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Untapable, Sweet Reason Headline Loaded Cotillion

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Very often, the filly race on the card outshines the colt race, and Pennsylvania/Cotillion Day at Parx Racing might as well belong to the fillies despite the presence of California Chrome. With three extremely gifted G1 winners shipping in and a medley of improvers and value horses loading up for the $1 million prize, it’s going to be a great race and one that could determine the Eclipse Award for best three-year-old filly. Pennsylvania Derby thoughts— I’m going with California Chrome to run back well enough to win.

$1 million Cotillion Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Old Fillies. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Parx Racing. Post Time: Saturday, September 20 at 4:45pm EST.

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

1) Cassatt - Kerwin Clark, 122 lbs, Larry Jones - Lightly raced but toting an undefeated 3-for-3 record as a three-year-old, the masterful Larry Jones brings back his filly game strong with underdog Cassatt, who steps it up here following an easy 4-length score in the Monmouth Oaks (III). Larry Jones has had great success with fillies and Fox Hill Farm’s stock, as indicated by Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. She will have to step her game up, but looks like a really nice filly with good current form. Could be a factor and I’m not going to overlook her chances.

2) Sweet Reason - Irad Ortiz Jr, 124 lbs, Leah Gyarmati - Few fillies have been as impressive as Sweet this year, as the Street Sense filly logged back-to-back G1 scores in New York over shorter distances to add to her G1 win as a two-year-old. Wielding some strong class, Sweet likes to attack late from off-the-pace which could favor her here, but has shown she does not like going much further than sprints. The pace could very well favor her in the end, but only if she wants it.

3) House Rules - Javier Castellano, 119 lbs, James Jerkens - Liked this Distorted Humor filly a lot as a two-year-old, and she kind of fell off the bus up until recently, winning an allowance at Saratoga or should I say dominating by 6 1/2 lengths. On the improving path, House Rules ought to like the distance well enough and gets Castellano to ride. Upset potential.

4) Joint Return - Kendrick Carmouche, 119 lbs, John Servis - Winner of 4 of 8 starts this year, the Include filly is well-versed at Parx already, winning 2 of her 3 starts here and has a bit of street cred, falling just a bit short of a length to Stopchargingmaria in the Alabama (I) last out. Servis and Carmouche have a 22% win percentage each here and Joint Return looks to be doing well. Upset potential with that off-the-pace move she likes.

5) Vero Amore - Frankie Pennington, 119 lbs, Robert Reid - A shocking 2nd to Stopchargingmaria in the Black-Eyed Susan (II) this spring, the Mineshaft filly has since taken a step back at the graded level and even tried turf (unsuccessfully). Locally hot connections hope to bring her back strongly here, but she has yet to win this year and may not have enough to crack into the picture.

6) Little Alexis - Joel Rosario, 119 lbs, Carlos Vaccarezza - Finishing a very strong 3rd last out in the Test where she missed the place by just a nose, the Mr. Greeley daughter will stretch out past sprint distances for the first time while returning to Carlos Vaccarezza. She ran great in the stretch of the Test, and will likely need a hot pace here to do well. Can she route? We’ll see. 

7) Jojo Warrior - Martin Garcia, 119 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Pioneerof the Nile filly ships out following her win in the 1-mile Torrey Pines (III) on Del Mar’s polytrack surface, making that two races in a row she has won running on the lead. Baffert horses tend to ship out well, and I don’t think she will oppose being placed back on a dirt surface and probably wanted extra distance this whole time. Class level will be a big challenge in addition to pace as she won those recent starts with an uncontested lead.

8) Untapable - Rosie Napravnik, 124 lbs, Steve Asmussen - The domineering Tapit filly put on a show all spring to take the Kentucky Oaks (I) and Mother Goose (I), but could not muster enough to deflect Bayern and other male foes in the Haskell (I). She will have her hands full returning off a sizeable layoff in this race, and will have a lot to deal with from a pace and class perspective. I would not be surprised if she needs a race— as a reminder, this is not the most important race she needs to win, as she is probably already regarded as the best three-year-old filly by most Eclipse voters. 

9) Stopchargingmaria - John Velazquez, 124 lbs, Todd Pletcher - A winner of two consecutive G1 races at Saratoga this summer, the More Than Ready filly trims back in distance while drawing the far outside yet again. A filly with a bit of class, I was not overly inspired by her runs at Saratoga and there’s room for defeat here as she challenges better fillies at a disadvantage— she has lost both starts going 1 1/16 miles by a long way and breaks from way out.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred odds)

1) House Rules (10-1)

2) Joint Return (10-1)

3) Sweet Reason (2-1)

So many choices, and anyone’s opinion on this race could make a lot of sense. This is not a race to go with the favorite, as all three class horses are making some odd change to their normal routine here and or may need a race. I like House Rules best; her run at Saratoga deeply impressed me and I’m going with the Jerkens angle that she will not only be ready but run big. I liked Joint Return in the Alabama (I) and persist to like her even more here on her home turf, and she will likely grab a hold of that pace to reel it in. Sweet Reason stretches out, but will get the pace she likes but not necessarily needs as a very good horse right now. 4th choice is Cassatt.

Value Pick: There’s a heck of a lot of value here in this race with so many angles one could use to nitpick the class horses. House Rules and Joint Return are deeply desirable value horses for the win, and for exotics I would use Cassatt, with Larry Jones winning 25% graded stakes and 30% 3rd off the layoff.

