Breeders’ Cup Photo
A gigantic day of racing awaits tomorrow afternoon at Saratoga, highlighted by six grade I stakes races. Over on the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners, I’ve been sharing my thoughts on some of the races in the comments section, and while I haven’t quite finalized my selections yet, I’m getting close. Here are some of my thoughts on the Ballerina, Forego, and King’s Bishop Stakes!
Ballerina Stakes (gr. I)
I just took my first close look at the Ballerina, and while morning line favorite Dame Dorothy looks like a definite contender, I think there’s a good chance that she could be upset at a short price. Her 7-for-9 record is eye-catching, and her versatility in running style is a big plus, but with the exception of Judy the Beauty in the Humana Distaff, I don’t think Dame Dorothy has been facing much in her recent sprint starts, and I think her opposition on Saturday is quite a bit tougher. Additionally, in her Bed o’ Roses victory, Dame Dorothy got a very easy lead setting fractions of :23 4/5 and :47 3/5, yet could only run her final furlong in :12 4/5 while under pressure. As a grade I winner, she’ll also be carrying the top weight of 124 pounds today, conceding weight to several very talented rivals. She can definitely win, but I’m intrigued by the chances of Room for Me and Unbridled Forever as upset candidates. The former didn’t fire after a poor start in the Bed o’ Roses, but all of her other recent efforts have been strong, and I think she has more tactical speed than Dame Dorothy. This should enable Room for Me to stay within a few lengths of the early pace (which should be fast), and hopefully kick on strongly in the homestretch. In terms of Beyer speed figures, she’s got a significant edge over Dame Dorothy, and will also be carrying just 117 pounds, seven less than the favorite.
As for Unbridled Forever, she placed in five graded stakes races at a mile or longer last year, but arguably her best efforts — including two of her three wins — have come in one-turn races. Last time out, she returned from a nine-month layoff to win the seven-furlong Shine Again Stakes at Saratoga, producing a strong late rally despite a wide trip to win by a neck. With Sarah Sis, La Verdad, Merry Meadow, and Kiss to Remember likely to ensure a fast pace, I think Unbridled Forever will be closing strongly in the homestretch and could be overlooked in the wagering. Plus, she’s another filly that will be getting a nice weight break, carrying only 117 pounds today.
Forego Stakes (gr. I)
I’ve taken a preliminary look at the Forego Stakes, and at first glance, I don’t see a ton of early speed — The Big Beast and Wildcat Red are both fast but seem more likely to track the pace, which leaves Private Zone, Run for Logistics, and Falling Sky as the most likely to set the pace. Run for Logistics has shown enough speed on turf to make things tricky for Private Zone, but he hasn’t flashed the same speed on dirt, and with Falling Sky showing a preference to track as of late, I think Private Zone won’t have any trouble securing the lead. From there, his ability to set a blazing pace and still stay on strongly in the homestretch should make him very difficult to beat.
Of the other well-regarded runners, I’m going to play against Race Day since by far his biggest success has come going longer. I’ll also play against Wildcat Red, who didn’t seem to care for Saratoga last year, and who figures to get a tricky trip trying to chase Private Zone. The Big Beast is very talented and is 2-for-3 at Saratoga with his only defeat coming by a nose, but I’m not sure that he has the speed or finishing kick to keep up with Private Zone. If Private Zone is going to be beaten, I think he will be beaten by a horse that closes from off-the-pace and catches him after a speed duel, so Salutos Amigos is interesting and posting triple-digit Beyer speed figures in eight of his last ten starts. He was beaten just 1 1/4 lengths by Private Zone in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last year, and I think he was compromised by a modest pace when fourth in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (gr. I) last time out. Assuming Private Zone carves out a :44-and-change half-mile fraction, Salutos Amigos should be finishing strongly in the homestretch, and if Private Zone goes any faster, Salutos Amigos might be good enough to win.
