July turns into August this weekend, and things get into full swing at the traditional summertime venues July 31.
At Del Mar, the Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) at the same track Nov. 6, with last year's Sprint runner-up C Z Rocket the likely favorite against eight opponents.
At Monmouth Park, a field of nine 3-year-old fillies go in the Monmouth Oaks (G3).
And up at Saratoga Race Course, Eclipse Award winners Whitmore, Essential Quality, and Channel Maker respectively run in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), and Bowling Green Stakes (G2T).
Some thoughts on them all in chronological order, all times Eastern:
Monmouth Oaks (Mth, race 10, 4:33): Four entrants exit an edition of the Delaware Oaks (G3) contested over a sealed surface labeled good, notably Midnight Obsession (2) and her stablemate Leader of the Band (3), who finished second and third for trainer John Servis.
Midnight Obsession has run exclusively on wet tracks in four career starts, and while she could not menace heavily favored multiple stakes winner Crazy Beautiful four weeks ago, she was well clear of stablemate Leader of the Band. The latter has good tactical speed but fell much further off the pace in the Delaware Oaks than she is used to. That was also her first outing in two months and her first around two turns. Leader of the Band is 2-for-2 making the second start of a form cycle, as she does here.
Allworthy (6) recently beat maidens and first-level allowance optional company at Gulfstream Park and has since posted a pair of bullet workouts since shipping to Saratoga. The daughter of Tonalist neglected to change leads in the stretch in those wins, suggesting room for more improvement.
Miss Leslie (7) rates a longshot chance at 15-1 on the morning line, provided one is willing to look past her last two races. She was clearly out of her element when tried on turf in the Boiling Springs, and prior to that was pinched at the break and raced wide chasing Army Wife in the George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) on a speed-friendly track.
We are taking a stand against Edie Meeny Miny Mo (9), a $400,000 filly by Upstart who is 2-for-2 sprinting, but breaks from the far outside in a much tougher spot. I'm leery of the fact she was unveiled against $40,000 maiden claimers.
A — 2, 6
B — 3, 7
A.G. Vanderbilt (Sar, race 8, 5:03): The venerable Whitmore (6) returns to the Spa, where he won the Forego Stakes (G1) in 2018 and ran a fine second behind a slow pace set by Volatile in this race last summer. He has been in the money 24 of 26 starts at six furlongs but is winless from three starts at age 8, and may be only third choice behind Mischevious Alex (2) and Firenze Fire (3).
Mischevious Alex totes topweight of 124, conceding a pound to Whitmore and two to Firenze Fire, and takes a beneficial cutback in distance after a gutsy third in the Hill 'N' Dale Metropolitan Handicap (G1). Prior to that, the son of Into Mischief had won three in a row after being transferred to Saffie Joseph Jr., capped by an exceptionally fast performance in the Carter Handicap (G1).
Firenze Fire captured the 2017 Sanford Stakes (G2) at Saratoga as a juvenile, but is winless from six other attempts over the track and has notched his most compelling victories (seven) at Belmont Park.
Special Reserve (9) has won three of four since claimed by the red-hot Mike Maker, and overall this year he is 4-1-0 from five appearances. He comes off wins in the Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3) and Iowa Sprint Stakes, the latter at the expense of Quick Tempo, who runs in the Bing Crosby later on.
A — 2
B — 3, 6, 9
Jim Dandy (Sar, race 9, 5:39): Last year's juvenile champ Essential Quality (5) has gone on nicely at 3 and looms a prohibitive choice coming off a fast and gritty score in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) over nemesis Hot Rod Charlie. It was better than 11 lengths back to Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Rombauer in third.
As formidable as Essential Quality is, be aware that favorites have lost the last seven renewals of this race, which is a prep for the Runhappy Travers (G1) four weeks down the road. To be sure, Essential Quality will be something less than fully cranked.
Maybe the champion son of Tapit wins anyway, but he faces two horses with legitimate ability in Masqueparade (2) and Weyburn (3), and after all, this race is named for the 100-1 shot who shocked Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers.
Masqueparade has come into his own since wintering in New Orleans, taking his first-level allowance condition by nearly a dozen lengths and coming back to win the Ohio Derby (G3) after a long drive. Each of those efforts came from difficult outside posts.
Weyburn came to prominence lighting up the toteboard at 46-1 in the Gotham Stakes (G3) in his seasonal debut. Two races later, he ran the high-class runner Mandaloun to a photo in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes and was coming back on late after being passed in the stretch. The Pioneerof the Nile colt gets a switch to Irad Ortiz Jr. and has turned in two bullet works over the track for Jimmy Jerkens, who sent out Wicked Strong for a 6-1 upset in the 2014 Jim Dandy. Weyburn may get a clear early lead for the first time and it's reasonable to think we haven't seen his full potential as yet.
No guts, no glory.
A — 3
B — 2, 5
Bowling Green (Sar, race 10, 6:13): The last leg of a classy pick three sequence is topped by last year's grass champion Channel Maker (5), whose first two starts this year came in the Middle East; and Channel Cat, who won the 2019 Bowling Green at 13-1 and more recently swiped the Man o' War Stakes (G1T) at 8-1 in early May.
This is the fourth go-round in the Bowling Green for the Bill Mott-trained Channel Maker, who dead-heated for the win in 2018 and ran fourth each of the last two years.
Cross Border (2), who finished second and was elevated to first in last year's renewal of this three-turn event, is 5-1-0 from six starts on Spa turf.
Moon Over Miami has run three improved races since coming back at age 4 and was beaten a nose and neck in the Man o' War after having no option other than to rally on the rail inside Channel Cat. Prior to that, he chased loose-on-the-lead winners in the Pan American Stakes (G2T) and the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2T) at Gulfstream. This looks like a more favorable pace setup, especially if he can get out in the clear when set down for the drive.
A — 5, 7
B — 1, 2
C — 6
Bing Crosby (Dmr, race 10, 9:36): C Z Rocket is 7-2-0 from nine starts since claimed by Peter Miller, the losses a second in the BC Sprint to Whitmore—which he has since avenged twice at Oaklawn Park in the Hot Springs Stakes and Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3)—and a second last out in the slop when tried at two turns in the Steve Sexton Mile (G3). The big question is whether C Z Rocket can be effective without Lasix on Saturday, as all 26 career starts have come with the bold-faced L.
A blistering pace is on the offing due to the presence of Quick Tempo (5) and Brickyard Ride (9). That helps C Z Rocket, but it may also set things up nicely for Vertical Threat (2) and/or Collusion Illusion (6).
Vertical Threat won his three six-furlong races last year by almost 19 combined lengths, with a handy score in the Smiling Tiger Stakes over the Del Mar strip looming of potential significance here. This is an ambitious spot for his initial outing of 2021 but speaks to the confidence trainer Richard Baltas has in this son of Tapiture .
Collusion Illusion won the 2020 Bing Crosby in a photo and also makes his first start of the year. He is 3-for-3 at Del Mar beginning with a debut victory in 2019, and won first time out of the box last season, too.
Let's try and beat the chalk here.
A — 2, 6
B — 3