Saturday plays: Saratoga card the focus

Saturday plays: Saratoga card the focus
Photo: Parker Waters / Eclipse Sportswire

Saratoga’s two stakes races on Saturday look difficult from a betting standpoint. As tough as this is, bettors might want to skip the featured race on the card, or both stakes races because the favorites are tough. 

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Nevertheless, here are some thoughts on the Grade 1, $500,000 Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 3, $200,000 Caress Stakes later on in the day. Also included below are three picks for the lone baby maiden race on the CCAO card, including a 20-1 longshot.

Saratoga Race 5: Coaching Club American Oaks (G1)

First of all, think about whether betting the CCAO makes sense.

Even though Malathaat is beatable, there are not many other options. If Malathaat is the play, her win might not result in high enough payoffs to make the bet worthwhile. Some bettors want to try every graded stakes race though, and the thoughts below are for them.

Readers do not need a huge introduction to Malathaat. She is the undefeated Kentucky Oaks champion, although she tends to win races by small margins. She only won the Oaks by a neck over Search Results and the Ashland Stakes (G1) by a head over Pass the Champagne. 

For Malathaat bettors, one strategy is to key Malathaat on top of Maracuja in a straight exacta. The “value” is in beating morning line second choice Clairiere for the runner-up spot, as Malathaat over Clairiere will barely pay anything.

The concern is that Malathaat’s edge over Clairiere appears slim on paper. Even though Clairiere was fourth in the Kentucky Oaks, she only lost by three lengths. In dirt racing, three lengths is not an insurmountable margin to reverse, especially with young horses who continue to improve with time. Clairiere can make up the difference.

If Clairiere is the pick, then a win bet on her is fine. Bettors might even want to try a place bet with Clairiere and hope for Malathaat to finish third or fourth for any reason. If Malathaat misses the exacta, the place payoff will come out higher than expected.

Still, the best option is to not play the CCAO except if it is needed in multi-race wagers. If the race must be played vertically, then those are the two paths.

Saratoga Race 6: Maiden

Mark Casse has had a low winning percentage at the Spa. Regardless, he starts an interesting second-time starter named Volcanic in Race 6 who could give him that sporadic win on this track.

Volcanic shows an interesting running line for his June 4 career debut at Churchill Downs. He lost ground in the middle portion of the race before coming back to close within 1 1/4 lengths of the winner Cool Papa G. The line resembles a Z pattern.

Also, take the time to watch Volcanic’s July 15 workout in company with Nyquest Nix on XBTV. Nyquest Nix is an unraced colt who cost $325,000 as a yearling. After getting the signal to move, Volcanic glides past Nyquest Nix towards the wire.  

Volcanic should take a step forward on the stretchout to six furlongs. He is the top selection in this race. 

Another interesting option is the first-time starter Irish Sea, who makes his career debut for trainer Shug McGaughey. Admittedly, Shug only fires with first timers once in a while.

Maybe this colt is the next one. In baby races, it is important to seek out horses displaying win-early sprinting pedigrees, and this one shows a win-early dam named Irish Jasper who won three of her first four career starts including the 2014 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The following year, she also won the Miss Preakness Stakes (G3) and Victory Ride Stakes (G3) to pad a successful career.

Irish Sea’s sire Honor Code also won for Shug at first asking at this meet in 2013 before moving on to a successful routing career that saw him win two Grade 1s including the 2015 Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and Whitney Stakes (G1).

The June 29 bullet on Irish Sea’s work tab does not hurt either.

For a super longshot, look over Fluid Situation at 20-1.

Fluid Situation is a full brother to Axelrod, who won $820,000 in his career including the 2018 Indiana Derby (G3) and Smarty Jones Stakes (G3). For what it is worth, Axelrod broke his maiden in his second start and won two of his first four races.

Joel Rosario takes the call on Fluid Situation, and that is a good sign.

Saratoga Race 10: Caress Stakes

At first glance, this turf sprint is a match race between two low-priced runners in Robin Sparkles and Caravel.

Robin Sparkles ran second to start off her 2021 campaign in the License Fee Stakes at Belmont on April 30. Given the 174-day layoff and bump at the start, she deserves a pass for the loss. More recently, Robin Sparkles won an allowance optional claiming race at Belmont on June 24 in pacesetting fashion by 2 1/4 lengths.

Remember that two lengths is a significant margin in turf sprints because there is not enough time to separate and blow out the field by several lengths.

Caravel faded to third in the License Fee after contesting the pace. While cutting back to five furlongs though, she went on to win her next two starts in The Very One Stakes at Pimlico and Goldwood Stakes at Monmouth. In the latter victory, Caravel won by 4 1/4 lengths, which means she enters the Caress in sharp form.

Maybe Caravel just needs to sit off the leaders rather than contest the pace.

For a price, Flower Point is not without a shot at 6-1.

In her most recent start on June 19, Flower Point closed from 12 lengths behind to win a seven-furlong optional claiming race at Belmont by 1 1/4 lengths. Three starts ago, Flower Point could only close for fifth in the aforementioned License Fee at six furlongs, but she only lost by 2 3/4 lengths and came off a significant 481-day layoff.

When Flower Point was based in California, she broke her maiden at five furlongs and won a 5 1/2-furlong optional claiming race for her lone two wins out west.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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