Friday, July 24
Race 1: Optional Claiming $40,000/N2X at 1 1/8 miles for NY-breds
7 – Fleeting
The first race of the meet offers a pretty good glimpse at what’s to come over the next forty days: tough, competitive handicapping puzzles at every condition level.
Obviously the three major players are Royal Posse, Beyond Empire, and Sea Raven. In terms of recent form, Sea Raven may have run the best last race after arguably moving too soon going this distance around one turn at Belmont. Now he gets a positive rider switch to John Velazquez and should get at least an honest pace to run into.
Beyond Empire is also dangerous getting back to today’s distance. He showed marked improvement when stretched out to nine furlongs here last year, and Kiaran McLaughlin has fantastic numbers with all his runners going two turns on the dirt at Saratoga: 17-for-48 (35%) with a $3.10 ROI over the past 5 years.
Royal Posse is interesting for the sheer fact that he was claimed by Rudy Rodriguez and Michael Dubb. This looks like a well-intentioned move, as he not only move up sharply in class, but lures Castellano and is not offered up for a tag.
If you’re playing the Pick-5, you have to use all three of those horses in some capacity, but I think there’s a fourth horse who is going to be a bit of a price that merits consideration.
FLEETING (#7) appears to be a little slower than the aforementioned runners on paper, but I think there are a few reasons to give him a look in this spot. First of all, he’s done his best running around two turns, which might not be apparent from a quick glance at his past performances. He had to endure wide trips in both of his first two route attempts at Aqueduct this winter before forcing a fast pace when he was an unlucky loser on March 15. On one of those occasions, he ran just as well as fellow three year-old Tizquick, who also was coming out of slower races, but improved to beat Beyond Empire last time.
I thought Fleeting showed a lot of grit in those two-turn efforts, and may be a horse that likes a fight going longer. Last time they tried the Mike Lee, but chasing sub-45 fractions sprinting really isn’t this horse’s game. Fleeting should be in the race from the start this time, and while he needs to show continued improvement to be a factor here, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of this horse yet and won’t be surprised if he guts out a victory at a big price.
$10 Win/Place 7
$2 Exacta Key Box 7 with 1,3,5
Race 4: The Schuylerville (G3) at 6 furlongs for two year-old fillies
4 – Off the Tracks
This is somewhat of a guessing game, since these horses have yet to really distinguish themselves from one another on the speed figure scale and can improve by leaps and bounds from start to start at this time of the year. While there are several horses that can possibly win, I want to take a stab with one that I think will offer some value.
OFF THE TRACKS (#4) may not have run as fast as some others in her debut, but I really liked what I saw from this daughter of Curlin. After getting outrun to the lead she found herself in behind horses heading into the first turn, taking dirt, which is not easy for a two year-old to handle in its first start. Then, as soon as a hole opened up on the turn, she darted through with the utmost professionalism while still well in-hand. Her rider asked her for run at the top of the stretch and she took off with powerful strides, looking more like a three year-old than a precocious two year-old debuting in June.
So often we see this particular race fall apart in the late stages because these two year-old fillies don’t yet have the foundation to sustain a grueling pace for six furlongs. Off the Tracks has already shown that she has no problem rating behind horses and, from a physical and pedigree standpoint, appears to be better suited to distances beyond five furlongs. The unknown trainer and suspect competition first out may turn some handicappers away, but I like what I saw and would bet this horse at anything over 8/1.
$10 Win/Place 4 (Payout: $141.00)
Race 5: Claiming $35,000N3L at one mile on the turf for fillies and mares
6 – Annie Walker
I watched back the seventh race from June 27 a few times and ultimately came to the conclusion that I don’t really want anyone out of that race. I’m always skeptical of races in which the entire field is separated by just a couple of lengths at the wire and, while a few of these fillies made decent headway late, it’s not as if the leaders were coming home particularly fast, so I think their late runs may have been a bit of an illusion.
The horse to beat is probably Jewelisa as she takes a logical drop in class, but do you really need 5/2 or shorter on this horse? Jenny’s Creek also figures to take some play, especially with Castellano aboard, but I certainly don’t want this 12-for-25 place and show runner, who is coming out of a win against weaker in June.
My top pick is ANNIE WALKER (#6). Her two turf races this spring came against tougher competition than she meets today. She actually ran quite well on May 24th when she was off slowly before making a strong late run to just miss grabbing second behind subsequent stakes winner Dreamboat Annie. She regressed slightly in her next turf start, but she was also facing another tough field. All three of the horses that completed the trifecta that day would be favorites if they showed up in this spot.
