Looking for An Ace in The Poker Stakes

The Poker Stakes (Grade 3)- $250.000 Purse
BEL- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile on the Turf
June 14, 2020

The table is set up and the dealer is ready to provide the cards for the 16th running of the Grade 3 Poker Stakes, a mile long event on the grass at BEL. The purse represents a slight deduction from the $300.000 it has run for since 2014, however it is also a race that debut at $100.000. Some of the more notable past winners of this stake include Time Clock, Without Kera, and Jamfest. Last year’s event was held on soft turf, and was won by a gelding named Butter Ball, then for Aml Racing. Butter Ball remains active and was within a length of winning a Grade 2 a couple weeks ago, but will not be looking to defend his crown here. Our starting gate is full, so let’s look at the field!

#1- Koda (Estero Farms, ridden by D Davis)- Picked up by the trainer near the end of February for $80.000 in private sales, and has made two starts in Estero silks this far. Previously, he had only been seen in overnights, but Estero had bigger plans and immediately put him into graded stakes, and they were the Pan American and the Grade 1 Man O War. He wasn’t bad in them, and he may like a drop down from that level here. It also represents him shortening his distance up. Interesting that in the past this horse once had a two and a half year layoff.

#2- Solow (Chili King Stables, ridden by J R Leparoux)- This will be the 40th career start for the six year old gelding by Rene. He has had a lot of graded experience back in the day, and even some success in them, and Chili King is determined to get him back to that level ever since he picked him up in private sales. In overnights, he has been fine, though in graded stakes, he’s been a couple lengths or so behind each time. That could just mean a slight fix if the trainer can figure out how to work on that.

#3- Unbridled Envy (Nolespan Racing, ridden by U Rispoli)- Picked up for a $7.500 claiming tag in his last start, and now, here he is! He did run second once in a ON-bred stake last year, but since last fall, he has not been running for big purses. The SRF’s do not stand out on him either, but Nolespan has become a very good trainer on taking a horse like this and taking them to the next level. I’ll continue to want to see it first before I pick them in the future, but I am no longer surprised when it does.

#4- Nowhere Man (Mb Stables, ridden by Mario Gutierrez)- The trainer is looking for his third win in the stake, taking the last two in even numbered years. It is the 28th start for Nowhere Man, and we have seen him frequently running in the condition in which he does here. His last graded win was back in August last year, but was able to run in the BC Mile. That’s about all there is to say about that race, however. Comes out of the Man O War last month, finishing right alongside Koda.

#5- Rules Are Madness (Angelos Stable, ridden by J K Court)- Well, look at what we have here! It’s a filly taking on the boys, but she’s done this before. At the beginning of this year, she ran in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf, and finished in the middle of the field. Since then, she has gone back to taking on other fillies, and has won two of her last three races. Two weeks ago, she was the winner in the Grade 1 Gamely. What concerns me more then her taking on the males here is that she only has had two weeks rest against an otherwise rested field. On the flip side, she gets a five pound weight allowance, and that can be big, and the Poker Stakes needs its Queen, too.

#6- City Of Bones (John Henry, ridden by D E Centeno)- Every once in a while, this horse seems to pull a no show on what is an otherwise great career. He’s won three graded stakes in his career, including the Grade 3 Thunder Road two starts ago (in a dead heat). Also, he ran second in the BC Mile last fall. When he does have that occasional dud, he always bounces back pretty well. Therefore, with his last race being one of those head scratchers, I feel good about him bouncing back here in the Poker Stakes, and will put some chips on him here.

#7- Captain Cook (Nakamura Stables, ridden by A Cedillo)- Remember that part about City Of Bones where he finished in a dead heat in the Thunder Road? Well, here’s the one he did it with! For Captain Cook, it was his first graded win, and it followed up a $75.000 ungraded win in the Tropical Park Stakes at GP. His attempt to stretch out afterwards did not go well, but bounced back fine in the Grade 2 Fort Mercy. I think this is the distance that he can be the best at, and he may be close to City Of Bones at the wire once again!

#8- Apocalypse Rising (Gdp Inc, ridden by J Lezcano)- Picked up around this time last year for a $20.000 claiming tag, and has gradually climbed the ladder to get to his graded debut, which comes here. His claim to fame right now is winning a starter allowance, and while he does have one good finish in an ungraded stake, I am having a tough time getting excited about him handling this level of competition. I do think that he will like this distance a lot more then some of the recent sprints that he has been in.

#9- Spiral (Mb Stables, ridden by M Tunon)- The second of two runners in here from Mb Stables, and both of them seem to have as good of a chance as the other as picking up a win here. His last win came back in September, in a race the game would love to erase from its memory, the $1000.00 JC Derby, which was the 2020 KYD of last fall. When faced with more normal paces, he has not been able to come from behind as well. In his last start, the trainer changed up the tactic to a frontrunning style, and he was a second in an open allowance.

#10- Decibel (Threshold, ridden by R J Rosado)- No one in the field has accumulated more career earnings then has Decibel, and he can credit a general consistent history of finishing well in graded stakes with a few wins sprinkled in. His last victory was three starts ago at the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale, wiring the field that December day. He’s been lightly raced since then, but looks good to go here today. Not putting him on top, but should be one of the top contenders.

#11- Vouch (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by A Beschizza)- Over his career, Vouch has done a very good job of grabbing a piece of the purse for the trainer, but that has not been the top prize as often as D J C would like. After 17 starts, that cost him his ability to breed, and he underwent the snip. He’s been better, but has not been racing at the stake level as a gelding, either. Here, we will get a chance to see if the snip worked or not. None of his stake appearances have resulted in a win, yet.

#12- Charleys Glance (Maxmillion Farm, ridden by Mar Garcia)- It is back to the grass for this Charley Farley colt after taking a stab at the main track in his last start. Most of his starts have been on the turf, and his biggest score at this time is the Grade 2 Mathis Brothers Mile at SA, coming a day after last Christmas. He did beat a couple good ones there, including City Of Bones. Can’t be ruled out, but I am favoring others in here.

Prediction: 6-10-7-4

— NS

Categories: Grade III, STAKES ARTICLES

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