Handicappers in the Saratoga media may work for different publications and outlets, but we’re the same breed and many of us are friends. Every year brings with it attrition in the ranks due to retirements or budget cuts, and it’s always tough to see someone go, for whatever reason.
Bill Heller was the longtime handicapper at The Daily Gazette. He’s written several books on Saratoga, and he always treated me with respect in my limited dealings with him. I found out Wednesday that he had retired, and I was sad to hear it.
Bill and others like him are a link back to when being the leading handicapper across all media at Saratoga was a special, special thing to everyone involved (to me, it still is). I hope Bill enjoys his retirement, and I hope the handicappers that are left do right by him and how he approached his duties to his craft and his readers.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: On a mess of an opening day card, I made a mess in both the pick box and the bankroll section. Candy Tycoon never had a chance after stumbling badly out of the gate, so I dropped $20.
FRIDAY’S PLAY: I usually don’t play Pick Fives, but the late one can be attacked with an economically-friendly ticket, so I’ll fire away. My 50-cent wager starting in the sixth goes as follows: 2,8 with 2,3 with 3,6 with 5 with 1,3,5,6,10,11.
TOTAL WAGERED: $24
Best Bet: Indian Pride, Race 9
Longshot: Justintimeforwine, Race 5
#6 VALUE ENGINEERING: Hasn’t run a bad race to this point and came back running off the bench when victorious downstate. The added furlong is a bit of an unknown, but the pedigree hints this shouldn’t be a problem, and a repeat of his last-out effort would make him tough; #5 BUNDIBUNAN: Ran well going long on turf late last year, including a fourth-place finish in a rich stakes race at Kentucky Downs. He may need a livelier pace up front to be at his best, though, as he wants to sit back and make one run; #2 CAN’THELPBELIEVING: Hasn’t run in more than a year and hasn’t won since the 2017 Sky Classic at Woodbine, but has been working well for Graham Motion and may inherit the early lead by default. This isn’t an easy task first off a long layoff, but he could lead them a long way and come away with a piece of it.
Dawn’s Early Light
#1 DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT: Looms large in a race without much proven form signed on. His race off the bench downstate was fine, and he’s been working well since shipping up here after that performance; #10 BRUNATE: Settled for second against similar at Belmont after a less-than-ideal start. He’s shown improvement since coming back to the races earlier this summer, and the recent bullet drill looks pretty good; #11 IMPERIO D: Is the bigger price of the two Rudy Rodriguez trainees and was third in the race my second selection exits. He was fourth behind a next-out winner here in his debut last year, and he does have some tactical speed.
The Rock Says
#4 THE ROCK SAYS: Will be asked to know his role in his first start for new trainer Robertino Diodoro, who does excellent work with horses first off the claim. He’s burned a lot of money, but the stretch-out to two turns could help him lay the smack down on this group (if you had “day two” in the “first wrestling reference” pool, you win); #5 GHOST GAME: Has stepped forward in each of his four starts and is protected first off the claim, which I see as a sign of confidence. He’s bred to love two turns and could come running late at a price; #3 FIRST RATE: Ran well in his first start away from Jorge Navarro last month at Gulfstream. He tries two turns on dirt for the first time, but his running style and pedigree says that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Pick Up the Fone
#3 PERSIAN QUEEN: Goes back to the barn of Carlos Martin after trying tougher in two races at Churchill. The most recent effort was fine, and the first-out win here last summer indicates that she’ll have no problem with the surface; #2 LEAVEUWITHASMILE: Takes a big drop in class second off the bench for a capable outfit. She got pretty good last fall, winning three of four at Laurel, and she’ll get plenty of support at the window; #4 PICK UP THE FONE: Moved forward for Todd Pletcher last time out when wiring a weaker field at Gulfstream. She figures to be on or near the lead, and when this barn gets a horse on the right track, they tend to stay there.
