Friday, June 14, 2019

Key Weekend Stakes Picks

[Updated Sunday morning with results; Green indicates winner on $2 win mutuel payout]

Despite the chance of jinxing myself for the rest of 2019's Public Handicapper contest, and in the event a racetrack's searching for a racing analyst with a self-effacing style, I'm going to make every effort to break down -- for all 8 of my readers -- the top four U.S. races each weekend as determined by the PH editors.

The format's simple -- a notional $2 win bet, hopefully, to inform your handicapping and also in a bid to advance my current 14th-place standing in a contest with over 2,700 players and the top NHC Tour member gets a free berth to the NHC next February in Las Vegas.

This weekend's plays include three stakes at Churchill Downs and one at Monmouth Park -- an interesting turf sprint where almost half the runners belong to trainer Jason Servis, who has Maximum Security lined up to run on Sunday in his first race back since the Kentucky Derby DQ.

Monmouth Park, Race 10: Honey Bee Stakes, 5 p.m.

Selection: #4, Eyeinthesky (6-1) -- Finished 4th; lost irons at start
Alternates: #3, A Bit of Both (3-1) -- Paid $5.40; #2, Golcanda (scratched)

Nothing deep here. I think A Bit of Both is fastest, setting the pace for two other Jason Servis runners and the rest of the field. Yet I'm not willing to give the win nod, trying turf for the first time. Eyeinthesky gets the dream trip just off Bit's flank, and a repeat of the 5-furlong win at Gulfstream in January is good enough vs. these. Eyeinthesky also has a win at Aqueduct in a $100,000 stake at a slightly longer distance, done on the front end. So I think he's among the more tactical here on a track that plays fast.

Churchill Downs, Race 6: Wise Dan Stakes, Grade II, 8:37 p.m.

Selection: #9, Inspector Lynley (6-1) -- Scratched
Alternates: #15 (AE), Parlor (10-1) -- 4th at 33-1; #11, March to the Arch (6-1) -- Paid $23

The winner's coming from the outer posts. I think #4, Hot Springs (10-1), will be overbet as a horse who's 4-for-5 at Churchill and who's quick enough to secure a spot behind runaway leaders Siem Riep and Itinthepost -- the latter could be favorite, but I think is using this first race since August as a tuneup for longer and bigger races later this year. I think both can wilt, and Inspector Lynley is good enough -- and reunites with jockey Jose Ortiz -- and ran well vs. Bricks and Mortar in the Muniz at Fairgrounds in March before winning small stakes at Aqueduct in April. His effort in the Dixie on Preakness Day was disappointing vs. Admission Office, who finished a close second to Catholic Boy, but I'm speculating AO's effort was a top one that'll be tough to repeat, and he couldn't catch a horse (a great one, though) who hadn't run in a long time. Lynley grinds out a win here.

Churchill Downs, Race 8: Grade 2 Stephen Foster, 9:47 p.m.

Selection: #8, King Zachary (12-1) -- 10th of 12, stunk up the joint
Alternates: #4, Seeking the Soul (4-1) -- paid $11.20; #3, Runaway Ghost (20-1) -- 8th of 12

This race isn't my cup of tea but I think an honest early pace sets up for a stalker-closer type at a mile-and-an-eighth. I don't have pound-the-table conviction about King Zachary, but think he's very playable second time off a long layoff that saw him end 2018 with a bad Pennsylvania Derby in September and a decent fourth in the Travers. This one has punched above his weight, but in his second start as a 4-year-old has found a spot where he can track the speed and hope to make it three wins in five tries on the Churchill oval. His 2019 debut in a $100,000 optional-claimer, going a one-turn mile, may be sufficient enough of a warmup for trainer Graham Motion, who has a slightly positive ROI with horses second time in his barn and gets Javier Castellano.

Churchill Downs, Race 9: Grade 3 Regret Stakes, 10:19 p.m.

Selection: #5, Hard Legacy (8-1) -- paid $13.80
Alternates: #11, Princess Carolina (4-1) -- 8th of 11; #10, Gamblin Train (10-1) -- 7th of 11

If trainer Norm Casse and jockey Julien Leparoux see what I see, Hard Legacy will be forwardly placed in an 11-horse field that lacks tempo. It's a bit of pace-handicapping for me here, as I'm less inclined to use tepid favorites Winter Sunset and Varenka, who don't seem particularly fast from the gate and will stalk what I'm anticipating as a dawdling pace.

Replays of Hard Legacy's last two so-so stakes tries showed a horse wrangled back twice to sit mid-pack, where she looked uncomfortable and was subjected to wide trips, including 5-6 off the rail in the Appalachian at a soft Keeneland in early April. If she inherits the lead and can lope around the backstretch in slow fractions, I think she'll have enough in the tank to hold off the closers. Otherwise, #11, Princesa Carolina, gets a dream stalking trip and scores.

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