2014 Stars and Stripes Stakes Preview

Saturday marks the 83rd running of the Stars and Stripes Stakes, a Grade III, $150,000 race at 1 1/2 miles over the Arlington turf.  The race has been run at distances as short as 1 1/16 miles and as long as 1 5/8 miles over the course of its history.  It has been run at its current 1 1/2 mile distance since 1996, except for 2010 when it was run at 1 5/8 miles.  Since the 2012 inception of the American St. Leger Stakes as part of the International Festival of Racing, this race has served as the local prep for that 1 11/16 mile turf marathon.  No horse has yet swept both, but 2012 Stars and Stripes winner Ioya Bigtime finished second behind Jakkalberry in the inaugural American St. Leger.

Arlington Park -- GIII Stars and Stripes Stakes -- 1 1/2 miles on the turf -- Race 8 -- post time 4:25 CDT

To say there is no early speed in this race might be the understatement of the year.  Absolutely no one in this field has a strong desire to be on the front.  The fractions are likely to fall to Olympic Thunder by default, as the horse with the most affinity to be close to the early pace.  He has been near the pace and lasted a mile and a half before; in the 2013 Kentucky Turf Cup, he stalked just a length or two off of Whatthecatdrugin.  He took the lead in the final half-mile, and just nipped by a neck by Temeraine late.  If Olympic Thunder can dictate easy enough early fractions, he has the stamina to go the whole way.  The Pizza Man stretches out to a mile and a half for only the second time in his career.  However, he was no schlub the one other time he did it: he finished third in this race last year, just 1 3/4 lengths behind Dark Cove.  He did this with Florent Geroux aboard, and Geroux rides again this year.  The Pizza Man comes into this race second off the lay, and on a three-race win streak dating back to the Illinois Owners Stakes last September.  He loves the Arlington turf, boasting a 9-6-1-1 career record over it.  Finally, he is extremely versatile with respect to pace scenario: he has won races stalking fairly close to the pace, or from a longer distance back.  He shouldn't be compromised by the likely slow early pace.  This combination of proven stamina, good recent form, pace, and the horse-for-course factor suggests he has a real shot again this year.  Finally, we come to Moro Tap.  I know what you're thinking: after my colourful assertion on Belmont day that I wanted no part of a Tapit at twelve furlongs, what in the world am I doing suggesting a Tapit at twelve furlongs?  The short answer is, if I had remembered who came in third in the May 24 Louisville Handicap when I was handicapping the Belmont, maybe I would have given a Tapit a bit more of a chance there.  Moro Tap tried twelve furlongs for the first time in that race.  He hugged the hedge and finished third, three lengths between the hard fighting pair of War Dancer and Suntracer, and easily repelling the late charge from fourth-place Forte Dei Marmi.  Moro Tap finished almost eight lengths ahead of Perfect Timber, a horse who followed that race up by finishing second by a nose in the Singspiel Stakes (GII) last weekend at Woodbine.  He has put up a really sharp series of works since that race.  Breaking from the rail, he has a good chance for that inside stalking trip once more, and should have enough gas late to make a charge for the front.

Before concluding, Suntracer deserves a word.  The Block trainee is a proven turf marathoner: last year he finished second in this race, and followed that up with a second-place finish behind Dandino in the American St. Leger.  His finish in the Louisville Handicap last out proved that he is in strong enough form to be a threat here.  Stamina is not the question here.  However, the lack of early speed in this race combined with the fact that he has not actually won a race since 2012 suggests that he is a better choice for lower rungs of intra-race exotics than he is to actually break through for his first graded stakes win.

Selections:

#8 Olympic Thunder (6/1)

#7 The Pizza Man (7/2)

#1 Moro Tap (5/1)

Longshot:  #6 Seton Hall (8/1) comes in here from racing in allowance company over the last two years.  He was second last out in allowance optional claiming company at Churchill, but that was his first race since September last year.  He should be fresher here, second off the lay.  He has not raced much at 1 1/2 miles, but has run twice at the distance.  He won an allowance optional claimer at Kentucky Downs in 2012 by a decisive 3 1/2 lengths, in a race in which longer shot Dreams Cut Short finished third.  He followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the Sycamore Stakes (GIII) at this distance, which he attempted from far back early.  Far back is not his style, though.  He stalked fairly close to the pace in that win at this distance, and has run that style in most of his recent races.  His speed is relatively strong for this field, he shouldn't be compromised pacewise, and he is a good value at anywhere near his morning line.

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