A very strange weather morning in Saratoga. I woke up just after daybreak and it was lovely – sun shining over the Little House on the East Side. I was planning how I was going to try to squeeze in a run and a shopping trip so I could make dinner on the grill after tonight’s Sky Sports Racing Stateside shift.
Then the clouds came in, an ominous shift. It got about as dark as night before I heard the sound of the first drop on the air conditioner outside. I accepted that I might be ordering take away for dinner. It rained for about 20 minutes and I started to worry about the turf. Then just as quickly as it began, the clouds receded and sun peaked out again. Barbecue back on.
Unfortunately, the rain was enough to take races 1, 3, 5 and 7 off the turf.
The weather looks OK for the remainder of the day but I say with one important caveat: you really never know up here. Microclimates and whatnot.
I will proceed with my thoughts thinking we will be fast and firm.
First bet comes in Race 4 (19:54) and it’s a fairly marginal opinion. #1 THE BIG FUNDAMENTAL should be much more suited to today’s task rather than what he was dealing with last time in what was just a prep off the long layoff. Feels like he has to improve second off the bench and his good race wins. Not just for fans of the basketball legend – and the pride of St Croix – Tim Duncan.
My play in Race 6 (21:04) is speculative, but we are getting a price. #8 HAPPY HILL LIL has a contrarian angle I love – eased horses have form lines that look so bad you can sometimes get value on them. This one has worked twice since being eased and fits on the previous form. At 11-1 this one is a worth a shot each-way.
Race 9 (22:46) is the feature, the Grade 1 Fourstardave, and I’ll give my thoughts on the field and we’ll wrap today’s diary with a selection. This race has become a key prep for the Breeders’ Cup Mile and you’ll see form from last year’ running on display here.
#1 RAGING BULL is a Grade 1 winner who keeps proving his worth. Has a great closing kick. One to keep on side in all your USA-style exotic but I think the best value on the win end might lie elsewhere.
For me, #2 CASA CREED looks outmanned and outgunned. Talented runner, this just stretches his class.
#3 EMMAUS is a little interesting each-way or in your exotics. Beaten less than two lengths at G2 level last time in his first start as a gelding. I can’t see him winning, and the exacta is probably a stretch, but could see him third or fourth at a big number.
#4 GOT STORMY set the world on fire up here last year, winning two graded stakes – including this race – in the span of eight days. I don’t like her recent races, and it seems that she may not have trained on. That said, she loves Saratoga so a form reversal would not shock. She’s just not for me.
#5 HALLADAY was ridden too passively last time, and more aggressive tactics here could lead to a better result. I think he’ll improve, and he’s a contender, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen when they straighten out for home and the flotilla of Chad Brown runners come calling. Feels like current odds around 6-1 are just the right price.
#6 UNI is a favorite of mine generally and I loved her win in the BC Mile last year. A cool and classy customer who was at a big tactical disadvantage to her stablemate last time in the Just a Game off a long layoff. She’s got valid claims for sure. Looks about a 5-2 shot and that’s what she is.
#7 VALID POINT is very light on numbers but clearly has a lot of talent. Chad Brown entering him here is a sign of confidence for sure. There’s quite a variation in his pricing at the moment. This is one I will make prove it to me – would be no surprise if he stuffs me in a locker but that’s a chance I’ll take.
#8 WITHOUT PAROLE is a horse who comes here with excuses. Had a tricky trip last time, producing his run a little late and a little wide. Two back he was absolutely stymied for run. He looks like a contender for it all to me if he can finally get the right kind of run.
#9 CHEWING GUM could show more pace on the stretchout and help set things up for the late runners. I can’t make a case for him beyond being a pace factor.
VERDICT: After his St. James’s Palace win, I predicted WITHOUT PAROLE would be a Grade 1 winner in the USA. I think this is where that finally happens. The 5-1 on offer is excellent. I don’t think he should be longer than 7-2.
It’s the signature day of the Del Mar meeting – well, in racing terms anyway. In a typical year nothing can compare to the insanity of Opening Day but that’s much more of a social event. But this year’s Pacific Classic Day card delivers in sporting terms with five graded stakes, including two Breeders’ Cup Win-And-You’re-In races.
