Get ready, everyone! The much-anticipated Saratoga meet is scheduled to begin tomorrow afternoon, kicking off a fantastic forty days of racing that will feature plenty of top-notch graded stakes races! The action starts right away with a pair of graded stakes races on the opening-day card, including the grade II Lake George Stakes for 3yo fillies. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m planning to handicap and write an analysis of every single graded stakes race of the meet, and I hope you’ll join me! Let’s get started!
Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III)
The first graded stakes of the meet will feature eight 2yo fillies sprinting six furlongs on the main track, and at first glance, Moment Is Right looks like a standout. The Wesley Ward-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro has won both of her starts by the combined margin of 10 lengths, including the 5 1/2-furlong Astoria Stakes at Belmont Park. In the latter race, she opened up a four-length early lead while setting fractions of :22 1/5 and :45 3/5 before turning back a challenge from Decked Out to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Since then, she’s posted three sharp workouts at Keeneland, including a bullet five furlongs in :59 3/5 on July 17th, and should be ready for another strong effort on Friday.
That said, these are 2yo fillies, and Moment Is Right will be switching tracks and stretching out in distance. While her accomplishments thus far have stamped her as a standout, there’s no guarantee that one of her lightly-raced rivals won’t step up with a big performance, and since Moment Is Right is likely to be a short price, I’ll take a shot at beating her with Todd Pletcher’s Positively Royal. Pletcher, of course, has dominated the 2yo races at Saratoga in recent years, and Positively Royal enters the Schuylerville off of an eye-catching victory in a five-furlong maiden special weight at Belmont. In that race, she tracked the early lead before taking command and drawing off decisively to win by 3 1/2 lengths. A trio of half-mile works at Saratoga, most recently a bullet on July 17th, should have her ready to roll, and notably, her sire is Bernardini, which suggests that she’ll have no trouble handling the extra furlong of the Schuylerville.
For a longshot, you might want to try Steve Asmussen’s One Minute, who finished third in the Astoria before finishing a troubled seventh in the My Dear Stakes over the Woodbine Polytrack. The return to dirt should help her chances, and off her last race, she’ll likely be an overlay. Three starts back, she romped by 7 1/4 lengths in a five-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill and ran the final furlong in a rapid :12.04 while doing so, and if she runs back to that form, she should be in the mix at a good price.
Lake George Stakes (gr. II)
The morning line favorite in this 8.5-furlong turf race is Feathered, who won the Edgewood Stakes (gr. III) in gate-to-wire fashion two starts back before finishing second by just three-quarters of a length in the ten-furlong American Oaks (gr. I). That race was probably a bit too far for her, and the cutback in distance for the Lake George should help her chances.
That said, she’s likely to face some pace pressure from fellow front-runners Robillard, Mrs McDougal, Lady Zuzu, and Cara Marie, which should help set the race up for a stretch-runner. One possibility is Bill Mott’s Celestine, who has won four straight races in impressive fashion, including three stakes. She has plenty of tactical speed, as well as the ability to rate off the pace, and her strong turn-of-foot is a valuable asset. As an 8-1 shot on the morning line, she’s a very intriguing candidate for the win, especially considering that she should be able to save ground from post one.
Another filly I’ll strongly consider is Jellicle Ball, an English shipper making her first start in the United States. Under the care of John Gosden, she ran well enough to place second in a group III stakes at Newbury and fourth in a one-mile handicap at Royal Ascot, stamping her as a talented filly. Now under the care of Graham Motion, who has had strong success with former European runners, she will pick up the services of top jockey John Velazquez and will be carrying substantially less weight than she is accustomed to–just 115 pounds instead of 126 or 128. With a bit of luck, I think she can rally for a strong finish at around 10-1.
Partisan Politics also looms as a major contender off a nose defeat in the Wild Applause Stakes at Belmont, her first race of the season, and she showed an affinity for this course last season when winning the P. G. Johnson Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths. However, she’s drawn very wide in post twelve, and that could compromise her chances just a bit.
The Lake George is a tricky race to handicap, and there should be plenty of value to be found in the exotics. In the end, I’ll take Jellicle Ball to pull off the upset, but you can make a case for every horse in the field!
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