There’s a lot going on in the world of North American racing this Saturday. Since I won’t get the chance to be on Sky Sports Racing Stateside tonight, I figured I would take this opportunity to write down a few thoughts.
Stakes action kicks off early at 8:28 with the Personal Ensign, aka Race 5 from Saratoga, a Grade 1 contest that sees the return to the races of MIDNIGHT BISOU, one of the best horses in training. . .well, anywhere.
The case is a simple one, call it the old “fastest horse in the race” angle. As a friend likes to say, “If this weren’t horse racing, she couldn’t lose.” At the end of the day, it all comes down to value and what prices are available.
The lowest price I’m seeing is 1-3 and I would still rather back that than lay it. With that in mind, the bigger prices about are extremely backable – including some 4-9. Grab it while it lasts.
The next stakes race at Saratoga is the 10:42, the Grade 1 Whitney, which goes at Race 9 on the Saratoga card. It’s a short field but don’t let that put you off as it’s a very interesting race with at least three if not four of the leading contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Classic signed on.
I’m surprised to see Code Of Honor and Improbable as big as they are in the market this morning as opposed to Tom's D'Etat who is heavily favored. While the latter probably deserves that on his last run, the difference in price here is too big for me.
I’ll take CODE OF HONOR at 3-1 – he looked like winning the last day in the Met Mile and the extra ground will suit him here. I am imagining there will be enough pace amongst the rest of the field to set up his late kick.
Should he succeed he’ll join an elite club of horses including Medaglia d’Oro and Easy Goer who also completed the Travers-Whitney double.
Moving on to the 11:18, Race 10, we have the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens, a race that has a historical angle I like to rely on. Annually there are a handful of runners who are really best sprinting whose connections try as hard as possible to stretch them out with limited success – call it Derby fever. These horses are often great prices because their overall form looks muddy because they haven’t been doing what they are best at – sprinting.
The Jerkens (formerly the King’s Bishop) is the spot where very often reality is accepted and the horses in question get back to doing what they really want to do.
SHOPLIFTED is the horse I’m interested in and he should be a double-figure price. He was cut back last time but it’s my belief that the racetrack may have been against him the last day. He made a menacing move and just spun his wheels around the turn.
We close out the graded portion of the Saratoga card in their Race 11, the Grade 2 Bowling Green. I see this one as a two horse affair mainly, between the best speed signed on, Cross Border, and the best closer in Sadler’s Joy.
I will give preference to CROSS BORDER, who is represents value at 3-1. Make no mistake – this is a lot of racing for a horse in the USA, his third start in less than a month. But he won so easily the last day that it was little more than a public workout (well, semi-public anyway).
Mike Maker is the type of trainer I trust when he does something unusual, and Cross Border should have a big pace edge against Sadler's Joy and all the rest.
In Saratoga’s nightcap, the Listed Caress stakes, aka Race 12, I’ll try to play two against the field. The ones I like are DALIKA, who appeared to be held on to for too long last time and is very square in the market at 4-1, and also JAKARTA.
The latter, another Mike Maker trainee, hasn’t sprinted on firm turf in quite a while and that might be her best game. I could see her blitzing the field and the current odds of 12-1 are an overlay.
There is some nice racing north of the border that will also be featured on Stateside tonight.
The race I like best is the 10:26, Woodbine Race 9, a competitive Maiden Special Weight affair. I am exciting to see BELICHICK run back in this spot. He broke poorly on debut after being heavily fancied in the market. Despite that poor beginning, he showed talent to run on for third in a salty field that included next out stakes winner (and potential future star) Shirl’s Speight.
With a clean getaway, Belichick, like so many of the teams coached by his human namesake, will take plenty of beating. I’m seeing him available as high as 9-4 and that’s good value. This one remains a sleeper Queen’s Plate candidate (Canada’s version of the Derby) as well, though time is running out.
I’ll also mention one in Woodbine’s last race (23:28, Race 11) that will be a wild price. TIMESKIP should get a great trip closing into what should be a fast gallop. He’s not far behind the best of these on numbers and is 25-1. Has an each-way chance at least and for me should be half that price if not shorter.
Early on in the card we have a Listed stake of particular interest: The Shared Belief (Race 2, 10:30). The race takes on added importance with the shift of this year’s Derby as it’s now the final prep for a couple of interesting runners.
HONOR A.P. represents excellent value at even money or above, really even 8-11 or above. He is the current second choice ante-post for the Derby. He blew by Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby like he was glued to the eighth pole, and that one came back to frank the form with a win in the Grade 1 Haskell.
Be very careful when you bet here – Uncle Chuck is expected to scratch and ship east for next Saturday’s Travers so deductions will be forthcoming. You might want to hold off until the field is made final later this afternoon.
Another runner to keep an eye on here is Cezanne, trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Coolmore (whose silks look a decidedly lighter shade of blue in the California sunshine than they do in England/Ireland).
This son of Curlin cost $3.6 million and has won easily in both starts without inspiring much awe. He is in desperate need of Derby points if he’s going to make the field for the first Saturday in September.
I don’t think he’s ready to trouble Honor A.P. based on his form and figures to this point, but he’s certainly an interesting storyline to follow. At current odds around 6-5 with a deduction very likely, I’d rather lay than back but a future Grade 1 win somewhere would be no surprise.
These next few are for the proper nightowls. Stateside will have wrapped and the men and women in the gallery will have gone home, but you can still watch via the ATR Player.
Race 8, 1:30am, CTBA Stakes
The market will catch up with this one but I'M SO ANNA looks very strong here and will likely be odds on. Has the best figure and should get a great trip on or just off the lead. These are two-year-olds so something could step up and spoil the party but 7-4 is surely too big.
Race 9, 2:00am, Maiden Claimer
Tagline is a deserving favorite but is short enough. I’ll try BETTER WITH AGE and not just because it’s my birthday on Tuesday. There are a few angles here: she’s a turf horse shipping west, she’s second off a layoff, and I like seeing Rispoli take the call. Current odds of 5-1 seem excellent.
Race 10, 2:30am, Grade 1 Bing Crosby
This race often offers key pointers to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I think LEXITONIAN is an interesting item. Was meant to run last weekend in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga but ended up a gate scratch. His health seems fine though as he worked from the gate without incident – and in fast time – the very next day. He fits on numbers, projects a great trip and should be value.
CAVEAT: McKinzie is expected to scratch so major reductions forthcoming.
Race 11, 3:00am, Cal-bred Maiden
Now this one is for the true diehards, insomniacs, and taxi drivers. If you need that get-out horse late night, there is a favorite you can be with in the last. I can’t see past ON MARS.
She’s got the best form and figs and looks the best finisher. She’s devoid of speed at first blush but I think Mike Smith might get a little more aggressive with her early. She’s the bet at 2-1 or above.
Watch her win and crank up Hunky Dory on your stereo.