(The rhyme was unintentional.)
I’ll be making my yearly trip up to Saratoga this Wednesday and will be staying through the weekend. I’ll do my best to keep the updates as frequent as usual, which likely means I’ll be getting very little sleep—but who has time for sleep in Saratoga anyway?
I found the first card of this week to be an extremely tough one to get through. It should be the sort of day where one solid winner might be all you need. I really struggled with a few of the more wide-open affairs, and even some of the seemingly straightforward races turned out to be more complicated than I had originally anticipated.
Wednesday, July 23
Race 3: Allowance N1X at 1 1/8 miles for three year-old fillies
4 – Madaket Millie
5 – Got Lucky
Make no mistake: GOT LUCKY (#5) is the most likely winner of this race. She has held her own against stiff graded stakes competition and gets some welcome class relief today. She comes into this race seemingly working out with renewed vigor in the mornings, and she should should relish every bit of this nine-furlong test of stamina. All of that said, she is the obvious choice, and one trained by Todd Pletcher, which means it is possible that she may be an underlay.
I admit that I’m guessing a bit with my top selection. I’m also not totally certain that she won’t also be an underlay as well given the presence of her similarly popular trainer. However, MADAKET MILLIE (#4) is a runner that deserves some discussion. To be frank, I have not liked either of her turf races. In her debut she was allowed to set a very slow pace in a race where a few horses that finished behind her had trouble. I thought she was a horrible favorite coming back next time and I was right, as she was again allowed to set reasonable fractions, but could not withstand the late charges of the closers.
What interests me is the switch to dirt, for a couple of reasons. I had to do a bit of arithmetic to find this stat, since Formulator does not allow you to filter out off-the-turf races, but Chad Brown trainees moving from turf-to-scheduled-dirt routes have won 10 of 31 starts (32%) over the past five years, good for a healthy $2.49 ROI. A few of those, like Madaket Millie, were making their dirt debuts after beginning their careers on turf, and most of the winners in that sample successfully switched surfaces fairly early in their careers. What makes this statistic especially significant in Madaket Millie’s case is that she’s actually bred for the dirt. Giant’s Causeway is a versatile sire, but the dam’s side of her pedigree is all dirt breeding. I don’t think she’ll have any problem with the distance, so if Madaket Millie gets sent to the front and takes to the dirt the way I believe she will, she should have a chance to pull off the minor upset.
$10 Win 4
$5 Exacta Box 4,5
Race 4: Claiming $35,000 N3L at seven furlongs
1 - Wild Finish
I realize that WILD FINISH (#1) looks too slow on paper, but I can’t ignore the fact that he’s going to be a major overlay in this spot at odds of 15-1 or higher. This horse has had a number of troubled trips in his career, most notably in his first two starts since the one-year layoff when he was very wide off a gold rail on March 16th, and then caught in traffic and impeded in the stretch on April 5th. He was facing much better horses two back when a distant third behind the promising duo of John’s Island and Noble Cornerstone, and then just simply didn’t handle the turf last time. He is dirtied up and probably in much better form than it appears. I know that I’m reaching a bit here, but I have to play this horse.
$10 Win 1
$2 Exacta 2,4,6 with 1
Race 6: Optional Claiming $40,000/N2X at seven furlongs for NY-bred fillies and mares
8 – Hot Splash
1A – Artemis Agrotera
ARTEMIS AGROTERA (#1A) is far and away the horse to beat and a deserving favorite. Her best races make her very formidable, but she is going to be a very short price—likely well into odds-on territory—and I think she’s facing one potentially worthy rival that should not be overlooked.
HOT SPLASH (#8) intrigues me in this spot. Her effort four races back, when she earned an 85 Beyer in a romping win on the inner track, was awesome. She then was too close to a horse that ran off on the front end next time, and has been ridden too aggressively as a frontrunner in each of her two most recent starts. Last time, in particular, when returning from a three-month layoff, she set a very fast pace for the distance and put away her main pursuer before succumbing to the closers late. That was a much better effort than the 64 Beyer speed figure suggests, and it signals to me that she’s in relatively good form coming into this race. I also love the turnback for this horse, since she’s been successful sprinting in the past, and is probably at her best when she has a target to run at. At what should be an inflated price, I’ll take a small shot against the favorite with Hot Splash and will strongly use these two in an exacta box.
