Race 1: NY-bred Optional claiming $20,000/N1X at seven furlongs
Brigand (#13) looms a heavy favorite in this spot based on his high profile connections and recent runner-up finishes in the Jerome and Mike Lee. He can certainly win, but I’m going to try and beat him. I’ve always thought that Dehere of the Cat (#3) was slightly better as a one-turn horse and was firmly against him when he was stretched out to a mile and an eighth last time. He surprised me by running quite well and I think that he may just be in very good form right now. There figures to be at least a fair early pace here and Dehere of the Cat is versatile enough to work out a trip from mid pack. I also give Half Nelson (#1) a chance at a bit of a price. After a couple of decent tries at this level when facing Jeter in the spring, he returned from a three-month layoff last time going five and a half furlongs. He was squeezed back and sandwiched at the start and, at such a short distance, never had a chance to get into the race. He may be the main speed from the rail.
Selections: 3 – 13 – 1
Race 2: Maiden special weight at six furlongs
My top selection is currently on the also-eligible list, but I’m hoping he draws into this race. Anyone who has been following Saratoga closely has no doubt heard some buzz about Archwarrior (#10). The word is out on the backstretch that this is the best two year-old in Todd Pletcher’s barn and I’ve heard reports from Mike Welsch and Richard Migliore that he is an absolute monster in the morning. Such talk is reminiscent of the hype that was floating around before Uncle Mo made his debut two years ago. But Archwarrior needs some help to draw into race, so if he’s not running, I like two of the second time starters. Hot West (#8) was off a bit slowly and ran evenly in the very quickly run maiden race won by Spurious Precision. He has worked well since and should show more speed here. Honorable Dillon (#6) also ran quite well in his debut, having to break from the rail and alter course. He finished well to just miss second and should also move forward in his second lifetime start. The other Todd Pletcher firster, Delhomme (#4), is also a logical contender.
Selections: 10 – 8 – 6 – 4
Race 3: Maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Chuckle (#5) was making his first start in an August 11th maiden race and was left in despite it being taken off the turf. This is not uncommon procedure for Bill Mott, who is not afraid to just give his horses race first out. Chuckle, however, ran quite well, making a couple of moves before settling for a close third over a speed favoring sloppy track. He is bred to move way up on turf since his dam was 7 for 14 while earning a 100 Beyer top on that surface. Saint Vigeur (#4) is probably the best bred horse in this race. The dam has not produced anything, but she is a half-sister to millionaires Sweet Catomine and Life Is Sweet. The horse did not sell for very much at auction but seems to be working well for Chad Brown. If Fredericksburg (#11) ends up drawing into the race, he is obviously also a major contender after making up a lot of ground in his debut here three weeks ago.
Selections: 5 – 4 – 11
Race 4: NY-bred Maiden special weight at six furlongs
Cinematize (#11) towers over this field from a speed figure perspective and I can’t bring myself to pick against her even though she is likely to be a short price. I will use a few longshots with her, however. Rapidize (#5) made two starts this spring at Tampa Bay Downs and may have run better than it looks on paper, especially last time when she sprinted to the lead and was still hanging on pretty well after six furlongs. She’s been off since then and now makes her first start versus New York breds for new trainer Glenn Disanto. She’s posted a couple of quick works over Saratoga’s main track and may bee the speed of this race. Hundred Acre Wood (#1) doesn’t have much in the way of pedigree or connections that win first out, but it’s hard to ignore the string of works that she’s put together. It’s a tall order, but she could have some ability and may be overlooked in the wagering. Finally, Milkyyourway (#2) figures to show some improvement second time out after an even race over a sloppy track in her debut.
Selections: 11 – 5 – 1 – 2
Race 5: Allowance N1X at seven furlongs
There appears to be quite a bit of early speed in this race which should set it up perfectly for a horse that I think is good enough to win regardless of pace scenario. Reload (#13) fits the profile of one of those Shug McGaughey horses that he is handling correctly by letting him clear his allowance conditions before stepping back up into stakes company. Last time they took a shot in the Curlin Stakes and he got an atrocious ride from Eddie Castro rushing up to contest a fast pace. Now the switch is made to John Velazquez and Reload should work out a nice trip stalking from midpack. Cajun Breeze (#9) is probably the horse to be feared most in here after returning to his better form last time when just getting nipped on the wire by the promising Thermal Cat. Any of his races at Gulfstream Park this winter would make him very tough in this spot. And lastly, if there is a true pace meltdown, I give small shots to This Hard Land (#6) and Thunder Chief (#5) who are both turning back to sprints after running longer recently.
Selections: 13 – 9 – 6 – 5
Race 6: Maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
“Horse to Watch” Tap Twenty One (#8) is my best bet of the day. Despite the fact that she has only received Beyers of 39 and 48 for her first two races, I think this filly has a lot of ability. In her debut at Churchill she was away slowly and was legitimately 20 lengths behind by the time the field had hit the far turn. Still nearly that far back at the top of the stretch, she put in a huge late run to get up for fourth and had actually passed the winner by the time the field was about half a furlong past the wire. She was favored to win her next start, an off-the-turf event here three weeks ago, and was the recipient of one of the worst rides of the meet by Rosie Napravnik. In traffic from the five-sixteenths pole all the way to the wire, Tap Twenty One was forced to alter course multiple times through the stretch before eventually hitting the rail at the sixteenth pole. She still finished with good energy to be second, but was undoubtedly many, many lengths the best. Now this long striding filly stretches out around two turns and gets on the turf, which should pose no problem. She is a half sister to Terrific Storm, who was best on grass, earning a Beyer top of 98 over that surface. I will also use Anita Chica (#2), who comes out of the same two races as Tap Twenty One and also has good turf pedigree, as well as Wave Theory (#1), whose dam is a half-sister to millionaire turfer Oratorio.
