HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 20, 2022 — Just as the Queen Alexandra marathon brought Royal Ascot 2022 to a long-winded conclusion, racing began heating up on the Jersey Shore.
By noon, Monmouth Park would be in the throes of Haskell Preview Day with four graded stakes including the return of popular Hot Rod Charlie from his Middle East sojourn.
Of course, ‘Charlie’ finished first only to be demoted in last year’s Haskell and was commencing his 2022 summer season, where all roads lead to Keeneland in the fall, in the G3 Salvator Mile.
The card concluded with four graded stakes populated by horses seeking continued streaks, looking to rebound, reach the next level or, like ‘Charlie,’ were getting their summer freak on.
It began with the G3 Eatontown for fillies and mares going two turns on turf, featuring a pair from Chad Brown, a pair from Mike Stidham, and a pair for Shug McGaughey, including last year’s winner, Vigilantes Way.
All were upset last year’s Eatontown victress and the two from Brown and Stidham were left on the outside looking in as several world class riders allowed Jose Lezcano to walk the dog up front.
Stolen Holiday was seeking her first graded victory and got it when allowed to waltz through early splits of 25.51 and 50.61 over dry, firm ground, winning by a length over trip-sitting Vigilantes Way.
Given her own way, no wonder she was able to get her final three-sixteenths in 28.08.
But it was a team effort that gave this one away, particularly subbing Mike Smith, who rode classy second choice Princess Grace so tentatively that he reacted more like an apprentice than Hall of Famer.
The graded stakes mare bobbled ever so slightly but her race was lost before reaching the clubhouse turn, forced into a wide trip racing wide by indecisive handling. After that she raced at once keenly but flat behind a dawdling pace, rated into submission.
Under the conditions, Fluffy Socks had no chance to display her considerable late turn of foot and, even if it were a perfect trip, last year’s course-loving winner finished with gusto late, albeit to late to make a winning challenge.
The listed Pegasus Stakes is the local prep for the Haskell in which players learned two things; that Electability did not deserve the hype he received and that turn-running Home Brew can beat you in a number of ways.
He has won on the lead, with a turn move that can blow races open, and has enough class to overcome a moderate tempo and beat you from behind decisively. He needs no made-to-order pilot and need not carry a racetrack around with him.
Let’s see how he will fare against the big dogs in Oceanport next month.
Did you expect Chad Brown to bet shut out on turf on the day? Me neither. Favored Sacred Life enjoyed his return to G3 company with an expected victory in the G3 Monmouth at his preferred nine furlong trip.
Putting in his expectantly successful late run, he won as if he were best, which he was, but we came away impressed with third finisher Epic Bromance and runnerup Safe Conduct.
Epic Bromance had not run since February at Tampa Bay but did win twice at Monmouth, including a troubled, game-rally third in 2021’s G1 United Nations. The gelded six year old set the pace and held tenacious for third, giving way in the final strides.
Safe Conduct pressed the leader all the way, battled between the first and third finishers, finally wearing down the pacesetter but unable to hold Sacred Life at bay. Excellent preparation by both Kent Sweezey and Phil Serpe, respectively.
The Grade 3 Salvator Mile provided some real Grade 1 drama as both the winner and the runnerup battled the length of the stretch with only the luck of a head-bob providing the difference between victory and truly defeat’s agony.
Hot Rod Charlie came out of the short end of a desperate photo. only this time Smith did the right thing. He stalked multiple graded winner Mind Control at his best trip, joined him at headstretch where the pair put on a show.
Johnny Velazquez was relentless aboard the winner, using all his guile and strength for a determined come-again head victory after ‘Charlie’ had put his head in front in midstretch, the Hall of Famer winning it for former New Jersey and Hialeah connections.
Pebble Beach Much the Best at Woodbine Mohawk Park
Driven by rising star Todd McCarthy, Pebble Beach made his victory in the $1 million Pepsi North America Cup look easy. Thing is he won easily but it was not the smoothest of drives.
He got away a bit sluggishly and with leavers on either side and was parked on the rim for about a half-mile when he took over. The splits were methodical 27+ seconds for each quarter-mile. He arrived at the line 2-3/4 lengths to the good in 1:50 flat.
After gaining the top, there never was an anxious moments as he powered away at headstretch, McCarthy virtually motionless and without needing to kick out the plugs. We are not familiar with what he was beating he clearly was the class of this lineup.