Whenever Juba takes the track, fans– and their betting dollars– follow.
Listed at a modest 5-1 morning line for the seventh race at Belmont Park this Thursday (tomorrow), the sterling gray son of Tapit returns to Big Sandy almost a year after making his stakes debut in the Westchester Stakes (III) won by multiple graded stakes winner Tonalist. A classy and up-and-coming four-year-old last year, Centennial Farms’ Juba has something to prove this time around after finishing last in a Gulfstream Park allowance at the same distance mark of seven furlongs nearly five months ago.
The allowance-optional claiming race (race 7 of 8) has drawn a total of eight horses, including recent Aqueduct allowance winner Dannie’s Deceiver and Outlash, who switches barns from Todd Pletcher to Bruce Levine for leading owner Mike Repole. Outlash, who will vie for the early lead, will get blinkers for the first time coming off of a 7-week-long layoff.
Other early speed types who may super-charge this field with lots of pace include Victory is Sweet, who makes his first start back since last year’s Amsterdam Stakes (II) at Saratoga on August 1, and recent Gary Sciacca claim Manhattan Mischief, who romped in the slop last out at this distance at Aqueduct on April 7.
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez up, there is reason to remain optimistic about Juba’s chances here. While he will likely compete against early speed, he has been bottled up in past starts and has the second-best speed at the distance according to Brisnet (Sam Sparkle on the rail is one digit faster). Trainer Jimmy Jerkens also wins at 25% in allowance races– by far the best of any trainer in this field– and is 19% winning at 46-90 days away. Juba, who has typically raced once a month, has blossomed in prior starts after layoffs, being second at Saratoga by just a half-length (disqualified to third) after nearly three months off and then second by 3/4 of a length after returning off an injury that kept him away for a year. Fan enthusiasm will undoubtedly be strong, especially considering a Moneigh painted by Juba recently sold for an incredible $1,283.88 on eBay.
Artist? Check. Good-looking Tapit colt? Check. Winner in 2016?