By John Piassek
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Looking Forward to Monmouth’s 71st Season of Racing
It’s getting to be that time of the year. The 71st season of racing at beautiful Monmouth Park is coming up on Saturday, May 14. Last year, the meet’s highlight was American Pharoah running in the prestigious Haskell Invitational, winning easily before 60,983 fans. While it remains to be seen if this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist, will make an appearance at the New Jersey oval, there’s plenty to look forward to this year at Monmouth.
Monmouth races three days a week for the majority of the season: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. For the first and last months of the year, the track runs Saturday and Sunday. The first race is at 12:50 PM EDT every day except for Haskell day, when it is at 12:00 PM EDT.
Monmouth offers the standard menu of wagering found at many tracks across the country, with a 50-cent minimum on pick 3s, pick 4s, pick 5s, and trifectas, and a 10-cent minimum bet on superfectas. Rolling doubles and pick 3s are offered throughout the day, with two pick 4s (one usually beginning in race 3, and the other containing the last four races of the day) and two pick 5s per day (one on the first five races, one on the last five races). There’s also a jackpot-type pick 6, the Jersey Shore 6, which pays out the entire pool only if there is one unique ticket left standing.
The takeout structure is as follows: 15% on the pick 4 and pick 5, 17% on win, place, and show wagers, 19% on the exacta and the double, 20% on the Jersey Shore 6, and 25% on everything else. The low takeout on the pick 4 and pick 5 make them especially appealing wagers, with pools often going over the $50,000 mark.
JOCKEYS TO WATCH
The top jockey at Monmouth, without a doubt, is Paco Lopez. He won last year’s riding title going away, winning 75 races from 302 mounts, good for a 25% win percentage. To put that in perspective, second-place Trevor McCarthy won “only” 51 races, a 24-win difference. Paco will undoubtedly win a lot of races this year once again, but many of his mounts will also be bet down to near unbettable odds. Watch the board on a lot of those—if you can find a Paco horse going off at a decent price, seize the moment.
In limited action last year (155 mounts), Joe Bravo finished with an impressive 21% winning percentage, second among all jockeys with at least 100 mounts. Always a big name on the circuit, Bravo made headlines last year by winning his 5,000th career race. Nik Juarez and Abel Castellano Jr. each won 45 races last year, and while neither of them are quite at Paco’s quality, they are both more-than-capable riders whose mounts are always worthy of respect.
Although he splits his time at Monmouth and at Parx, whenever Vicente Guidel has a mount in Jersey, take note. From 140 mounts at Monmouth last year, Guidel accumulated 28 victories, good for a 20% winning percentage. Among all jockeys with 100 mounts or more, that’s the third-best winning percentage.
TRAINERS TO WATCH
It’s the world of Jorge Navarro and Jamie Ness, and we just live in it. The two trainers dominated Monmouth last year, with Navarro winning at a 26% rate, and Ness winning at an incredible 31% clip. The two are most adept in claiming races on the dirt, so any time you see them in one of those races, they cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, almost all the bettors know this, and Ness and Navarro’s horses are often set off at almost-unbettable odds. Because of this, you’re usually better off ignoring them in the win pool, and instead keying them in pick 4 and pick 5 bets.
Jason Servis, trainer of Jersey-bred Withers winner Sunny Ridge, doesn’t send out nearly as many as Ness or Navarro, but the ones he does enter are dangerous. From 83 runners, Servis had 21 winners, with a remarkable 59% of his horses in the top three.
Any time either Chad Brown or Christophe Clement sends a horse down to Jersey, they are also worth watching. Brown, primarily based in New York, had nine winners from 21 starters on the 2015 season, with 76% coming in the top three. Clement registered six victories from 26 entries, adding on to nine seconds and three thirds. Another trainer based in New York, Todd Pletcher, had a fantastic meet, winning with 23% of his entries and leading all trainers in purses earned.
BIG RACE DAYS TO WATCH
While every day is a great day to bet Monmouth, of course, the two biggest days of the season are undoubtedly United Nations Stakes day, which will be July 3, and the Haskell Invitational, on July 31. Haskell day this year will feature four other stakes races, including the Oceanport Stakes, the Monmouth Cup, the Matchmaker Stakes, and the Molly Pitcher Stakes. The United Nations annually features some of the best grass horses in the country; two years ago, Main Sequence used a victory in the race as a starting point to an undefeated campaign that cumulated in a Breeders’ Cup Turf win.
There’s plenty of other graded stakes on the calendar, including the Pegasus Stakes on Father’s Day (June 19), the Philip Iselin Stakes on August 27, and the Salvator Mile on July 2. While Memorial Day weekend does not feature any graded stakes races, the Food Truck Festival annually draws crowds of more than 20,000 per day over the course of the weekend, giving the track an electric atmosphere.
TWITTER ACCOUNTS TO FOLLOW
When discussing twitter accounts to follow for information on Monmouth Park, the conversation has to start with Monmouth’s own twitter: @MonmouthPark. They’re always providing information on race days, so be “shore” to check them out.
Brad Thomas is the in-house handicapper at Monmouth, and is one of the best, if not *the* best, public handicapper in the country. You can follow him on twitter at @BradShadesOff, and also check out his “Shades Off” video blog on youtube. One thing is for certain: any time he makes a selection, that horse should automatically merit respect.
TVG televises all of Monmouth Park’s racing, and they’ll be giving updates on the racing all day long. Check them out at @TVG, and also check out their Monmouth handicapper Tom Cassidy, at @TomTVG. Be sure to check out both DRF Monmouth handicappers as well: Jim Dunleavy (@DRFDunleavy) and Kenny Peck (@DRFPeck). They’re always providing updates on not only Monmouth action, but on Mid-Atlantic racing in general.
Frank Mirahmadi will be returning for his second year of calling the action at Monmouth Park, and this time, he’ll be here every day of the season. Check him out at @FrankMirahmadi. And, of course, check me out at @theyreoff, where you can find links to my opinions at Monmouth Park, which will be on theracingbiz.com on Saturdays, and right here on danonymousracing.com on Sundays.
Opening day is coming up on Saturday, for what’s “shore” to be another fantastic meet at the Shore’s Greatest Stretch. Get in on the action!
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.