Kaigun Leads a Dan-less Woodbine Mile

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(Photo by Michael Burns)

With Wise Dan shipping south instead of north, the Breeders’ Cup Mile “Win and You’re In” prep famous for attracting boatloads of shippers has become a wide-open affair. It may or may not be a less exciting affair with no G1 winners like Wise Dan in the field, but with that tidbit comes the promise of a great betting race as hard-knocking “almosts” like Kaigun, Bobby’s Kitten, and Grand Arch have arrived. 

$1 million Woodbine Mile (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 mile on turf at Woodbine. Post Time: Sunday, September 14 at 6:13pm EST.

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

1) River Seven - Jesse Campbell, 117 lbs, Nick Gonzalez - An impressive winner last year where he won several excellent races including ones over Grand Arch and Kaigun, the Johannesburg gelding has been winless in 5 starts this year, showing little after bombing on the dirt in the Donn Handicap (I). He has some back class that is strong, but his form has not been good lately. 

2) Trade Storm - Jamie Spencer, 119 lbs, David Simcock - A Euro shipper, the son of Trade Fair [GB] was 3rd in this race last year and has 3 places in 6 starts for this year, mostly in meek company. His last start in a York stake showed him being barley beaten. Not awesomely consistent, could be an exotics horse.

3) Ancil - Justin Stein, 117 lbs, Joan Scott - Hot turf sire City Zip sires this career turf sprinter, who is coming off a layoff following a pulled-up performance at Ascot in June. He is new to Woodbine with one failed attempt at the mile. Both Stein and Scott sport a good ROI, but Ancil will have to be at his best and then some to do well here, especially since he is not the lone speed.

4) Silver Freak - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Brian Lynch - The Badge of Silver gelding is part of the Lynch trio, and looks to add some serious speed to the race, last out winning with an uncontested lead at Saratoga. Never off the board in 8 lifetime starts, he’ll add some firepower to the pace.

5) Kaigun - Patrick Husbands, 121 lbs, Mark Casse - Likely to be the favorite following his win in the Play King (II) here last out and runner-up performances to Wise Dan and Real Solution this year, the Northern Afleet gelding is 2-for-2 at Woodbine. With Husbands and Casse both at 20% and Kaigun at his best, he is a fitting favorite and one I have liked in the past.

6) Dorsett - Luis Contreras, 117 lbs, Brian Lynch - Packing a pretty nice turf pedigree, the son of Artie Schiller was 4th last out in the Fourstardave (II) at Saratoga and makes his 3rd start for Lynch here. High-percentage Contreras and Lynch go well together, and Dorsett may keep on improving with his 3rd start off a layoff.

7) Lockout - Gary Boulanger, 117 lbs, Mark Casse - The son of Limehouse made a late move to be up for 2nd to Kaigun in the Play King (II) last out. Very consistent lately with close-up finishes, Lockout ought to do well with the ample pace here running for those well-known Oxley colors.

8) Bobby’s Kitten - Joel Rosario, 112 lbs, Chad Brown - Best when left alone on the lead, the star-studded son of Kitten’s Joy gets a big weight lift as he trims back to a desirable distance going a mile. His class has only been inhibited by poor jockey tactics and too much distance. He gets everything his way here, and look out. Deserving horse.

9) Jack Milton - Javier Castellano, 119 lbs, Todd Pletcher - 2-for-4 this year, the son of War Front was 3rd by a length last out in the record-setting Fourstardave (II) and won the Poker (III) earlier in the year at this distance mark. Top turf rider Castellano stays aboard for the trip, but I am only half as optimistic as I could be, given that Jack Milton excels at lower levels of racing and not G1 events.

10) His Race to Win - Eurico Da Silva, 119 lbs, Malcolm Pierce - Featuring a swoon-worthy pedigree (Stormy Atlantic over Gone West), the Seagram Cup (III) winner has been mainly an all-weather threat at Woodbine, racing 6 times on the grass resulting in 1 win. His mettle will be tested here for 32% Malcolm Pierce and high-percentage Da Silva. If he’s good enough, he’ll do well, but it’s all a big question as to whether or not it will translate over.

11) Grand Arch - David Moran, 121 lbs, Brian Lynch - The 5-year-old son of Arch hops off a neck loss to record-setting Seek Again in the Fourstardave (II), looming a big threat here with a G2 win on the Woodbine grass this year in the 1-mile King Edward (II). No off-the-board starts for him at Woodbine or at this distance mark. Big win threat who will stalk the pace.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred odds) 

1) Grand Arch (4-1)

2) Kaigun (2-1)

3) Bobby’s Kitten (5-1)

This race looks to be a pace battle with a couple good horses who may get that career-unlocking setup for the big win. I think I would have placed 3rd choice Bobby’s Kitten up further if he was going to get an uncontested lead, but that doesn’t look very likely here as much as he has the class to get it done. Grand Arch is very consistent, and I list him first following the Fourstardave (II) with the belief Seek Again is the biggest threat to Wise Dan’s crown this year. Kaigun will get a great setup and has the potential to win as well. For the 4-spot, Lockout will get a setup and can do well here with the right trip.

Value Pick: I don’t believe Bobby’s Kitten will seriously be 15-1 or anywhere close to that morning line. Grand Arch may be overlooked thanks to him and Kaigun, and is solid at 4-1. I’m not seeing much in the way of major value players that could win or hit the board.