Too Early (MTO)
Sandro the Great
#8 JUSTINTIMEFORWINE: Has had a lot of chances, but sure looks like the only speed in an otherwise paceless race. Kendrick Carmouche is a talented speed rider, and I think he could go slow early and have plenty left late at a big price; #10 SANDRO THE GREAT: Is bred up and down to go long and turf and didn’t run badly when fifth off the layoff. Going 10 furlongs off the bench isn’t easy, and improvement is certainly logical; #7 SCUTTLEBUZZ: Had every chance last time out when closing into a very fast pace. That he didn’t get up is a red flag, but there’s plenty of pedigree to suggest he’ll go two turns. His dam was stakes-placed going long on the grass, and Jonathan Thomas can win with stretch-outs.
#8 BIG THICKET: Chased a classy runner earlier this month and is wheeled back quickly by Rudy Rodriguez. He’s run well on short rest before and seems to catch a less-imposing group here; #2 COACH VILLA: Likely needed his last-out effort, when he never fired in his first start since February. His form over the winter at Aqueduct, however, was solid, and his late-running style could be a benefit if they go quickly early on; #7 VINTAGE HOLLYWOOD: Hasn’t won since coming east last fall, but has run well against open claimers in the past. He could relish the slight cutback in distance for a smaller barn that must be respected.
#2 NOOR SAHARA: Is one of four entrants for trainer Chad Brown in this year’s De La Rose and looks like the most imposing runner. Her prior connections saw enough in her to try the Group 1 Prix de Diane Longines, one of the most prestigious races for turf distaffers in Europe, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride back; #3 PASSING OUT: Chased next-out Jenny Wiley winner Rushing Fall in the Grade 3 Beaugay downstate and got some black type with a third-place finish. She’s done her best work going two turns, and I think she’ll relish a return to that sort of route; #9 BLOWOUT: Seems like the main speed and is another part of the Chad Brown contingent. She’s been off since October but has back class and could be tough to catch if she’s left alone and ready to run.
#3 LADY LAWYER: Wouldn’t have been too out of place in the De La Rose and looms large for the tag team of Chad Brown and Joel Rosario. Her U.S. debut last month was solid, and she should sit a perfect stalking trip just off the speed; #6 TURF WAR: Won a listed stakes last year at Belmont, but hasn’t been seen since October. She has a powerful late kick and may be the one they have to hold off late if she’s fully-cranked; #5 LADY WORTHINGTON: Sure looks like the main speed, and Wesley Ward’s track record with speedy turf sprinters is unimpeachable. She hasn’t run since February, but she’s run well fresh in the past and could be ready at a price.
#5 INDIAN PRIDE: Cruised home in her 2020 debut last month at Belmont and showed real potential before going to the sidelines last year. She broke her maiden here at first asking last summer by eight lengths, and her usual race would make her a formidable favorite; #2 RISKY MANDATE: May have been best in her return race at Churchill and is another that hasn’t done much wrong. She was third in last year’s Grade 2 Prioress here last summer, and she’s got a win at today’s seven-furlong distance as well; #6 JOY EPIFORA: Wasn’t disgraced in her U.S. debut, when she ran second going a mile in Kentucky. She ran in some of Argentina’s biggest races a year ago and won two Group 1 events, and she’s been flying in several recent works at Keeneland.
Cold Hard Cash (MTO)
K. K. Ichikawa
#1 K. K. ICHIKAWA: Gets my reluctant top pick in a tough finale. His debut wasn’t bad, and he’s eligible to move forward with a start under his belt and the addition of Lasix; #10 FROZEN ACCOUNT: Merits a look in his first start on the grass given his pedigree. He’s by Central Banker and out of a Malibu Moon mare, which means he has every right to improve with the change in surface; #5 DIANNESIMPAZIBLE: Likely needed his 2020 debut off of a six-month layoff, and trainer Rudy Rodriguez’s horses tend to improve second off of long layoffs. With his route-heavy pedigree, two turns shouldn’t be an issue.