The Poker Stakes (Grade 3)- $300.000 Purse
BEL- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile on the Turf
June 17, 2018
Now that all the triple crown hype is over here at BEL, we still have plenty of good racing to enjoy here this month. On Sunday, a field of eight will be looking for the winning hand at the 14th running of the Grade 3 Poker Stakes. This will be on the grass, and be run at a mile. Many talented and well known horses made this part of their resume, including the great Jamfest back in 2015. His dominant effort that earned a 104 SRF, in a stunning winning time of 1:32.02 was something special. Last year, it was D J C Racing Stables winning the race with Neto. It’d be the last time he’d win while in that barn as he’d be claimed later in the year. His 2018 has been decent. Our field for this race is pretty solid, so let’s a look at them!
#1- Duke Or Earl (Gdp Inc., ridden by R Bejarano)- After passing through several trainers early in his career, Duke Or Earl has found a home in the Gdp Inc barn. The stable trainer seemed to be what was needed as Gdp looks to have went back to the adds drawing board and discovered that Duke Or Earl likes bute, something none of the prior trainers ever tried in a race. Now, he will make his graded debut on a strong run of form in his last five races, which parallel his first time with bute. This is a level of recent form that I am not seeing as impressively from most others in the field, and as such, I am making him my pick.
#2- Penitentiary (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by J R Velazquez)- This will be one of the longer shots on the board, as he really has not impressed more then this trainer at this point. He looks a little consistent, and took a while to break his maiden. Once he did, he was sporadic with his finishes in allowance company, but eventually got win two in start twelve at an optional claimer. Off of that, it was off to the Grade 1 Man O War. A huge vote of confidence, but he’d lose by ten lengths and it probably wasn’t only because of the yielding turf. Speed figures are good, works are good, and the trainer is high on him. Now, it’s time to show the rest of us.
#3- Grounded In Reality (Mb Stables, ridden by E Maldonado)– After a career of the main track, Grounded In Reality made his turf debut in his last start, coming in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, and he was within a length of victory. He was fourth, but showed he will be competitive on the grass. The field here is not quite as strong as it was in that race, and based on that, we should make him one of the favorites here. Interesting though, that despite all the graded races in his past performances, he still has not won one.
#4- Sports Car (Mb Stables, ridden by F Pennington)- This might actually be Mb’s best horse in this race, and he has the amazing F Pennington in the saddle to boot. Sports Car has driven off with victory in four of seven career races, and he has never failed to finish in the money. This has also been a good distance for him, going 2-for-3 at exactly a mile. His last race was an open allowance, where he only ran second, but the horse that won that race, Nice Dive, ran third in the Shoemaker Mile in his next race.
#5- Valiant Charge (Threshold, ridden by J L Ortiz)- Finally returned to the winners circle in his last race, winning the $100.000 Dangers Hour at AQU two months ago. It was an effort that may make the trainer wonder where that has been for the last year and a half. This horse seems to be at this best when he is on the lead early, instead of looking to make a valiant charge in the stretch. Hopefully his confidence is back and he can go on a run and build off of that result. If he were more consistent, I’d pick him.
#6- Friday Thirteenth (Nakamura Stables, ridden by J K Court)- Had a strong three year old season, winning a couple of graded stakes, but has yet to do so for his current trainer. Nakamura has run him mainly in open allowances since then, and he only managed to win one of them. In a sense, he is a bit like Valiant Charge, although it was not an entirely winless streak that he recent broke. Friday Thirteenth won his last, the $70.000 Opening Verse at CD and also looks to build on that here.
#7- One Awesome Moon (Allinthegate, ridden by K J Desormeaux)- After flashing potential early in his career that earned him starts in races such as the Grade 3 Bourbon, One Awesome Moon found himself dropped to TUP allowances. He started this year off, however, with wins in two such allowances, so the trainer moved up to SA open allowance, which is always an unofficial ungraded stake. He’d be third. That race? The exact same race Sports Car ran second in, to the winner Nice Dive, who ran third in the Shoemaker Mile afterwards. He’s going to be a threat here, and if the odds climb, take a shot. I am not sure if they will, though.
#8- The Force Awakens (Diablo Diablo, ridden by Alan Garcia)- Makes the 20th start of his career, and over the course of it, there have been some impressive wins, such as the Grade 1 Frontrunner and Grade 2 Nijinsky. But in what is a theme for a handful of the horses in here, the signature career wins are not the most recent races. His last three graded attempts have been disappointments, but sprinkled in between are strong runs in optional claimers. That includes a win in his last start at WO. SRF looks a little low based on the effort, and as was said with a couple others, he just needs to build on it.
#9- No Explanation- Scratched