Will Mei Ling Upset the Delaware Handicap?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

I hope you're ready for another great weekend of racing action! We've got an impressive slate of stakes races on the schedule, including the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I), and on Friday, the much-anticipated summer meet at Del Mar will begin. Plus, I've found a first-time starter at Presque Isle Downs that I think has a strong chance to win at a solid price, so let's start handicapping!

Delaware Handicap (gr. I)

A small field of six will contest this ten-furlong race for fillies and mares, led by the grade I winner I'm a Chatterbox. She was among the best three-year-old fillies in the country last year, hitting the board in six straight graded stakes races while winning the Cotillion Stakes (gr. I) and crossing the wire first in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I). She even ran well at ten furlongs, finishing second by 1 ¼ lengths in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga.

But although the daughter of Munnings is very talented, she doesn't seem to have taken a step forward this year. Her 2016 debut was slightly disappointing, as she finished second as the 1-2 favorite behind longshot Brooklynsway in the Doubledogdare Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland, and while she rebounded to win the nine-furlong Obeah Handicap by 8 ½ lengths at Delaware Park on June 11th, her final time of 1:53.20 was slow compared to the time of 1:43.00 for a mile and 70 yards posted by the three-year-old colt No Distortion in an allowance race earlier in the day.

In addition, the pace of the Delaware Handicap has a tendency to be very slow and speed-favoring, which might not fit I'm a Chatterbox's style of settling a few lengths off the lead. Add in the fact that she'll be stretching out in distance and conceding from four to eleven pounds to her five rivals, and I think you have a recipe for an upset.

Mei Ling is a mare with a lot of speed and the breeding to handle ten furlongs--she's by Empire Maker out of a Seeking the Gold mare. She actually handled twelve furlongs pretty well in the Rags to Riches Invitational last month at Belmont, finishing second by eight lengths to Theogony, and she won the Heavenly Prize Stakes earlier this year in gate-to-wire fashion and employed front-running tactics to finish a close second in the Top Flight Handicap (gr. III) as well. She gets into the Delaware Handicap carrying just 113 pounds, and the addition of blinkers suggests that she'll set or track the early pace, giving her a major tactical advantage. Better still, how often does one get 5-1 odds on a Todd Pletcher runner in a graded stakes races? At that price, she is my selection to win.

Paid Up Subscriber was a sprinter last year, but has taken a big step forward since being stretched out in distance and is 2-for-2 going a mile or longer. Last time out, she tracked the pace in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs before taking command and running the final furlong in :11.99 to win by three lengths over Brooklynsway. Her final time of 1:48.44 was slightly faster than Bradester ran while winning the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) later on the card, and her pedigree (by Candy Ride out of a Street Cry mare) suggests she'll be able to handle another furlong. She flashed excellent early speed in her 2016 debut, setting fractions of :22.38 and :45.63 in a 6 ½-furlong allowance sprint at Keeneland, and having drawn the rail, I think Paid up Subscriber will be forwardly placed early on. She should have a strong chance to finish in the exacta.

Penwith won the Royal Delta Stakes (gr. II) three starts back with a 97 Beyer speed figure, but hasn't looked as sharp since then while tackling grade I company in the Santa Margarita Stakes and La Troienne Stakes. It's worth noting that three of her five wins, including the Royal Delta, came at Gulfstream Park, and given her inconsistent record and recent performances, I think it's worth playing against her today.

I would also like to mention Money'soncharlotte, a five-length, gate-to-wire winner of a one-mile and 70-yard allowance race at Monmouth Park last time out. Last year, she competed in four straight graded stakes races (including the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose Stakes) with little success, but her race at Monmouth was a very promising step in the right direction. Interestingly, she's 3-for-3 when setting the pace and 0-for-9 when unable to get near the early lead. She's been assigned just 111 pounds for this race, and has shown some significant speed, both in her workouts and in her allowance win. This is a very big step up in class, but at 15-1 in a race with no other fillies that definitely want the lead, I wouldn't want to leave her out of multi-race wagers, as I think she has an outside chance to steal this race on the front end.

Race 2 at Presque Isle Downs on July 17th

This 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight for two-year-olds has drawn a deep field of twelve, and while the favorites look talented--Rapa Iti has finished second in three straight races while running Beyer speed figures higher than par, and Nuclear Fusion was beaten just a neck by Rapa Iti last time out--I'm very intrigued by the first-time starter Sea of Gelt. Trainer Ron Potts is very strong with debut runners, particularly two-year-olds at Presque Isle Downs, and Sea of Gelt brought a respectable final bid of $105,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale, which was below his reserve. Being by Blame out of a Cat Thief mare, Sea of Gelt's pedigree might be slanted toward longer distances, but his dam was a precocious five-furlong stakes winner at the age of two, and Sea of Gelt has shown speed in the mornings, most recently breezing five furlongs in a bullet :59.75 on July 10th. At 10-1 on the morning line, I think he's a great choice to key in the vertical exotics with Rapa Iti and Nuclear Fusion, with the first-time starters Trick Up My Sleeve (15-1) and Upatoi Bug (12-1) others to consider given their trainers' increasing and so far profitable success with first-time starters.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like this weekend?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. 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 is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.

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