The much-anticipated Saratoga meet kicks off on Thursday, which means juvenile racing on the New York circuit is about to pick up in a big way.
You can always count on a bevy of future stakes winners and Kentucky Derby contenders to debut at “the Spa” over the summer, but you know what? Ellis Park in Kentucky has become an increasingly productive alternative to Saratoga, churning out a steady stream of classy runners from its extensive 2-year-old racing program.
Let’s review a half-dozen promising juveniles entered to race at Ellis and Saratoga this week:
Friday, July 17
Ellis Park Race 3: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs on turf, 2:46 p.m. ET)
Although Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas rarely wins with first-time starters, Ram might prove to be an exception. Sold for $375,000 as a yearling, Ram is a son of Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, who has sired an abundance of classy turf sprinters (including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Four Wheel Drive) during his brief time at stud. Furthermore, Ram was produced by the Mineshaft mare Miner’s Secret, previously the dam of five-time graded stakes-winning sprinter/miler Coal Front and also Conquest Titan, a stakes-winning sprinter as a juvenile. From a pedigree perspective, Ram has the breeding to excel in Friday’s maiden sprint; it’s just a question of whether Lukas has him cranked to win on debut.
A son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, Paka hails from a productive female family. His dam is the Cape Town mare Kalahari Cat, who has already foaled eight winners from 10 starters. Five of her foals have won on turf and three have prevailed in stakes company, including the record-shattering Nashua (G3) winner Independence Hall and the Spiral (G3) winner Black Onyx. Paka was entered to race at Churchill Downs last month, but wound up scratching and disappeared from the work tab for a short time before coming back with a pair of modest workouts at Keeneland. He probably isn’t cranked to win on debut (trainer Darrin Miller strikes at just a 5 percent rate with first-time starters), but Paka showed speed during spring training and might eventually develop into a talented prospect.
#12 Captain Bernardo
Although Captain Bernardo sold for just $50,000 as a yearling, his pedigree is appealing on several levels. Sire Bernardini is responsible for high-class juveniles and late-maturing classic types alike (including Travers winners Stay Thirsty and Alpha), while dam Air France has foaled 10 winners from 12 starters, including the graded stakes winners Smooth Air and Overdriven. The latter was an early-maturing sort who won the Sanford (G2) at Saratoga, so Captain Bernardo has the pedigree to be successful from an early age. He’s turned in a lengthy series of workouts at The Thoroughbred Center for trainer Pavel Matejka (a 23 percent winner with first-time starters), so you can argue that Captain Bernardo’s 20-1 morning line odds might be a little high.
Saturday, July 18
Saratoga Race 1: Maiden Special Weight (5 1/2 furlongs, 1:10 p.m. ET)
#1 Bajan Rum
Conditioned by Shug McGaughey, Bajan Rum is a son of promising sprinter/mile Speightster out of the Lion Heart mare Feline Flatline, previously the dam of Mucho Macho Man Stakes winner Mihos. Speightster’s first crop of foals has already generated two winners from six starters, and Bajan Rum has shown some speed during morning workouts at Fair Hill, breezing four furlongs in a bullet :48.40 on June 30. Saratoga’s reigning champion jockey, Jose Ortiz, has been assigned the mount, suggesting this $170,000 yearling purchase might have a bright future.
#3 Mo Mischief
No Saratoga meet would be complete without Todd Pletcher saddling a handful of juvenile winners, and Pletcher could certainly nab an early victory with Mo Mischief. A son of 2019 leading sire Into Mischief, Mo Mischief sold for $500,000 after breezing a quarter-mile in :21 flat during the OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. The bay colt has subsequently turned in a solid series of workouts over the Saratoga training track, including a couple of half-mile moves from the starting gate. Pletcher has been hot with juveniles this season, going 4-for-9 (44 percent) with first-time starters, and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will climb aboard. Mo Mischief figures to receive plenty of wagering support in his first run under colors.
Saratoga Race 6: Maiden Special Weight (1 1/16 miles on turf, 3:57 p.m. ET)
#1 Rip It
It’s easy to see why Rip It has been entered to debut in a two-turn turf race. Bred by Juddmonte Farms and owned by Gainesway Stable, Rip It is a son of three-time leading sire Tapit out of the Dansili mare Riposte, a three-time graded stakes winner who thrived racing 1 1/4 miles or farther on grass. Rip It has turned in a lengthy series of workouts under the tutelage of Christophe Clement, even taking a couple of half-mile spins over the Saratoga grass course this month, so he should be fit enough to handle 1 1/16 miles. “The longer the better” figures to be the motto of this stoutly bred chestnut, who should improve with maturity no matter how he fares on Saturday.