Moreno Tries to Go for Two in Woodward Stakes

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With many of his defeated Whitney foes holding their steam until Keeneland, Belmont, or other meets, Moreno returns after a 3-week layoff in hopes of keeping that front-running fervor going strong with an attack on the Woodward Stakes. He will aim to have things his own way again, and will likely be favored this time as the field’s lone G1 winner. But he will not be alone and will be vulnerable, especially with Suburban (II) upsetter Zivo in the cards along with a resurging Itsmyluckyday, who landed his best stride late in the Whitney. Woodward Saturday looks like a good one.

$600,000 Woodward Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 30 at 6:46pm EST.

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

1) Itsmyluckyday - Paco Lopez, 120 lbs, Eddie Plesa Jr - 3-for-5 this year following an extensive layoff from an injury as a three-year-old, the Lawyer Ron son has run honorably since day one and is currently in great-looking form. He gets blinkers this race, with trainer Plesa returning a very positive ROI for first-time blinks. He’s on the right path and is G1-worthy. I think he needed that last race and will be sharp as can be in the Woodward.

2) Long River - Irad Ortiz Jr, 120 lbs, Kiaran McLaughlin - The A.P. Indy colt has long been a New York standout, but tries the Saratoga soil for the first time in the Woodward following a well-beaten 5th place finish in the Monmouth Cup (II). He is another to get blinkers on after a string of poor races. He has a sharp 5-furlong workout and McLaughlin and Ortiz have been pretty sharp all meet themselves (especially together). A.P. Indys do well at Saratoga, so this one might be the value horse to include.

3) Micromanage - Rajiv Maragh, 120 lbs, Todd Pletcher - 2-for-2 at Saratoga, the Medaglia d’Oro colt won the August 7 Birdstone Stakes by daylight after being a dusted 7th to Zivo and Moreno in the Suburban (II). Kind of an awkward horse to look at from his PPs as a G3 winner who cannot seem to gain footing on an upper class. The loss of Castellano and Pletcher’s poor recent stats do not help me like him.

4) Moreno - Junior Alvarado, 122 lbs, Eric Guillot - The Ghostzapper gelding knocked and knocked and knocked and finally popped the G1 cork last out in the Whitney, going wire-to-wire to win uncontested. Never off the board at this distance or at Saratoga. He’ll surely have a target on his back this race as he tries to replicate the Whitney. Alvarado fits him perfectly and he had another good breeze. Another “con” may be the 3-week turn-around as Moreno is accustomed and performs best with 4 week beats. However, he is again the lone speed and is on a roll.

5) Prayer for Relief - John Velazquez, 118 lbs, Dale Romans - The 6-year-old Jump Start son has been winless in 7 starts this year, showing up well but not good enough to win in several spots, and ultimately weakened to 4th in the Whitney last out. He has 4 wins in 15 tries at the distance and picks up Johnny V with Brisnet giving him the highest speed figure at the distance. Form-wise, I’d list him as an exotics only horse.

6) Romansh - Jose Ortiz, 120 lbs, Tom Albertrani - Bernardinis typically love Saratoga, but the trip was what cost this one in the Whitney as Romansh bumped at the start and went very wide throughout the race to be 7th. Will a repaired trip help? It’s very possible, as this horse had 3 wins in 6 starts at the 9-furlong distance. However, he may have been at his best form earlier in the year.

7) Zivo - Jose Lezcano , 120 lbs, Chad Brown - The 5-year-old New York-bred son of True Direction upset the Suburban (II) in his last start at 20-1 odds over Whitney hero Moreno and currently carries an impressive 6-race win streak into the Woodward. He looks good by all accounts with no losses for the year for a hot Chad Brown barn. He handles the layoff well enough, but will class affect him? Moreno would do well to put a lid on the pace if he wants to stop Zivo again as well as the next horse…

8) Norumbega - Javier Castellano, 120 lbs, Shug McGaughey - Loved this horse by appearance alone when he won the Brooklyn (II), but the Tiznow colt came back to run a bizzarely bad race in the Suburban (II), finishing 8th. He’s spent some time at Fair Hill getting back up to speed and looks like he’ll be fit judging by works and the addition of top jockey Castellano and blinkers. He packs a monstrous late run when he fires, and is 2-for-2 at Saratoga.

9) Last Gunfighter - Joe Bravo, 120 lbs, Chad Brown - Originally the top seed for Chad Brown’s dirt horses, Last Gunfighter got schooled by Zivo in the Suburban (II) despite being favored and then went horribly wide throughout in the Whitney (I) to be 5th. Bravo replaces regular rider Castellano and does best with routes, although his Saratoga record is less than perfect. Gunfighter would have his best shot being put back towards the front, but still has to conquer that class issue as well as declining form.

10) Stephanoatsee - Joel Rosario, 118 lbs, Nick Zito - The half brother to Shackleford makes his third start with trainer Nick Zito and might have won his last start at this distance, beaten 2 lengths by Abraham in an allowance race at Saratoga. He hasn’t won in 2 years, but is put into a G1. Either Zito knows something I don’t or he thinks Stephanoatsee has a big chance. Either way he’d have to improve further; addition of Rosario helps.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred odds)

1) Itsmyluckyday (5-1)

2) Moreno (3-1)

3) Norumbega (8-1)

Likely to get a good setup and a tenacious horse all-around, Itsmyluckyday is fitter than ever and ought to get a good run if not a win here. But, he is beatable, with Moreno likely to go after another uncontested lead. I wouldn’t debate that Mo is better than ever right now and won’t give newly-blinkered Itsmyluckyday the fight of his life when cornered. Norumbega, newly-retooled and fresh, can sneak up on them late in the game. Fourth choice is the seemingly unstoppable Zivo.

