Yes, you all knew that kind of headline just had to happen. We on Tumblr love pizza.
In a series of prep races for the big Arlington Million (I) a month away, Arlington Park has enticed a variety of up-and-comers, improvers, and current turf heavyweights to ship on over and get some batting practice in. For the potential improvers, the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) is a pretty level affair, with just one horse actually making this race a handicap— last year’s Illinois-bred three-year-old of the year, The Pizza Man.
Weather looks dicey on both Friday and Saturday, so I will handicap this race anticipating a “good” turf course.
$150,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/2 miles on turf at Arlington Park. Post Time: Saturday, July 12 at 4:25pm CST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Moro Tap - Victor Espinoza, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - Big love for any Tapit colt! Skychai’s 4-year-old has been racing on the turf for quite a while with very mild results, being unable to beat some very nice horses (namely War Dancer and Infinite Magic) but able to nab others in select situations. Namely a closing type, Moro Tap’s past performances show he’s a terrible horse at the break. Coming off the rail, that could be doubly problematic, and he doesn’t have Napravnik in this race like he’s been getting lately. However, he does have two good back-to-back workouts, although nothing to suggest he’s seriously worthy at 5-1 odds. 15-1 maybe.
2) Mister Marti Gras - Eduardo Perez, 117 lbs, Chris Block - Ah, an old iron horse! The Belong To Me gelding has been pretty successful at Arlington Park between their all-weather surface and the turf course, and he comes into this race humming off a 1 1/16 mile allowance here over “good” turf. Everything looks pretty good as Mister rounds into top form. Distance should not be an issue, but he has knocked heads with The Pizza Man before and lost out.
3) Suntracer - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Chris Block - In a move that might create a conflict of interest, Chris Block enters one of his own along with Mister Marti Gras in the form of this Kitten’s Joy, who most recently fell short by a head to War Dancer in the Louisville Handicap (III). With many of his starts coming on the turf at elongated distances and getting turf jockey Leparoux, Suntracer is not a bad bet and nearly had War Dancer’s measure last out. Block has a great record bringing in horses back from a bit of a layoff, so definitely use Suntracer in those exotics.
4) Bubba’s Big Show - Stephanie Slinger, 117 lbs, Rhonda Thurman - Another horse with some great turf pedigree, the Mizzen Mast gelding won twice this year for the first time in his life, the first in a Hawthorne $25k maiden claimer and the second in a $50k claimer non-winner of 2 at Arlington. Distance and class stretch-out here, Bubba’s connections are small and humble but both jockey and trainer spit out some good statistics for their risk-taking move in enter the gelding here. Still, a deserving longshot stepping up.
5) Dreams Cut Short - Joe Bravo, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - It’s not exactly rocket science that Mike Maker is good with fresh claimers, as he turned this Belong To Me gelding right around and won with him immediately at Churchill Downs last month, stepping up from $25k to $40k claiming races. Greatly improved since switching barns, the bulk of this horse’s success came on polytrack. He will have to improve even more to rob this field.
6) Seton Hall - Brian Hernandez Jr, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The only horse in this field who has gone 10 furlongs AND won at it, the Lion Heart gelding is 2nd off the layoff here after finishing 2nd in his first start back at Churchill, moving past horses but not gaining ground on the eventual winner in a 9-furlong race. Wilkes does a very good job of turning his horses around off the layoff and Seton Hall is an old pro at this game. Look for him to hit the board.
7) The Pizza Man - Florent Geroux, 121 lbs, Roger Brueggemann - The English Channel gelding comes into this field 2nd off the layoff, finishing 1st in his first start back since the fall in a 1 1/16 mile stake here at Arlington, and he’s been 2-for-2 with Brueggemann thus far. Classy and set to be near the pace, The Pizza Man could very well prevail as the likely favorite and a 6-time winner of 9 races at Arlington.
8) Olympic Thunder - Alan Garcia, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Brazilian-bred and winless since shipping to the United States for the past two or so years, the Durban Thunder [BRZ] son hasn’t been further than 2 1/2 lengths from the win in each of his races this year. Not overly bad a horse, but he’s been lacking that something that keeps him from hitting the board, never mind winning. More ground may help, but I’m not counting on him to win.
9) O’Prado Ole - Channing Hill, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The youngest horse in the field owned by Donegal Racing of Dullahan fame, the English Channel colt could do no better than 5th this year in 3 starts although he won both of his two wins on the grass as a juvenile. What really sells O’Prado Ole are his connections, as Dale Romans has a good 3rd-off-the-layoff return as does Channing Hill with grass types. Exotics must.
10) Dad Are We Here - James Graham, 119 lbs, Doug Matthews - A winner twice this year, the 7-year-old son of Pure Prize was 6th last out to The Pizza Man, but won back-to-back allowances at Fair Grounds earlier this year. Stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time, Dad won’t get a rapid enough pace to close into. Not a lot to see here.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) The Pizza Man (5-2)
2) Suntracer (4-1)
3) Mister Marti Gras (4-1)
Whether the grass is firm or good, the picks here don’t change a whole lot. The Pizza Man looks to be in good form and has the class to snuff out most of the field with very little effort. There won’t be a whole lot of pace to contend with either, and he could very well skirt off to an uncontested lead and win that way. Suntracer isn’t new to the distance game and fell just a bit short of War Dancer last out. Chris Block has him ready to go. It would be goofy to leave out Mister Marti Gras, who has won or placed in 2/3 of his lifetime starts and is rounding into good form right now. I think he’s better on poly and dirt, but he’s very good right now nonetheless.
Value Pick: O’Prado Ole (10-1) is interesting despite not winning much this year. If he doesn’t get any better from this angle, I don’t know if he ever will.