I tweeted this question Wednesday, but when did it become a bad thing to run third in a graded stakes race?
I’m referring, of course, to field sizes for the major races on Saturday’s program. The Travers drew an eight-horse field, which is fine, but none of the other graded events drew more than seven. The Grade 1 Test will see Gamine go off as an odds-on favorite against a field of just five other rivals, and there will be no show wagering on that race.
I miss the days when owners and trainers were inclined to take shots in big races. Instead, they can cherry-pick, and in some cases, they’re forced to pick their spots because the current thoroughbred isn’t as durable as ones of years past. It’s an unfortunate situation that keeps repeating itself, and it won’t be corrected until people with far more money and influence than your fearless scribe do something about it.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: Two unenthusiastic win-place bets, two unenthusiastic fourth-place finishes. I dropped $20.
FRIDAY’S PLAYS: I think the middle portion of the card presents some opportunities to make money. I’ll play doubles starting in the fourth race that try to beat #7 BASELINE DRIVE, who hits me as an underlay. I’ll start $4 plays with #2 CHEROKEE SONG, #4 KEMBA, and #8 CAREFREE HIGHWAY, and look to finish them in the fifth with #1 BRIDLEWOOD CAT or #3 FAIR REGIS. I’ll also key Kemba in $1 exactas above and below Cherokee Song, Baseline Drive, and Carefree Highway, partially as a hedge and partially to lean on my live longshot of the day.
TOTAL WAGERED: $30.
Best Bet: Silky Blue, Race 8
Longshot: Kemba, Race 4
#1 KLICKITAT: Is in a “now or never” spot, having gotten nailed on the wire as a 7/5 favorite in his return to the races downstate. He’s run well going two turns before and doesn’t seem to catch a strong field, so circumstances seem right; #8 SELFMADE: Was a good second in his turf debut, which doubled as his first start for trainer Bill Mott. His pedigree says two turns won’t be a problem, and he could step forward second off a six-month layoff; #6 SPIRITUAL KING: Showed little sprinting at Belmont but stretches back out to a route of ground. He ran well going long at Gulfstream earlier this year and should be prominent early.
Lookin for Trouble
#5 SUPER COMPUTER: Has been working very well ahead of his debut, and he’s bred to be a good one. He’s a full brother to stakes-placed sprinter Dial One, and if his morning form comes to the afternoon, the family may have another runner on its hands; #7 LOOKIN FOR TROUBLE: Showed plenty of speed before fading to fourth in his debut at Belmont. This barn sometimes needs its horses to get a race or two before they step forward, and I think his experience edge will help; #6 COTTON: Rallied to be second in the race my second selection exits. It’s not inconceivable for him to improve, but this barn is cold as ice, and that makes runners from there difficult to trust.
Music of Life
#2 MUSIC OF LIFE: Came to hand this past winter and spring at Gulfstream and takes a drop in class for aggressive connections. She ran well here when third against far better last summer, and her usual race will make her tough to beat; #9 BEAN COUNTER: Finally broke through to record her first win in a while last time out at Belmont. She’s got plenty of tactical speed and may have improved since March, when she chased my top pick going two turns in Florida; #6 SUN SUMMERS: Was claimed out of a winning effort in June and steps up in class for this one. If there’s a knock here, it’s that she may want a bit longer than today’s mile distance, as some of her better efforts have come with extra ground she doesn’t get here.
#4 KEMBA: Seemed to like turf just fine when third against straight maidens at Belmont. She takes a slight drop in for a tag, and while she’s never gone two turns, progeny of Hard Spun can generally go a distance of ground, so she’s very intriguing at her likely price; #7 BASELINE DRIVE: Faltered at 4/5 in her debut at Gulfstream against Florida-breds and runs for a tag at second asking. However, state-bred to an open maiden claimer isn’t much of a drop, and despite a lofty pedigree, I just can’t endorse her on top, especially since value will likely be non-existent; #2 CHEROKEE SONG: Has done her best work going long and was a fast-closing fifth beaten just a length earlier in the meet. She comes back quickly for a barn winless on the Saratoga season, but if there’s action up front, she’s the one who stands to benefit.
