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HRN Original Blog:
First Time Turf

Field of Ten Set for the Grade I United Nations Stakes

Monmouth Park Turf 615 X  400
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Hi, racing fans, welcome to the maiden edition of “First Time Turf.” In this column, I will focus my attention on one of my absolute favorite things in life, horse racing over natural grass.  I cannot think of a more pleasurable sight than watching the elegant thoroughbred gallop over a well-trimmed lawn on a beautiful sunny day. It truly is one of my favorite things in life and it is the grace and magnificence of turf racing that helps provide me with an unrivaled passion for both the sport of horse racing and the craft of handicapping races.  I plan to bring my infatuation and excitement for the “Sport of Kings” to you in each and every edition of “First Time Turf.”  I am thrilled for this opportunity on horseracingnation.com and look forward to handing out some lucrative winners as well as providing new methods to uncover vulnerable favorites. I will also review some of turf racing’s greatest accomplishments, as well as profile some of the games’ top grass barns. Finally, I will investigate pedigree and its significance in handicapping turf races together with its impact on the various yearling sales throughout the country.

The timing could not be better to roll out “First Time Turf” with Monmouth Park’s United Nations Stakes headlining Sunday’s racing calendar.  My first memories and education of thoroughbred racing came in the state of New Jersey so it is appropriate that I examine the biggest turf race all year in the “Garden State” in the first edition of “First Time Turf.”  The $500,000 Grade I United Nations Stakes was first contested in 1953 at Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing, New Jersey.  The event formerly known as both the United Nations Handicap and the Caesars International was held at Atlantic City until 1997 before being moved to its current home of Monmouth Park in 1999 after a year off in 1998.  The event was originally run at a mile and three sixteenths before being changed to its current distance of a mile and three eighths.  No horse has won the race three times, but 7 horses have won it twice including equine greats Round Table, Manila, and English Channel. Incredibly “Mack” Miller was the winning conditioner of the race six times between the years of 1966 and 1984, while Jorge Velasquez and Jose Santos both rode their way to the winners’ circle 4 times. Outside of the Hambletonian and the Haskell, this long distance turf battle is amongst New Jersey’s most prestigious and lucrative races and always draws serious talent. 

The 61st running of the United Nations Stakes may not offer the star power that previous versions have, but it definitely offers handicappers an incredibly challenging analytical puzzle. The ten probable runners sport 54 career victories and range from four to seven years of age.  There is a case to be made for nine of the ten runners, so unless you plan to use “ALL” in the horizontal wagers or skip the feature race of the day, it is important that you find a way to differentiate the runners in this evenly matched group. 

Fortunately, my very first tool when handicapping a race of this class and relative distance provided me with immediate separation. After evaluating all ten runners and considering the distance of ground it was evident that this race was void of early speed. It also was evident that it is not an easy task to close on this turf course at a mile and three eighths.  Often amateur handicappers in races at a classic distance have the false impression that the longer race makes it easier to close ground late, but this is simply not true. In fact, most course configurations favor those runners who are up close early in races at this distance and when the pace is less than honest it is nearly impossible to beat quality horses relaxed on or near the front end.  Sunday’s United Nations Stakes is quite low on early zip, which I believe gives a tremendous tactical edge to one of the runners in this group that is most likely to be up close and finish well, Kaigun.

Kaigun is a four-year old son of Northern Afleet out of of a Kris S mare, Crushing Kris.  The Mark Casse trainee took a little while to reach his potential, but he seems to have found a home going long on the turf.  He won his first attempt over the grass on August 25th, 2013 at Woodbine and has been extremely hard knocking and consistent ever since.  At first, the Ontario bred gelding was most comfortable coming from off the pace, but this February he found himself on an uncontested easy lead at Gulfstream Park and was able to defeat a quality group with relative ease illustrating his versatility and tactical speed.  I think this horse is getting really good and is sitting on a big effort. A tactical advantage like he should possess on Sunday should make him extremely dangerous. 

Since his front running victory at Gulfstream, Kaigun has been competitive in three Grade I turf events, but has not yet found the winners’ circle.  In the first two of the graded races, he ran into the turf buzz saw known as Wise Dan. He obviously is not at the level of Wise Dan, but still took home a paycheck in both of those efforts.  Most recently, Kaigun ran a strong second place in the Manhattan at Belmont Park to Real Solution despite being several lengths off runaway speed horse Five Iron. This race was extremely impressive in that he was forced to outkick horses with more powerful late runs and was able to defeat all but a very legitimately late running Ramsey runner. In all three of the aforementioned graded stakes opportunities Kaigun was never able to get into his ultimate comfort zone like he did on the lead in Hallandale in February, but the 2014 United Nations Stakes should be different. The lack of early pace should allow Alan Garcia to glide to the early lead or sit right off the pace of someone he can beat in the lane. Either way this should provide Kaigun his best voyage yet against stakes company and a good trip is a must in races of this nature. This stress-free journey coupled with top notch conditioning from Mark Casse should leave jockey Alan Garcia with a lot of horse when he turns for home and provide the connections with a Grade I winner as the sun sets on the Fourth of July weekend in Oceanport, New Jersey.

5-2 ML favorite Twilight Eclipse is one of the contenders who also should be up and on the projected slow pace.  He also promises to get over bet. This son of Purim has some solid stakes wins going long on the grass, but I have never been a believer in this West Point Thoroughbred gelding.  His best wins have come when he is a heavy favorite against a weaker group and even in those he was far from visually impressive.   It would be a surprise to me if he defeated Kaigun, however he has run second in a few big spots and that is possible Sunday with Jose Lezcano onboard.  His probable odds of 5-2 or 3-1 make him impossible to endorse despite a solid resume.

