Closing weekend is upon us at Saratoga, and as usual, there’s a lot going on. Saturday’s card boasts two Grade 1 races, one of which is headlined by the top handicap horse on the grounds. Meanwhile, the Labor Day program features the Grade 1 Hopeful, and that’s an intriguing race considering the relative lack of standouts in the 2-year-old male division to this point. This’ll be fun, and hopefully we’ll cash a few tickets along the way!
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We had nothing behind New York’s Finest in the seventh, and Lem Me Dance was off the board despite an OK effort (missed the break and ran wide). We dropped $30.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to keep this simple with a pair of $25 plays. I’ll punch a $25 double using top Spinaway pick #1 SEPARATIONOFPOWERS with #2 GUN RUNNER in the Woodward, and I’ll play a cold $25 exacta using Gun Runner with #1 NEOLITHIC.
TOTAL WAGERED: $50
Best Bet: Gun Runner, Race 11
Longshot: Always a Suspect, Race 7
Driven by Thunder
Honor Thy Father
DRIVEN BY THUNDER: Drops way down in class for aggressive connections and has never run a bad race on a fast dirt course. This trainer/jockey tandem merits respect, and he seems like the one to beat; BORSA VENTO: Graduated last time out and was claimed out of that race by Steven Asmussen, who does strong work with new acquisitions. This is his first outing against winners, but his most recent effort was solid; HONOR THY FATHER: Drops down in class, and he made some noise as a 2-year-old when running in a few stakes races. It can be argued his best effort was in the Ellis Park Juvenile, which was run around one turn, and he comes back to that route here.
Say the Word
MARAUD: Is bred up and down to be a very good turf horse. He’s a half to graded stakes winner Arklow, his female family is very distinguished, and he’s got a few strong local works on the tap; OROSCOPO: Fetched $325k at auction earlier this year and has the pedigree to love turf. He’s by Orb, whose first offspring have taken to the lawn in a big, big way; SAY THE WORD: Is another bred for the grass, and he ships down for a Canadian owning and breeding institution. A trip through the pedigree leads to third dam Dance Smartly, one of the top Canadian thoroughbreds in history.
BLUEGRASS JAMBOREE: Has yet to run a bad race in four career starts. She was second at this level despite a rough trip, and the rider switch to John Velazquez is notable; FROSTY GAL: Has run in three stakes races this season and should find this level more to her liking. Several local workouts are solid; PALLADIAN BRIDGE: Hasn’t won in a while, but comes back to her preferred surface after chasing a next-out stakes winner on turf last time out. She should be prominent early, and her best is good enough for a piece of it.
SLIM SHADEY: Stood up last time out at this level and route, winning a swiftly-run race for the level. This veteran did get an ideal trip that day, but there’s plenty of speed signed on here and he could come running once again; DOCS LEGACY: Pulled off a 31-1 upset against similar foes earlier in the meet and cuts back in distance. He needs some luck to draw in, but must be respected if he does; INDEBTED: Ran second behind my second selection last time out and was claimed out of that race by a small barn that’s done tremendous work with new acquisitions. He’s another closer that needs a pace to run at, but he should get it.
Phi Beta Express (MTO)
J. S. Choice
J. S. CHOICE: Was a solid second last time out in a weirdly-run race. The winner got loose on an uncontested lead early on, and this one didn’t miss by much. There’s plenty of speed signed on here, which is a plus; FUNTASTIC: Graduated last time out in his turf debut, and this trainer/jockey combination has been tremendous all meet long. He could be good enough to beat winners in his first start at the level; LUNAIRE: Has run against much better horses for most of this season and was way too far back last time out at Delaware Park. He should appreciate the class relief he gets in this spot. DIRT SELECTIONS: PHI BETA EXPRESS, LENSTAR, SOUND OFF.
