What a tough opening day card at Saratoga, starting right off with a turf allowance route featuring a number of seemingly-equally matched horses. I’m partial to Dantastic who’s long been a personal favorite, and, with Rajiv Maragh up recently, he’s generally performed well—particularly with a little give to the turf. A little firmer turf benefits turf goddess Linda Rice’s Good Prospect with last year’s meet winning jockey Alan Garcia, and it will be interesting to see if Stepaside can repeat his winning Spa form of last summer (albeit in state-bred company then—this race isn’t). If he draws in, Bill Mott-trained Auteur could run big for Kent Desormeaux. If rain forces the race off the turf, all bets are off.
A maiden state-bred turf event, race 2 features the return of Freedom Rings, runner-up to Maram in last autumn’s G3 Miss Grillo and last seen finishing 9th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Filly race—John Velazquez takes the ride for David Donk. She’s guaranteed to take a lot of action, so, in looking for value, I’m drawn to Julien Leparoux up on Big Brownie—she’s been close-up in both her previous races with decent speed figures, and now she gets blinkers, first try on turf and the grass master Leparoux? Lots to like, including strong works since last race. The Johannesburg filly Mythical Yarn also looks to have a good late kick for Edgar Prado. Sentimentally, I’ll be rooting for Mecke filly Out Nice Them, with Calvin Borel taking over for John Velazquez.
Race 3 is the James Marvin Stakes which, for $80k, features an impressive field—mostly notably, Pyro making his return after 9 months. I would love to see him do well, but can’t bet him off that injury break and at 7f. Bob Baffert-trained Riley Tucker comes in off a sharp second-place finish to Munnings in the G2 Tom Fool, and should be battling Finallymadeit on his outside for the early lead. The latter is cutting back in distance and could be an underlay winner overshadowed by bigger names. The lightly-raced Honour Devil could also pose a major threat under skillful handling of Rajiv Maragh. Ken McPeek’s Bold Start finished second in this race last year, but I just don’t think this is his preferred distance.
Back on turf for race 4, and I love Get Stormy (Foolish Pleasure connections, of course), but Marylou Whitney’s Ninth Client could steal this on the front end. The D. Wayne Lukas-trained son of Malibu Moon broke his maiden over the Spa turf last summer, and with Julien Leparoux up and a string of excellent works, I can’t believe he’ll go off at the 20-1 morning line. Also, don’t overlook last-out maiden winner Cairiene who ships in for Steve Asmussen, with Edgar Prado up. If the race goes off turf, I’m all over another Foolish Pleasure damline descendent, Unbridled’s Heart.
Race 5 is the first of the three 2-year-old races today—I love them! Mineswept probably wants longer than 5f, but look for him in future—his dam is a three-quarter sister to Limehouse, and a half to tragic G2 UAE Derby victor Blues and Royals. Still, he breaks from post 2 and recently posted a sharp workout so he’s not hopeless here—just unlikely. Gary Contessa sends out the Hook and Ladder colt Late Night Hookup; his unraced dam Tizalittlelater is a three-quarter sister to multiple-G1 victress Gourmet Girl. Inside post a big bonus—if he can get out of the gate fast, but no gate works to demonstrate that. One of the best recent gate works was from the Todd Pletcher-trained One Note Samba; his dam Combachera was a nice NY-bred mare out of the G1-placed In Her Glory, and his sire is the Serena’s Song son Grand Reward. Of the previous starters, City Trooper looks very strong for trainer George Weaver—watch to see if his 3-year-old sister Spilt Pot does well in race 2 as a sign (if you believe in such things). Not much to recommend him in breeding, but Magic Tiger posted a sharp bullet work from the gate recently for Steve Asmussen, who’s not known for fast works; with Edgar Prado up, this first-timer could surprise. The stupidly-named Gerard Loves Beer is the second offspring of tough Interborough Handicap winner Fit Performer, and has posted a serious of nice gate works leading to this for Bruce Levine.
Race 6 is another turf route, this time for 3yo+ $25k claimers. Races like this make me sad, specifically because they include horse that once raced at the highest level—and are now on the downward spiral. Rick Dutrow sends out Optimer, two races removed from a start in the G1 Manhattan (okay, so that was a terrible idea), while Philip Serpe-trained (and Mecke son) French Vintage hasn’t won in years, but did finish fourth behind Presious Passion in last year’s G2 Pan American. And how about 10-year-old gelding Midwatch? Does one go with former class or current form? Tough call. This race just doesn’t interest me much.
Back to the 2-year-olds in race 7 and what strikes me about this is the bevy of well-connected dams for these 2-year-olds. Todd Pletcher sends out Doubles Partner, whose dam is a full-sister to the incomparable Serena’s Song. George Weaver sends out D’bigcat, who has posted some outstanding works; his third dam is Susan’s Girl. Another well-connected colt: Wildcat Nation, half-brother to G1 King’s Bishop winner Visionaire. Personally, I’m looking most favorably at the very-promising Trappe Shot is a half-brother to G1 Personal Ensign winner Miss Shop; his dam is a half-sister to G2 Forego Handicap winner Lay Down. And, even though the works are modest, ignore V Sat at your peril—Vindication progeny win 17% as first-time starters.
An allowance sprint in race 8, featuring Brooklyn Backstretch crush Saratoga Russell, and hopefully he’ll do well. However, Jimmy Jerkens-trained Presto Change O looks awful tough, with four consecutive bullet works, and a devastating maiden win last out—by 9 lengths. Benny The Waiter returns after 9 month-layoff, and has run well at Saratoga (albeit against NY state-bred company). Along with Captain Rio and Brook Dance, there’s a lot of early speed here.
Race 9 is the G3 Schuylerville for 2-year-old fillies. With so much early speed from the likes of Hot Dixie Chick, Vivid Colors, Stormandaprayer, and So N So, it looks like someone on pace may come late—like Cowgirl Mally (whose dam is a full-sister to the precocious General Meeting) or even G3 Kentucky Juvenile winner (yes, against the boys) Aegean, if she is fully recovered from her unsuccessful jaunt across the Atlantic to try the Ascot turf. I also really like That’s How I Roll—love the Kiaran McLaughlin-Jose Lezcano combo, plus she’s demonstrated improvement in her two previous races. Her dam Chatter Chatter won at 2, including the 2003 My Dear Girl at Calder—by almost 20 lengths! No, that wasn’t a typo.
The final race is another claimer which I don’t want to put much time into, as it’s very possible rain may take it off the turf. If it stays on, I do like first-time turfer Forest King—he’s a half-brother to G3-placed turfster Sea of Trees, and G2-placed Spritely.