$10 Win 8
$10 Exacta Box 1,8
Race 7: Maiden Claiming $65,000 at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares
6 – Time for Harlan
9 – Lateen
This is one of those races where I could profile the chances of seven or eight contenders and still not cover the winner. Rather than do that, I’ll highlight two horses that should be fair prices and may be overlooked in the wagering.
TIME FOR HARLAN (#6) faced weaker company last time, but she was arguably best that day. The pace was hotly contested and certainly on the quick side. Time for Harlan raced fairly close up in the second flight and was the only horse that traveled ahead of midpack during the first part of the race to still be around at the finish. Most notably, the two horses who beat her rallied from last and next-to-last, respectively. I like that George Weaver is now bumping her up in class after that initial start for his barn, and with a slight step forward she can contend here at a big price.
LATEEN (#9) is another one that interests me as she gets on turf for the first time. Her dam was an excellent turf horse, earning over $350,000 during a career that saw her take down a couple of stakes. As a broodmare, she has already produced a turf winner in Saturday’s for Fun, so Lateen figures to take to this surface. Lateen returned from a three and a half month layoff after being disqualified from her debut win due to a positive drug test, and showed a great deal of greenness after breaking slowly. Once she was steadied and squeezed back entering the far turn, it appeared that Lateen resented the dirt kickback, causing her to drift well outside of the rivals ahead of her coming to the top of the stretch. Now, as she moves to the turf course, she won’t have to deal with any kickback, and the addition of blinkers shouldn’t hurt either. As a four year-old who began her career for $25,000 on the inner track, she certainly is not the most glamorous sort, but I do think she has a bit of ability.
$10 Win 6
$10 Win 9
Race 9: The Lake George (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for three year-old fillies
2 - Daring Dancer
5 - Speed Seeker
I’m willing to forgive DARING DANCER (#2) for her subpar effort in the Wonder Again. Graham Motion seems to think that it was the rain-softened turf course that did her in that day, and perhaps he’s right as she did indeed look fairly uncomfortable galloping through the stretch. Her prior three races were excellent, and a repeat of her Appalachian score would make her very tough to beat.
Sweet Acclaim appears to be the main challenger, but she’s burned plenty of money lately, and I’m starting to wonder if she really wants to go farther than seven furlongs to a mile. Her last race was better than it looks, but I don’t think she’s as good as Daring Dancer and I’ll have to let her beat me at a relatively short price.
Perhaps the most intriguing horse in this race is SPEED SEEKER (#5). This is a huge step up in class, but it is pretty rare to see horses do what she did first time out in a turf route. She set a legitimate pace and just galloped away in the stretch with total authority, like she was in a completely different class from what appeared to be a solid maiden field. Most notably, third place finisher Fancy Ribbons came back to win, and followed that up with a third place finish in the Ontario Damsel Stakes. Speed Seeker has plenty of questions to answer, since we don’t yet know if she needs the lead, or if she’ll handle shipping to Saratoga, but I found her debut to be awfully convincing. I believe that she’s very talented, and assuming that she goes off at around 8-1, I want to use her.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 5
$5 Exacta Box 2,5
Race 10: Allowance N1X at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
1 – All Mine Tonight
There are so many different ways to approach this race. I feel like I’ve found an interesting long shot to discuss, but as with today’s seventh race, contention runs very deep.
ALL MINE TONIGHT (#1) returns from a six and a half month layoff and starts in a turf sprint for just the second time in her career. This is actually very similar to what Eddie Kenneally tried to do with her last year off the layoff. That day, she was making her turf debut going six furlongs at Belmont, and she ran an excellent race, out-gaming the talented Atlantic’s Smile, who would certainly be a solid favorite if she were now lining up against this field. For whatever reason, they switched All Mine Tonight back to dirt for five of her next six races. Her only other try on turf was a route race at Aqueduct, in which she got buried down on the rail and was stymied in traffic at a critical point in the running coming to the quarter pole. She was never winning, or even finishing in the money that day, but the race does look a lot worse on paper than it actually was.
Kenneally’s layoff numbers leave something to be desired, but at least we know that this filly can run well fresh. It’s always a positive sign when Castellano is lured, and there are far worse post positions than the rail in these turf sprints. At odds of around 10-1, I think she’s worth a shot.
$10 Win 1