March 30, 2023

Sharp Azteca faces four in Monmouth Cup; Molly Pitcher features well-matched field of eight

Sharp Azteca wins the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2) under jockey Edgard Zayas at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, February 11, 2017 (c) Lauren King/Adam Coglianese Photography

While the Haskell Invitational (G1) and Matchmaker (G3) will attract most of the attention at Monmouth Park on Sunday, the Monmouth Cup (G3) and Molly Pitcher Stakes (G3) deserve to share in the spotlight.

Both races are at 1 1/16 miles and offer up a $100,000 purse. The Monmouth Cup attracted five runners while the Molly Pitcher saw eight distaffers entered.

Sharp Azteca is the top draw in the Monmouth Cup off a pair of major graded/group placings. The Jorge Navarro-trained four-year-old just missed by a half-length in the Malibu Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park to close out his 2016 campaign and opened this season with a 4 1/2-length score in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2).

That was good enough for the dark bay son of Freud to ship overseas for the Godolphin Mile (UAE-G2) at Meydan in Dubai on March 25. Sharp Azteca wound up third in that contest, just a neck and three parts of a length behind the winner.

Following a 2 1/2-month freshening, the Kentucky-bred returned to action at Belmont Park in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) on June 10. He set the early pace before the eventual winner took over, leaving Sharp Azteca to fill the runner-up spot. Paco Lopez was aboard that day and stays in the saddle here.

Scuba will break just to Sharp Azteca’s outside in post 5. The Brendan Walsh trainee is seeking to improve on his runner-up effort in last year’s Monmouth Cup, when he was beaten by 2 1/2 lengths. Immediately following that the Tapit gelding racked up three straight scores in the Greenwood Cup (G3) at Parx Racing, Temperence Hill Invitational at Belmont Park and Marathon Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park on Breeders’ Cup Friday.

Six-year-old Scuba unites with Flavien Prat for this contest.

Completing the Monmouth Cup field are Classy Class, Just Call Kenny and Donegal Moon, the respective first, second and fourth-place finishers in the Salvator Mile (G3) over the track last out on June 17.

Much later on Monmouth’s card, Eskenformoney returns for another shot in the Molly Pitcher.

The Todd Pletcher-conditioned daughter of Eskendereya just missed by a neck in last year’s running of the race, but was well-beaten in her next two outings against stakes rivals. The dark bay mare returned to the winner’s circle in the Rampart Stakes (G3) to earn her first stakes victory in her 2016 finale.

Eskenformoney opened her five-year-old campaign with a third in the Royal Delta Stakes (G2) and was second by only a length in the Azeri Stakes (G2) next out. A one-paced sixth in the La Troienne Stakes (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Friday, she most recently filled the third spot in the Lady’s Secret Stakes, the local prep for the Molly Pitcher, for the second straight year.

Finishing ahead of Eskenformoney in the Lady’s Secret were winner Money’soncharlotte and runner-up Pleasant Mine, who were only separated by three parts of a length on the wire and rematch here.

Carrumba is looking for her first win in this spot since taking last year’s Top Flight Invitational Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct. The Shug McGaughey charge has placed in all but two of her seven appearances since, including the Fleur de Lis Handicap (G2) and Allaire duPont Distaff (G3) in her past pair as well as the Ogden Phipps Stakes (G1) last year at Belmont Park.

Another in with a chance on Sunday is Mo’ Green, who captured this year’s Top Flight on April 2 while making her first start for new trainer John Servis. The Uncle Mo four-year-old miss has faded in her past two, running a well-beaten third in the Allaire duPont Distaff and then fifth in the Obeah Stakes. Power of Snunner captured the Obeah by a neck one race after finishing fourth in the Allaire duPont.

Stakes winners Behrnik’s Bank and Miss Inclusive round out the Molly Pitcher field.