Other low priced contenders in Sunday’s United Nations Stakes include Ghurair for the Shadwell Stable and Chad Brown. This four-year old colt ran down a solid optional claiming field at Belmont Park and could be the most talented in the bunch. Unfortunately there are a few glaring negatives making him tough to support at a low price.  Stamina questions given the history of the progeny of Elusive Quality as well as the projected lack of pace top the list of potential issues for this highly regarded colt. Hall of Famer Gary Stevens coming in for the ride is intriguing and nice for Monmouth Park, but will only hurt his price. Charming Kitten is coming off a victory in the two mile Belmont Gold Cup, but his plodding style will not be as effective at Sunday’s mile and three eighths distance. This son of Kitten’s Joy is in good form and merits strong consideration for second or third, but just does not have the punch to win especially without a hot pace. He should pass a lot of tired horses though in the last furlong. 

A few long shots could threaten Kaigun and are worth using in exactas and trifectas as well as horizontal wagers looking to go a bit deeper in this race in search of a big price. Exclusive Strike for trainer Jason Servis has not won since last May and may be past his prime, but he is 5 for 8 over the Monmouth turf course, has been in the money three out of five times at this distance and should be ready to roll in his second start off the layoff.  The positives are just too obvious to look back afterwards wondering why you did not use this horse at 15-1 despite not being in the best current form.  Main Sequence makes his North American debut for Graham Motion. This son of Aldebaran looks a cut below, but never underestimate Motion with these types of runners. Finally, Lochte for trainer Marcus Vitali returns after not running a step in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes on June 8th. Expect this son of Medaglia d’Oro to show more speed and be right up with Kaigun early. Assuming that his arduous campaign has not taken its toll and that he can get Sunday’s distance, this gelding is capable of being right there in the end. Orlando Bocachica will have to ride the race of his life though to get this one home, but his effort on March 8th in the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita shows that he has some serious talent and is capable on his best day.

 

SUGGESTED WAGERS:

 

WPS- Kaigun

 

EXACTA WHEEL Kaigun with Exclusive Strike, Twilight Eclipse, Charming Kitten, Lochte Ghurair and Main Sequence

 

EXACTA BOX Kaigun+ Exclusive Strike,

EXACTA BOX Kaigun+ Lochte

EXACTA BOX Kaigun + Ghurair

EXACTA BOX  Kaigun + Main Sequence

 

TRIFECTA KEY Kaigun with Exclusive Strike, Twilight Eclipse, Charming Kitten, Lochte and Ghurair 

 

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH: 

1-    Kaigun

2-    Exclusive Strike

3-    Twilight Eclipse

4-    Charming Kitten

5-    Lochte

6-    Ghurair

7-    Main Sequence

8-    Side Glance

9-    Winning Cause

10-Manchurian High

 

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Older Comments about Field of Ten Set for the Grade I United Nations Stakes...

Welcome to the team Scott!
Nice article and welcome to the HRN Family, Scott! Looking forward to reading more of your work.
Being from NJ/NY area you should know that Chad Brown is a premier conditioner of the turf and when he can entice "Georgie" The "ICEMAN" Stevens to fly 2500 miles on the 4th of July weekend to ride there has got to be something there!
Welcome aboard, Scott! He may be overbet, but my money is with Twilight Eclipse. This looks like a good spot to help him get back to the winner's circle.
Scott, well to the HRN blog squad. I'll be at the UN tomorrow watching Kaigun very carefully!
Excellent analysis ... Welcome to the team, Scott!

 

 MEET SCOTT SHAPIRO

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Scott has been a fan of handicapping and following thoroughbred racing since Garden State Park was rebuilt in Cherry Hill, NJ in 1985.  His first memories of the racetrack include the 1985 Jersey Derby won by Spend a Buck and the 1990 Met Mile clash between Easy Goer, Criminal Type and Housebuster, but it was not until his mid to late twenties that Scott became confident he had a knack for choosing winners. Scott points to the summer of 2007 in San Diego while working on a masters degree in American History near Del Mar Race Course as the time where he took his handicapping, his communication skills and attention to detail to the next level.  It was at this time where he had his first real big score.   He had four of only five winning combinations in the now extinct “Place Pick All” on a $8 ticket netting himself $40,000. 

 

Since his time spent in San Diego, Scott has lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Colorado, but has found a way to make racing a big part of his life no matter his place of residence.  A few months after hitting a monster pick five at Santa Anita Park in February of 2013, Scott started his website, shapperdacapper.com showcasing his selections, analysis and commentary on North American racing. Scott loves playing tournaments on Derby Wars and constructing pick four and pick five tickets when there are vulnerable favorites.  His favorite all-time horses are Captain Bodgit, A.P. Indy, and Charismatic and his favorite jockey is Joel Rosario.  Scott is also a die-hard fan of University of Wisconsin athletics and is in several fantasy football leagues.

 

Scott is planning a move back to the San Diego area in 2015 so he can be closer to the horses on a daily basis. He managed musicians for several years and continues to do so in a part time role when not focused on his writing and research.

 

He can be found on twitter at @shapperdacapper or on his Facebook Fan page at www.facebook.com/shapperdacapperhorsesandsports. He also releases daily selections and analysis of NYRA and Southern California racing on his website www.shapperdacapper.com.