The P.G. Johnson Stakes, named in honor of Hall of Fame trainer Philip George Johnson, is a listed event for 2-year-old fillies scheduled to be run over the Saratoga lawn Thursday but washed off the turf.
Although the P.G. Johnson isn’t a Breeders’ Cup challenge event, the race influences the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf division. Over the years, nine P.G. Johnson Stakes winners returned for the Breeders’ Cup. Tapitsfly (2009) is the only one to pull off the double, but two others have placed.
This year, eight fillies are slated to line up in the P.G. Johnson, carded as race 9 with a post time of 5:39 p.m. EDT. No. 2 Miss Interpret is entered for the main track only.
#5 Silvery Rill (5-2) looked like a winner in her debut at Saratoga last month, only to be nipped on the wire, missing the photo by a head. Nevertheless, War Front’s daughter earned the With Anticipation’s highest late-pace Brisnet Speed Rating.
Silvery Rill is the first foal out of Stays in Vegas, a multiple stakes winner over dirt and turf. As a 3-year-old, she won the Senorita Stakes (G3) at a mile over the lawn, plus she placed in multiple graded stakes, including the Del Mar Oaks and Matriarch, both Grade 1 events.
Christophe Clement and Joel Rosario are having a fantastic Saratoga meet, with Clement’s 2-year-olds are winning at a 35 percent clip.
#3 Expand the Map (IRE) (8-5) closed from sixth place to finish second in her initial outing in July, missing the victory by 3/4 length over a good course. She shares the With Anticipation’s highest speed figure of 86 with Mystic Eyes.
Expand the Map has European breeding. Her sire Dark Angel, a son of Acclimation, is a Grade 1-winning turf sprinter, while her dam won a listed race in France and is multiple Group 3-placed.
Chad Brown’s 2-year-olds are winning at 19 percent this meet.
#9 Mystic Eyes (4-1) played “catch me if you can” in his turf sprint debut. The field tried their best, but the son of Maclean's Music left them far behind, galloping under the wire 4 1/2 lengths in front.
Mystic Eyes’ half-sister bore Cowan, second in the 2020 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint. Her dam Cloudburst is a stakes-winning three-quarter sister to champion juvenile and sire Boston Harbor.
Todd Pletcher’s 2-year-olds are winning at 28 percent this year at Saratoga, and most of those victories came on the main track.
#6 Take the Backroads (8-1) has shown speed-figure improvement in each of her three starts, and she got the job done in her third start in a big way when switching to the turf. The Tom Amoss trainee clearly loved Saratoga’s turf course, leading the entire way to win the 5 1/2 length maiden event by 4 3/4 lengths.
By Will Take Charge out of an unraced daughter of Bernstein, Take the Backroads should enjoy the extra distance in the P.G. Johnson. The filly’s half-sister Sistas Stroll is a Grade 3 winner at nine furlongs, and she placed in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1). Take the Backroads half-brother Accredit is a stakes-placed turf miler.
Three of Tom Amoss’ five turf 2-year-old starters won or
placed this meet.
Keep an eye on #7 Sail By (10-1). After graduating at first asking, the Leah Gyarmati trainee headed to the five-furlong Colleen Stakes over Monmouth’s turf course. Sail By passed the field and came closer to the pacesetter with every stride down the center of the course, but she ran out of ground, finishing a clear second to the runaway winner.
Sail By’s first-crop sire Astern, an Australian-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro, has only three winners so far, but two are stakes placed, including Schuylerville Stakes runner-up Mainstay. Sail By’s distaff line isn’t as illustrious as her P.G. Johnson competitors, but she should improve with added distance.
Sail By is Gyarmati’s first juvenile starter of the meet. Over the last five years, the trainer’s 2-year-olds finish in the money 30 percent of the time. Junior Alvarado has finished in the money with 17 percent of his mounts.
#4 Philly Eagles (IRE) (8-1) is the P.G. Johnson Stakes wildcard. She shipped to Mark Casse’s barn after winning at first asking in a maiden race at Doncaster. She has recorded three breezes over the turf training track; the last was five furlongs in 1:03.45, ninth-best of 14 for the day.
Like Expand the Map, Philly Eagles has European breeding. Her sire Havana Gold (IRE) is a Group 1-winning turf miler. The black-type earners in Philly Eagles’ distaff line are in the second and third generations and include Group winners from sprints to classic routes.
Two-year-olds making their first start after switching to Mark Casse’s barn generally need a start or two to get acclimated.
#8 Let's Be Clear (15-1) was slated to switch to the lawn after beating state-bred maidens, including Take the Backroads, on the main track.
Brad Cox has a spectacular 36 percent win rate when switching his 2-year-olds to the turf. Manny Franco is winning turf routes at eight percent this meet.
#1 Runaway Breeze (30-1) beat maidens at Presque Isle Downs in her third start. Although her speed figures have improved in a trio of starts, her best effort of 68 is the lowest in the field.
#6 Take the Backroads may mix it up on the front end with #9 Mystic Eyes. A speed duel would set the race up perfectly for #5 Silvery Rill, #3 Expand the Map, #7 Sail By, and #4 Philly Eagles. We may see an exciting blanket finish, with either Silvery Rill or Expand the Map getting the victory.
Everything Clement touches this meet is golden, or in this case, silver. I’ll give the nod to Silvery Rill, who, ironically, is a bay filly, not gray.
#5 Silvery Rill (5-2)
#3 Expand the Map (8-5)
#6 Take the Backroads (8-1)
#7 Sail By (10-1)