Value Pick: Norumbega (8-1 or better) has a lot going on for him behind the scenes with the addition of blinkers and a win percentage of 20% or better for trainer and jockey. Even more interesting, Castellano has never ridden Norumbega in a race. 

It’s Midsummer Derby Time!: 10 Line Up for the Travers

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With no California Chrome knocking on the door, the field for the Travers Stakes (I) will determine at least part of the Three-Year-Old Eclipse picture with Belmont (I) winner Tonalist returning off a respectable defeat to Wood Memorial (I) winner Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). But alas, they are not alone: Bayern unleashed a monstrous run to win the Haskell (I) at Monmouth and is looking to be the likely favorite as he stretches out again, and for the first time, to 10 furlongs. A lot of if’s, and’s, or but’s make this Travers an interesting and possibly profitable edition. Due to inclement weather and minimal strong sunshine, I’m handicapping this race for a “good” track.

$1.25 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 23 at 5:45pm EST.

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

1) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart - A promising improver in the spring, the Master Command colt ran strong to be 2nd in the Kentucky Derby and has since been on a downward slide, finishing 4th in the Jim Dandy (II) with little excuse. Deserving longshot.

2) Bayern - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - The Offlee Wild colt bounced off some pretty shoddy form back into business, romping in the Woody Stephens (II) at 7 furlongs before dominating the 9-furlong Haskell (I), both by 7 lengths after establishing early superiority. Numbers-wise, he’s the one to beat and has some distance pedigree to back up his stretch-out. Off the board just once in 7 starts this year. Despite Baffert’s dominance in the Haskell, he has won the Haskell-Travers double just once with Point Given. Bayern could run home with the win should he establish an uncontested lead as he has done in the past. 

3) Charge Now - Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott - A half to Derby winner Super Saver sired by Tiznow, Charge Now flies the WinStar stable colors with high hopes after just 5 career starts, winning 2 and placing in 2 with no stakes wins. He was barely beaten last out in the Curlin Stakes to V. E. Day after going wide into the stretch. While improving, he is probably not quick-footed enough to win and has demonstrated dislike of off goings.

4) V. E. Day - Javier Castellano, James Jerkens - Jerkens’ back-up gun, the English Channel colt surprised many winning the Curlin Stakes to go three in a row for his stakes debut. He upgrades jockeys to Castellano, the current meet leader, and has all the makings of a great improving horse. Huge value horse with a win on an off-track. Upset potential is here.

5) Viva Majorca - Julien Leparoux, Ian Wilkes - The Tiago colt sports Whitney connections and missed the win in the Curlin Stakes by just a length, finishing 4th in that event but was steadied at one point. He does have some good back form and could close into the competition. I’m not loving the lack of success among Wilkes and Leparoux though on an improving horse.

6) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement - The Belmont-winning Tapit colt was much the best in June and showed he could handle the off-going before then in the Peter Pan Stakes (II). Wide throughout, he disappointed in his return, running a clearly bested 2nd to Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). Tonalist could benefit from a tighter trip, but the question is if he’ll get it and strengthen back into his beast form. Keep him in your top 3 thoughts.

7) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens - The Hard Spun colt sports some class with two graded stakes wins and has an edge as the Jim Dandy (II) winner coming into this race. He was at his best in the Jim Dandy (II) and really wasn’t that far off the win considering his trip in the Kentucky Derby when the 10-furlong question comes up. Jerkens has Wicked Strong ready to roll in workouts and seeing as this colt is adaptable and can do off-goings, he can’t be forgotten about.

8) Kid Cruz - Irad Ortiz Jr, Linda Rice - The Dwyer (III) winner comes back for another go after running 3rd in the Jim Dandy (II), which was not helped by a wider-than-usual trip. This will be the Lemon Drop Kid colt’s first shot at 10 furlongs and given the pace scenario, his best will come late and I would not be surprised if he does amazingly well. Irad Ortiz Jr has been doing phenomenally well all meet as well. Value horse.

9) Ulanbator - Brian Hernandez Jr, Ian Wilkes - The “other” Offlee Wild of the field, He has one win in 8 career starts at a mile at Gulfstream Park and was 5th in the Jim Dandy (II), beaten some 9 lengths. He does his best running late, but is still very much a longshot.

10) Mr Speaker - Jose Lezcano, Shug McGaughey - The Pulpit colt was at his roaring best in the Belmont Derby (I) going 10 furlongs on grass, and with runner-up Adelaide’s recent win in the Secretariat Stakes (I), he is obviously the best American turf three-year-old. Trainer McGaughey is adamant this horse has a shot on the dirt. A tiring 7th in his lone dirt start… DOES this horse have a shot? It’s up to you to decide, but I’m giving him the nod as long as he can handle dirt in his face since the plan is to attack from off the pace.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferable odds):

1) Mr Speaker (8-1)

2) Wicked Strong (3-1)

3) V. E. Day (12-1)

Because of a lot of “maybe this, maybe that” going on in the field this year, I am going to go against the favorites. Yes I think Bayern could do it, but I think his calling is a dirt mile. I’m going with my study strategy that landed me with picking Wicked Strong for the Wood— everyone hates Gulfstream, and I’m guessing Mr Speaker did too. He has the best dirt pedigree of the field for going 10 furlongs and has a chance to prove it in spades. Wicked Strong and V. E. Day pack some bruising connections when it comes to dirt routes and both have tactical advantages in one way or another to get up there. Bayern is 4th choice.