Selections: 8 – 2 – 1
Race 7: NY-bred Maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
There’s not much to say about this race. I like the three horses coming out of that August 4th allowance race won by The Thinker. I know the winner did not come back to run well, but there is just nowhere else to go in here. I was tempted to put Sneaky Kitten (#2) on top because he may be the lone speed, but I think Gossip Column (#9) is the better horse. Kharafa (#6) may not really want to go 1 1/16 miles, but he is the third best horse in the race.
Selections: 9 – 2 – 6
Race 8: Optional claiming $35,000/N1X at 1 3/16 miles on the turf
Animal Spirits (#1) has been brought along slowly this year, but appears now to be landing in just the right spot. After a slightly disappointing return at Keeneland, he was then a good second behind Secretariat Stakes (G1) runner-up Finnegans Wake at Churchill Downs. Last time, he was stretched out to 1 3/8 miles and stayed on fairly well to be third behind some tough older horses. Now he is going a distance that should be right up his alley and, with his tactical speed, should be able to work out a stalking trip from the rail. With Arch as a sire, and Personal Ensign as his second dam, this horse is bred to mature with more racing and age and this race could be his coming out. I like Arc Above (#10) for similar reasons although I have him ranked just a notch below Animal Spirits since he is more likely to be compromised by a lack of pace in here. Optimizer (#11) also figures strongly on the drop in class but needs them to go at least an honest clip to show his best.
Selections: 1 – 10 – 11
Race 9: Ballston Spa Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
This race came up tough, but not nearly as tough as the Diana Handicap last month. I’m picking the 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers out of that race, but in reverse order. Shug McGaughey was initially puzzled over Hungry Island’s (#4) lackluster effort in the Diana, but word has come out recently that she had throat surgery after that race, so perhaps there was a problem they needed to correct. Whatever the excuse, I’m throwing it out because her previous races are too good to ignore. Tapitsfly (#6) did not want the 1 1/8 miles of the Diana especially over more demanding ground than he is accustomed to. She is unlikely to get the lead in this spot with Summer Soiree going to her inside, but has shown she is just as effective when rating off another horse. Zagora (#2) did eventually get by Tapitsfly at the wire of the Diana, but they are going half a furlong shorter today and Tapitsfly may just be a better horse than Zagora this year at distances of around a mile. I would probably use all three in Pick 4 wagers just to be safe.
Selections: 4 – 6 – 2
Race 10: Test Stakes (G1) at seven furlongs
I was hoping for a big price on this one, but I’ve heard of a few other handicappers who are also picking outsider Amie’s Dini (#10) in the Test. Earlier this year, this filly ran some bang up races first against the previously undefeated Now I Know and then when second just behind On Fire Baby in the Honeybee. I, like many others, have always thought she was probably more of a one turn horses and it showed a bit in the Kentucky Oaks and Delaware Oaks. Now she finally turns back in distance and worked a bullet 46 1/5 seconds for this last week. She’ll have plenty of options from the outside and quite frankly doesn’t have to run that much faster than she already was running earlier in the year to take this. Contested (#8) is the logical favorite. Her Mother Goose is a throwout since the rail was dead and she probably doesn’t want to go that far anyway. She will have company from Ullapool and Yara early, but I think she is better than those fillies. The real challenges should come from the closers like Amie’s Dini and Book Review (#3), the latter of which having definitely been flattered by Questing’s recent accomplishments.
Selections: 10 – 8 – 3
Race 11: King’s Bishop Stakes (G1) at seven furlongs
I know this race looks competitive on paper, but I can’t bring myself to think of it as more than another rematch between Currency Swap (#3) and Trinniberg (#9). Today, I prefer the former due to his perfect record at Saratoga and the fact that Trinniberg will almost surely face stiff early pressure from both Gun Boat and Doctor Chit. Trinniberg is an excellent sprinter and I don’t doubt he can put those two away, but Currency Swap has shown recently that he is back in the good form that propelled him to two impressive wins here last summer. I think he gets a perfect trip stalking in about fifth early before wearing down his archrival in the stretch. Ever So Lucky (#7) is a bit slower on paper, but he could pick up some pieces late when the speeds are collapsing.
Selections: 3 – 9 – 7
Race 12: Travers Stakes (G1) at 1 1/4 miles
I know that Nonios (#10) looks a bit faster on paper, but I just think Alpha (#6) is going to win the Travers. I’ve maintained from Day One that a mile and a quarter is what this horse really wants to run and I can’t back down from that now. He did get a soft trip when winning the Jim Dandy, but he certainly doesn’t need the lead to run a race that good. A mile and a quarter at Saratoga can be a grueling affair and Alpha is a grinder that just keeps on coming, much like Stay Thirsty last year. Ramon Dominguez should have him stalking whoever decides to go early and hopefully his stamina will allow him to prevail in the stretch. Nonios is probably the second most likely winner, but I will also use Atigun (#7), who probably didn’t get a fair chance in the Jim Dandy yet is a major player based on his Belmont performance, and Neck ‘n Neck (#8), who is in form and reportedly training well.
Selections: 6 – 10 – 7 – 8
Race 13: Maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
Night Site (#7) is the logical favorite, but I have two “Horse to Watch” in here that I am going to pick over him. Reflecting (#4) chased a very fast pace two back and hung on quite well through the stretch to be third. Last time he got a bit behind the eight-ball early in a race that was won in wire-to-wire fashion. Ruthless Alley (#2) could be the main speed of this race depending on whether or not Act of War decides to go. If he runs back to his performance on the Belmont Stakes undercard, he could have a chance at the upset.
Selections: 4 – 2 – 7