We have hit the turning point in this year’s Saratoga meet – after this weekend, just three weeks remain. It feels very odd to have the Travers behind us and the Kentucky Derby still ahead of us at this stage but it’s nothing to complain about, especially not this year.
The Alabama is probably the third most historic race associated with Saratoga (behind only the Travers and the Whitney) and it typically takes place a week later in the calendar but has been moved up to allow runners to compete both here and in the Kentucky Oaks, this year contested on the first Friday in September.
It’s the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, taking on a new role in 2020 of doubling as a prep of sorts for the Kentucky Oaks. The Alabama’s 10-furlong distance almost feels anachronistic in the speed-crazed world of American racing, but I for one wish there were a lot more real stamina tests and am a big fan of this race. This year’s running comes down to a pretty basic question: are you with Swiss Skydiver or against her? Let’s look at the field from the rail out.
#1 ENVOUTANTE is a solid filly, already Grade 1 placed with numbers from the last race that could put her in the frame in a typical Alabama – the top two from the Ashland look very good. She is the stablemate of the heavy fave and will presumably be ridden along quietly to allow that one to try to do her thing on the front end. The distance is a question mark but another G1 placing feels a lot more likely than a win.
#2 SPICE IS NICE ought to relish the added ground based on her pedigree and her running style. She had better, because she’s going to have to improve mightily on figures to trouble Swiss Skydiver. The most recent work suggests she’ll run her best race to date and the barn could not be going any better. She’s a reasonable alternative, but current odds of 4-1 look right.
#3 CRYSTAL BALL goes out for the white-haired wonder himself, Bob Baffert, whose record on these big days when shipping to New York is nothing short of stellar (Uncle Chuck not withstanding). She’s improving and she’s got speed – two major assets.
The issues are that the last race was simply not fast enough to make me think she’s ready to tackle Swiss Skydiver, especially since that one isn’t going to let her get away with anything on the front end. There are scenarios where she can win, certainly, but I would need considerably higher than 6-1 to get involved into the teeth of Swiss Skydiver.
#4 BONNY SOUTH has a bit of a “wiseguy” look. She, too, represents the Ashland form and you can make a case that she needed that one off the break since her victorious Fair Grounds Oaks win. She shapes like the distance could be within reach but as much as I love Munnings as a sire I don’t associate him with 10-furlong improvers – and she’s got to improve a lot. I can see the case for her if I squint but she is not for me.
#5 SWISS SKYDIVER lays over the field in figure and form terms and should get a great trip from on the pace of just off Crystal Ball. The question she – like all of these runners – must answer is about the distance. At first glance, you may see the fade at the end at nine furlongs last time and question if she really wants to go this far. But there are two things about that.
One, the horse that beat her, Art Collector, is a serious colt. He went on to frank that form with another big win in the Ellis Park Derby and will head to the Kentucky Derby as the second favorite behind only that freakazoid Tiz the Law. The other consideration are pace figures – she went very fast early there, and I think she’d have finished all the stronger if allowed to settle more early.
She is a very likely winner, and I’ll be backing at anything over 1-2.
#6 HARVEY'S LIL GOIL improved last time on turf and is now back on the dirt. This surprised me at first but thinking about it more, this spot makes total sense. Two back in the Fantasy she had a no shot trip, having to hit the brakes early. It is interesting how bet she was that day, 5-1 into heavy fave Swiss Skydiver, off her solid win going nine furlongs in the Busanda. If she was running that well at that distance in February, it stands to reason she’ll easily handle 10 furlongs in August.
Bill Mott’s horses typically finish their races and keep improving. She needs only a second or third to significantly increase her longterm value – this is her only chance in the whole year to run 10-furlongs against restricted company.
I am talking myself into her as an interesting longshot at the 20-1 I’m seeing. Shame there isn’t another runner to make it a proper each-way opportunity. At the end of the day I think her value lies in USA-style exotics using underneath Swiss Skydiver for second and third.
