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Showdown Saturday in Saratoga
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Friday was not a chamber of commerce day at the Spa with overcast skies and intermittent showers mid-day which turned the track muddy then sloppy and deep-sixed the second turf race. Today’s weather is supposed to be markedly better than the last few days with only a slight chance of rain late in the afternoon. Travers Day stakes previews are below though we skipped the Sword Dancer because to be frank, we don’t have a clue as to what is going to happen in there. If you are on Facebook give us a look today as we will be putting up our world famous timeline of events at the Spa as they happen! Come and say hi if you are on track as we will be in and out of the saddling area or located at a table by the Paddock bar area.
🌹Race three was the Smart N Fancy stakes going 5 1/2 on the ‘good’ turf that only had four enter the gate after a couple of late scratches. The prohibitive favorite was Roses for Debra, a four year old Liam’s Map filly trained by Christophe Clement, who won the Caress (Gr III) last month, her fourth win in four turf sprints, none of them particularly difficult races for her. This was more of the same as Irad bided his time in the compact field, producing her wide as they straightened up down the stretch and just swallowed up the early leaders Train to Artemus and Bubble Rock, taken in hand late with another easy stakes score to add to her burgeoning resume. Replay here.
🔵 While the 5th, a $75,000 claimer for three year olds going 7 furlongs, was in the paddock the rain started to come down and soon after the announcement that the 8th race, the only remaining turf race was now off the grass. The fifth was a wide open spot with a slight 7-2 favorite in Joking Way with Prove Right and Dark Vector also at 7-2. Yet none of them could keep up with Major Blue, a Flatter colt for Lukas and Rosario who showed speed from the outset, battling with Dark Vector before putting him away with 100 yards to go and driving to a 2 1/2 length victory. Dark Vector held for second, Mr Bob chased and grabbed third while Prove Right and Joking Way made little impact. Prove Right and Heldish neither of whom showed any run were both claimed for $75,000.
🥇Race six was a 2yo MSW going six furlongs on a muddy track and Fierceness took steady tote action from the outset and when the gate sprung, it was quickly apparent why. The City of Light colt, who is a Repole homebred trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Irad, broke sharply and grabbed the lead heading down the backstretch. Ortiz let him cruise through a quarter in 22.02 and a half mile in 44.63 before throwing in an eighth in 11.95 while opening up his margin to a half dozen before gliding home over 11 lengths in front, the chartcaller labeled him as being “geared down” crossing the line. The rest of the field was left in his wake though firster Air of Defiance ran really well despite getting off to a rough beginning from the gate, being stuck down on the inside, dropping back after a quarter as though he was going to be last before then re-rallying in between horses to get up for the place spot. Tab for future reference.
🏆The Personal Ensign (Gr I) came down to the danger of a good, improving horse getting an easy lead, especially on a sloppy sealed surface. Idiomatic grabbed the lead from the start, cruised on the frontend over the wet surface, jockey Florent Geroux clicking off 12 second eighth’s over and over with no serious pressure. The daughter of Curlin then widened that advantage when throwing down one last 12 second eighth (12.39 to be exact) to finish off her first grade 1 win, 4 lengths clear at the end. 3-5 favorite Nest took up a stalking position in 3rd, outside longshot Malloy whose jockey Dylan Davis chose not to apply pressure on the leader, a move that sealed everyone’s fate as they traveled down the backside. Secret Oath traveled along the inside in 4th while Clairiere trailed as she usually does in the early portion of the race. Turning for home Nest was not gaining, Secret Oath was trying her hardest down by the rail but not really getting closer and Clairiere was far back, clearly not firing today. Mid-stretch it was obvious that Idiomatic had the race well in-hand and the battle was on for the runner up spot, with Secret Oath benefitting from her ground saving trip, edging last years champion 3yo filly by a neck, while well back to the rest. If you had Malloy finishing ahead of Clairiere on your bingo card…nice job and perhaps it wouldn’t have made a bit of a difference for her today but rabbits work. Recap and replay here.
🚨 Spa Turf Alert: Race 2 is off the grass and will be run at 5 1/2 on the main track. All other turf races will be run as scheduled
🎪 Check out today’s huge edition of the Saratoga Special.
🆓 The DRF race of the day is The Travers Stakes - Race 12.
💰Going in Circles Digest Play of the day from ‘the Sniper’ Barry Spears 👇🏾
Forego (Gr I) $500,000 4&up 7 furlongs
High Oak - “Hey Bill it’s the racing office and we could really use your help in the Forgeo…”. It’s a shot at grade 1 glory…well grade 1 placed glory.
