The Jury: Bets and fades for May 14
Although it's a relatively quiet weekend on the graded stakes front as we gear up for the Preakness (G1), there's no break for the TwinSpires Jury. James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson are back with thoughts on the Saturday action at Belmont Park, Churchill Downs, and elsewhere.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: Longer distances have always been an option for #6 Take the Backroads, who will make her first two-turn start in a 1 1/16-mile entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs (7th race). By Will Take Charge, the three-year-old filly is bred top and bottom for extended ground — she's a sibling to Accredit, winner of the 1 5/16-mile Dueling Grounds Derby last fall, and Grade 1-placed Sistas Stroll, who has recorded all of her wins at two turns — and there were limited opportunities to race Take the Backroads at longer distances last summer. She needed her last race after a seven-month layoff, and the time is now to try two turns. Take the Backroads appears to be lone speed with James Graham, and her 8-1 morning line price adds to the appeal.
Kellie Reilly: #7 Angel Palm (12-1) looks like an overlay in her second stateside start in Saturday's sixth race at Belmont Park. The one-mile allowance on turf shapes up as a competitive affair, but she shouldn't be twice the price of her Brad Cox stablemate, Continental import Angelinka. In her juvenile days in Ireland, Angel Palm was regarded highly by trainer Ger Lyons, who was pointing her for the Moyglare Stud (G1). She ended up not making that race and spent 2021 competing mostly in handicaps, notably beating a useful bunch of older males at Dundalk last summer. The Juddmonte homebred is eligible to move forward off her closing sixth in a Keeneland turf sprint, and she represents high-percentage categories for Cox (23% blinkers off and 29% first at a route).
Vance Hanson: With morning line favorite Chateau typically a vulnerable speed type, I like #5 Officiating (4-1) to bounce back to form in the Runhappy (G3) at Belmont Park. Officiating has a pair of Grade 3 wins since December, including a dominating effort in the Tom Fool (G3) over Chateau in March. He can be forgiven being 10-plus lengths inferior to Speaker's Corner in the Fred W. Hooper (G3) in January, and his performance in a Florida-bred stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last time was a subpar effort that's probably worth drawing a line through as it occurred on relatively short rest and over an unfamiliar track.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: #1 Chateau is winless from four previous starts at Belmont Park and exits a disappointing second at 1-2 odds in the March 5 Tom Fool (G3) at Aqueduct, readily giving away after entering the stretch with a clear lead. The seven-year-old gelding may have lost a step, and with projected pace pressure from the outside, the frontrunner looks vulnerable as the 5-2 morning line choice in the Runhappy.
KR: #2 Frank's Rockette (3-1) promises to run her usual race in the Vagrancy H. (G3), but my stumbling block is that she's gotten in the habit of settling for minor awards at pretty skimpy prices. Although she could improve second off the bench, her better results have typically come with Lasix — that she doesn't get here. I'd be inclined to stand against her as a win candidate, even if she weren't facing odds-on Bella Sofia.
VH: If an off track doesn't materialize on the Jersey Shore Saturday, #1 Dash Attack (5-2) is potentially vulnerable in the Long Branch S. at Monmouth Park. Although he holds reasonably strong class credentials against this short field, he has yet to put together a really solid effort on fast ground since starting his career 2-for-2 on wet going at Oaklawn over the winter. Like stablemates Rattle N Roll and (to a far lesser extent) Smile Happy, he hasn't quite lived up to the promise he showed at the beginning of his career.
What else is worth noting?
JS: An impressive winner of the Test (G1) and Gallant Bloom (G2) in her first two graded attempts, Bella Sofia will open her four-year-old season in the Vagrancy. She did the dirty work in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last time out, chasing Gamine through an opening half-mile in :44 4/5, and the Rudy Rodriguez-trained filly held well for fourth in her first start outside of New York. Bella Sofia has serious aspirations in the female sprint division this year.
KS: The Yibir vs. Gufo matchup takes center stage in the Man o' War (G1), but keep an eye on #5 Highland Chief (20-1) to outperform his odds. Winner of a Royal Ascot handicap during his three-year-old campaign in 2020, the Mrs Fitri Hay homebred placed in such major events as the Gordon (G3) at Glorious Goodwood and the Great Voltigeur (G2) at York. While Highland Chief found the Derby (G1) at Epsom and the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) beyond him, he's likely capable at the Grade 1 level on the U.S. turf. His American bow was a ninth-place finish at a 1 1/16-mile trip much too short for him, in his comeback from a long layoff. I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a successful campaigner in this division for Graham Motion.
VH: Besides Yibir, the other 2021 Breeders' Cup winner in action this weekend is Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) heroine Twilight Gleaming, who couldn't have found a softer spot than the Mamzelle S. at Churchill Downs. Although she'll have as many as 11 rivals in the 5 1/2-furlong turf dash for three-year-old fillies, Twilight Gleaming looks a stickout and should progress off her second to Slipstream in the April 10 Palisades S. at Keeneland. Not sure if other trips to Europe will be in the offing this summer or fall, but connections might consider if she's particularly impressive here.