Saturday's 64th running of the Grade 1, $300,000 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park brings together a field of nine horses, led by Itsinthepost, who most recently won the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes in April before landing a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes. Beach Patrol won the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes last summer as a 3-year-old but is winless in three starts this year, although in two of those he was beaten less than a length. Messi won the Grade 2 Sky Classic Stakes last summer and hopes to improve off a third-place finish in May following a layoff. Then there are four previous Grade 3 stakes winners hoping to prove they belong at the top level. This group is led by Bigger Picture, who took the John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes in January. Can'thelpbelieving won the Cliff Hanger Stakes on the Monmouth Park turf last summer, while Oscar Nominated won the Spiral Stakes in spring 2016 but has won only one of 11 races since then. Lucky Lindy won the Ontario Derby on an all-weather track in the fall of 2015 and came back from a long layoff to win his most recent race. Closing Bell won the Dueling Grounds Derby in 2015 which was non-graded but carried a $300,000 purse. Liam the Charmer rounds out the field, having been unplaced in three graded stakes tries to date.
Closing Bell is my pick to post the mild upset in the United Nations Stakes, mostly on the strength of the confident move up in class from second level allowance to this Grade 1 stakes level by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. As a 3-year-old in 2015, Closing Bell proved himself at against top company on turf when finishing second in the Secretariat Stakes behind the world-class turf star Highland Reel. Following that effort, Closing Bell won the 2015 Dueling Grounds Derby (the same race Oscar Performance won in 2016) then went on a 12-race losing streak including three races in Australia. However, in his most recent race on May 28, Closing Bell returned to the winner's circle at a mile and a half on turf. Now that he is back in winning form, with a career best 114 Equibase Speed Figure from 2015 to equal or exceed, he may get the job done in this race.
Itsinthepost has been ultra-consistent over the last 11 months, finishing first or second in seven straight races, five graded stakes among them, including the Elkhorn Stakes in April. Although fifth in his most recent effort, Itsinthepost was beaten just a series of heads and noses for the runner-up spot. With back-to-back 116 Equibase Speed Figures, and considering that he’s proven over marathon distances like this one, Itsinthepost should be in contention from start to finish breaking from his inside post with Tyler Baze in the irons, who comes from California to ride.
Bigger Picture finished third behind Itsinthepost in the Elkhorn Stakes with a 114 Equibase Speed Figure, and two races before that took the John B. Connally Stakes at this 11-furlong trip on grass with a 112 figure. He also won the Red Smith Handicap last fall at the same distance, one he apparently likes very much, so we can count on him for another top effort.
About the rest: Beach Patrol (117 best Equibase Speed Figure) didn't fire at all in the Manhattan Stakes last month and lost ground in the last eighth of a mile in his four previous starts. Although Beach Patrol might be capable of completing the exacta by finishing second, he is not a contender to win in my opinion. Can'thelpbelieving (114 best figure) finished fifth in this race last year and his two efforts to date in 2017 have been mediocre. Liam the Charmer (117 best figure) finished third through fifth in his four stakes tries to date and doesn't appear to be capable of improving enough to win, but he’s another I would include in second and third position on any exacta and trifecta tickets played. Lucky Lindy (103 best figure) returned from 19 months off at the end of May and won in an allowance level race with a 92 figure that would take remarkable improving upon to contend here. Messi (115 best figure) won the Sky Classic Stakes last summer and makes his second start following six months on the sidelines, but is another who doesn't appear capable of threatening the main contenders. Oscar Nominated (112 best figure) hasn't won in six races since last September when capturing the Dueling Grounds Derby and should be confined to a minor share of the purse again, but is one more horse I would definitely consider for second and third on exacta and trifecta wagers.