2017 Isaac Murphy Handicap Preview

This weekend at Arlington Park, Illinois-bred filly and mare sprinters take the spotlight for the Isaac Murphy Handicap.

Jockey Isaac Murphy. (Photo: Public Domain.)

Jockey Isaac Murphy. (Photo: Public Domain.)

The race takes its name from Isaac Murphy — the first ever jockey to be elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame when it opened in 1955.  During the course of his career, he won at a rate few jockeys will ever know: 530 times over 1,538 races, for a 34.5% win rate.  One of the many excellent horses Murphy rode during his career remains a stakes namesake at Arlington.  Murphy’s lone Kentucky Oaks win came with the filly Modesty (1884).  That same year, Murphy won the American Derby with Modesty — the first of his four career wins in that race.

The Isaac Murphy Handicap has been run in some incarnation since 1976, though it has only been a six-furlong sprint for Illinois-bred fillies and mares since 1997.  The 2006 winner of the Isaac Murphy Handicap found the spotlight again last week, after a fashion: Bluesbdancing, whose daughter Babybluesbdancing won the 2017 Purple Violet Stakes.  Other marquee winners during its filly and mare days have included graded stakes winner Summer Mis (2003) and Hawthorne stakes namesake Third Chance (2012).

Before that, its distances varied between seven furlongs and a mile and an eighth — and was not restricted to Illinois-breds, or even to fillies and mares.  Its most illustrious competitor over the years did not even win the race: in 1990, Black Tie Affair finished second behind Beau Genius.  Later that year Black Tie Affair would finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1); the next year, he would win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), and horse of the year accolades.  The race’s only two-time winner also won it during its open days: multiple graded stakes winner Taylor’s Special won in both 1986 and 1987.  PUNTSVILLE will attempt to match that feat this year.

Of course, Picks and Ponderings also has coverage of the Belmont Racing Festival.  For Friday, we have a full preview of the Belmont Gold Cup, and selections for all the stakes races on the card.  For Saturday, Paul Mazur and Nicolle Neulist go point/counterpoint on each horse in the Belmont Stakes field, and Nicolle shares their selections for all the day’s stakes at Belmont.

Race 7: Isaac Murphy Handicap, Illinois-bred fillies and mares, three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the polytrack, post time 4:42pm CST

PUNTSVILLE won this race last year.  After her seasonal debut on May 26, she stands squarely the one to beat this year.  Though the race drew no shortage of speed, PUNTSVILLE will be the speed of it, and she has shown the ability to win a pace battle or sit just a little off the pace if necessary.  She has won four of her seven tries over the Arlington main, and six of seven at six furlongs.  Her only loss at the six-furlong trip came last year in the Open Mind Stakes at Churchill: a muddy run against open stakes company.  Given PUNTSVILLE’s speed and form, she will be difficult to beat in her title defense.

In the event that someone like ENCHANTED FACTS, GO LADY JAY, or KARLA WITH A K find the rocket boosters for long enough to put a real fight on the front end, DANDY GAL benefits heartily.  She can take the initiative if she needs, but given all the early pace in this race, her off-pace style will likely be a better fit.  She has tables to turn on PUNTSVILLE and CHURCH ROAD from last out, but with PUNTSVILLE so likely to get things a bit tougher on the front end than last out, DANDY GAL could revert to the kind of late-rallying trip she got when she finished second in this race last year.  And, she could do that at a fair price.

MY MERTIE, PUNTSVILLE’s (slightly) longer-priced stablemate from the Michele Boyce barn, also deserves a look.  She is perhaps best going a little longer than this — the six and a half furlongs of the Third Chance Handicap, which she won two back, is probably her best trip.  Yet, MY MERTIE is 7: 2-4-0 going six furlongs, and has never missed the board in four tries over the Arlington polytrack.  MY MERTIE has early speed, but has matured into a dependable stalking horse.  And, rider Edgar Perez gets the call — Perez rode her to that Third Chance win, as well as to a close second place finish last out in an open allowance at the same surface and trip as this race.  Yes, DANDY GAL beat her, but MY MERTIE had enough trouble before and in the early stages of the race to make it reasonable that MY MERTIE might turn the tables.



#3 DANDY GAL (5/1)

#2 MY MERTIE (3/1)

Longshot:  #5 ONE LIZ (8/1) will have to bring her best to win this race.  But, her connections could not be hotter: trainer Wayne Catalano enters the weekend with a 36% win rate, and all four horses on whom he has given Jose Valdivia, Jr. a leg up have won.  Valdivia has the call on ONE LIZ.  Catalano also excels with horses coming in second off a lay, which she is.  ONE LIZ’s first race since August, which happened on May 20, was a good one: a one-other-than win at a mile and a sixteenth on the Arlington main.  Though that came at a route, this mare does have a win and a third in three tries at the six-furlong distance — suggesting she can shorten up.  ONE LIZ also loves the Arlington polytrack, with three wins in four tries over the course.  Finally, she should be running from a bit off the pace — not always the best style at Arlington, but given the chance of a pace battle, an off-pace sort has more chance here than in so many sprints over the track.


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