#1 BRIDLEWOOD CAT: Exits a failed turf experiment, but could be sitting on a big one second off the bench. She ran several big races going short on dirt late last year, and her most recent local drill indicates she likes it here; #3 FAIR REGIS: Hasn’t won in nearly a year but never seems to fire a dud. With 12 top-three finishes in 15 starts since the beginning of 2019, she’s as honest as they come and should sit a nice stalking trip; #6 JENNEMILY: Has won three of four since being claimed by the Steve Asmussen barn and ships up from Laurel for this event. She won here last season in wire-to-wire fashion and figures to be prominent early in a salty race for the level.
#5 ROYAL APPROVAL: Showed enough when second in her debut to earn a spot on Wesley Ward’s Royal Ascot team. She didn’t do much running that day, but on the other hand, it’s Royal Ascot, so I’m more than willing to give her a pass; #10 CREDIT ENHANCEMENT: Hammered for $180,000 at Keeneland last year and has every right to be a good one. She’s from the same female family as Grade 1 winner In Lingerie, and Chad Brown can get a turf horse ready to run as well as anyone; #8 ARMY WIFE: Is another bred up and down to be a strong horse. She’s by top turf sire Declaration of War, and the recent gate works are heads-turning enough to make me think there’s plenty of gas in the tank.
Lady by Choice
#3 ARCHUMYBABY: Has run well in two starts for Orlando Noda and stretches back out to her favorite distance. In five starts going seven furlongs, this hard-knocking mare boasts three wins and two seconds; #6 EXCESS CAPACITY: Hasn’t won in a while but takes a big drop in class that could wake her up. She did damage at this level last year and boasts a win at this route from her days with prior connections; #1 LADY BY CHOICE: Had every chance here earlier in the meet when she was given a great ride, but she hung in that race and could only manage a fourth-place finish. She was, however, just a half-length behind my top pick, so I can’t discount her completely.
#1 SILKY BLUE: Got her nose down in her first start on turf, and the horse she nosed, Fresco, has since come back to win a state-bred stakes race. She had every right to need that effort off of a long break, and any improvement would make her a formidable foe; #7 JEN’S BATTLE: Won two in a row before trying open starter allowance company last month, and those waters were simply too deep. She gets in with state-breds here, and it’s encouraging to see Rosario climb back aboard; #8 AMOS: Was reeled in last time out after leading in the stretch, but has run well going long on turf before. The 3-1 odds hit me as an underlay given her 1-for-12 lifetime mark, but she can’t be ignored in vertical exotics and may be favored if this gets moved to the dirt.
#6 CAZADERO: Has done everything right to this point and looms large in the historic Grade 2 Saratoga Special. He’s won his two starts by a combined 13 ½ lengths, and when Steve Asmussen gets a precocious horse on the right track, they tend to stay there; #7 MOMOS: May have turned in the most impressive performance by a 2-year-old so far this meet. He never looked like a loser in airing by more than six lengths, and Christophe Clement has been winning races left and right here this summer; #11 RODERICK: Surged well clear in the stretch at Belmont to dust a short field by more than eight in his unveiling. He’s worked well since that race, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride back when one had to figure he had multiple options.
#2 TILSA: Cuts back after showing speed going longer in her two prior starts. I’m not overly enthusiastic about anything in this field, but she’s shown some potential and drops in claiming price, so she hits me as the most logical winner; #6 YELLEN: Returned from the sidelines with a third-place finish against similar at Belmont. She ran second in a rich race at Kentucky Downs last year, and a step forward would give her a big shot; #10 MICROCAP: Debuts for Chad Brown and may go off shorter than her 7/2 morning line price, but I have doubts. She’s been training at Monmouth with his second-string runners, and those horses don’t always run well after they’re shipped up I-87.