The Poker Stakes (Grade 3)- $250.000 Purse
BEL- For Four Year Olds and Upward
One Mile on the Turf
June 18, 2022
The cards have been drawn for the 18th running of the Poker Stakes, a Grade 3 event for older horses on the turf, sending them a mile. The details of the race have changed over the years, with three year olds being allowed to participate as well until 2014. That same year saw the purse size triple from $100.000 to $300.000 before settling to it’s current level in 2020. This race will see nine going to the gate, and some of them are well known in the virtual world, and others are perhaps, getting to that point. Therefore, we have the making of a good, competitive race. Last year, Atomic Eclipse hit the wire first, for La Canada Racehorses, and the gelding remains active today, though has not been in a stake since February. Mb Stables has won the race in the last three even-numbered years. Now, let’s take a look at the field.
#1- Hard Discretion (TwinTowersRacing, ridden by J R Velazquez)- Ran in the ten furlong PIM Special last month, and was no match for the winner, Combat Wombat, who won by four, but he did come through the field well in the stretch to get up for second. Earlier in the year, he was third in a photo with the winner in the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes, so we know he can get the job done. It’d be tough to put money on him against this company because he also can be a non-factor several times. That may be why the trainer is moving him to the turf for the first time in his career, and a great work here earlier in the month suggest he’s ready to roll.
#2- Hollywood Hero (Nakamura Stables, ridden by E J Wilson)- Had a great 2021, winning four races including a pair of Grade 2’s. This got him to the BC Mile, but he struggled there, and only beat one horse. Unfortunately, the script did not have him successfully recover from that, and he’s never really gotten going this year. His best results in 2022 are a couple of thirds, one being the Grade 3 Thunder Road, but he was not a factor in this last, the Grade 1 Forester Turf Classic. Doing decently enough to keep running at this level, but also needing a jolt of confidence.
#3- Socrates (Mb Stables, ridden by Mario Gutierrez)- Gets the task of continuing the trainer’s streak of winning every other year in the Poker Stakes. He’s had a great career, but recently, that success level has stalled. Since the beginning of 2021, Socrates has made just a little over $100.000 and dipped down as low as an open allowance at FE that he didn’t even win. This year, he was moved to the grass, and that’s increased the level of competition he has been taking on, but has not, at least not yet, resulted in a win.
#4- Banshee Star (Calia Stable, ridden by I Ortiz Jr)- If it seems as though he has been around forever, it is because he has. This will now be the 58th start of the career for the eight year old gelding, and he is still getting the job done. His last five races have seen him finish either first or second, and all but one of them was a stake. This includes the Grade 3 Canadian Turf that he won, as well as the Grade 2 Fort Marcy right here last month. In all, he has won sixteen times, and there is no reason to think that this can’t be number seventeen. He’s been running well for Calia Stable since arriving there.
#5- No More Haggis (YME Stable, ridden by M Franco)- In twenty races, No More Haggis has won five times, though recently has been struggling with his consistency that earlier in his career did not seem to be a problem. Due to that, probably, the trainer is changing things up and running No More Haggis on the grass, something that he has never done in his career. He’s been preparing for this at PRX, and put together a couple of good turf works there, and because he is a frequent entry in races like this, I am not worried about him making his turf debut at this level. If you think, or don’t think, it will be a successful transition, wager accordingly.
#6- Blue Koala (D J C Racing Stables, ridden by L Saez)- The trainer had a strong weekend here at one of his favorite tracks, so naturally he hopes to continue that momentum going. That confidence will lead to Blue Koala making his graded debut, and he has been a steady producer in overnights up to this point. He doesn’t have that one race that really stands out as the highlight for him, if anything, I would call that the $150.000 Station at KEE last fall, but other than a disaster at twelve furlongs, there’s nothing that suggests he can’t be competitive against this field, either. He’s earned the shot to run here.
#7- Four Leaf (Angelos Stable, ridden by J C Ferrer)- Similar to Blue Koala in that he is also making his graded debut here in the Poker Stakes. He has many more starts under his belt, however, and has won nine times in those 27 races with eight additional second place showings. Therefore, we know that he typically runs well. Since the end of 2020, he has been either first or second in 13 of 15 races. There are some ungraded stakes among them, including running second in a close photo in the Kenner Stakes to Kid Commander. Mostly been sprinting, but did win an open allowance at mile in his last start.
#8- The Mad King (Simmer Down Stable, ridden by J J Castellano)- It won’t be the graded debut for this one, but it’s been a while since he has. More recently, he has been running in claimers, and changed hands twice in his last three races, for $25.000, and then $40.000. Simmer Down Stable, an underrated trainer at making good claims, had bigger aspirations for The Mad King, and entered him in the $100.000 Seek Again, where he placed third. I really like how he runs at this distance, and he may get the job done here, as well. I’m giving him my nod.
#9- By The Night O Bay (Oval Express Farms, ridden by M Murrill)- Another long time veteran of the game, and it will be the 31st time that the gelding has hit the track. He’s won six of those races, with an open allowance victory being the only one in 2022. Graded stake tries this year have not been as kind to him, but he did run well last month in the Seek Again, finishing one spot behind The Mad King while carrying two more pounds. Given that, I should be as high on him as I am that one. He runs very well, specifically, at a mile. Watch the odds board on this one, I could see them climbing. Take a shot, if so.
Categories: Grade III, STAKES ARTICLES