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Palace Malice Tops Loaded Whitney Handicap


A legendary championship-factoring handicap race. A DOUBLED purse. Six millionaires. This year’s Whitney Handicap (I) promised a long time ago to be a great race with emphasized effort in making it the summer target for east coast older horses, and it seems to have worked. Currently the best horse on U.S. dirt, Palace Malice aims to continue his impressive year with a win in the race, hoping to knock off Will Take Charge, who bested him in last year’s Travers. Those two certainly won’t be alone, and this wasn’t an easy race to sift through! And look out for pick 4 opinions from me on Friday, including my own live tickets!

$1.5 million Whitney Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 2 at 5:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Will Take Charge - Luis Saez, 124 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - Arguably the best dirt horse last year (and I will forever argue that point home), the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song showed affection for the Saratoga main last year, placing in the Jim Dandy (II) before roaring to life to win the Travers (I) followed by top finishes in the Clark, the Classic, and the Pennsylvania Derby. Making his sixth start this year, WTC has won once and placed 3 times, showing he is still consistent. A return to Saratoga may benefit WTC, and the colt looked remarkably well in coming late in the Stephen Foster (I) last out to finish 2nd. I’m glad to see the switch back to Saez and in a fairly successful inner position. The champ deserves respect with 3 wins and 3 places in 6 starts at 9 furlongs.

2) Prayer for Relief - Joel Rosario, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The son of Jump Start has 31 races under his belt and has improved to be a better horse than I thought this year since switching to Romans’ care. He put up huge numbers earlier in the spring, declined, then appeared to have resurged last out, placing 3rd in the Suburban Handicap (II). He is winless this year, but picks up top jock Rosario who knows his way around a route race. On that note, he will have to improve a good deal if he wants to beat these horses.

3) Moreno - Junior Alvarado, 117 lbs, Eric Guillot - Second in last year’s Travers (I), the Ghostzapper gelding fell short when caught in the final moments of the Suburban Handicap (II) by Zivo last out— a familiar story for this gutsy guy. Also winless for the year, he has hit the board in both of his Saratoga starts. Big sign for me that Moreno is ready to go is how he’s doing in his workouts, and a big bullet breeze in :58 and change shows he’s rarin’. A cutback in distance from last out could do the trick.

4) Itsmyluckyday - Paco Lopez, 119 lbs, Eddie Plesa Jr - Fresh off an extended layoff after injury, the Lawyer Ron colt is still a mystery in older horse class. In 4 starts this year, he has won 3, faltering only in his first start back after several months in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (II) won by Palace Malice. Lucky has only raced once at this distance (2nd) and will likely go straight to the front. A dark horse type, Lucky has managed to throttle somewhat easy fields and control the pace how he wants it, which presents its own possible problems figuring out the race. However, a horse he beat last out in the Salvatore Mile, Valid, just won a stakes.

5) Palace Malice - John Velazquez, 124 lbs, Todd Pletcher - Winner of the Belmont (I) last year and the Met Mile (I) this year, the Curlin colt has ruled the roost in an impressive, undefeated season thus far and arguably could have won the Travers (I) last year if only he broke better. All class this year against many of the best, the Met Mile (I) was arguably a tougher race concerning post position and a distance that may not have been his ideal. He is in an ideal situation here at 9 furlongs at a track he likes and appears to be very fit.. Strong win candidate.

6) Departing - Robby Albarado, 121 lbs, Al Stall - The War Front gelding had his own way for a while racing against softer groups at a medley of tracks, daring to step it up most recently in the Stephen Foster (I), where he ran 3rd beaten only 2 lengths by Moonshine Mullin. His record at 9 furlongs is sold: 3 wins and 2 shows in 6 tries. Departing likes to be on or near the pace early, and I sense Albarado may want to break him ahead of Palace Malice and like others, try to slow things down. His class makes this tactic questionable, especially since there are already a few front-runners in here. Exotics horse.

7) Romansh - Jose Ortiz, 119 lbs, Tom Albertrani - Bernardini progeny historically do very well at Saratoga and other NYRA tracks, and this one has been having a pretty decent year, being beaten in the Met Mile (I) by less than 2 lengths. A prior winner at ‘Toga and 3-for-5 at the 9-furlong mark, Albertrani has a very positive ROI in 3rd start off the layoff. I worry about overall class yet again, but he’s a value horse that cannot be ignored.

