saturday, #1 Procurement (if 1st choice scratches) ($30)
A rundown of this weekend's graded stakes:
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