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After an uncharacteristically dry patch, trainer Scott Volk won with 3 of 9 starters between July 2-5, and he is in sixth place in the trainer standings, with seven wins from 35 starts.
Todd Pletcher also won three races over that stretch, including the $100,000 Choice Stakes with Fantastico Roberto and the Grade 3 Jersey Shore with Discreetly Mine. John Velazquez rode both horses and finished the holiday weekend with five wins from 15 mounts.
Jockey Jose Lezcano won with 7 of 20 mounts (35 percent) over the holiday weekend and is tied for fifth in the meet standings with 15 victories.
Friday, July 2: The fifth race lacked speed, and that enabled Big City Pat to shake loose and wire the field. Hobbitontherocks made a run late, and though he couldn't catch the winner, he was well clear for the place in a decent effort.
Speed on the main track was solid, especially in sprints and as the day wore on. This bias continued into the day Saturday, and it left horses looking to close at a decided disadvantage. One of the horses who had little chance Friday was Chiefette, who in the ninth race was trying to come from well out of it. She actually did well to make up a little ground late and finish fourth.
The rails were out 36 feet on the turf, normally a recipe for speed types to hold the edge, and this was no exception. Horses on the lead or close to the pace held an obvious edge, and the efforts of those stone closers who made up even a little bit of ground late should be upgraded.
Saturday, July 3: Early speed held the edge on the main track, and a lack of any kind of appreciable rain in the area has helped to create a strong bias. Horses didn't need to be on the lead to win, but those who were looking to come from well off the pace didn't have much chance. Numb Lips, who finished fifth in the ninth race, was one such runner, especially considering there was little speed in the race to begin with. Hunters Bay shook loose and wired the field, but he will have a tough time running back to this line without another favorable pace scenario.
In years past, it was a bit of a struggle to plot the race flow for the Grade 1 United Nations at 1 3/8 miles, but that was not the case this year. The presence of three solid speeds figured to set up the closers. Deciding which closer to pick was the challenge before the race, but after the U.N. it was clear Chinchon was much the best. He blew by the field after trailing early on, and though the pace scenario was in his favor, this was an impressive score.
"Just after we turned for home, I took him to the outside and he really exploded," said Garrett Gomez, the winning rider. "He flew home."
The Salvator Mile also set up for the closers, despite what the Teletimer might tell you. The fractions, on the surface, look slow − 25.09 and 50.11 seconds − but Munnings and Le Grand Cru, both trained by Todd Pletcher, provided enough speed to give the edge to the ralliers, led by Gone Astray. Gone Astray disappointed in the Skip Away, his previous start, but a lack of speed in that race cost him any chance to make the last run.
On the turf course, the rails were down, and closers had a much better chance. In fact, all four races on the grass were won by ralliers.
Sunday, July 4: The main-track bias did relent a bit, and closers had a fair chance. Sleepless Dixie was an impressive maiden winner in the opener, scoring easily without being asked in the lane. Kelly Breen, who has four maiden wins at Monmouth Park this year, trains Sleepless Dixie. Breen started the meet 0 for 16 but has since won with 6 of his last 17 starters.
The fourth race, on the turf, lacked pace, and that left the closers with too much to overcome. Bull Hole, meanwhile, took full advantage of the race flow and held the place, but he could be one to play against next time if he doesn't catch another paceless field.
All About Alex impressed when he closed for the place in the sixth race despite a fairly quick final fraction.
On the stakes front: Discreetly Mine, aided by an early duel between Partyallnightlong and Out of Respect, made the last run to capture the Grade 3 Jersey Shore. Maram lost a photo to Gypsy's Warning in her latest, the Eatontown Stakes, but she liked the photo from the Miss Liberty a lot better − she got her head down in front of Strike the Bell right on the wire.
Monday, July 5: Fuhrever Dancing was the main speed on paper in the second race, and when favorite Came East broke slowly, that was all the edge he needed.
The very next race, on the turf, featured a similar scenario. Race favorite Roman Tiger stumbled and checked at the break, and that opened the door for National Kid, who wired the field. The winner controlled a mild pace and keyed a two-speed exacta over Mikoshi, with Roman Tiger unable to overcome the troubled trip. The troubles continue here this year for Dennis Manning, the trainer of Roman Tiger. His barn is 0 for 33 at Monmouth this year.
It was no surprise that Vengeful Wildcat came out running in his 2-year-old debut for trainer Ben Perkins Jr. His works were solid, and the barn has been dangerous with firsters here for years. The surprise was that he went off better than 20-1. Vengeful Wildcat was with the pace from the start, and after he put away fellow speed Masterpiece, he was still able to stave off legitimate favorite Nacho Saint, who made it close late.
Gunfighter won another, capturing the seventh race by nine lengths in his two-turn debut. Clearly, the distance is not a problem, but it should be noted that this was a fairly weak group of statebred N2X'ers.
The eighth race featured a duel up front, and that set up the stalkers, including Bwana Babe, who sat a perfect trip and was held off a late run from Say It With a Kiss. Both are vulnerable without another favorable race flow next time.
Roaring Lion rated effectively in the Mr. Prospector, and that was the deciding factor in his victory, since there seemed to be too much speed in the race for him to win the race on the front end. He was all out to score, however, and he was a little lucky − Wildcat Brief would probably have won if he hadn't angled out in deep stretch. As it was, Roaring Lion was a nose in front on the wire.
There was little speed in the Choice Stakes to begin with, but the scratch of Two Notch Road, the expected pacesetter, made it impossible for the ralliers to make an impact. The pace scenario greatly favored the speeds, and if you identified Fantastico Roberto as the pacesetter you got yourself a winner. Fantastico Roberto got loose in the opening stages, and that was an advantage too great to overcome.
Rachel Alexandra is scheduled to return to Monmouth Park in the July 24 Lady's Secret.
Owner Jess Jackson confirmed last week that she will make her next race at Monmouth. Last year, Rachel Alexandra posted a victory over colts in the Haskell Invitational, the centerpiece of the Monmouth Park meet.
"We had a great experience at Monmouth Park, and we appreciate the overwhelming show of support the fans there have given us," Jackson said. "It's the perfect place to start what we hope will be another championship run."
The Lady's Secret, originally scheduled to be run as part of the Haskell undercard Aug. 1, will carry a purse of $400,000 if Rachel Alexandra runs. If not, the purse reverts to the originally scheduled $150,000. Also, the race will now be contested at 1 1/8 miles.
Monmouth Park takes its turn at twilight racing on three Friday cards: July 9, 16, and 23. Post time on those days is 2:10 p.m. Eastern.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: John Rigattieri
Last race: July 2, 5th
Finish: 4th by 7
She didn't have much chance to close but rallied well enough in a race in which the winner shook loose and wired the field. This was the second time in as many starts that she was up against the race flow, and she has a lot of room to improve in her return given a better setup.
Trainer: Jason Servis
Last race: July 3, 12th
Finish: 3rd by 2
Finished third with a strong late run, and the only reason he wasn't able to win was because he did, in fact, wait too long. He figures to run down the right field in his return if given a quicker pace and a better-timed run.
Trainer: Lloyd Kromann
Last race: July 4, 4th
Finish: 5th by 2 3/4
He has been running well in defeat all year, this race included. He landed in a fairly paceless race, making his task difficult, but he actually was moving well late. He can finally get his first win this year with a favorable setup and a little luck.
Trainer: Dennis Manning
Last race: July 5, 10th
Finish: 4th by 4 3/4
A stone closer, he didn't get any help from the speeds, since there were none left after scratches. He will improve in his return if he gets any kind of pace up front.