I’m on Stateside Live tonight but a lot of this action will be happening after we’re off the air – still, night owls can watch on the ATR Player and in any case, these races are worth paying attention to because of their future implications, especially the WAYI ones.
Stakes action kicks off in Race 3 (23:05) with the G3 Green Flash Stakes going 5 furlongs on the turf. I’m interested in #7 CHAOS THEORY, who looks a very sharp claim. I loved the last race where he closed and got up to win at five furlongs at Churchill Downs despite a slower gallop. He fits on figures and appears to be working well. Very appealing at the 7-2 on offer this morning.
In Race 4 (23:36) we have the G3 Torrey Pines that sees three-year-old fillies going on mile on the dirt. I love #2 SECRET KEEPER in this spot. Yes, it’s a challenge to go long for the first time in a stake but she’s been so good thus far.
She has shown the ability to sit and pass horses, the distance should be fine on her breeding, her trainer, Cliff Sise, is very good stretching horses out and his charges typically keep improving with their racing. More generally, I love the two sprints to a route (race at a mile or longer) pattern. I’m all over this one at 3-1.
Skipping ahead to Race 7 (1:06 technically Sunday in Britain and Ireland) it’s the Grade 2 Del Mar going one-mile-and-three-eighths on the turf. We have form connecting back to last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf when United was just denied. He looks very tough to beat in this spot. This horse keeps proving himself. He should get a great trip and might just be better than these.
Oscar Dominguez did beat him late last year but United had a bad trip in there and has confirmed the form since. He’s odds-against in a couple of places and that’s barmy. Should be long odds-on.
From there, we proceed to Race 9 (2:06 Sunday), the G1 Del Mar Oaks, a Win-And-You’re-In race for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
We’ll start with my selection and then take a look at a few other contenders. #3 MISS EXTRA, making her USA debut for Richard Mandella, looks overpriced at 6-1. She’s got abundant class, and turf form typically ships very well east to west (New York turf horses have an edge in California, European runners have an edge in New York). I’d like to see them go a nice gallop and set it up for her to quicken away in the lane.
Your favorite will be #10 Laura's Light and she’s nice. She has great versatility as she’s fast enough to get the lead but can also settle and finish. The nine furlongs would appear to be as far as she wants to run, at least at this stage. It’s tough to see her running out of the top three and is backable at current odds around 5-2; I just prefer the top one at the prices.
#8 Neige Blanche is the other French shipper worthy of discussion. To my eye, she doesn’t look as interesting as Miss Extra as her claim to fame was a G3 win in the provinces. She’s by Anodin, Goldikova’s brother, so it would be no surprise to see her adapt well to USA racing. I felt like she should be 8-1 or 10-1 and she’s shorter than that everywhere.
My friend and co-host of Horseplayers’ Happy Hour, Matt Bernier, made a compelling case for #7 Red Lark as well. This one has been running in races with slow paces and there is a world where they could go too fast here and set it up for her late run.
Last but not least, there’s the G1 Pacific Classic, which goes as Race 10 (2:36 Sunday). I think that #2 HIGHER POWER is interesting at the current price of 6-1. No doubt, he has plenty to find with the other runners coming out of the San Diego but it could be that he’s a true 10-furlong specialist. He also had a tough trip last time, spending time on a rail that didn’t seem great.
He now returns to the course and distance of what was by far his best race (last year’s Pac Classic). I’m taking a shot with him to win and will play him underneath in a one-way forecast with the favorite.
That fav is, of course, Maximum Security. Max is the most notorious horse in recent memory, having been DQ’d from last year’s Derby for interference and likely to be DQ’d from this year’s Saudi Cup due to the exploits of his since indicted former trainer. He is also one of the most talented horses in training and he’s now in the hands of Bob Baffert.
That was a strange race last time, but he still got the job done and it’s certainly logical that he’ll come on for that run. They may all be running for second but I can’t shake the idea that the 10 furlongs isn’t really what he wants. I can’t get stuck in at 2-5, but I also recognize he could make that price look more than fair.
I’m against #1 Midcourt. I feel like if he were ever going to beat Max, last time would have been the time. And I don’t think 10 furlongs is really his game.