Essential Quality heads into the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga as the deserving favorite after his win in the Belmont Stakes. For bettors, the problem is that he offers low odds again and it is also unclear if he will give his best effort this week since the Travers Stakes (G1) later in August is the ultimate goal.
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Other options are viable for value bettors. Down below is a case for a mild upset in the Jim Dandy Stakes, plus selections for the Vanderbilt Stakes (G1), Bowling Green Stakes (G1) and a 2-year-old race to start off the card.
Saratoga Race 1: Maiden
Master Game is a son of Mastery, a precocious runner won all four starts under trainer Bob Baffert including the 2016 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and 2017 San Felipe Stakes (G2) before his promising career ended early. Also, Master Game’s half-brother Grit and Curiosity is an active sprinter who won two six-furlong allowance races at Oaklawn Park last year, which signals that a short sprint is fine for Master Game.
Take some time to watch Master Game’s two workouts shown on XBTV. In both the July 11 and July 26 one, he dominates his workmate.
Trainer Todd Pletcher does not fire as often with first-timer starters, but he is still capable with the right horse. Irad Ortiz Jr. hops on board.
Master Game is a single. Expect lower odds than 5/2 on him.
Saratoga Race 8: Vanderbilt Stakes (G1)
This edition of the Vanderbilt Stakes lacks star power. Yet, it is an attractive betting race with a few different ways bettors can go in.
The most interesting value option is Special Reserve, who has won three of his four starts since trainer Michael Maker took over his conditioning. Those three wins include an Oaklawn optional claiming race, Maryland Sprint Match Series Stakes (G3) and the Iowa Sprint Stakes last month.
Special Reserve’s lone loss under Maker came in the seven-furlong Commonwealth Stakes (G3) at Keeneland back in April. The three wins under Maker all came at six furlongs, and the Vanderbilt is also six furlongs.
In the Maryland Sprint Match and Iowa Sprint, Special Reserve posted matching TimeformUS Speed Figures of 121, a number that appears likely win this race. With the “weight off” function applied in TimeformUS, no other horse has broken 120 this year, giving the 6-1 Special Reserve an advantage.
Otherwise, Mischevious Alex is a logical option, even at 2-1 odds.
Earlier in the year, Mischevious Alex won the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship (G2) by 3 ¼ lengths and Carter Handicap (G1) by a smashing 5 ½ lengths. The fading third-place finish by 1 ¾ lengths to Silver State in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) is forgivable, as he wants shorter.
In speed figures, Mischevious Alex is a few points below Special Reserve on TimeformUS. Regardless, he is always a dangerous horse in sprints.
Saratoga Race 9: Jim Dandy Stakes (G2)
No one is disputing that Essential Quality is the best horse entered. However, upsets can happen if the horse is prepping for a bigger race.
At 6-1, Keepmeinmind deserves a closer look.
Keepmeinmind exits a closing third-place finish in the Ohio Derby (G3). He only lost by a half-length to Masqueparade, with King Fury in second. His kind of late-running style works in this race because Weyburn, Masqueparade and maybe Dr Jack are likely to tire each other out up front. Even if none of those three names are blazing speed types, the mere presence of good horses racing near each other will affect them.
With Essential Quality stalking the pace, Keepmeinmind can probably sit a few lengths behind him and move whenever Essential Quality decides to move up. If Essential Quality misfires for any reason, then Keepmeinmind is right there and only needs to mow down the leaders.
Is this the most likely outcome? No. At 6-1 though, it might be worth finding out if Essential Quality does not bring his best race and Keepmeinmind does fire a big one.
The blog avoids emphasizing workout times often, but Keepmeinmind also shows some fast workouts on July 17 and 24. In the latter July 24 workout at Saratoga, he posted a blazing four-furlong time in 46 flat, which was the fastest out of 113 horses for the distance that morning.
Yes, Essential Quality is the Belmont champion. He is not invincible though, as his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby shows. It also took a big effort for him to defeat Highly Motivated in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) too. He is best used defensively in multi-race wagers.
For win and place bettors, Keepmeinmind is the choice. If there is bridgejumping action on Essential Quality, then consider a show bet on Keepmeinmind or any other horse in the field besides Essential Quality.
Saratoga Race 10: Bowling Green Stakes (G2)
Given both Channel Cat and Channel Maker both want the lead, it makes sense to search elsewhere for the winner since the pace is set to heat up.
Cross Border is not a bad option. He won this race last year via disqualification and figures to sit in the right spot behind the speed horses. From Post 2, he can also save ground on all three turns of this marathon.
His loss to Megacity in a June 27 Belmont optional claiming race is forgivable. Megacity set the pace with 24.12, 48.37 and 1:12.28 fractions for the nine-furlong race, making it difficult for any horse to come and catch him. Cross Border ran well enough to close for second and lose by a neck.
Also consider Moon Over Miami, who closed for third in the Man o’ War Stakes (G1) at Belmont. He lost by only a neck to Channel Cat.
Besides the third in the Man o’ War, Moon Over Miami also ran second in the Pan American Stakes (G2) and third in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) earlier this year. In both of those two cases, he had to overcome slow pace scenarios.
As long as the two main speed horses remain entered, Moon Over Miami has a chance. Use both him and Cross Border in multi-race wagers.