The 102nd running of the Grade 2 Remsen drew a strong field and may have serious implications for next year’s Derby trail. While the race has not been the most productive Kentucky Derby prep race in recent years, it has nevertheless produced some horses who have gone on to do nice things later in their careers, including Grade 1-winning older horses like To Honor and Serve, Honor Code, and Court Vision. Like its filly counterpart, the Demoiselle, it serves as a valuable test of stamina as the longest juvenile colt graded stakes race run on dirt in the United States.
This year’s Nashua, the annual prep for the Remsen, was a very strong race. The race ratings of that race, compared to the preliminary rating for the Remsen, suggest that the runners exiting the Nashua are hardly moving up in class. The major question for all of them will be the distance.
Mohaymen (#3) is out of Justwhistledixie, a stakes-winner going as far as today’s distance, and the dam of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day. Tapit is a versatile sire, so Mohaymen should have no problem with the stretch-out to two turns. The likely race shape may also help him, since the Pace Projector is predicting a situation that favors horses on near the lead, and he is the only confirmed frontrunner in the race. He is the horse to beat, but the price figures to be short. He’s 8/5 on the morning line, and it’s conceivable that he could drop even lower than that.
Of the horses exiting the Nashua, Sail Ahoy (#2) may benefit most from the stretch-out. This half-brother to route specialists Point of Entry and Pine Island gets blinkers and has been taking a step forward with each start. He dropped far off the pace in the Nashua and made a good move into contention off the far turn before flattening out in the late stages. Shug McGaughey adds blinkers this time in hopes of keeping him in contact with the field early.
Chad Brown’s duo of Flexibility (#4) and Gift Box (#6) will also attract their fair share of support. Flexibility possesses some early speed and may be aided by the potential race shape as long as Irad Ortiz, Jr. places him in a forward early position. Gift Box certainly has upside, but his breakout win came in the slop, and, as a half-brother to the fast Stonetastic, it’s uncertain how far he really wants to go.
Our top pick is HUNTER O’RILEY (#7).
We realize that this horse has not yet run fast enough to win this race, but we love that he’s making his fourth start around two turns, whereas many of the others have not even tried that configuration. He has much more of a dirt pedigree, so we get the sense that his connections began running him on turf just to get this long-striding son of Tiz Wonderful started in route races.
Hunter O’Riley finally got on dirt last time, when his race was rained off the grass, and we liked what we saw. He was given an unusual ride. After being taken back to his usual position towards the back of the pack, he was allowed to move up early down the backstretch, going all the way up to join the leaders by the time the field hit the far turn. However, he soon found himself in tight quarters, and Corey Lanerie allowed him to back out of that position before swinging out for the stretch drive. The leaders were coming home well late after setting slow early fractions, but Hunter O’Riley still ran them down. He figures to have gotten a lot out of that race, and we expect a much better performance here. Obviously, dynamics may work against him, but given a big price we’re going to hope that his preference for the distance makes up for that potential disadvantage.
We will bet HUNTER O’RILEY (#7) to win at 10/1 or greater.
Hunter O’Riley could also add some value underneath Mohaymen (#3) and Sail Ahoy (#2) in exactas and trifectas in the event that he’s not able to get up for the victory. Flexibility (#4) and Gift Box (#6) could also be used on the lower rungs of larger trifecta and superfecta wagers for greater coverage.