Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview for 7-11-15

Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview for 7-11-15

Get ready, everyone! We’ve got a great Saturday of turf races coming up, including a quartet of graded stakes races at Arlington Park. There’s plenty to discuss, so let’s get started!

Parx Dash Handicap (gr. III)
5 furlongs on turf at Parx Racing

My full analysis of this race can be found on the blog Unlocking Winners (click here to read), but in essence, I believe that Ben’s Cat will be upset by the talented Australian-bred sprinter Power Alert, who is 3-for-3 at five furlongs and 0-for-2 at longer distances since arriving in the United States. He set a track record when winning the Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs two starts back, and should offer better odds than Ben’s Cat.

American Derby (gr. III)
9 furlongs on turf at Arlington Park

World Approval is the morning line favorite off a close fourth-place finish in the Pennine Ridge Stakes at Belmont Park, and while that effort wasn’t his best–he tracked a slow pace but didn’t have a strong response in the homestretch–his previous three efforts on turf were exceptional. He broke his maiden in March with an impressive late run in an 8.5-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream, then followed that up with an equally sharp win in the 8.5-furlong Sophomore Turf Stakes for Florida-breds at Tampa Bay Downs. He then tried graded stakes company in the American Turf Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs and produced a sharp rally from the back of the pack to finish third, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths while running the final five-sixteenths of a mile in about in approximately :28 seconds, a very sharp fraction. In a race that appears to lack early pace, the tactical speed that World Approval displayed in the Pennine Ridge could be a valuable asset, and I think he has a very strong chance to pick up his first graded stakes win this Saturday. For the exotics, I’ll take Nun the Less, who has also shown good speed and finished sixth in the American Turf Stakes, and Crittenden, who is 3-for-4 on turf and who overcome a bit of a troubled trip to win the P D J F Stakes at Indiana Grand Race Course last time out.

Arlington Handicap (gr. III)
9.5 furlongs on turf at Arlington Park

Assuming that The Pizza Man scratches from this race in favor of the Stars and Stripes Stakes (gr. III), there appears to be almost no pace in this race. Dramedy won the Elkhorn Stakes (gr. II) in gate-to-wire fashion at Keeneland last time out, but that was after setting extremely slow fractions of :52 2/5 and 1:16 1/5. Triple Threat rallied to win the Monmouth Stakes (gr. II) by a nose in his U.S. debut and won a group II stakes in France, but as a stretch-runner, he could be vulnerable if the pace is slow. Middleburg seems to offer a good compromise of tactical speed and finishing kick, having stayed close to the pace while winning a pair of allowance races a few starts back and having showcased a strong late rally to finish second to Triple Threat in the Monmouth Stakes. He’s drawn a bit wide in post nine, but if he’s able to tuck in and save some ground while racing near the lead, I think he has a strong chance to out-kick his rivals in the homestretch.

Modesty Handicap (gr. III)
9.5 furlongs on turf at Arlington Park

Riposte is the morning line favorite at 3-1, but has lost all four of her starts last year and was soundly beaten in her last three, which suggests that she could be vulnerable to an upset. Gaga A won a group III stakes in France two starts back and scored a solid win in the 1 1/2-mile Possibly Perfect Handicap at Santa Anita last time out, and she should have no trouble with the distance of the Modesty. Her tactical speed is also a positive, and she must be respected as a contender for the win. However, I’ll take a shot with Overheard, who almost always produces a sharp late run and most recently stayed within striking range of a fast pace in the Nassau Stakes (gr. II) at Woodbine before rallying to finish a close third. She’ll be stretching out in distance today, but is a graded stakes winner at nine furlongs and should appreciate the half-furlong today. At 5-1 on the morning line, I think she offers excellent value.

Stars and Stripes Stakes (gr. III)
12 furlongs on turf at Arlington Park

The Pizza Man has compiled a stellar record of 8 wins, 1 second, and 1 third from 11 starts at Arlington, and he won this race last year in gate-to-wire fashion. He opened the season with a decisive 2 1/2-length romp in the 8.5-furlong Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs (in which he beat Departing, who came back to win the grade II Firecracker Handicap), and if The Pizza Man improves at all in his second start off the layoff, his rivals are likely running for second place. If you’re looking for an upset, the filly Three Hearts (9-2 on the morning line) should relish the distance of the Stars and Stripes and figures to be running well at the finish, as should Roman Approval (12-1), who won an eleven-furlong allowance race at Belmont last time out. As a front-runner, he’ll likely have to try to avoid getting into a speed duel with The Pizza Man, but if both horses settle into a slow pace early on, expect to see them both right in the mix at the finish.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in Saturday’s graded stakes races?

Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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2 Comments on "Keeler Johnson’s Graded Stakes Preview for 7-11-15"

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Great job K!