Friday, July 18
Is there anything better than opening day at Saratoga? Forty day of the best racing in the country lie ahead of us, and there will surely be a plethora of excellent wagering opportunities along the way. I’ll do my best to point out as many of these as possible, but as always, it will not be easy. Over my years playing these races, I have been humbled by miserable losing streaks, and exulted through victory. Saratoga is indeed the sternest test of one’s handicapping prowess.
Let’s find out what this year will bring, as we start with Friday’s opening day card.
Race 1: Claiming $25,000 N2L at 1 1/8 miles
5 – Grandpa Len
This race boils down to three major players: King of Broadway, Grandpa Len, and Goodnewsisnonews. Some may want to throw morning line second-choice Kowboy Boots into the mix as well, but I think he’s just too slow and has distance questions to answer as he stretches out to this taxing nine furlong distance.
King of Broadway has run faster than Grandpa Len in the past, but his recent form has been quite disappointing and you have to think that this drop in class represents Bill Mott basically giving up on him, as he’s sure to be claimed today. Goodnewsisnonews has run some speed figures that would make him competitive here, but he had to go to Monmouth to get his first win at odds of 2-5, and the subsequent failed turf experiment has a look of desperation to it. He may also be compromised by his wide draw as he lacks speed in a race that should not feature much pace.
Of that aforementioned trio, I prefer GRANDPA LEN (#5). Some may be turned off by his 1-for-19 lifetime record, but I think you have to respect a horse who routinely runs his race and finds ways to be competitive. He returned from a near 16-month layoff last time in a $40,000 claimer on the turf, which is not his preferred surface. Nevertheless, he put forth an encouraging effort and actually finished up quite well through the lane, which signals to me that he should be ready to move forward as he gets back on the dirt. He’s proven that this nine-furlong distance is no issue, having achieved his only win going this exact distance at Saratoga.
$15 Win 5
Race 3: The Schuylerville (G3) at six furlongs for two year-old fillies
5 – Take Charge Brandi
Fashion Alert (#4) is clearly the horse to beat as she exits an impressive and legitimately fast score in the Astoria. There’s some buzz that this one does have a great deal of ability, but being that she’s a Todd Pletcher trained two year-old racing at Saratoga, she is likely to be a very short price. Anyone who thinks they’re getting odds of greater than 1-2 on this filly are kidding themselves. I readily concede that she is the most likely winner, but there are a couple of viable alternatives to her.
Tulira’s Star should be a clear second choice as she exits a fast maiden win at Arlington Park. The race earned a gaudy 88 Beyer speed figure and its second place finisher La Grange came back to validate that number when she shipped to California to take the Cinderella Stakes at Los Alamitos last weekend. This Team Valor private purchase almost looks too good to be true, and that might be the case since the jury is still out concerning her aptitude for traditional dirt.
I’m going to take a shot with TAKE CHARGE BRANDI (#5). This filly does need to run faster to be competitive with either of the two highlighted above, but her debut was a visually impressive score. She made the front quite easily and was never asked for run through the lane as Corey Lanerie just stood motionless in the stirrups. I don’t often like to say, “That horse could have run so much faster,” but that might be the case with this one. The pedigree is certainly there for her to be a star since her dam is out of the great Take Charge Lady, making her a half-sister to stablemate Will Take Charge. I think that Take Charge Brandi is a decent bet at odds of 5-1 or higher, and I will use her in exactas with Fashion Alert.
$10 Win 5
$5 Exacta Box 4,5 (Payout: $13.00)
Race 7: Claiming $50,000 at one mile on the turf
6 – Where’s Danny
This is my ridiculous pick of the day.
Some of you may recall that I picked WHERE’S DANNY (#6) last time as well, but in retrospect, I feel that I misread the signals that day. This barn likes to win races at Saratoga, and probably intended for his last to be nothing more than a tune-up for this spot. Where’s Danny was not asked for any run out of the gate that day, and was subsequently allowed to drop far out of contention before making a mild late rally through the lane—essentially it was a prep. This horse was in excellent form earlier in the spring at Aqueduct and it appears that his connections decided to put him away for a couple of months to target a more prestigious win up at the Spa. I know that he was facing softer company back in April, but he was much the best in each of those races after sustaining two very wide trips, and a couple of the horses he faced in those races, Media Kid and Kiss of Thunder, have since proven their worth in some tougher spots.
Coming back to reality, the main players are clearly Monument Hill (#2), Tiz Sardonic Joe (#3), and Joes Blazing Aaron (#8). All three can win this with anything close to their top efforts, but it’s fair to question whether we’ll see any of them run to their maximum potential as they’re all getting a bit long in the tooth these days. I will use them as backups in Pick-4 wagers, but I have to take a small shot against them with my crazy selection, Where’s Danny.
