• Miss Sunset (3-1) grinds out the win over Chalon in the Grade 2 Raven Run Stakes.Posted 23 hours ago
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Breeders' Cup 2017

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Head Heart & Hooves

A Look On the Bright Side: Saratoga

This year's three-year-old division has suffered one major blow after another since the Preakness. There are many reasons to be concerned by these occurrences, but with the Saratoga and Del Mar meets beginning, we can also look towards the latter part of the season with excitement. Upcoming Saturday are the Willard Straight and the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, which we will consider here. The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 80's.


The Willard Straight is a 5.5 furlong turf sprint which draws a field of eight plus one main-track-only contender (named Head Heart Hoof, no less). I will focus on the three entries I like best:


1 ZERO RATE POLICY has been on a steady diet of 6f dirt sprints. The 4-year-old Trippi gelding will make his first start on the turf Saturday for Terri Pompay, who excels at these conditions. Pompay's overall win percentage last year was only 12% from 82 starters, but her first-time turf percentage is 27% with a $4.68 ROI from 22 starters. Her turf sprint percentage is equally impressive: 28% with a $4.52 ROI from 18 starters. This clear win percentage disparity indicates that these conditions are where Pompay makes her bones. The high ROI means that, even at 15-1, this runner may have a shot.


Trippi is 8/51 (17%) with turf starters. None of his progeny have won a stakes race on the turf. His dam, Untitled Song, was unraced. His granddam, Punkin Pie, won 15 of 74 starts and set a 1-mile track record at Aqueduct. While Zero Rate Policy's pedigree doesn't seem geared towards the turf, Pompay’s record at the conditions means that he must be considered.


2 GREAT MILLS should head for the front along with Zero Rate Policy. The 4-year-old War Front colt has been running 5-5.5 furlong turf sprints exclusively since last fall and has been working steadily since his 4th place finish last out. Great Mills' two best recent efforts have come on the firm turf, leaving him one to consider on such a surface. However, while Great Mills has kept some decent company, he has not fared particularly well in his toughest tests. As such, I am leaning away from him in this spot. He has the speed to take the front, but may not have the class to hold off others here.


With speed to his inside, 5 PERFECT OFFICER should sit a nice trip for his running style. With the presence of a number of speed horses here - it is a 5.5 furlong race - and the early-season preference for closers on the fresh Saratoga turf course, the 6-year-old Officer gelding may get exactly the setup he needs to win. His victories as of late have come in dramatic fashion, but the connections and expected pace dynamics inspire confidence. Tony Dutrow is 31% with 107 runners’ second starts off of a long layoff. He is also 29% with 266 runners off a short layoff. Perfect Officer’s 3-1 price is not exactly alluring, but it may increase due to 7 BRIDGETOWN, who looks to remain a heavy favorite.


Bridgetown is another who will take aim at the lead. His three recent triple-digit Beyer speed figures and 3-3 record at Saratoga will also stand out to bettors. However, I do not pay much attention to figures on the turf and cannot in good conscience back an 8-5 morning line favorite. I would not be shocked to see the 5-year-old son of Speightstown right there at the wire, but he offers no value. He may be a victim of pace dynamics and the company here will be a bit tougher than that which he has been beating in other ungraded stakes races.


I will play 5 Perfect Officer to win. I am intrigued by 1 Zero Rate Policy, but will need to see him in the paddock prior to placing any wagers.


Perfect Officer is also playable in Daily Doubles, with the second race (80K MSW) looking like a two-horse race between to first-time starters. Todd Pletcher's 2 WELL LAWYERED cannot be left out, based on the trainer's superior two-year-old record, but I prefer 3 HOT WEST. He has worked three four-furlong bullets in a row, including :47 in his most recent work - his first on the Saratoga main track. Any two-year-old working four furlongs in 47 seconds is dangerous. Hot West may provide some value. Nick Zito has currently won with only 2% (yes, 2%) of his 81 debut starters, a percentage that may cause Hot West’s 4-1 morning line odds to drift up.



In the Coaching Club American Oaks, a nine furlong grade one on the dirt for three-year-old fillies, I am interested in both of Todd Pletcher's entries. I backed 2 DISPOSABLEPLEASURE in her last two starts, both tough beats. I am beginning to worry that those who say she is too slow just might be right, but I am going to give her a third chance. She has worked well since arriving at Saratoga and her last two works, both very good, are identical to stablemate 7 IN LINGERIE's works.