Gunite - comes out of a heartbreaking loss in the AG Vanderbilt (Gr I) where he just couldn’t hold off Elite Power for one more jump. Assume he will either grab the lead from the start or allow longshot Pipeline to have it and stalk him as he is equally as good doing either. The question is can he hold off Elite Power in the final 100 yards when that one puts in his patented late charge?
Elite Power - last year’s Champion sprinter has just been flawless since breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs last June, reeling off 8 straight including five consecutive grade 1 or 2 stakes. Put in a monster effort to get up going 6f in the Vanderbilt in the slop in latest, figures to relish the extra furlong and presence of Pipeline who may serve to soften up Gunite, even just a tiny bit. Will be a very short price but last year’s Forego should be a good reminder that anything can happen in a horse race and even the best of the best can get beat.
Pipeline - erratic sort that it seems Brown hasn’t been able to really figure out what to do with. Stunk off the bench in an allowance race going a mile earlier in the meet though was stuck on a dead rail and the times for Wilson chute races seem….uh….curious. Might be more of a ‘short field, nothing really makes sense let’s take a shot’ entry than some plot to upset Elite Power type. Does have speed and that may be his impact in here as Brown naming Saez to ride (a rarity) might have indicated his intent to fire to the lead, open up and see what happens. I don’t think it will be successful but he may make Gunite work a little harder.
Synthesis - gonna try to battle it out with High Oak and Pipeline to see who picks up that $50k check to be third.
HA Jerkens (Gr I) $500,000 3yo 7 furlongs
Drew’s Gold - didn’t understand why he tried a turf sprint with this race upcoming and it seemed like the Violence ridgling agreed by chasing and capitulating in the Mahony. The rail draw doesn’t help but he has run some races that give him a chance if things work out perfectly, I just have little confidence that big effort is coming.
One in Vermillion - ships in from Canterbury after running good third in the WV Derby after winning the Iowa Derby before that. However those were slow races on figs and he’d need a massive move up to be remotely competitive against this group on the cutback.
Verifying - cuts back to one turn after gutting it out when winning the Indiana Derby last out. The form for that race had held up pretty well as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place finishers have all returned to run well in stakes races. Probably needs to run lifetime top to get the money here but clearly is talented and has to be considered.
Fort Bragg - ran a huge race last time in the Dywer defeating Saudi Crown who returned to almost upset the Jim Dandy. That was the first time he ran a TG that was fast enough to win a race like this and I question if he can repeat that fig here and even then it might not be good enough.
New York Thunder - absolutely freaked first time dirt in the Amsterdam (Gr II) setting absurd fractions (21.2 x 43.2) on his way to a 7 1/2 length score eased up, earning a -3 TG and 110 Beyer figure. We are in uncharted waters trying to figure out how much he will react to that massive effort but watch the track to see how it’s playing as without any gate issues he should be on the lead and winging. It seems hard to believe that he will be able to muster up anything like that again but who saw it coming in the first place?
Arabian Lion - was very sharp on Belmont day when rolling the field over down the lane to win the Woody Stephens impressively, earning a 109 Beyer and pairing his 0.75 TG that he had also earned in the Sir Barton. Will be in chase more from the outset, drawn outside is a positive and Baffert has great numbers shipping to Saratoga and with Johnny V. The one to beat
Ballerina (Gr I) $500,000 4&up F/M 7 furlongs
Sterling Silver - steps back up into stakes company but will need wild pace meltdown and have the race basically collapse to have any hope.
Matareya - grade 1 winning filly threw in a clunker last out at Ellis in the Chicago (Gr III) behind Society (who won a stakes at Chucktown last night) but hasn’t really developed as a four year after a successful three year old year. She’d have to run a lifetime top here and IMO she was fortunate in her two spring races more than good in them
Maryquitecontrary - seven furlongs is more to her liking than the six panels last out in the Honorable Miss though she will have to run much better than she did that day. Would appreciate a pace meltdown and while they won’t be a soft early fractions, I’m skeptical if it’s gonna be quite that fast. Big effort might be enough to hit the board at a long price but even that is questionable.
Dr B - ran very well when a distance second to Echo Zulu in the Honorable Miss (Gr II). Another that is hoping for a fast pace but she may be more likely to regress than move forward off the big figure.
Wicked Halo - top flight filly sprinter who isn’t even the best in her own barn. Has improved as a 4yo running TG 0 in three of her four races and will likely be stalking the pace set by her barnmate Echo Zulu, trying to keep Goodnight Olive trapped or force her wide though I wouldn’t blame Asmussen if he was upset with the weight assignment this filly received here.
Echo Zulu - has run two massively fast races in 2023, blitzing fields at Churchill and Saratoga though both at 6 furlongs. Figures to clear to the lead here and if the track is playing for speed or is fair, she will be very difficult to rundown. Her last -5.25 TG is the fastest filly figure that I have seen at any distance.
