By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Classic stamina will be on display this Saturday when
three-year-old fillies negotiate 1 ¼ miles in the $600,000 Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga and older males tackle
the same distance in the $1,000,000 Pacific
Classic (gr. I).
I'm eager to oppose the morning line favorites, so from a
wagering standpoint, I'm optimistic these prestigious events will also be great
betting races. Let's dig in and look for longshots on another summer Saturday
Stakes (gr. I)
The popular play in this prestigious event will surely be
#1 Dunbar Road. This daughter of
Quality Road has a lot of positive attributes—she's conditioned by Saratoga's
leading trainer Chad Brown, she's a half-length away from being undefeated four
starts, and she was an easy winner of the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose Stakes (G2)
at Belmont Park last time out.
But the Alabama Stakes isn't your typical short route of
1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles. The Alabama is held over the testing distance of 1 ¼ miles,
which should place stamina at a premium and favor the chances of #7 Point of Honor.
From a pedigree perspective, Point of Honor was seemingly
bred specifically to win the Alabama. She's a daughter of two-time Horse of the
Year Curlin (a four-time Grade 1 winner going 1 ¼ miles) out of a mare by
Bernardini, winner of the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Travers Stakes (gr.
I). Point of Honor's pedigree is dripping with classic stamina, and she's also
bred to improve with maturity, so she should only now be reaching her best
That's an exciting possibility since Point of Honor has
already shown a lot of talent. Two starts back, she produced a relentless rally
to win the 1 1/8-mile Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) at Pimlico with a 90
Beyer, a figure she repeated when finishing second behind the undefeated
two-time Grade 1 winner Guarana in the 1 1/8-mile Coaching Club American Oaks
(gr. I) at Saratoga last month.
I was highly impressed by Point of Honor's performance in
the CCA Oaks. Reserved in last place while Guarana carved out slow fractions of
:24.27, :49.49, and 1:13.58, Point of Honor was compromised by the pace but nevertheless
rallied down the homestretch to finish just a length behind Guarana while
sprinting the final three furlongs in :36.07. That's a sharp finishing fraction
for a two-turn dirt race.
With her stamina-oriented pedigree and strong finishing
speed, I'm excited to see what Point of Honor can accomplish while stretching to
1 ¼ miles in the Alabama Stakes. Not to put the cart before the horse, but I
suspect Point of Honor is on the verge of launching a late-season bid for the division
championship. I expect her to win decisively on Saturday.
Classic (gr. I)
If the two-time San Diego Handicap (gr. II) winner Catalina
Cruiser were entered in the Pacific Classic, he would probably be favored to
win. Certainly the three-time Grade 1 winner McKinzie would be an overwhelming
choice to prevail in this 1 ¼-mile test of speed and stamina.
But since Catalina Cruiser and McKinzie are both skipping
the Pacific Classic, why not think outside the box and support the 20-1 longshot
#9 Mongoliam Groom instead?
It might sound crazy, but stick with me for a moment.
Mongolian Groom has yet to win at the graded stakes level, but he's outrun
expectations in a couple of major races this year. Back in April, he employed a
grinding style to finish third in the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I),
beaten just 3 ¾ lengths by Gift Box and McKinzie. And last time out, he
unleashed a menacing rally to fall just a length short of catching Catalina
Cruiser in the San Diego Handicap here at Del Mar.
In between, Mongolian Groom suffered a few less memorable
defeats, but he had some legitimate excuses. His grinding style was never going
to excel in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II), conducted over the six-furlong
bullring track at Charles Town, and he didn't seem to care for turf (nor 1 ¾ miles)
while finishing sixth in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. III) at Santa
Anita. In between, he finished fourth in a quick renewal of the Gold Cup at
Santa Anita (gr. I), earning a respectable 96 Beyer even in defeat.
Speaking of Beyer speed figures, Mongoliam Groom doesn't
rank as the fastest horse in the Pacific Classic field. But it's not like he's
completely overmatched (he generally runs about 4-8 points slower than the
favorites), and the great equalizer could be the 1 ¼-mile distance.
Essentially, Mongolian Groom is a grinder. He'll never
beat you with a brilliant turn-of-foot, but he's relentless and has kept good
company. Just as importantly, he's run well over the slow and tiring main track
at Del Mar, an unfamiliar surface that could trip up his more heralded rivals
from the East Coast.
For example, #5
Seeking the Soul might be favored off his recent victory in the Stephen
Foster Handicap (gr. II), but he's done his best running between a mile and 1
1/8 miles, so the longer distance of the Pacific Classic is a legitimate
question mark. Plus, six of Seeking the Soul's seven wins have come in
Kentucky, and he's never won a graded stakes race away from Churchill Downs.
Pavel is a logical alternative to Seeking the Soul, and he did
finish second behind champion Accelerate in the 2018 Pacific Classic, but his
form this year has been a little less inspiring. Last time out, he flattened
out sharply after making a big move in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban Stakes (gr. II) at
Belmont Park, finishing third while giving the impression he might be better
off running shorter these days. An infrequent winner with just three victories
from 17 starts, Pavel is the type of horse you can count on to crack the
superfecta (he's done so 13 times), but for win purposes he's tougher to
So why not take a shot with Mongoliam Groom at a big
price? This isn't the toughest Pacific Classic field in recent memory; the last
six winners have been Accelerate, Collected, California Chrome, Beholder,
Shared Belief, and Game On Dude, but at this point it doesn't appear as though
a star of this caliber is running in the 2019 Pacific Classic. And in the
absence of Catalina Cruiser and McKinzie, why not support their gallant pursuer
Mongolian Groom, who will offer much more enticing odds in the wagering?
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes
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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.