Value Pick: If you’re not buying into Mr Speaker, V. E. Day overpowered a sluggish pace to win the Curlin Stakes and is set to improve from there. I mean, Javier is riding him, c’mon!

Mott Sends Three After ‘Maria in Alabama Stakes

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Facing some heat in the form of familiar faces and new foes, Coaching Club American Oaks (I) winner Stopchargingmaria hopes to join some of the few who have won back-to-back Saratoga wins at the same meet— Spring to the Sky being the first and currently only horse to win two stakes this year. But Maria ain’t alone: Bill Mott sends three of his fillies after the romping winner of the Oaks with many other hot trainers in pursuit of Todd’s top filly as she stretches out to 10 furlongs.

This race has been handicapped for a fast track, with some rainfall in the forecast for Saturday.

$600,000 Alabama Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Old Fillies. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 16 at 5:20pm EST.

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

1) Unbridled Forever - Rosie Napravnik, Dallas Stewart - The well-bred filly struck with seconditis, Unbridled Forever gets the rail spot and a jock switch from Albarado to Napravnik. She made up ground last out to Stopchargingmaria in the CCA Oaks, but was still a distant 2nd. She worked well and may benefit from more ground and almost certainly with the jockey switch. Fill your exotics.

2) Miss Besilu - Jose Lezcano, Bill Mott - The Medaglia d’Oro filly returns from an even third-place finish in the CCA Oaks, running 9 lengths behind the winner. She has done marginally worse since being switched off the Gulfstream Park main. While bred for the distance, her finishes have been less than inspired. Her best bet is to ride a hopefully speed-favoring rail if it plays out that way all day— she’s a longshot pick to win if it does.

3) America - Irad Ortiz Jr, Bill Mott - The A.P. Indy filly hasn’t seen much of the front in recent races, with just 2 shows in 5 starts this year and was 4th by 12 lengths last out in the CCA Oaks. Johnny V drops her to ride Stopchargingmaria for absentee Castellano, but she does pick up red-hot jock Irad Ortiz and gets blinkers. Mott hopes the blinkers will help her refocus, and the distance added on ought to appeal to her. A.P. Indy-line horses seem to do well at Saratoga. She got a little hot at the Oaks last out, so look again here to pick up the pieces if the track does not favor speed too much.

4) Joint Return - Kendrick Caramouche, John Servis - The Include filly sports 4 wins in 7 starts this year including 2 stakes wins and was 2nd last out in the Del Mar Oaks (II) to Fortune Pearl. Her “bad” starts are largely excusable and don’t suggest a problem horse. She can make a winning move off tiring leaders to win. Servis adds blinkers and has a positive ROI for first-time blinks. Upset potential.

5) Got Lucky - Jose Ortiz, Todd Pletcher - A.P. Indy/Deputy Minister pairs well to win routes, and Got Lucky has already won an allowance here at ‘Toga this meet with 2 wins and 2 places in 5 starts this year. With the added distance, she can likely move up some more. Toddster adds blinkers. A bargain bin Pletcher bet, Got Lucky is apt to improve 2nd-off-the-layoff with the Toddster sporting great returns for horses in this stage. I like her better than Maria.

6) Fortune Pearl - Trevor McCarthy, Graham Motion - A quietly good filly, the daughter of Mineshaft has been off the board just once in her lifetime 7 starts with a best performance yet last out in the Del Mar Oaks (II), which she won by 2 lengths over Joint Return. Trainer Motion is very good at this meet thus far with a positive return in graded stakes. I anticipate she will only get better with another furlong.

7) Catch My Drift - Joe Bravo, Chad Brown - The Pioneerof the Nile filly is lightly raced with 2 back-to-back wins summing up her career, with the last one coming at Monmouth by daylight and both from off-the-pace. A promising lass, she will have a lot to contend with stepping up in class. Keep her in your thoughts for another day.

8) Stopchargingmaria - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - The Tale of the Cat filly seeks her third straight graded stakes win hot off the CCA Oaks (I) and Black-Eyed Susan (II) feats. She is likely to be the favorite, with Johnny V taking over while showing 2 wins in 3 starts at Saratoga. She will break from an outer post while stretching out a sprinter pedigree. I don’t like her here.

9) Size - Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott - Mott ships in Claiborne’s talented First Samurai filly who just finished holding off Ria Antonia in the Iowa Oaks (III). Before winning that, she won 3 6-furlong races, and will stretch her speed out again here. Stepping up in class from the outermost post, Size is the lone speed of the race but is not suited for an easy race in this spot. Kind of tough to back her talented self in this race and at low odds.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with acceptable odds)

1) Fortune Pearl (6-1)

2) Joint Return (10-1)

3) Got Lucky (6-1)

I like all three fillies way more than anyone else in the field. Fortune Pearl will probably like more ground and is at top form right now and will likely fetch great odds in this race despite those credentials. Joint Return is another excellent filly who just needs a little more luck to catch a break and could pop the cork here… the talent is there, she did beat Vero Amore as a juvenile and she gets an inner post for once. I like Got Lucky still! She’s getting back to her old self and should like the distance plenty. I’ll give America another shot if I had to mention a 4th horse here.