What also interests me about Annie Walker is that, on dirt, she’s actually at her best going a mile, and may just not be quick enough for turf sprints. Her prior attempts to go two turns on the turf came very early in her career when she was green and difficult to handle. She’s since gotten over those issues and could find herself in a cozy stalking position just behind Nile Princess early here. Annie Walker’s recent efforts indicate that she has the ability to win this as long as he handles the distance, and the price should be generous.
$15 Win 6
$2 Exacta Key Box 6 with 2,7,10,11
Race 7: Allowance N1X at 1 3/16 miles on the turf for fillies and mares
10 – Dynazar
When handicapping this race, the pace needs to be discussed right off the bat. There are no confirmed frontrunners on paper, so you have to do a bit of guesswork to determine who is going to get a forwardly placed trip. It’s possible that J. Quirk could show more speed, though I don’t trust her at this distance. Asperites also appears to be a possible pacesetter and, while she should improve off the Mike Maker claim, I still find her hard to take off an easy win against a very weak field last time.
The one other runner who I believe to be a possible early pace presence is DYNAZAR (#10), and she will be my pick in here. Generally speaking, I actually prefer the runners in this race who have just recently broken their maidens, including Trophee and Bishop’s Bond, but both of those fillies could possible be pace-compromised if not ridden for position out of the gate. This is especially true for Trophee, who drew the disadvantageous post 12.
However, I don’t think that will be an issue for Dynazar, who has more speed than it might appear on paper. In her debut, she actually broke well and attained a position close to the pace under the wire for the first time before steadying and getting shuffled back around the clubhouse turn. Given her position at the top of the stretch, it’s almost unbelievable that she nearly won the race. Then last time, she came out with speed and easily could have gone on to take the lead had her rider not taken a hard hold early. She was very handy the entire way and finished strongly while beating a decent field. Her pedigree suggests that the more distance she gets to work with the better, and I think she’ll offer value in this spot.
$15 Win 10
$5 Exacta Box 10,12
$2 Exacta Key Box 10 with 4,5,8
Race 9: The Lake George (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for three year-old fillies
1 – Celestine (SCRATCHED)
12 – Partisan Politics
UPDATE: With the scratch of Celestine, I’ve revised my pick in this race and will now be betting PARTISAN POLITICS (#12), who will now be breaking from post position nine and should still get a fair pace to run into.
Perhaps I’m taking the easy way out by picking CELESTINE (#1) on top, but it just appears that she’s going to trip out very well in this race. Am I certain that she’s the most talented horse? No. However, she’s in great form, can rate off what should be a contested pace, and drew extremely well, which can’t be said of a few other major contenders in here. I suppose the one minor concern is the distance, but her pedigree indicates that she should handle more ground with aplomb, since her dam is by Monarchose and is a half-sister to Buddy’s Humor, a multiple stakes winning router, who took an off-the-turf Pan American at a mile and a quarter.
Partisan Politics is the other horse I want, but she’s probably going to be a shorter price than Celestine despite having been beaten by her last time and drawing a disadvantageous post position. I’ll be using her strongly in multi-race wagers, but I think others will offer better value.
I’m not enamored with the horses coming out of the American Oaks. I know that race got a pretty lofty Beyer speed figure, but that was a Grade 1 in name only and this edition of the Lake George might actually represent a step up in class for those fillies. It also must be mentioned that both Feathered and Mrs. McDougal will almost certainly have to rate this time, drawn outside of speeds like Cara Marie and Lady Zuzu. It’s possible that they will stalk and win, but as of this point in their careers, both have done their best running on the front end.
The two other horses that are worth mentioning are Graham Motion’s duo of Jellicle Ball and My Year is a Day. Jellicle Ball displayed solid, if inconsistent, form in Great Britain, but shows up just 20 days after her last start overseas. Graham Motion’s numbers with foreign shippers are excellent but none of his winners in that sample turned around in this short a period of time. My Year is a Day didn’t do much running in her stateside debut, but that race didn’t set up well for closers and she could be a late threat here if she’s able to regain her two year-old form. I’ll be using both of them with my top selection.
$20 Win 12
$5 Exacta Box 3,12
$5 Exacta 12 with 9,10