Alabama day is always one of my favorite Saturday cards at Saratoga and this one is no different as Princess of Sylmar looks to secure a championship after a wide-open edition of the Sword Dancer. There are plenty of races that I’m interested in discussing today so I’ll get right down to it:
Saratoga, Race 1: Claiming $20,000B at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares
I’ve long been a fan of Fantastic Eyes (#10) and am very pleased to see her land in a realistic spot here. I admit that she might slightly better at six or seven furlongs, but based on her overall class level she’s supposed to beat this field. My only concern is a lack of pace in this race, but Fantastic Eyes isn’t so slow that she has to be last early. I’m hoping Cornelio Velasquez can secure a spot in midpack and use her turn of foot to put this field away in the stretch. Her 8-1 morning line would be a nice gift to start the day, but I highly doubt I’ll get those odds. Nevertheless I’ll bet her to win and use her with fellow class-dropper Heading to Toga (#7) in the exacta.
$15 Win 10 (WINNER; Payout: $78.00)
$2 Exacta Box 7/10
Saratoga, Race 4: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at 1 1/8 miles
A question you have to ask yourself in the fourth race is whether you want the more lightly-raced three year-olds or the hard-knocking older horses. I’m going to select one of each, but perhaps not the ones most will gravitate towards. Magic Harbor (#2) is a bit of a conundrum. If this race were being run in mid-June I would absolutely love him, but now he’s been off for over three months after having been scratched at least one time in the interim. However, I can’t ignore the strength of his last effort and will use him as my top selection here based on that race. May 11th was a day at Belmont when the main track was heavily favoring inside speed and Magic Harbor was one of the only horses on the card to make a wide closing move. He ran better than the winner Point Taken, who would be pretty scary in this spot. I know Rudy Rodriguez has not been winning at his usual clip over the past couple of months, but I like that he’s giving the hot Joe Rocco, Jr. a leg up. The distance won’t be a problem, so I hope he comes back in good form.
I’ll also make a secondary wager on Indy’s Illusion (#8), who I do not have any clever trip observations about, but rather just feel that he needed his last race and should move forward today. After Ea, he’s had more experience at today’s mile and an eighth distance than anyone else and I think his stamina will be an asset here. At 8-1 or better it would be worth taking a shot with him.
$10 Win 2
$5 Win 8
Saratoga, Race 6: Allowance N1X at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf for NY-breds
I’ve been looking forward to betting Iron Power (#2) back since witnessing the crazy trip he received in his return race on July 29th (replay). After breaking slowly and getting squeezed out to last, Rosario allowed Iron Power to regain contact with the field. However, Iron Power didn’t want to stop there and became overeager as he dragged Rosario up through the pack making up about five lengths on the far turn with a wide run to get on even terms with the leaders. Naturally, that’s not a winning move and Iron Power predictably tired in the stretch, but didn’t disgrace himself in finishing sixth. Today he draws towards the inside and should be able to stay covered up early, which hopefully will allow Jose Lezcano to get him settled. If he can use that explosive burst of speed that he displayed around the far turn last time in the stretch drive instead then he’s a very likely winner of this race.
The only problem with Iron Power is that it feels like everyone saw that trip last time and I doubt I’ll even get his 6-1 morning line. For that reason, I’ve found another horse in this same race that I’m equally as intrigued by. Sandy’z Slew (#1) breaks just inside of Iron Power as he gets on turf for the first time and I think he’s going to like it. Limehouse is a solid turf influence, winning with over 13% of his first time turf starters and, while this dam and her offspring have not had turf success, there is turf in the second family. Sandy’z Slew’s dam is a half-sister to Tangier Sound, a stakes winning turf sprinter, as well as Livermore Valley, a multiple-stakes winning sprinter who never tried turf but produced White Crane, who took to the turf with aplomb in her first start over it early at this meet. On dirt, Sandy’z Slew is the type of horse who wants to run a short as they write races and I think this 5 1/2 furlongs on grass will really suit him. There’s not that much speed in this race and I’m hoping Cornelio Velasquez can get him out to the front from the inside and possibly wire the field.
$15 Win 2
$10 Win 1 (WINNER; Payout: $159.00)
Saratoga, Race 7: Starter Optional Claiming $35,000 at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
I’m only going to discuss one horse in this race, but I should say right off the bat that this is an extremely tough heat. The pace figures to be contested with plenty of speed entered and I won’t argue with anyone who turns to one of the many logical closing options. I was at a bit of a loss in this race since I’m not really enamored with any of the late runners. However, a look at the pedigree of the race’s lone first time turfer made up my mind.
It’s a wonder that Velvet Cap (#10) hasn’t been tried on the turf yet given overwhelming pedigree evidence that he should take to it. His dam was a stakes winner on turf who accomplished all of her successes over that surface. She’s also a half-sister to other turf winners and producers since she hails from a strong Juddmonte-bred female family. Officer is a decent enough turf sire, winning with 11% of his grass runners, so I feel that Velvet Cap should take to this surface. The major questions are distance and the pace of this race, since he could play out as one of the many speeds. I’m not exactly sure how a winning trip would work out for him, but he should also be a big enough price that I’ll take on chance and hope he likes the turf as much as I think he will.
