A friend of mine was up at Saratoga for opening weekend and could only describe it as “mayhem”, but it was that good sort of mayhem that we’ve all missed over the past year and a half. Growing up on Long Island, I’ve been going to New York tracks my entire life, and there’s oddly nothing more calming than the “mayhem” of Saratoga. I was down at Belmont about a month ago, ruining my late P5 by singling Mike Maker’s Shiraz (who came back for an impressive win on Wednesday afternoon), and I looked out over the now truncated Belmont Backyard and began to reminisce. Belmont on its finest days, can only be described as mayhem, but that akin to American Pharoah’s and Justify’s Triple Crown victories, the hundred-thousand-person bathroom lines and concession sellouts for California Chrome’s shot in 2014, and the biggest single day party at any New York track. I’ll always think back on fond memories of the Belmont Backyard, especially those days that are forever engrained in my mind. Belmont is a monument to the sport, a place where champions are crowned, but a place that’s not untouchable. It’s part of the ever-evolving landscape of New York, and even though I think it will stand the test of time, Belmont will have to change and adapt to survive. Saratoga, on the other hand, is untouchable. It is less a monument to the sport and more a monument to a state of mind. Stakes named after the ghosts of past heroes and local lakes fill the programs. People range from the plaid-jacketed horse owners to the young kids donning free Saratoga t-shirts on giveaway days. I fully expect to go to Saratoga in 50 years, if I live that long, and experience the same kind of soothing calm I feel there today. The red and white awnings, The Big Red Spring, and the world-class racing that always delivers are just reminders to us all that some forms of mayhem can ultimately bring us peace. I plan on enjoying it for as long as I go there…especially while hitting this Saturday’s Late Pick 5 to make it even better. Best of luck to all!
Race 7: 8.5F Turf Route Allowance Optional Claimer (Purse $103K)
You have to love 12 3-year-old boys routing on the Mellon Turf to kick off the late P5 on a Saratoga Saturday. This is a highly dangerous leg to start with because there’s no clear standout, which to me means you have to spread a bit. #11 Space Launch is a lightly raced Bernardini colt, but has shown flashes in his first 3 starts, and he retains Joel Rosario to pilot for Christophe Clement, a deadly combination on the Saratoga green. #6 Mira Mission has tossed in 3 strong efforts and 2 clunkers so far, but he is on the improve for Tom Bush and could be live in here at some value. Jose Lezcano almost piloted the gelding to an 18-1 upset at Belmont in June before settling for 2nd best. Todd Pletcher sends 2 out in this race, but #12 Future Victory must be the more feared of the duo. Irad Ortiz has been aboard for both of this colt’s career victories and he has the speed figures to be competitive here. For some additional coverage, I’d include #1 Performing Arts & #4 Hombre who are both off their maiden scores but have improving speed figures that make them very competitive here.
Big Ticket Option: 1,4,6,11,12
Thrifty Ticket Option: 6,11,12
Race 8: 8F Turf Maiden Special Weight (Purse $100K)
Two Chad Brown runners, both piloted by an Ortiz brother, and both missing by a length or less in their last starts…I don’t really think I need to say more about #1 Split Then Double (GB) and #3 Rastafara (IRE). I will anyway though, because for the sake of avoiding excessive trust in Chad Brown (see last week’s Diana), I would also toss in Shug McGaughey’s filly #2 Baby Blythe, who came barreling down the stretch in her first-time out at the Big A. #5 Midnight Choir. Jonathan Thomas is winning at 30% with maidens in their 2nd start this year, and the bullet work on July 19th doesn’t hurt either.
Big Ticket Option: 1,2,3,5
Thrifty Ticket Option: 1,3,5
Race 9: 7F Dirt Allowance (Purse $103K)
I know I spread a bit in the first 2 legs, but I think this is the toughest race of the sequence. There are some former graded stakes competitors, as well as some horses fresh off their maiden score. The 7-furlong chute at Saratoga also provides a little extra challenge for horses going that distance for the first time, all of which makes this a tough race to handicap. My top choice is #6 Caramel Swirl. Put a line through the 8 Belles effort where she was simply overmatched, and she has put together a nice string of efforts. She also broke her maiden at the 7F distance, so she should have no trouble in that sweet spot distance. #8 Flash Magic couldn’t have started his career with the Steve Asmussen barn any better than a maiden breaking romp at 6.5F at Churchill. I expect Ricardo Santana Jr to be aggressive out of the gate and try to make the lead. If she gets loose, she could wire the field. #9 Mucho Macho Momma drew outside perfectly for her stalking style as well. If Flash Magic ends up dueling with #2 Making Cents on the front end, Mucho Macho Momma could get the first run at them coming into the stretch. Finally, if there’s a pace meltdown and I need to pick someone to come from off the pace it’s Linda Rice’s charge, #5 Amendment Nineteen. Jose Ortiz pilots this one who has never caught a fast track but has run strong speed figures in the slop and could be rolling late.
Big Ticket Option: 5,6,7,8,9
Thrifty Ticket Option: 5,6,8,9
Race 10: 5.5F Turf G3 - Caress Stakes (Purse $200K)
Although not the same level of prestige as the other graded stake on the card, this version of The Caress appears to be even more exciting. The most talented fillies in this field are the speed burners, and if you’re looking for the speed of the speed, it has to be #2 Robin Sparkles. She’s won 5 of her 6 career turf sprints and stopped the clock at Belmont last time out in 1:07.14 over 6 furlongs. That’s hauntingly impressive and she is going to be very tough to run down in the stretch. That being said, there’s a ton of speed signed on for this race. #1 Caravel could go under Irad Ortiz Jr, #3 Tass appears to want the front-end, albeit in routes, #4 In Good Spirits has shown speed in her past, and I expect #6 Jakarta to be up and on the pace too. I think this presents an opportunity for #5 Flower Point to be the one picking up the pieces in the end if there’s a pace meltdown. She was only 2 lengths back of Robin Sparkles at Belmont in the License Fee in April, and she came back to win over that same course with Joel Rosario in the saddle. This will be her 4th start off an extended layoff in the Shug McGaughey barn, and I expect her to be absolutely rolling late.
Big Ticket Option: 1,2,5
Thrifty Ticket Option: 2,5
Race 11: 8.5F Turf Allowance (Purse $90K)
New York-bred allowance runners to close out the card, and this selection is my best bet of the day. #6 My Lips Are Sealed is the clear choice in this field. She should be the controlling speed up front, and I think she just outclasses the rest of this field by a decent margin. She missed by half a length in her first try at this level as the tepid 3-1 favorite, but the 2nd place horse in that race, Spungie, came back to romp over a field similar to this one (literally with some of the same runners in the field), so I feel strongly that I can round out my ticket with this single. If you really feel the need to add another horse, there’s something fishy about #8 Choose Happiness that makes me a bit dubious. Irad Ortiz is winning at 36% this year for Orlando Noda and this horse just ran for a claiming tag back on July 15. Now they bump her up to a $90K allowance race? She’s the horse that scares me a bit that could outrun what should be mildly lofty odds.
Big Ticket Option: 6,8
Thrifty Ticket Option: 6
FINAL Big Ticket: 1,4,6,11,12/1,2,3,5/5,6,7,8,9/1,2,5/6,8 ($300)
FINAL Thrifty Ticket: 6,11,12/1,3,5/5,6,8,9/2,5/6 ($36)
No matter where you fall on these races, it’s going to be an amazing Saturday in Saratoga. We’ll see how it all plays out at the Spa on Saturday.