Viva Majorca is another colt that might have been compromised by the modest pace in the Vanderbilt, and two starts back, he produced a big late run to win the seven-furlong Kelly’s Landing Stakes at Churchill Downs. He’s probably not quite good enough to win a race of this caliber, but I think he’s a major contender to finish in the superfecta at a big price. Along similar lines, Bourbon Courage unleashed a terrific rally to finish fourth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, beaten only a neck by Private Zone, and although his form deteriorated earlier this year, a trainer switch to Graham Motion and a three-month layoff resulted in a much-improved effort in the Hockessin Stakes last time out. He’s another that probably won’t win, but could be a great choice to round out the exotics.
But getting back to horses that I might use in multi-race wagers (sorry this is getting so long!), Tamarkuz ran very well when fourth in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) in his U.S. debut, finishing just 1 1/4 lengths behind Private Zone, and a nice series of workouts at Saraotga should have him ready for a big effort in his first start off a nearly three-month layoff. With a blend of tactical speed and the ability to rate, he could work out a good trip settling in mid-pack and will likely get the jump on Salutos Amigos, which could put him in a prime position to wear down Private Zone if the latter goes too fast early on.
So to recap, I think Private Zone looks very tough to beat in the Forego, but Tamarkuz and Salutos Amigos might have a chance to pull off the upset if the pace is too fast. The Big Beast is another major contender that I would be worried about leaving off my tickets, while Bourbon Courage and Viva Majorca could be live longshots for those that are spreading deep in the multi-race wagers or the superfecta.
King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. I)
Now I’m looking over the King’s Bishop Stakes, and I agree with the feeling by many that Holy Boss looks tough to beat and looms as a possible single. He’s got great tactical speed, drew well in post seven, and can also rate a length or two off the lead, which should set him up for a great trip. Competitive Edge has the speed to contend and ran well while setting the pace in the Haskell last time out, and we know he likes Saratoga — he went 2-for-2 there as a 2yo. But starting from post three, with speed horses drawn both to his inside and outside, he could be in for a tricky trip. For the purpose of multi-race wagers, I may take a stand against him, as well as Grand Bili and March. Grand Bili rode a speed bias to victory in the Carry Back Stakes (gr. III) last time out and figures to face strong pace pressure today, while March took advantage of strong paces to win the Woody Stephens (gr. II) and Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III). It’s hard to say why he faltered in the Amsterdam (gr. II) in his most recent start, fading to finish last of six despite a good pace setup, but even at his best, I don’t think he’s quite good enough to beat this field.
So all of that said, there are a couple of wildcard runners that intrigue me. The first is Runhappy, who has won all three of his sprint races in convincing fashion. I think he can handle the extra half-furlong of the King’s Bishop, but drawing post eleven likely means that he will have to be sent from the start, and he’s repeatedly shown a tendency to break slowly and race greenly. The talent is there, but can he put it all together against a field of this caliber?
Likewise, Watershed looked spectacular in his debut at Saratoga earlier this month, unleashing a wide rally from eight lengths behind to win going away by four lengths while sprinting seven furlongs. With plenty of speed in the King’s Bishop, Watershed is a colt that should benefit, but can he deliver a winning performance in a race of this caliber while making just his second start? And what of Commute, who showed both speed and the ability to rate while winning a seven-furlong allowance race by five lengths at Churchill in June? That was over a sloppy, sealed track, but he also ran well when breaking his maiden sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs in February at Santa Anita, scoring by 2 1/4 lengths over Smart Transition.
Then there’s Mr. Z, who is almost (albeit not quite) as unpredictable as Runhappy. Mr. Z has a history of drifting outward sharply in his races, and it’s arguably cost him victory on a couple of occasions, but he almost always brings his race and is usually right in the mix at the finish. Also, for what it’s worth, he’s compiled a record of one win and two seconds from three starts sprinting, so who knows? Maybe the cutback to one turn will leave him with more in the tank for the homestretch, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he wins on Saturday.
In essence, I think Holy Boss is a very strong contender, and a possible single in multi-race wagers, but this is a deep field with a lot of front-runners/pace-pressers, and I won’t be surprised if the winner comes from way back. With that in mind, Watershed is perhaps the most intriguing options for an upset, along with Mr. Z, who should be farther back early on while cutting back in distance.