It is a great day of racing at Saratoga. I am not overstating my opinion or exaggerating even slightly when I say that Saratoga is unquestionably my favorite sporting facility in the world. If you have never been there you are missing out. Seriously.
All four major races today are part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge. That means that any horse that wins one of the races is guaranteed a spot in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in October if they so choose. Here’s a quick look on how I see the four races shake out.
The Diana – Wait a While returns to action. She was the champion three year old filly in 2006, but has struggled since. She has disappointed, but she loves this track and will be tough. Vacare had a terrible race on Belmont day that she will need to bounce back from. She’s good, but not good enough in my eye. Bit of Whimsy will get some attention and will make it interesting. The horse I like, though, is Dynaforce. She has raced in Europe and will therefore know how to handle the soft turf that she will face. The one problem with the pick is that her jockey, Kent Desormeaux is currently mired in a 1-for-45 slump. It’s got to end eventually, though, so I will shoot for reasonable value on Dynaforce at 7/2 or so, and feel reasonably confident about her chances of ending up in the top two. If she stays around 7/2 then I will probably be on her to place to start the day with a nice return of $5 or so for every $2.
Vanderbilt – This one features another interesting return to action. Thor’s Echo has been in the middle east since winning the Breeders’ Cup sprint in impressive fashion in 2006. He gets a break in this sprint – Bustin Stones was going to be a tough challenge, but he has been scratched. That will leave Abraaj as the likely favorite, but that’s a horse I struggle to trust. First Defense will deservedly get attention, and Black Seventeen will get way more attention than he deserves. I’m a huge sentimentalist when it comes to horse racing, so I will certainly be on Thor’s Echo at around 6/1 with the hope that some of that 2006 magic can be recaptured. If he gets pounded down well below that 6/1 morning line price, though, then I may pass the race.
Go For Wand – Ginger Punch is as close to a lock as you can get in this sport. Of course, so was Big Brown in the Belmont. Last year’s champion is by far the best in this field. Unfortunately, she will go off at terrible odds, so she won’t be of much use other than as a key in exotics. Look elsewhere if you like to gamble, because her presence will ensure that other prices will be more than competitive.
Whitney – This is the big one, and it is an intriguing field. There are 11 horses in the main event, and there are seven that I have some affection for. From the inside of the startinggate: The seven year old Commentator is a timeless warrior who won this race back in 2005 and is still in fine form. He’ll be the favorite, but he still needs to get his race to win here. Solar Flare starts second, and could be the second choice. He has won three of his last four races, but just the last two have come since he came to the States from South America – a win and a second. He was solid in finishing second in the Suburban last time out, but I don’t think he has enough to win here. Notional, in the third spot, is likely my pick if the price is right. Trainer Mark Hennig is smoking hot, and the horse is coming off a nice win. Notional was a very nice three year old early last year before encountering some problems, and I think that he is rediscovering and building on some of that class that we got a glimpse of. Cowtown Cat is a longshot at 20/1, but I am a sucker for any horse that was in the Derby as he was last year. I won’t bet on him, but I’ll be pulling for him. Grasshopper starts in the eight spot. He was as good as any horse around earlier in the year, but has gone through a bit of a downturn. Still, his 10/1 price is eye-opening, and I may have to take a piece of him if he stays around there. A.P. Arrow is another horse who has been at the top of the game but is a bit off that point now. He’s also at 10/1 in the morning line, though, and that’s enough to get a guy thinking. Finally, Student Council is a west coast runner who has come out to the dirt in the east and looked good. He won the Pimlico Special two starts ago, and is in very good dirt form for a horse that is at 6/1 to start. In the end, I will probably be on Notional, with Student Council and Grasshopper underneath. There are a lot of outcomes that could make me happy, though.
While we are at Saratoga we might as well take a quick look ahead to tomorrow and the Jim Dandy. This race for three year olds is the first big three year old race of the summer season, and it is a big prep for the Travers. I was lucky enough to be at Saratoga for this race two years ago when Bernardini absolutely humiliated the field to assert his incredible class. This year’s version lacks a horse like that, but it certainly doesn’t lack intrigue.
Jim Dandy – Da’ Tara will be back on track for the first time since his bizarre Belmont victory. I didn’t believe in him going into that race, and despite that setback my opinion of this horse hasn’t changed. I won’t be touching him. I also won’t be on two other horses we got to know on the Derby Trail – Anak Nakal and Tale of Ekati. I have liked both horses in the past and have little but frustration to show for it. I like MInt Lane, but not at the low price he is likely to go at, so I will take the risk of avoiding him for the sake of value. It comes down, then, to two horses – a favorite and a pleasing longer shot. The favorite is Pyro. I loved the horse in the spring, and the sucker in me wants him to rise up and become a dominant three year old contender again. I will be at the Breeders’ Cup in October, and I would love to see him there. The longer shot is Macho Again, a son of the great Macho Uno who doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves. This is an impressive horse that is going to break through sooner or later. I will likely be on some combination of those two horses by race time.