Saratoga, Race 1: The Speed Boat Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
I believe that Abaco (#8) is every bit as good as Samitar and she is likely to be a much larger price. Ever since breaking her maiden at Saratoga last July Abaco has been a completely different filly. Until the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland she looked as if she might be ascending to the top of the filly and mare turf division. Her allowance win at Gulfstream on December 9th was an exceptional effort in which she dropped far behind a moderate early pace and showed some impressive acceleration around the far turn to get into position. Next time in the Suwanee River she was probably best when the pace was slow and she had to go four-wide all the way around both turns.
I don’t know what happened in the Jenny Wiley. She may have been too far back, but something also may have gone amiss since she was off for more than four months after that race. She returns today off a solid string of workouts and I think her best effort can put her in the winner’s circle.
$10 Win 8
Saratoga, Race 2: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for two year-old fillies
Illapa (#8) ran very well in her debut when she ran into traffic behind a retreating frontrunner and may have finished much closer last time with a clean trip. She’s worked well since then and looks to be well meant here for Nick Zito. I don’t expect to get a huge price, but this daughter of $800,000 earner Catinca does appear to be a very likely winner.
I’ll also use Ameliatheaviator (#3), who I liked in her debut before it was taken off the turf. She’s a daughter of Henrythenavigator and is out of a dam who has produced four turf winners including multiple stakes winner Workin For Hops. I like that John Velazquez stays aboard think she is a viable alternative to my top selection.
$15 Win 8
$10 Win 3
Saratoga, Race 3: Maiden Special Weight at one mile on the turf
The favorites here are likely to be Hamnet and the Darley entry. I don’t have major knocks against either of those betting interests, but I’m more interested in a couple of others who should provide better value. Mio D’oro (#4) never really had a chance last time when he was stymied in traffic behind a slow pace and lost his chance to accelerate at the top of the stretch when the leaders sprinted home. He didn’t do much running thereafter but should have a fairer chance today in what may be an easier field. I’ll also use Standup Paddle (#7), who has some sneaky turf pedigree as this dam and her lone other foal won on the grass.
$10 Win 4
$10 Win 7
Saratoga, Race 5: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at six furlongs for fillies and mares
There’s a lot of speed in this race and, while I know my selection is a little hard to make, the price should be large enough to warrant taking a shot. House on Toilsome (#3) really stepped up her game through the spring and early summer and I’m not totally convinced that it was necessarily because of the turf. She’s not bred to be a turf horse and she had run poorly over that surface before she had started to improve this year. She has shown the ability to handle an off track in the past and is just the only closer in a race that is sure to feature a hotly contested pace. I like that Cornelio Velasquez takes the mount and I won’t be surprised to see her charging late at a huge price.
$10 Win 3
Saratoga, Race 9: The Saranac Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for three year-olds
I have the utmost respect for Notacatbutallama, who just shows up every single time. That said, he’s likely to be a favorite here and I think there are a couple of up and comers who might have more natural ability than that hard trier.
Favor Factor (#6) really impressed me with his late run in an allowance race in late July. I thought he almost couldn’t lose that day based off his troubled trip second place finish against the promising Mills and he was perhaps even more impressive than I could have even hoped in victory. He did get a great setup that day but he may get some pace again today. Five Iron and Joha are both frontrunners and Frac Daddy should be pressing them so the pace should at least be fair. If Factor Factor unleashes the same turn of foot that he displayed last time he will have a great shot to step right up and take this graded stakes.
I will also use Tattenham (#4), who received a very peculiar ride from Kent Desormeaux in the Secretariat Stakes (G1) last time. I’m not suggesting that he would have contended for a major award in that race with a better trip, but Desormeaux had him jammed up inside around the far turn and made little effort to get him into the clear. In the stretch he basically just conceded defeat and coasted home while barely encouraging his horse. Tattenham ran too well in his prior effort to believe that Secretariant performance and I think he can rebound here.
I’ll bet both of these two to win and use them together in the exacta.
$15 Win 6
$10 Win 4
$4 Exacta 4/6
Saratoga, Race 10: The Spinaway (G1) at seven furlongs for two year-old fillies
Until I had seen Honor Code’s debut yesterday, the two year-old first time starter that I had been most impressed by at the Saratoga meeting was Sweet Reason (#4). Today’s rivals Stopchargingmaria (#6) and Sweet Whiskey (#9) both dazzled in their respective debuts as well, but they ran about as well as you would have expected them to and earned Beyers that are par for the course in Pletcher’s barn. Sweet Reason was different. Entered for the turf, her connections kept this expensive yearling buy in the race when it was switched to the main track and to be contested in sloppy going. The initial placement was odd since she really does not have any turf pedigree to speak of aside from whatever influence Street Sense brings to the table and you wonder if they entered thinking the race might switch surfaces.
Now watch the replay. Sent off at 9-1, she broke with the field, but then dropped back to last far behind the rest of the runners. Favored Sky Crew went out and battled for the lead and was putting that rival away at the top of the stretch as she looked poised to run off to an easy victory. And then Sweet Reason comes back into the picture. She was still more than 10 lengths behind at the quarter pole, but was visibly gathering momentum with every stride. Sweet Reason proceeded to run by the entire field in the final three-sixteenths as if they were all mired in quicksand and she was running on pavement. She easily breezed past Sky Crew and drew off to an impressive score in fast time.
If you thought the connections were expecting this, watch until the end of the replay video above as Alex Solis describes in body language to Leah Gyarmati what happened when he asked his filly to go. The sloppy track may have moved her up, but she’s going to get a similar racing surface today. She should also get plenty of pace as well since most of the other fillies in this race prefer to be on or near the lead. Her dam could go long or short on the dirt and this filly is a half-sister to multiple routing stakes winner Don’t Forget Gil so the more distance she gets the better.
I don’t think I’ll quite get 8-1 on her, but I’ll bet her to win nonetheless and use her underneath the Pletcher runners in case one of them turns out to be special.
$15 Win 4 (WINNER; Payout: $52.50)
$5 Exacta 6/9 with 4
Saratoga, Race 11: Optional Claiming $25,000/N1X at 1 1/8 miles
It appears that Fast Falcon (#1) has finally found a field that he should defeat. I will use him on top of exactas trying to beat both Abraham and Truth Is, who are likely to be the second and third wagering interests. Abraham has had some bad luck in a few races, but he just feels like a horse that his connections are not quite sure what to do with. It appears that they can’t quite figure out his preferred running style and they even decided to try the turf with him last time in frustration. Truth Is won his debut impressively, but I question his ability to get the distance. There are many more sprinters than route runners in his female family and he is going to have to deal with a fleet-footed Nevada Kid up front.
For those reasons, I will use Fast Falcon over Tiz Adonis (#2) and Kid Sidney (#5), who, if they are able to repeat their allowance races from earlier in the meet, should be able to get a piece of this behind Fast Falcon.
$8 Exacta 1 with 2/5