Last stop for the jumpers before Saratoga. Parx Racing offers three hurdles races, each race holds Saratoga implications. We've focused on each runner, how they look today and how they'll look at Saratoga in a few weeks.
Second Race. Maiden Hurdle. $25,000. 2 1/16-miles. 12:52.
1. Umbraggio. Homebred rebounded from a thumping fall at Atlanta to hit the board at Radnor behind one of the better spring maidens. This will offer a different test than soft ground up and down hills at Radnor. Flat form shows he has the speed for the track and Radnor performance shows he has the acuity for jumping. Live.
2. Papriformer. Bred to love jumping but debut at Fair Hill didn't produce anything special and neither did training flat at Middleburg back in April. Fout pulls out the blinkers for French-bred who finished nearly 14 lengths behind today's rival All The Way Jose. Won just one race in France, over the wall-weather in February, not exactly Longchamp. Needs wakeup call and perhaps the blinkers provide them. Fout/Steinman/blinkers, like the old days.
3. Kingofalldiamonds. By the great Giant's Causeway, 4-year-old jumped into the deep end with a debut at Nashville. Demanding course, tough field, actually didn't run too badly, finishing 13 lengths behind upset winner. Another with flat form which should put him in good stead here. Posted 85 Beyer when claimed behind subsequent Brooklyn Handicap starter. Perhaps for a price in your exotics.
4. All The Way Jose. Here's your favorite. Sent off the favorite at Fair Hill, he was always doing too much around the Maryland oval and couldn't withstand winner who had settled behind him. Jumped well that day and hard to fault form and connections. Hard to go against. Next stop, Saratoga.
5. Moran Gra. Well, you don't have to look far for the best choice to oust the favorite. American-bred, Irish-raced veteran comes here off an impressive flat score at Fair Hill when ripping through the inside and nailing Horvat Clan who returned to win at Belmont Park. Strong flat form in Europe when competing at Royal Ascot and winning the Irish Cambridgeshire and decent debut at Aiken. Trainer swept card at Monmouth and might bolster his 37% strike rate here. Geraghty rounding into form as well. Lasix added for Saratoga toll booth.
6. Quadrant. ST Handicappers would have retired if he could have finished third to round out phone-number triple at Fair Hill but, alas, he finished fourth and we're still typing. Athletic-looking and well thought of after winning once in England, he hasn't produced in four starts so far (with a 2-year layoff in between). Trainer having a slow year but could be rounding back into form at a critical time. Might sound crazy, but wouldn't shock us.
7. Balance The Budget. Former Bill Mott-trained charge burst onto the scene with a nice debut at Camden but failed to duplicate that at Queen's Cup and Fair Hill. Form of Camden race still in doubt as winner has yet to return. Experience can help when it comes to maiden races, especially at track. Veteran Aizpuru having a slow year but did step in to win Colonial Cup last fall. We'll watch and see.
8. Radical Chic. Four-time champ Paddy Young - who once told us he was going to slow down - picks up ride on lightly-raced 5-year-old. Actually finished behind eventual 1-2 from Iroquois novice stakes in his 2013 hurdle starts before hitting the bench. Sheppard prepped him with a spin at Penn National. You could do worse.
- Sean: All The Way Jose, Moran Gra, Umbraggio.
- Joe: Moran Gra, All The Way Jose, Umbraggio.
- Tom: All The Way Jose, Moran Gra, Umbraggio.
Fourth Race. Maiden Hurdle. $25,000. 2 1/16-miles. 1:46.
1. Overwhelming. Don't see many horses bred better than Phipps-bred 4-year-old. Son of Hard Spun made nice debut, finishing third at Nashville, in a race that Fisher usually picks off with alacrity. A year ago, he was bedded down with the black and cherry and competing in a two-other-than allowance at Saratoga. This year, he hopes he's across the street behind the bird. Certainly a contender.
2. A Zoo Society. Virginia-bred son of Kalamazoo. Yes, Kalamazoo. Takes a massive hike in class, stepping out of maiden claiming ranks to spar with Sport of Kings maidens with Saratoga aspirations. Tough spot and taken because there are no maiden claimers in the summer. Actually ran well at Fair Hill, behind Catch The Blues who returned to win a maiden special weight on the flat at Delaware Park. Elliot and Aizpuru hoping for the Alajmal magic.
3. Sal The Barber. Wow, check out his form and with whom he tussled when making 10 consecutive starts in stakes company. Teaks North, Grassy, Boisterous, Guys Reward...veteran nearly cracked the 100 Beyer, producing a career-best 97 along the way. Oh, so long ago. Now 8, his hurdle debut was literally a flop as he fell at Stoneybrook, a demanding course. Interesting to see McCarthy abandon Harrods Creek and land here. Nice horse. Questions to answer.
4. Tahoe Lake. Another veteran with strong form on the flat. Brazilian-bred veteran posted a 93 Beyer along his way to becoming a jumper. Don't fret too much about 14-length defeat at High Hope, that was for education. Settled well that day and could be set for big effort. Amazingly, he was just 2-for-26 on the flat but did produce seven seconds and six thirds. Last year, Gerry Carwood was wondering what he was going to do with him. This is what they decided. Cool horse.