Value Pick: Fortune Pearl (6-1 or better) is a steal. Take her while you can! 

Whitney Handicap Late Pick 4

Two years ago, I had two legs.

One year ago, I missed just one (damn you, Cross Traffic!)

THIS IS THE YEAR!… Or so I would hope…

Two G1 sprints, a G1 dirt route, and an ungraded turf stake make this year’s late pick 4 on Whitney Day a little on the tough side with plenty of horses stepping up, stepping down, cutting back, you name it. With ample variation in speed, stamina, and different strengths, it’s one big puzzle and I anticipate at least one bomb going off in the final four races. Thanks to my Internet going out, as of 8:48pm EST I am still mulling over my spread plans, but here’s what I have down so far, and overall I feel pretty good about it (special thanks to the DRF Ticketmaker!):

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LEG #1: Vanderbilt Handicap at 6 furlongs for older sprinters - Possible bomb scenario with one very solid favorite and the rest of the field fairly even as muddled mysteries… This may be one of those races to hit the “ALL” button on!#1 Palace is a must-include, sitting on a big win after doing little wrong all year with the trainer and jockey stats to back up his good record and good recent works. He ran 2nd last out to Clearly Now, who broke the track record at Belmont. Also in the “A” category is #5 Happy My Way, who backs a tough dirt speed figure and has a way of disappearing with an uncontested lead should he get one. He is 4-for-6 at the distance and has won off similar layoffs. Only loss this year came to Ribo Bobo. Also in the A column is #8 Bakken, who ought to improve further and he can sit behind the pace with speed to burn. Chad Brown has a tight turn-around record for similar layoffs, and he has Javier. B column highlights #2 Falling Sky and #3 Lemon Drop Dream, but I might as well put the rest of the field in there.

LEG #2: Test Stakes at 7 furlongs for 3-year-old fillies - Another toughie, but one with some solid favorites who will get a good setup. #7 Sweet Reason will get plenty of pace to close into, and is a worthwhile favorite to include on all tickets. I also like #6 Street Story a lot, who is 2-for-2 at Saratoga and won a G3 last out. Also an “A,” #3 Sweet Whiskey backs a strong Pletcher stable, missing by 1/2 length last out to Sweet Reason in the Acorn (I) and could get the jump on her in this spot breaking closer to the inside. I’m also including #9 Tea Time, who has been improving under Michael Matz and blew the doors off in her last breeze. “B” column includes #4 Thank You Marylou returning to 7 furlongs, the promising speed ball #10 Red Velvet, and #12 Miss Behavior, a beaten stakes winner with plenty to like.

LEG #3: Whitney Stakes at 9 furlongs for 3-year-olds & up - See analysis post

LEG #4: Lure Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-olds & up - #4 Big Blue Kitten is a “duh” choice and possible single with top stats all-around and at this distance mark. Ramseys are probably looking for a soft spot for their returning G1 winner as well as another easy tick towards the owner title. I’m also interested by #3 Edge of Reality, who is trying turf for the first time for Graham Motion, who has a knack for getting top turfers a humongous shot and has been doing awesome this meet. B horses include #6 Plainview, who is 3-for-3 at ‘Toga and rides with Jose Lezcano; #11 Rogue Romance, whom I include purely because I was thinking of him randomly the other day and suddenly he appears! (gut pick, ignore if you wish); and #12 Kharafa, who has finished off the board at this distance mark just once and gets Javier Castellano for his return to the grass, which is hopefully firm for his liking.

Palace Malice Tops Loaded Whitney Handicap

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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).

Tonalist Back in Action in Jim Dandy

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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.

The Pizza Man Set to Deliver in the Stars and Stripes Handicap

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Yes, you all knew that kind of headline just had to happen. We on Tumblr love pizza.

In a series of prep races for the big Arlington Million (I) a month away, Arlington Park has enticed a variety of up-and-comers, improvers, and current turf heavyweights to ship on over and get some batting practice in. For the potential improvers, the 1 1/2-mile Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) is a pretty level affair, with just one horse actually making this race a handicap— last year’s Illinois-bred three-year-old of the year, The Pizza Man.

Weather looks dicey on both Friday and Saturday, so I will handicap this race anticipating a “good” turf course.

$150,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap (III) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/2 miles on turf at Arlington Park. Post Time: Saturday, July 12 at 4:25pm CST.

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

1) Moro Tap - Victor Espinoza, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - Big love for any Tapit colt! Skychai’s 4-year-old has been racing on the turf for quite a while with very mild results, being unable to beat some very nice horses (namely War Dancer and Infinite Magic) but able to nab others in select situations. Namely a closing type, Moro Tap’s past performances show he’s a terrible horse at the break. Coming off the rail, that could be doubly problematic, and he doesn’t have Napravnik in this race like he’s been getting lately. However, he does have two good back-to-back workouts, although nothing to suggest he’s seriously worthy at 5-1 odds. 15-1 maybe.

2) Mister Marti Gras - Eduardo Perez, 117 lbs, Chris Block - Ah, an old iron horse! The Belong To Me gelding has been pretty successful at Arlington Park between their all-weather surface and the turf course, and he comes into this race humming off a 1 1/16 mile allowance here over “good” turf. Everything looks pretty good as Mister rounds into top form. Distance should not be an issue, but he has knocked heads with The Pizza Man before and lost out.