8) Golden Ticket - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - A Travers (I)-winning son of Speightstown, Golden Ticket won his only start at Saratoga as a longshot and enters this race as a likely longer-odds entry, winning none of his 5 starts this year and coming up dry in his last start (4th in the Cornhusker Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths). It’s kind of hard to make a logical case for Golden Ticket stepping up after so many goofs this year while breaking from an outer position. McPeek has had some good longshots in the past, but Leparoux is not a good dirt rider.

9) Last Gunfighter - Javier Castellano, 121 lbs, Chad Brown - The 5-year-old First Samurai son makes his Saratoga debut after coming up empty last out in the Suburban (II), beaten nearly 10 lengths despite being bet down. He is very good at this distance though with 3 wins and 1 place in 4 tries. While I preached tossing this horse in the Suburban at short odds, Gunfighter gets my attention back here attracting Castellano to ride and Chad Brown has been successful with his 3rd-start-off-the-layoff horses with a positive ROI. Use him at least in exotics!

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Will Take Charge

2) Palace Malice

3) Itsmyluckyday

Breaking from the fence and ready to stalk those pacesetters once again before springing, I’ll take Will Take Charge over Palace Malice, although both are worth respecting about equally in this spot, purely because I love WTC’s big turn-of-foot in the stretch. Pletcher is hot as always at Toga, and Palace Malice is his big horse that everyone has to get by and seems to have everything going for him— good yet bad news for those favorites at Saratoga! I like the way Itsmyluckyday is shaping up for this race, and the recent stake win by Valid moves him up a lot to potential upsetter. Honorable mention definitely goes to Moreno, who cuts back and has been breezing beautifully. Junior Alvarado, a talented dirt route rider, rode him perfectly in the Suburban last out.

Value Pick: Itsmyluckyday (10-1 or better) is also very worth using considering his sit-and-strike running style. Could run big.

Pick 4 choices: Will Take Charge and Palace Malice are both worthwhile favorites to include. For added value, throw in Itsmyluckyday, Moreno, and or Romansh (I like them in that order).

First positive ID of the meet: Mr Speaker on the Oklahoma training track

After making his sixth career start, Waco finally broke his maiden at Saratoga, spurting from his rail post to a wire-to-wire win over 6 1/2 furlongs. Jockey Jose Ortiz kept the Medaglia d’Oro gelding to task to continue his hot streak, up for trainer H. James Bond.

Things I Loved From My Saratoga Opening Weekend


The very confused butterfly that fluttered about the main track. Just because you’re black and yellow like Man o’ War was doesn’t make you special, you dang drunk arthropod!

A special thanks go out to fourfurlongs who spent the entire weekend with me!

There are roughly 28932897271 things I could feasibly complain about from my 3-day excursion to Saratoga’s first, second, and third days of the 2014 meet. But, seeing as most of them are self-inflicted (i.e. the consequences of forgetting sunblock, sleeping in too late to catch some decadent racing stars in the morning), I will instead focus on the many things I loved about my trip. Thank you to work and my 10-day horse babysitting sentence for making this post later than ideal!:

Frankie Dettori’s flying dismounts
I felt so privileged getting to see one of the best jockeys in the world ride at Saratoga this weekend, especially after learning people have been begging him for decades to come over for the short summer meet. It definitely seemed to pay off, as Dettori won not one but two races on opening day (and almost a third!) and gave everyone in the crowd a thrill by doing his famous “flying dismounts” off the winner. What a guy. I will certainly remember this for a long long time.


The ducks of Congress Park

I visited Congress Park for the first time back in May, but going back to this adorable little park in the midst of downtown Saratoga Springs was a joy, with plenty of new baby ducks waddling around. They are impressively tame thanks to the friendly humans who feed them (by the way, such an act is strongly discouraged due to the current duck population), ultimately letting me near a few of them as I sat with my people sipping some cool smoothies while complaining about life. I love complaining, you love complaining, and don’t pretend like you don’t!