Goodnight Olive - she hasn’t been as good as a 5 year old mare as she was during her sprint champion campaign last year. Will be put in chase mode from the outset and without anyone else putting pressure on Echo Zulu might be at that one’s mercy. With a couple others looking to grab that stalking position, may be forced wider than Irad would like to be and we will be trying to beat her at a short price.
Caramel Swirl - still trying to figure out what happened at Tampa this winter in the Minaret but she rebounded to run two excellent races including throwing a scare into Midnight Olive and Wicked Halo in the Bed of Roses at Belmont back in June. Has to avoid getting caught too wide as I can’t see her outfinishing some of the other contenders in here while losing a ton of ground.
Travers (Gr I) $1,300,000 3yo 10 furlongs
Forte - As Barry Spears said on the Going in Circles Big Monday podcast this past week, the Violence colt is the current leader of the division but he isn’t very far ahead of the competition. Pletcher added blinkers last out, a wise decision as it turned out as Forte was able to stay much closer to the pace with them and that helped him (as well as Irad fouling everyone down the stretch without penalty) gain the narrow victory in the Jim Dandy. Yet the reality is Forte (with the understanding that his campaign has been compromised due to factors beyond his control) just isn’t all that fast compared to his rivals here and drawing the inside and being able to save ground might be a far bigger benefit than otherwise considered in a 10 furlong race. He paired 1.75 his last two and could certainly move forward off of that as this has been the race that Pletcher-Repole targeted since the Derby-Preakness debacle. Yet he isn’t all that much faster than he was as a 2 year old (ran a 2.5 TG winning the BC Juvy) and you wonder if that big move up is gonna ever come? He should be 7-2 against this bunch not 7-5 and again he is a very good horse and he can win this race…but wagering on him is a questionable choice.
Arcangelo - Jena Antonucci has done brilliant work with the son of Arrogate, as he rapidly rose up the three year old ranks from maiden to graded winner to classic winner in a little less than 90 days. Yet I’m skeptical about her decision to bypass the Haskell or Jim Dandy to train up to the Travers despite the colt seeming to have been training well. IMO he may be a little too sharp and in 10 furlong races at this level, you can’t give away any edge. It’s not data backed nor is there any scientific process to this thinking but keeping horses that are doing really well on that same plane for an extended period of time (he worked in 58 and galloped out in 125 July 4th weekend) is rare and truthfully you don’t usually find out till you run them. Again like with Forte, he is a very good horse and his best race can win this…I just am just guessing that it won’t.
Tapit Trice - his bandwagon is empty as everyone abandoned ship after his Haskell yet isn’t this spot a lot better suited for him than any of his races since the Bluegrass? If you are taking Forte at 7-5 isn’t this son of Tapit worth a look at 12-1 considering when they last ran against each other in the Belmont, Forte beat him by a nose? He is a difficult horse to ride and he has been a victim of leaving the starting gate slow but Pletcher adds blinkers and changes rider to Jose Ortiz and it wouldn’t be crazy if he made a strong late push and hit the board at a nice price.
Mage - Gustavo Delgado has done a tremendous job with this son of Good Magic and he seems to have him right where he wants him going into the Travers. Ran a TG 0 when winning the Ky Derby and reacted understandably in the Preakness (TG 3) when forced to be closer to a slow pace and back on two weeks. Yet his Haskell was very good (TG O) despite the designation as a prep for this spot and his training pattern suggests Delgado has him ready to fire again. Prat is a great pickup as a backup rider and this guy is the horse to beat in here.
National Treasure - Won the Preakness when he was gifted the lead and then promptly bombed in the Belmont when took pressure. Baffert takes the blinkers off but the colt has never really shown that he is this caliber when he isn’t in receipt of a virtual head start.
Disarm - Asmussen adds blinkers (can’t say I remember a big race with so many blinker changes) to the Gun Runner colt who ran a sneaky good race in the Derby before taking a hard fought Matt Winn and then running a fair 4th in the Jim Dandy. Needs to move forward from his TG 3.5 (last 3 races) plateau though note that Asmussen got three works into him since the Jim Dandy just 28 days ago. Interesting if you are looking for a price.
Scotland - if he doesn’t send to the lead from post 7, I’d be very surprised, especially with National Treasure taking blinkers off. He is a talented gelding that still lacks in experience (only has one two turn race) and IMO being on the lead would be beneficial from not only a pace standpoint but to eliminate distractions and ground loss. I believe his pedigree is a bit questionable for the 10 furlongs though and if he can pull it off this would go down as one of Bill Mott’s greatest training jobs in a career full of those.
📽️ A great Travers stakes from the archives Affirmed vs Alydar with some controversy that might blow up horseracing social media if it happened today