$10 Win 10
Saratoga, Race 8: Optional Claiming $35,000/N1X at 1 3/16 miles on the turf
I had a lot of trouble with this race. At first I had barely given Hailstone (#7) a look since he seemed to be off form, but I kept coming back to him and eventually got around to watching his last race. It appeared that Hailstone was just a bit sluggish early, but also that Jeremy Rose made a tactical error in allowing the race to get away from him. He wasn’t just last 16 lengths behind the leader, he was about 8 lengths behind the next to last horse entering the far turn. All things considered he actually did a bit of running to catch up to the main body of the field by the time they go to the finish. The winner of that race, Relay Bill, drew off and won by 10 lengths and appears bound for graded stakes while the second place finisher, Tapit Express, came back to nearly win a tough allowance race here on Thursday. Hailstone’s prior efforts were better and, while he’s not the horse that he once was, I think he may still be good enough to take a race like this. He’s better equipped to handle the distance than the other two logical contenders Ampersand (#2) and Royal Blessing (#6) so I’ll try to get him to wear them down late under Joe Rocco, Jr.
$10 Win 7 [SCRATCHED] $4 Exacta 2/6 with 7 [SCRATCHED]
Saratoga, Race 9: The Sword Dancer Invitational (G1) at 1 1/2 miles on the turf
While I think Boisterous (#10) is the most likely winner of this race, it’s going to be no walk in the park for him and I wonder if his price will be lower than his actual chances of winning. In my estimation, fair odds on him are probably around 3-1 and I doubt I’ll get such a generous price. For that reason I’ve gone shopping for alternatives to use with him in exotics as well as on the win end.
I’m against both Big Blue Kitten and Optimizer. Big Blue Kitten received a perfect trip in the United Nations and was able to get up for the win under a great ride from Joe Bravo. It’s hard to imagine things working out quite as well today and this field is just tougher and deeper than what he faced that day. I’m also unsure of his true quality at today’s distance. I know he handled 1 3/8 miles last time, but that was over a hard Monmouth turf course. I may have to let him beat me. As far as Optimizer is concerned, I’m a fan of his, but his last race was uncharacteristically poor and I wonder if the rigors of constant campaigning are starting to take their toll on him.
I’ve landed on a somewhat whacky horse for my top selection. London Lane (#11) was the 50-1 winner of the Colonial Turf Cup (G2), a race that should not be dismissed offhandedly as a fluke. Hyper came back to validate the quality of his performance that day and third place finisher Swift Warrior is certainly a respectable graded stakes type. It’s not as if the win came out of nowhere for London Lane either. He’s a horse who had shown flashes of potential in the past while never really putting it all together. I remember being impressed by his first foray into tougher company all the way back in 2011 when he was shipped to Belmont and ran a then front-running Big Blue Kitten to a nose decision in an allowance race (replay).
It’s worth going back and watching London Lane’s only prior effort at 1 1/2 miles in this past fall’s Laurel Turf Cup because, although he finished eighth, he may have been the best horse (replay). Jeremy Rose had him covered up in good position on the rail for the first seven furlongs of the race, but down the backstretch for the second time made the odd decision to take a keen London Lane to the far outside. Losing his cover, London Lane ran off with Rose and got on even terms with the leader far too early at around the three-eighths pole. He took a lead into the stretch but, having already used his turn of foot, was swallowed up by the closers late. I don’t think that’s a true barometer of his ability at this distance. There are plenty of stamina influences on the female side of his pedigree and I think he deserves another shot at this distance and in top company today.
I’ll bet him to win and also with Twilight Eclipse (#4) and distance-loving Tannery (#12) under favored Boisterous in the exacta.
$10 Win 11
$5 Exacta 10 with 4/11/12
Saratoga, Race 10: The Alabama Stakes (G1) at 1 1/4 miles for three year-old fillies
As a racing fan, I hope Princess of Sylmar (#4) blows the doors off this Alabama field and earns the three year-old filly championship today. I remember witnessing her first start in New York over the winter and thinking that I had just seen something pretty special. A second place finish in the Gazelle has been the only blemish on her record since then as she’s swept through the Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks beating the best fillies in the country. I’ve always thought Princess of Sylmar would love added ground based on the way she finishes her races and she gets just that today. No one can come close to her recent speed figures and all reports are that she’s been training well. A deserved heavy favorite.
For my only wager on the race, I’ll try to beat the two more experienced challengers out of the exacta with up-and-comers Galloping Giraffe (#3) and Carnival Court (#5). Both of these fillies possess superior pedigrees to get this 10 furlong distance and I wouldn’t be surprised to see either take a huge step forward today.
$10 Exacta 4 with 3/5
Saratoga, Race 11: Maiden Claiming $25,000 at 1 1/16 miles on the turf
It will be tough for these to beat class dropper Tiu (#12), who is just a very logical choice in this race, but I’m going to take a shot with first time starter Jade Master (#8). There is plenty of turf pedigree to be found here as Master Command has shown himself to be a decent turf influence and Jade Master’s female family is primarily turf-oriented. He’s a half-brother to a two-time turf winner and his dam is a half-sister to a few turf producers. Jeremiah Englehart can win with a first time starter and I’m not so concerned about the maiden claiming placement since the yearling purchase price was so low. At a price, I’ll use him to win and with the favorite.
$10 Win 8
$5 Exacta 12-8