3) Suntracer - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Chris Block - In a move that might create a conflict of interest, Chris Block enters one of his own along with Mister Marti Gras in the form of this Kitten’s Joy, who most recently fell short by a head to War Dancer in the Louisville Handicap (III). With many of his starts coming on the turf at elongated distances and getting turf jockey Leparoux, Suntracer is not a bad bet and nearly had War Dancer’s measure last out. Block has a great record bringing in horses back from a bit of a layoff, so definitely use Suntracer in those exotics.

4) Bubba’s Big Show - Stephanie Slinger, 117 lbs, Rhonda Thurman - Another horse with some great turf pedigree, the Mizzen Mast gelding won twice this year for the first time in his life, the first in a Hawthorne $25k maiden claimer and the second in a $50k claimer non-winner of 2 at Arlington. Distance and class stretch-out here, Bubba’s connections are small and humble but both jockey and trainer spit out some good statistics for their risk-taking move in enter the gelding here. Still, a deserving longshot stepping up.

5) Dreams Cut Short - Joe Bravo, 117 lbs, Mike Maker - It’s not exactly rocket science that Mike Maker is good with fresh claimers, as he turned this Belong To Me gelding right around and won with him immediately at Churchill Downs last month, stepping up from $25k to $40k claiming races. Greatly improved since switching barns, the bulk of this horse’s success came on polytrack. He will have to improve even more to rob this field.

6) Seton Hall - Brian Hernandez Jr, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The only horse in this field who has gone 10 furlongs AND won at it, the Lion Heart gelding is 2nd off the layoff here after finishing 2nd in his first start back at Churchill, moving past horses but not gaining ground on the eventual winner in a 9-furlong race. Wilkes does a very good job of turning his horses around off the layoff and Seton Hall is an old pro at this game. Look for him to hit the board.

7) The Pizza Man - Florent Geroux, 121 lbs, Roger Brueggemann - The English Channel gelding comes into this field 2nd off the layoff, finishing 1st in his first start back since the fall in a 1 1/16 mile stake here at Arlington, and he’s been 2-for-2 with Brueggemann thus far. Classy and set to be near the pace, The Pizza Man could very well prevail as the likely favorite and a 6-time winner of 9 races at Arlington.

8) Olympic Thunder - Alan Garcia, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - Brazilian-bred and winless since shipping to the United States for the past two or so years, the Durban Thunder [BRZ] son hasn’t been further than 2 1/2 lengths from the win in each of his races this year. Not overly bad a horse, but he’s been lacking that something that keeps him from hitting the board, never mind winning. More ground may help, but I’m not counting on him to win.

9) O’Prado Ole - Channing Hill, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The youngest horse in the field owned by Donegal Racing of Dullahan fame, the English Channel colt could do no better than 5th this year in 3 starts although he won both of his two wins on the grass as a juvenile. What really sells O’Prado Ole are his connections, as Dale Romans has a good 3rd-off-the-layoff return as does Channing Hill with grass types. Exotics must.

10) Dad Are We Here - James Graham, 119 lbs, Doug Matthews - A winner twice this year, the 7-year-old son of Pure Prize was 6th last out to The Pizza Man, but won back-to-back allowances at Fair Grounds earlier this year. Stretching out to 10 furlongs for the first time, Dad won’t get a rapid enough pace to close into. Not a lot to see here.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) The Pizza Man (5-2)

2) Suntracer (4-1)

3) Mister Marti Gras (4-1)

Whether the grass is firm or good, the picks here don’t change a whole lot. The Pizza Man looks to be in good form and has the class to snuff out most of the field with very little effort. There won’t be a whole lot of pace to contend with either, and he could very well skirt off to an uncontested lead and win that way. Suntracer isn’t new to the distance game and fell just a bit short of War Dancer last out. Chris Block has him ready to go. It would be goofy to leave out Mister Marti Gras, who has won or placed in 2/3 of his lifetime starts and is rounding into good form right now. I think he’s better on poly and dirt, but he’s very good right now nonetheless.

Value Pick: O’Prado Ole (10-1) is interesting despite not winning much this year. If he doesn’t get any better from this angle, I don’t know if he ever will.

Belmont Derby Beckons Invaders

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Rooting interest: gosh dang, you’re beautiful, Dance With Fate!

A G1 polytrack winner and a handful of successful turf graded stakes winners answer the call for the inaugural Belmont Derby Invitational (I) (formerly the G1 Jamaica Handicap), which has succeeded in becoming deeper and more contentious than ever by attracting some interesting company from overseas. Can America defend its home turf on Independence Day weekend, or will a favored invader knock them all flat? Regardless, it should be a great race and a tough one to handicap, especially considering the likelihood of a good or soft turf surface with downpours in the July 4th forecast.

I’ve handicapped this race anticipating a “good” footing. Saturday will be bright, sunny, and summery all day leading up to the 4:30 post time which ought to help soak up any rainfall.

$1,250,000 Belmont Derby Invitational (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on turf at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, July 5 at 4:34pm EST.