I assume In Lingerie will be closer to the pace than last time when she stumbled and still closed to win, but she has also shown versatility in her running style. She is three of four lifetime, plus one second, and looks like a solid bet to win. She is 5-2 on the morning line, however, and may not provide much value. I plan to play exactas each way here and hope for Disposablepleasure on top.


As for the rest, 1 QUESTING is a curious entry. She ran well in Group 3 races at Goodwood and Newmarket before coming to the States. Her last race was a gate-to-wire victory over 25K optional claimers in her second try on the dirt in which she received a 105 Beyer speed figure for her 1:34 mile. Questing will get a serious class test here, but she should get the lead under Irad Ortiz Jr. if she wants it. She has a lot to prove at 3-1, however.


3 YARA ran past Grace Hall in the Davona Dale, but has not shown much since. She enters Juan Carlos Guerrero's barn for this race, which has won 35% of its 89 runners making their first starts for the outfit. That number is impressive, but this is a difficult spot for Mr. Guerrero to increase that percentage. Yara should sit close to the pace, but it remains to be seen if she will get the 9 furlongs she has twice failed to handle, albeit in difficult spots.


4 FUNNY PROPOSITION had an excuse last out in the Regret (hopped start), but she has not faced horses of this caliber before. She has the least stakes experience in the field, but it should be noted that Shaun Bridgmohan returns to ride yet another entry who will want to be close to the pace. He rode Funny Proposition to two firsts and a third in her first three races.


5 ZO IMPRESSIVE has beaten both In Lingerie and Disposablepleasure. I am hoping they can turn the tables today. Zo Impressive has never been out of the exacta in five starts and there is reason to believe that trend will continue here. However, she is an unbettable 2-1 on the morning line. She should sit a nice trip off of the pace and would not be a surprise, but I will go against her here. Tom Albertrani has started 53 horses coming off a win and only 8% of them have repeated.



Despite some reports to the contrary, horse racing is alive and well. I had the pleasure of attending Arlington Million Preview Day and the quality of racing was top-notch, as was the crowd. The total handle for the day was $7,616,325, a 48% increase over last year's $5,141,447 handle - so the crowd was clearly placing plenty of wagers as well. The turnout bodes well for Illinois’ biggest racing event, Arlington Million day. Arlington has done a wonderful job of promoting itself and the game this year, with its welcoming atmosphere, fan education programs, and quality racing. I am eager for the trend to continue.



Finally, as this is innaugural blog posting on HRN, I would like to welcome new readers. I will provide analysis similar to the above for major stakes races around the country and especially here in Illinois, with honest thoughts on the ups and downs of my wagering strategies. I will also augment such analysis with hopefully thought provoking commentary on the issues facing the racing industry as they evolve. Feedback is always welcome!




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Older Comments about A Look On the Bright Side: Saratoga...

Welsome to the blogroll Alex!! It was great meeting you on preview day and I hope to see you again soon! I play guitar so maybe we can get our stringed instruments together!!
Thanks guys; happy to be here! As much as I don't like using lawyer as a verb, we'll see how he runs. : )
Welcome to the HRN blog squad! Pletcher went out of his way the other day to mention Well Lawyered as one of his top two year-olds.
Great first post, Alex ... welcome to the team!

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Meet Alex Fawell 

Unlike many, I did not grow up with horseracing. My first time at the races was the 2008 Kentucky Derby. I bet on Colonel John. That fall, I had the good fortune to go to England, where I visited Ascot and Kempton. When I returned to the U.S., I was hooked. I started reading handicapping books, studying historic sire lines, watching races and going to Portland Meadows regularly. While the purses there were small, I was able to be close to the action and see firsthand the day-to-day operations of an average American racetrack.


Last year I moved home to Chicago. I went to Arlington for the first time this year. In the interim, I have devoted my time to understanding all aspects of horseracing  I hope to provide unique isights on handicapping perspectives and multifaceted analyses on the state of horseracing today. I will strive to write with an open mind and a willingness to learn through the writing process. I will not claim to be an expert, but I will read thoroughly, write carefully, and be honest.


To me, the all-time greats are Kelso, John Henry, Round Table and Yeats. Horses I like because they have won me money include Raven's Pass, Alternation, and I'll Have Another. The greatest horse I have even seen live is Zenyatta. I also enjoy the Bears, the Bulls, the White Sox, the Blackhawks, Mexican food, good Bourbon, and old-time music - specifically that played on the 5-string banjo. Thanks for reading!

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