#7 FIRE CORAL doesn’t have much in her PPs to make you think she will be troubling the best of these but you can’t blame connections for taking a shot. Just looking at her pedigree, it would appear the distance will be her friend and as mentioned above, there aren’t any other spots where you get to run 10 furlongs restricted to three-year-old fillies – and in this race you only need to beat four of them to get that all important black type. Presumably will be ridden for third. That will be tough enough, anything higher feels impossible.
VERDICT: Let’s hope we can keep it simple and just back SWISS SKYDIVER at a reasonable price. If she just gets hammered I feel like Spice is Nice or Harvey’s Lil Goil could be reasonable alternatives if there numbers get high enough.
At the start of the card, the first opportunity I see is in Race 4 (19:51). There are two I like, and if you shop around, you might easily be able to get good value on both. #2 FARRAGUT is a horse who intrigues me. He’s improving and is coming out of a race where pace dynamics were against him. I believe he will turn the tables on the favorite here and he represents value at anything above 2-1.
There is a longshot that must be considered as well. This morning, #7 AMERICAN PIPER, was widely 11-1. This horse took all kinds of money on debut, going off at 4-1 for connections I’d literally never heard of – that is suggestive of a horse that can run. He broke poorly there from the rail, compromising his chance, and comes back today equipped with Lasix and blinkers. A much better effort could be forthcoming.
If I can get the right prices, I’ll play both of them against the field.
In Race 6 (20:57), #6 CALIBRATE looks likely overpriced. He is by a win-early sire in Distorted Humor, and has worked will with the barn’s runner Thoughtfully, who won the G2 Adirondack up here the other day. The female family is turfy, but that’s OK – the 6.5-furlong dirt test will bring more stamina into play. He’s got a good chance to score at first asking at a solid price. I’m confident 6-1 would be excellent value and he’s longer than that as of this writing.
In Race 7 (21:32), I’m likely to come back and play #8 JIMMY JAZZ once again, and not just because I love The Clash. It felt like he moved a bit early last time in a race where the pace was falling apart late. The switch to Irad Ortiz should suit him.
There is another interesting trip horse from that same race in #6 Mo Ready but I think Jimmy will offer more value. Be careful when you bet here – there are main-track-only runners who will scratch so you’ll want to wait until they are out to avoid price reductions.
Let’s hope we can get a decent number and say “Satta Massagana” when this one crosses the wire in front.
Race 8 (22:07) is the Saratoga Derby and it deserves a mention at least. #2 DECORATED INVADER makes his return to the races in here and is a very likely winner. This is his toughest test to date and if I were seeing odds against or even money I would go ahead and endorse. Current odds of 10-11 are still probably OK but the value is getting marginal. He’s the class of the field, I like how versatile he’s become in terms of running style and his closing sectionals last time were still impressive.
There are two ways to go if you want to oppose him. #6 Colonel Liam has an angle I love – he improved mightily when stepping on turf for the first time and could well do so again. The speed figure he earned makes him very competitive. At 7-2 he is a reasonable alternative.
#7 Field Pass is another worth highlighting. He is double digits in places but is an accomplished runner with graded stakes form who is not too far behind in figure terms. That price is surely too big.
I would let the market be your guide here, looking to back whichever runner offers the most value when you bet with the general guideline that Decorate Invader should be evens, Colonel Liam 3-1 and Field Pass no more than 6-1.
In the nightcap, Race 11 (23:49) there is a horse I like at a big price. #3 BRICKYARD is as high as 33-1 and I think that’s just a mistake. The last run was not bad at all numerically speaking, and he had two spots of trouble, at the break and again and in the lane.
Even without the trip issues, he’d be appealing as that was his first run in a long time and he should come on for it. The stretchout in distance should be absolutely fine if not a downright positive when you look at the female family. There is a good each-way opportunity here even if the price goes down by two-thirds.
For exotics players I will point out that the favorite, #4 Bricco, is extremely live in here as well. An additional win bet on him and/or a reverse forecast with those two will likely be part of my betting arsenal.