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

1) Toast of New York - Jamie Spencer, Jamie Osbourne - Unraced since his win in the Tapeta-bound UAE Derby (III) in Dubai, the son of Thewayyouare was hardly a factor in his lone turf start, which was a messy beginning as his maiden race. However since that bad first time out, Toast has been a relentless performer in his next 4 starts, winning three of them by daylight. All signs suggest Toast will do well on turf, and he gets a good spot on that sweet rail to position himself well early.

2) Sheldon - Junior Alvarado, James Toner - Listed as a longshot due to just having broken his maiden, the Purim colt has the advantage of having won at this distance on this same course and on “good” turf. I’m a big fan of his trainer, who totes a nice win percentage and is not known to throw his horses to the wolves. Consider for the exotics.

3) Bobby’s Kitten - Javier Castellano, Chad Brown - Bobby’s Kitten was one of the few juveniles last year to really grab my attention early, and he’s shown he’s still a very quality horse at three. A runaway winner in his only try at Belmont, the Kitten’s Joy colt owns some good early speed and has won over good turf. From a near-rail post, Bobby will likely shoot for the lead successfully, but can he hold it? Keep him in mind when making exotics plays.

4) Adelaide [IRE] - Colm O’Donoghue, Aidan O’Brien - There’s few better trainers in the world than Aidan O’Brien, who ships in this Group 2 winning son of top turf sire Galileo [IRE] in for a usurp. Lightly raced with just 4 total career starts, Adelaide has won 2 and placed twice and has shown strength over a soft or good going. Very strong win candidate considering his overall quality and ability.

5) Flamboyant [FR] - Joel Rosario, Patrick Gallagher - Never off the board with 3 wins in 8 starts, the Peer Gynt [JPN] colt makes his third U.S. start and was last seen running second by a head to Gala Award in the 9-furlong Pennine Ridge here at Belmont. Will extra ground make the difference? Flamboyant is not particularly appealing when compared side-by-side with talented invaders and U.S. horses who have already bested him. He is paired with top turf jockey Rosario and has been breezing pretty strongly.

6) Dance With Fate - Corey Nakatani, Peter Eurton - Big fan of this colt since I saw him on TV at the Breeders’ Cup. The Two Step Salsa colt won his lone turf start and is a G1 winner on the polytrack, suggesting grass may be his strongest surface. He has yet to start on a softened turf surface and is coming off a layoff since racing 6th in the Kentucky Derby. Definitely a very nice horse who sings on the grass, Dance is one of the most impressive American runners I’ve seen this year but will be combating some new obstacles. He looks good and could hit a good payday.

7) Gailo Chop - Julien Auge, Antoine De Watrigant - The gelded Deportivo [GB] has racked up quiet the reputation in France, rattling off 5 straight wins with no off-the-board finishes. However, he has yet to race above Group 3. 2-for-2 at the distance, in a “blind” picture slideshow of the Euro invaders I submitted myself to, Gailo Chop impressed me the most and has shown fleetness over good/soft turf and going the distance. He comes off a layoff since late April

8) Pornichet [FR] - Jose Ortiz, Gai Waterhouse - Owned and trained by Waterhouse, the Vespone [IRE] colt missed by less than 2 lengths last out in a Group 1 at Longchamp last out. Coming in off a layoff since mid-May, Waterhouse tacks on blinkers and has put a 6-furlong breeze into him earlier in the week at Belmont.  A horse who has mostly sprinted or miled at this stage, nothing about him really jumps out at me.

9) Mr Speaker - Jose Lezcano, Shug McGaughey - The Pulpit colt looked like the real deal earlier in the year when winning a loaded Dania Beach (III), whose runner-up Cabo Cat just snatched a very nice win last weekend in the Manila Stakes here at Belmont. Lezcano is one of the best turf jockeys, Shug wins at nearly 25% in graded stakes, and Mr Speaker was caught in tight last race. Excellent horse to use for value.

10) Global View - Gary Stevens, Tom Proctor - The Galileo [IRE] colt caught my attention upon besting the impressive Storming Inti a few starts back in the American Turf Stakes (II). Usually favored, he is considered a longer shot here after bouncing a bit in the Penn Mile, losing by nearly 3 lengths to Bobby’s Kitten. Global View should do better upon stretching out, and his connections have good turf stats across the board.

11) Gala Award - John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher - A Bernardini that can do turf, Gala Award is a Coolmore-owned colt who has shown preference for stalking the pace and proved that style successful last out, winning the 9-furlong Pennine Ridge over Flamboyant [FR]. A G3 winner on the turf, Gala Award gets a class test and will have to break well to secure his preferred spot behind the pace. Johnny V does however have a very high success rate landing in the top 2 in turf races.

Top 3 Picks in Order:

1) Gailo Chop

2) Adelaide [FR]

3) Dance With Fate

A lot of nice horses, a lot of layoffs, and there’s some built-in pace that ought to assure some of good finishes. Toast of New York is the morning line favorite and has tons of class, but I feel unsure about backing him given the pace, the distance, and the fact he hasn’t raced since March and ships over. Gailo Chop impressed me the most visually and can come off the pace, and class-wise, could have arguably raced well in his native land races had he not been a gelding and thus, ineligible. Dance With Fate is one of the best three-year-olds in the country; he’s risky coming onto good turf, but the race sets up for him and he’s blossomed off of similar layoffs.

Value Picks: Mr Speaker (12-1 or better) comes from a trainer who knows how to win big turf races. Dance With Fate (8-1 or better) may get ignored in the company of European horses. Sheldon (20-1 or better) is practically begging to be used in exotics.

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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