Weekend Plays: Selections for a big graded stakes slate

Weekend Plays: Selections for a big graded stakes slate
Photo: Benoit Photo

Rather than focus on a multi-race sequence, today’s post will discuss the biggest dirt races on Saturday. Across the country, five dirt graded stakes races are scheduled, with three of those races at Santa Anita and one each at Churchill Downs and Belmont.

Some of these picks were stated earlier, while others are new. Of the three Santa Anita picks below, the most acceptable price on the program is Spielberg, who starts as the mild 3/1 favorite in the American Pharoah Stakes (G1) for 2-year-olds.

Spielberg leads off the list of five Sept. 26 dirt selections. Click on the race name for full entries.

Santa Anita Race 8: American Pharoah Stakes (G1)

enters this race as a maiden for trainer Bob Baffert, but is that such a negative factor? When top connections enter a maiden in a Grade 1, it usually signals confidence in the horse’s ability as opposed to taking a shot in the dark.

For example, last year Baffert entered Bast in the Del Mar Debutante (G1) off one runner-up finish in a maiden race. Bast crushed the field by 8 ¾ lengths.

In Spielberg’s case, he shows two runner-up finishes while sprinting in both a maiden race and the Del Mar Futurity (G1), which gives him important graded stakes experience heading into this race.

His pedigree is not a problem as a son of Union Rags out of the Smart Strike mare Miss Squeal. The second dam Miss Kate is a half-sister to Clear Mandate, the winner of the 1996 Shuvee Handicap (G1) and nine-furlong 1997 Spinster Stakes (G1).

Also, Spielberg figures to secure the lead for Baffert. TimeformUS Pace Projector calls for a fast pace, but the projection algorithms are not always perfect fortune tellers. In many cases, Baffert horses secure the lead easier than expected.

Because Spielberg is a maiden, the public is supposed to back off slightly as well.

At 5/2 or higher, Spielberg is the top choice.

Santa Anita Race 3: Chandelier Stakes (G2)

Unfortunately, there is little reason to play against Princess Noor.

While this Baffert-trained filly stretches out and tries two turns for the first time, she won her two starts with devastating ease. In her recent win, she took command of the lead on the turn and drew clear by 6 ½ lengths under mild urging.

For what it is worth, Princess Noor’s dam Sheza Smoke Show won the one-mile Senorita Stakes (G3) on turf in 2014. The sire Not This Time won the 2016 Iroquois Stakes (G3) before a close second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Princess Noor is the choice, but the race is unplayable.

Santa Anita Race 10: Awesome Again Stakes (G1)

With Maximum Security and Improbable present in this five-horse field, this is another dirt graded stakes race tilting in Bob Baffert’s direction.

Despite his low odds, Maximum Security is grudgingly the top choice. The full rundown of each horse is in the Odds and Analysis piece posted Thursday.

Here is a shortened version.

On paper, Maximum Security shows the best class in this race. He began the year with a gritty win in the Saudi Cup, and did not stop the momentum after the transfer to Baffert with further victories in the San Diego Handicap (G2) and Pacific Classic (G1). In the former Del Mar race, he won as a stalker and managed to mow down a game Midcourt on the lead. In the latter race, he set a comfortable pace.

How can other horses beat Maximum Security if he wins from either running style?

His stablemate Improbable is capable of winning with some racing luck. But he needs Maximum Security to misfire or become caught in traffic.

Therefore, Maximum Security is the top choice.

Churchill Downs Race 9: Ack Ack Stakes (G3)

is capable of upsetting this field with a good trip and a return to his most recent Churchill Downs' effort in the Blame Stakes.

His other recent races are not bad either.

Although Everfast only crossed the wire sixth in the Forego Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in his most recent start, he still finished ahead of Whitmore, Mind Control and Firenze Fire among others. He also earned a 111 TimeformUS Speed Figure, which is a decent number.

Two starts ago, Everfast easily took a seven-furlong allowance race at Saratoga over an overmatched field by 2 ½ lengths with another 111 on TimeformUS.

Toss out the turf flop three starts ago in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1).

Everfast’s best start this year came in the local Blame Stakes in May, where he lost by half a length to Owendale and beat Silver Dust by a neck for third. For the runner-up effort, Everfast shows a career-high 121 figure on TimeformUS. To back up the race's quality, earlier in the month Owendale ran second to By My Standards in the Alysheba Stakes (G2).

Everfast returns to Churchill Downs in the one-mile Ack Ack. If he can match the 121 TimeformUS figure, or even improve upon it slightly, he will win this race.

Belmont Race 9: Vosburgh Stakes (G2)

A full analysis of this race is available on the blog.

To make it short, True Timber holds a slight edge in terms of class and pace.

True Timber always tackles difficult fields, whether in the recent Forego Stakes (G1), the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) or the Pegasus World Cup earlier this year. Even in a Keeneland allowance optional claimer two starts ago, True Timber ran against one of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint contenders in the rejuvenated C Z Rocket.

True Timber did not win any of those races, but his Forego effort appears strong as he dueled with Complexity in the early stages and continued to fight in the lane while ultimately settling for third.

According to TimeformUS Pace Projector, True Timber figures to secure the lead through a slow pace in this spot, giving him every chance to post the win.

With only four wins in 26 starts, True Timber does not finish on top often. But this is the right race and pace scenario to bet the 6-year-old son of Mineshaft.

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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