LIONITE: Chased the possible Hopeful favorite last time out in his debut for a barn whose runners sometimes need a race to get going. He could take a big step forward today, and his pedigree suggests the added distance won’t be a problem; SLOT: Ran on well late to be third in his debut behind a few live runners, including one that runs in Monday’s Hopeful. This is another that should improve stretching out at second asking; VENEZUELA: Seems the most live of all of the first-time starters in here. He fetched $300k at auction last year, has worked well, and has a strong female pedigree (his dam, second dam, and third dam were all stakes-winners).
Always a Suspect
ALWAYS A SUSPECT: Came off a brief freshening last time out and ran well, finishing less than a length behind Woodward entrant Neolithic. There’s a lot of speed signed on here, so I’m inclined to pick a horse that doesn’t need to be on or near the lead to run well; GIFT BOX: Was a highly-regarded 3-year-old in 2016 and ran fourth behind Arrogate in the Travers. He hasn’t run since, and while his best race likely wins, he also probably wants to go much longer than this route; SERVIS ENTRY: I prefer STILL KRZ, who was third in the Decathlon behind two next-out winners. One of those horses was Vanderbilt winner El Deal, so there’s lots of back class here.
Create a Dream
THAIS: Makes her North American debut after showing plenty of class in Europe. Her prior connections thought enough of her to try her against boys in last year’s Group 1 Grand Criterium, and she’s since hit the board in two Group 3 events; CREATE A DREAM: Makes her 2017 debut after a solid 2-year-old campaign saw her win a stakes race and run fourth in two graded events, including the Albany at Royal Ascot. Chad Brown could easily run 1-2 in this spot; DUBB ENTRY: TRUTH IN THE LIES steps up in class after an impressive win in her first start for these connections, while LITERATA won a stakes race here last time out and is the one to beat if this gets rained off the turf.
Bricks and Mortar
BRICKS AND MORTAR: Is 4-for-4 and looked great in winning a Grade 2 here earlier in the meet. He’s improved with every start, and is strictly the one to beat in here; YOSHIDA: Was beaten less than a length by my top pick last out and is another that seems to be improving with experience. He’s hinted at major talent in the past and can’t be ignored; VOODOO SONG: Has won three times at this meet and takes a step up in class in his search for a fourth local win in less than two months. I’m not sure he’s got the talent of my top two, but he figures to make the early lead, and at least you know he loves this turf course.
SEPARATIONOFPOWERS: Was probably the most impressive maiden-breaker of the entire meet. She dominated an overmatched field earlier in the meet, and if she improves off of that performance, look out; PURE SILVER: Ran away with the Grade 2 Adirondack and will likely be favored. A repeat of that race would make her tough, but I’m just not sure what she beat that day; LADY IVANKA: Romped by eight in her unveiling last month. She looked great that day, but the runner-up threw in a clunker at next asking, and that’s a red flag.
GUN RUNNER: Is arguably the best older horse in the country and romped at this route in the Grade 1 Whitney. He should sit another perfect trip, and his best race wins this handily; NEOLITHIC: Clearly needed the race last time out when all-out to top optional claimers going shorter than he probably wants to go. He was third behind Arrogate and Gun Runner in Dubai, and I think he’ll take a big step forward in his second start off the layoff; RALLY CRY: Was very sharp in winning the Alydar, and he’ll likely take most of the “wise guy” money from those looking to go against my top pick. However, that race was a considerable step forward, and he didn’t beat a lot there, so a bounce is very possible.
SARANDIA: Ran well in her North American debut when beaten less than three lengths in the Grade 1 Beverly D. by several top-notch runners. I’m taking the stance that that was a much tougher race than the ones others in here exit, and as such, she gets my top pick in a wide-open race; WAR FLAG: Was a close second in the Grade 3 Matchmaker, and among those she beat was Grade 1 winner Miss Temple City. She’s bred to go this route of ground, and note the presence of Jose Ortiz; ESTRECHADA: Beat many of these rivals in the Grade 3 Waya at a similar route. Javier Castellano rides back, and she merits respect.