Somali Lemonade winning the Diana Stakes (I)

I made a gallant effort trying to whittle down who I liked for the Diana Stakes (I), but no lie it was way too freaking hard for me to even think about going for the late pick 4 as I originally planned. Super handicapper Ciara and I agreed that Stephanie’s Kitten had a tremendous chance to get back into top form, but that there were simply too many horses that had a big chance to win. So, when in doubt, go for the heart pick! With Michael Matz being my #1 favorite trainer, while I didn’t think she could win, it was Somali Lemonade and Discreet Marq in my cheering camp (Clement is my #2 favorite). Unbelievably, it was Somali Lemonade at 11-1 odds who had the best stride in the stretch, holding off Stephanie’s Kitten and dismissing all the rest to win. SO. PROUD.

Reuniting with some good friends

You know who you people are! I hadn’t seen Ciara since the Belmont, Tory since the Wood Memorial, and Danica since the 2012 Belmont! I enjoyed reminiscing and chatting about ponies all weekend with them.


Tourist and Ring Weekend running 1-2 in the Sir Cat Stakes

It comes as little surprise that I was in Tourist's cheering squad when the colt made his stakes debut on opening day, seeing as he was one of the special few to be included in a GHR Derby Watch piece. God, that horse was beautiful as a two-year-old, and has really muscled out as a three-year-old. In what would become one of the weekend’s best performances, the Tiznow colt took to the lead and drew away in the stretch to just miss the track record mark by .12 seconds with Ring Weekenda horse I thought highly of this spring, clipping off the rest of the classy group late in the game. Don’t mess with Tapits!

Meeting Barbara Livingston

Barbara needs little introduction as the Ansel Adams of horse racing photography. Thanks to Ciara I kind of got the inside path to officially meeting the fantastic lady, who is so tremendously nice. I’M NOT WORTHY BUT HI!

Nearly choking on my dinner while making of fun of people

I freakin’ love diners: THE kind of place to go if you want to avoid mass crowds, you’re starving, and you’re deaf to “normal” feeding schedules. I don’t know how it came up or how we were able to name so many situations, but it came to our attention that a book could be written about things people who don’t know that much about racing do/say/wear when they go to the track. It’s practically unavoidable.

The red summer dawn at Oklahoma

"Wow look at that light!" Picking a seemingly perfect morning at the Oklahoma training track to go shoot photos, the Saturday AM sunrise cast this gorgeous reddish glow over a clear, fast going with some light fog over the turf course. Absolute stunner!


Crown Queen’s romp over the grass

In a race that was chock full of really amazing trainers and even more impressive pedigrees—a half sister to Wicked Strong, two European-breds, a Stuart Janney filly I took an earlier liking to (Cloture!), and a Ramsey-owned Kitten’s Joy— Sunday’s ninth was a 1 3/16 mile turf allowance for fillies and mares that looked extremely promising from the get go. But it all fell to one horse shortly after the field rounded the far turn, and she just about crumpled the field without being asked or urged. Crown Queen, the half sister of Royal Delta, obliterated the classy allowance field with little effort, garnering smiles all around from her connections. WATCH OUT FOR HER!

Strathnaver [GB]

Whitney on Saturday

This will be my third STRAIGHT year attending the lovely Whitney Handicap (I) at Saratoga this Saturday, and naturally I am excited about the undoubtedly blockbuster day that will be on tap. I made sure to reserve a [better] lens for Saturday so I can finally snag photos of Will Take Charge and others who have managed to evade me! AND I will be taking another shot at that late pick 4 for the third straight year… three IS my “lucky” number…

I’m nearly done with my Saratoga opening weekend recap (thanks dog/horse-sitting and work) so I hope to have that up later today.

Mike Repole’s 2-year-old colt Blame Jim looked the best in the paddock and flew home easy enough in his debut. The Sharp Humor colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez.

Mike Repole’s 2-year-old colt Blame Jim looked the best in the paddock and flew home easy enough in his debut. The Sharp Humor colt is trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez.

The Diana Stakes (I) was the result of a horse trying her hardest and winning, an honest trainer believing in her, and an oft criticized jockey proving his worth… and of course, all of her caretakers and connections! Congrats to Somali Lemonade!

Fidelius, a 3-year-old Pure Prize colt

Fidelius, a 3-year-old Pure Prize colt

Tonalist Back in Action in Jim Dandy


Image credit: ESPN.com

With the Triple Crown season over, the summer three-year-old preps are underway this weekend to cast light on the late improvers as well as the classic victors from the springtime. Wood Memorial (I) winner Wicked Strong and Belmont Stakes (I) winner Tonalist headline the Jim Dandy Stakes (II) at Saratoga as the two G1 winners with the rapidly improving Kid Cruz leading the improving colts en route to the Travers Stakes next month.

