Handicapping a Wide-Open Sanford Stakes

Handicapping a Wide-Open Sanford Stakes

Baffin breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

Saratoga has long been known for its top-notch two-year-old racing, and on Saturday eight promising juvenile colts will head to the post for the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (gr. III), a historic race that was run for the first time more than 100 years ago. Sharpen your handicapping for the meet by checking out the free Saratoga Betting Guide on TwinSpires.com!

The morning line favorite at 5-2 is Direct Dial, who is among the most experienced horses in the race with two starts under his belt.  Trained by Steve Asmussen, the Texas-bred son of Too Much Bling caught eyes with a 7 ¾-length maiden win at Keeneland on April 26th, then proved his worth in stakes company when finishing second in the 5 ½-furlong Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park after setting a solid early pace. With BRIS speed figures of 90 and 82 on his record, we know Direct Dial has the speed to be competitive; the bigger question is whether he can stretch that speed for six furlongs against several promising rivals.

I’m actually a little more intrigued by Direct Dial’s stablemate Baffin, who romped to victory in a five-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs on June 22nd, winning in gate-to-wire fashion by 4 ¾ lengths. Coming down the homestretch, Baffin looked like a seasoned professional, running straight as an arrow while under mild urging. He seemed to have something left in the tank, and his final time of :58.15 translated to a solid BRIS speed figure of 85.

Basically, Baffin gave the impression of being a very talented colt with a bright future, and as the 9-2 fourth choice on the morning line, I view him as not only the most likely winner, but potentially the best value as well.

Others to consider are Psychoanalyze, the game winner of a 5 ½-furlong maiden race at Belmont on June 14th, and the Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Bal Harbour and Admiral Jimmy. Psychoanalyze’s winning time at Belmont wasn’t eye-catching, but the race was conducted over a track labeled “good” and earned a BRIS speed figure of 87. The bigger concern is that Psychoanalyze has drawn the rail, with plenty of speedy colts to his outside—even if he breaks sharply, he’ll likely face strong pace pressure from the start, putting him in a difficult position.

As for the Pletcher runners, Admiral Jimmy romped in his debut at Gulfstream Park on May 3rd, then ran well to finish third in the Tremont Stakes last time out, beaten a nose by Direct Dial, who arguably turned in the better effort while setting the pace. I prefer Admiral Jimmy’s higher-priced stablemate Bal Harbour, who has made two starts at Gulfstream Park, finishing second in his debut before rallying to win by two lengths in a 4 ½-furlong event on June 8th. This performance was particularly notable since Bal Harbour had to check severely on the turn when another rival dropped back suddenly, causing Bal Harbour to lose two or three lengths on the leaders. Impressively, Bal Harbour shrugged off the incident and re-rallied strongly to win going away.

Top jockey John Velazquez picks up the mount on Bel Harbour, and given that Pletcher has won the Sanford six times in the past, Bal Harbour could be worth a very close look if he goes off at his morning line odds of 6-1. In a race full of speed, Bal Harbour could benefit from being a closer—don’t be surprised if he’s closing fast in the homestretch.

Full-card selections for every racing day at Saratoga are available for free this summer at Brisnet.com. Enjoy the races, everyone!

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.

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