5. Harrods Creek. Hold on, is this the John's Call? The third of the stellar flat performers to wind up in this division, he's tried hurdling twice and certainly improved from May to June. Jumped greenly at High Hope. Set the pace at Monmouth. Kingsley opts for blinkers to try to book ticket to Saratoga. Returns on short rest and took money down at Monmouth. Hard to ignore, but hard to endorse. Geraghty replaces McCarthy.
6. Aflutter. Homebred fell in his debut at Nashville while back-pedaling at the fence on the turn (if I remember correctly!). Flat form pales in comparison to the others but does have the Hall of Famer at the helm and the four-time champ aboard. Will offer value if you're not convinced of the transformation trio.
7. Master Of Markets. Fout simply slides the blinkers off one son of Dynafomer and puts them on another as he looks for a wakeup call for this 5-year-old. Another one who faces a massive hike in class from flat career - his career best Beyer is 30 points lower than Sal The Barber. What's that equate to in lengths going 2 miles? We'll know soon enough. Offered little in debut, needs a jolt.
8. Frozen Four. Claimed May 19. Jumping July 1. Wow, that's a crash course (pardon, the pun) in steeplechasing. Managed to win three races on the flat, against lesser and did win his most recent start when claimed by leading owner. Faces arduous assignment, making his hurdle debut, at the major track, against the likes of these.
- Sean: Overwhelming, Harrods Creek, Tahoe Lake.
- Joe: Tahoe Lake, Sal The Barber, Harrods Creek.
- Tom: Overwhelming, Tahoe Lake, Harrods Creek.
Sixth Race. Allowance Hurdle. $30,000. 2:40.
1. Choral Society. As the late great Tom Voss used to say, "Run 'em when they're good." Former Voss protégé wheels back Monmouth maiden winner in 18 days. Nice horse who improved from a rough trip at Fair Hill to graduate. Still learning, but very good. You'll have a guide to his form by how Harrods Creek runs earlier in the day.
2. Cat Feathers. Saratoga specialist has not won since upsetting Mrs. Ogden Phipps in 2012 but has produced a couple of big efforts along the way while facing her gender just once since that win. Regular jockey on the sidelines after Monmouth fall so trainer calls on Aizpuru, who will ride as many races today as he has all year. Nice filly, in receipt of 16 pounds from favorites, prepping for Saratoga.
3. Easy Reach. Homebred climbed from the $15,000 claiming ranks in November to earn $33,300 this spring. Frontrunner won't find anywhere to hide at the major track but is certainly the most accomplished of this group. Performance at Saratoga last summer was dismal but tactics have been reversed and he's become more potent since being allowed to free wheel on the lead.
4. Absolum. Another homebred who is been judiciously placed by connections, returning in same race he finished third in last year. Capable horse who should find a sweet spot behind Easy Reach and perhaps in front of the closers. Hard to fault, as he drops from the stakes division.
5. Albany Road. Veteran of 45 career starts (eight over jumps) rides a long losing streak into this. Perhaps, you can excuse last three as they've come on good ground but still needs to reverse the trend. If you wade back to allowance try at Saratoga last summer - when he closed from 42 lengths down to finish second to the accomplished All Together - he's a contender. Still a lot of water in between then and now.
6. Cocodimama. Impressive at Middleburg, disappointing at Radnor. Easy to excuse the try at Radnor as it came against winners for the first time and over a demanding surface. Promising horse should relish return to flat track and firm ground as he moves like a deer across an ice rink. If you believe in time, he finished 11 seconds slower than Absolum at Middleburg. Value at 8-1.
7. Arrow's Conquest. Another riding a long losing streak, back to maiden win in April, 2013. On the lead at the Gold Cup, that didn't work. Settled at Radnor, that didn't work. Glimmers of form along the way and capable on his best day. Easy Reach should stretch out field and provide slots for the rest, needs perfect trip.
8. Mr. Universo. Four-time champ chooses Absolum while former champ Hodsdon returns for her first ride since May. Obviously relished course last year, scoring against maidens, then failed to threaten at Saratoga but only beaten 6 lengths that day. Veteran doesn't run often, needs to be sharp and fit for this.
9. Gokokogo. By the great Bernardini, he's faced lesser all spring - actually all career - and faces an acid test here. Outside post doesn't help, but again with the likes of Easy Reach, he should be able to file in somewhere. Comes out of a tough conditioned claimer at Willowdale, winner scored in Valentine at Fair Hill. Miracle me.
- Sean: Absolum, Easy Reach, Cocodimama.
- Joe: Easy Reach, Choral Society, Absolum.
- Tom: Easy Reach, Absolum, Choral Society.
If you're following the TIHR Handicapping Challenge, Sean picked up a win at Monmouth, when scratching into Choral Society and Joe earned a win when tabbing Address Unknown. For the year, Sean leads with 38 wins. Joe is poised in second with 34. Pink Sheet Tom lags with 30.