$600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, July 26 at 5:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Cousin Stephen - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Chad Brown - G3-placed and lightly-raced, the Proud Citizen colt improved recently to capture his first win as a three-year-old last month at Parx, wiring an allowance field to win the hard-fought contest by a nose. He stretches from that mile race back out to 9 furlongs here, a distance he dominated once before as a two-year-old. Trainer Chad Brown has gotten off to a slow start at the Spa, but Johnny V is as hot as ever and Brown sports some good stats turning in great performers 2nd off the layoff. Look for him to jet right off that rail and try to set a comfortable pace.

2) Legend - Luis Saez, 117 lbs, H. James Bond - The Tiznow-Storm Cat cross has worked well in the past, and Legend has proven to be a pretty fair sort of horse thus far with just one race finished out of the top 3. He made his stakes bow in the Easy Goer on Belmont Day last out, unable to catch the late-flying Kid Cruz, beaten 3 1/4 lengths. Ideal exotics horse with 3 places in 5 starts. Overall class is questionable.

3) Ulanbator - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The Offlee Wild colt has had the misfortune of running into many a star in his past races from Tapiture to Ring Weekend to Constitution. He broke poorly and went wide last out in the Dwyer (III), finishing 3rd beaten some 5 lengths. A fairly reliable exotics horse. Bettor beware of his current form.

4) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, 123 lbs, Christophe Clement - It’s tough to find a horse in better shape and in finer racing fettle than this Tapit colt, who is fresh off his career-defining win in the Belmont (I). He’s had some time off since that win and the Peter Pan (II) win, but has shown he’s still quite responsive off the layoff. Rosario has a positive ROI with dirt routers and his running style could be favorable.

5) Kid Cruz - Irad Ortiz Jr, 119 lbs, Linda Rice - A growing force since his Preakness (I) horror show, the Lemon Drop Kid colt has won the Easy Goer and the Dwyer (III) since shipping back to New York, both captured in determined closing style. Linda Rice is hot on returning winners in graded events and has kept this colt pretty sharp with 4 wins in 6 starts this year. Irad Ortiz Jr has been red hot at ‘Toga.

6) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, 117 lbs, Dallas Stewart - Winless this year but G1-placed in the Kentucky Derby, the Master Command colt has not started since bombing in the Belmont, keeping fit at Churchill Downs before shipping up to Saratoga. A deep to mid-pack closer with a soft success rate, Curve’s class became questionable with that 9th place finish in the Belmont, and will need some type of pace and strategy if he hopes to do remotely well. Not a 5-1 horse.

7) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, 123 lbs, James Jerkens - The Hard Spun colt draws outside in this race following a decent run in the Belmont, dead-heating for 4th with California Chrome. Plagued by a lot of hard luck, he has won and been up for the show in his 2 starts at 9 furlongs. Jerkens adds blinkers after not seeing the colt fire like he should have in the Belmont, a move that has seen mixed results in the trainer’s past attempts. With most horses gunning to the front here, Wicked Strong’s mid-race rallying cry ought to move him up into at least the top three. Layoff should not be an issue whatsoever with him, however I question his sharpness right now.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred win odds)

1) Tonalist (4-5)

2) Kid Cruz (5-1)

3) Cousin Stephen (10-1)

Tonalist looks very tough to be all-around in this race and is arguably the best three-year-old colt in the country right now. Especially if the slight speed bias holds, Tonalist ought to jet off right off whatever pacesetter sits in front of him, and may even go right to the front. I have a newfound love for Kid Cruz, who has been looking great lately with Irad Ortiz, and the pair look to make yet another gutsy late run. I’ll close out this “trifecta” with Cousin Stephen, who probably can’t win but could hold on for some money. Wicked Strong probably needs a race, probably.

Value Pick: Statistics point out that Kid Cruz (5-1 or better) could be a big threat. He’ll need every ounce of him to improve to beat Tonalist, but he’s a real good colt. Favorites love to die at the Spa.

Horizontals: Tonalist may be singled here. Add in Kid Cruz and possibly Wicked Strong to spread.

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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