The TVG.com Haskell Stakes might be the main racing highlight at Monmouth Park this Saturday, but a bevy of other important stakes races are also on the agenda, including the historic $300,000 Grade 1 United Nations Stakes.
Long one of the most prestigious grass races in the United States, the 1 3/8-mile United Nations serves as a steppingstone toward the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. The roster of winners is impressive, including such fabled names as Dr. Fager, Round Table, Manila, and Lure.
The 2020 renewal has come up a bit light, with only one proven Grade 1 winner in the field, but this could be viewed as a positive from a handicapping perspective. The field looks evenly matched on paper with plenty of viable win contenders in the mix. You can make a case for pretty much any horse in the field, so correctly picking the top two or three finishers is bound to trigger a lucrative payoff.
The class of the field is certainly #1 Arklow, winner of the 1 ½-mile Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park last fall. The 6-year-old son of Arch has been competing with aplomb against tough competition since 2017, but he isn’t a frequent winner (scoring just six victories from 27 starts) and he’s seemed a step or two slower this season. Less than a week ago he contested the 1 ½-mile Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland, but failed to produce a meaningful rally and finished sixth.
Can Arklow rebound while wheeling back on just six days of rest? It’s not out of the question, considering the Elkhorn unfolded at a very slow pace unfavorable to Arklow’s stretch-running style. But it’s hard to trust him to win at a short price.
An appealing alternative is #5 Aquaphobia. Trainer Mike Maker and jockey Joe Bravo teamed up to win the 2017 United Nations with Bigger Picture, and Bravo has actually won this race four times since 2012, so from a connections standpoint Aquaphobia warrants a lot of respect.
One of Maker’s strong suits is claiming turf horses, stretching them out in distance, and turning them into stakes stars. Maker has performed fantastic work with such runners, and now he’ll try the formula with Aquaphobia. The 7-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway has already shown improvement under Maker’s care, finishing second in the 1 1/16-mile Sunshine Forever Stakes and fourth (beaten just 1 ½ lengths) in the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes.
But stretching out over 1 3/8 miles could be the key to a winning effort since Giant’s Causeway tends to sire long-winded runners who thrive over extended distances. Coming out of a series of shorter races, Aquaphobia – generally a mid-pack closer – should benefit from racing closer to the early pace in the United Nations, since there’s hardly any speed entered on paper.
In fact, the only genuine front-runner in the fray is #9 Paret, who could be very dangerous if allowed to escape with an uncontested lead. Formerly a sprinter, Paret has turned into a different horse since stretching out dramatically in distance for trainer James Lawrence II.
In the 1 ½-mile Point of Entry Stakes at Belmont Park last fall, Paret carved out the pace before settling for second place behind the capable graded stakes performer Red Knight. Then, after taking 7 ½ months off, Paret returned to action in Belmont’s 1 3/8-mile Tiller Stakes and led all the way to defeat a deep field including Grade 1 winners Sadler’s Joy and Channel Maker.
With this impressive comeback run under his belt, Paret figures to be even more dangerous in the United Nations. If he leads all the way to spring an upset victory, it wouldn’t be the first time Lawrence has pulled off this trick – two years ago, he saddled 15.70-1 longshot Glorious Empire to win Saratoga’s Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion.
So my advice is to favor Paret and Aquaphobia in the United Nations Stakes while using Arklow and the former British handicap competitor #8 Corelli underneath. The latter endured a poor start in the Tiller before rallying to finish seventh, just 3 ¼ lengths behind Paret. A sharper break while racing with Lasix for the first time can trigger a rebound in Corelli’s second U.S. start.
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$10 to win on #9 Paret
What to say at the betting window: Monmouth Park, 11th race, $10 to win on 9
$8 to win on #5 Aquaphobia
What to say at the betting window: Monmouth Park, 11th race, $8 to win on 5
$2 exacta: 5,9 with 1,5,8,9 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Monmouth Park, 11th race, $2 exacta: 5,9 with 1,5,8,9
Good luck, and enjoy the race!