$10 Win 6
$4 Exacta 2,3,8 with 6
Race 8: Allowance N1X at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares
8 – Shanagarry
Ballerina Belle and Kiss Me Lola are the two who have been running competitively at this level at Belmont, and both make some sense here. Kiss Me Lola should appreciate this turnback to five and a half furlongs while Ballerina Belle figures to get plenty of pace to close into. Both can certainly win, but I have another idea with an intriguing out-of-town shipper. SHANAGARRY (#8) has arguably been keeping the best company of all as she enters this race off a series of stakes tries against some salty groups of sprinting synthetic specialists. I know that the switch to turf is a question that she has to answer, but I would not use her lone turf experiment at Gulfstream as a true barometer of her ability on this surface. She got caught up in a three-way duel that day going two turns, which is not a recipe for success with a filly who clearly does not want to run much more than a few steps past five furlongs.
Her pedigree suggests that turf is supposed to be her preferred surface. Believe it or not, Greatness is an 18% turf sire and his filly’s dam is out of a winner of the Wonder Where on turf at Woodbine. Her fluid action over synthetic surfaces and her recent turf workout over Woodbine’s training track leaves little doubt in my mind that she’ll take to this surface.
There is plenty of speed in this race, with Zamquick and Aventure Love likely to be gunning from the inside. Shanagarry, who gets a very positive rider switch to Javier Castellano, should be able to tuck in as part of the second flight before using her quick turn of foot to thrust herself into contention at the top of the stretch. In my opinion, Shanagarry’s morning line price of 6-1 is excellent value, and I view this as one of the best wagering opportunities on the card.
$20 Win 8
Race 9: The Sir Cat Stakes at one mile on the turf for three year-olds
7 – Ring Weekend
From a visual standpoint, Tourist (#5) was stunning in his most recent turf effort. However, it must be mentioned that he had everything his own way on the lead that day and was able to sprint home over a very hard turf course that aided horses in his position throughout the spring meeting. That said, he still came home his final half-mile in a blazing 45 2/5 seconds, so he did do some real running while taking advantage of that favorable setup. Still, I’m reluctant to say with great confidence that he’s a better horse than Storming Inti (#1), who has consistently held his own against tougher fields. These two appear to be the main pace players on paper, so there should be an interesting tactical skirmish between Joel Rosario and Javier Castellano in the early stages.
I’m ultimately going to take a shot against both of them with RING WEEKEND (#7). This horse has been a disappointment for Graham Motion after his impressive Tampa Bay Derby romp, but I’m intrigued by today’s surface switch. He ran an excellent race in his turf debut down in Florida over the winter, finishing second to subsequent American Derby (G3) victor Divine Oath. His pedigree indicates that turf should be his preferred surface since his full sibling was best on turf and his dam also strongly preferred running on grass. From a tactical standpoint, I’d like to see him rating today with other speed in the race, but in terms of pure ability, I think he stacks up against the two favorites, and the price should be inviting.
$15 Win 7
$5 Exacta 1,5 with 7 (Payout: $79.00)
Race 10: Maiden Special Weight at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for NY-bred fillies and mares
10 – Maura’s Pass
4 – Shades of Indygo
Of the horses who have already tried the turf, the only one who I’m interested in betting is Jet Majesty (#9). She put in a promising effort second time out against colts last year, losing by just a length to Storm, who has since won twice more against allowance company. The one drawback to her is the layoff. Wesley Ward shows routinely subpar numbers with horses coming off long layoffs, so I’m inclined to look elsewhere for the winner.
I’ve decided to focus on two first time turfers with some pedigree. MAURA’S PASS (#10) did not do much running when ignored on the tote board in her debut, but she is supposed to take a huge step forward as she switches surfaces here. War Pass has shown himself to be a decent turf sire, and her dam brings plenty of pedigree to the table, having produced three-time turf winner Iron Goddess (who happens to be the dam of turf winner Iron Power), as well as one of our favorites, Toy Cannon.
SHADES OF INDYGO (#4) also interests me. Her dam never tried the turf, but she has produced Hooked Forever (by subpar turf sire Hook and Ladder), who has won on turf and clearly prefers that surface. Furthermore, Shades of Indygo is sired by Indygo Shiner, who has won with 19% of his three year-old and older turf runners over the past five years. She, too, needs to take a step forward on turf, but she should also be a much larger price, having had many chances at this point in her career. She strikes me as a filly who wants to run all day, so I like that she’s getting stretched out back around two turns.
I’ll bet my two top selections to win and will use both in an exacta with the logical Jet Majesty.