Marcus Vitali is running a horse Thursday at Saratoga. If you don’t know that name, Google it and read articles about him in outlets such as The Paulick Report. In particular, I would urge you to read about his activities at Delaware Park, where he once fled his barn on foot with suspected contraband in hand after track security showed up to conduct a search.
Last year, it was reported that Wayne Potts was acting as a “program trainer” for Vitali in Maryland shortly before a Potts trainee won a stakes race at Saratoga. Instead of being proactive, the New York Racing Association made no meaningful public statements and took no meaningful public actions. The presence of a Vitali-trained horse at Saratoga is a result of these unforced errors, and it’s an embarrassment, for lack of a better term.
NYRA: Do better, and don’t tell us your hands are tied. There’s a certain white-haired trainer you’ve recently attempted to block from the entry box for out-of-state behavior, and you could’ve done exactly the same thing here.
WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS: Amistad didn’t seem like he took to the yielding turf course and was off the board in the seventh. After scratches, we dropped $26.
THURSDAY’S PLAY: I’m focusing on the late double and playing $3 tickets starting in the ninth. #3 ICE PRINCESS hits me as a beatable favorite in the first leg, and I’ll use #1 STOP SHOPPIN TAMMY/#1A PLAYED HARD and #5 PORTILLA with #2 ORMA, #9 SASSY BELLE, and #12 STELLA MARS in the nightcap. I’ll also put $2 across the board on Sassy Belle, who’s 30-1 on the morning line. If she runs well at a big price and I don’t make money, I’ll be pretty upset.
TOTAL WAGERED: $24.
Best Bet: Expand the Map, Race 5
Longshot: Sassy Belle, Race 10
#5 GALWAY KID: Was eased against some of the best jump horses in America in the Grade 1 Iroquois, and I can’t hold that against him. He chased Snap Decision twice here last summer, and a repeat of his Group 3 score two back would give him a big shot; #4 REDICEAN: Earned minor awards in a pair of Grade 1 races here last summer and won a restricted stakes here back in 2019. He hasn’t won in a while and he’s the top weight here, but his best is certainly good enough; #6 GIBRALFARO: Is another without a recent win to his credit, but he just missed behind my top pick last time out. The presence of a 31% pilot is noteworthy, and Hall of Fame-bound conditioner Jack Fisher must be respected.
#3 WICKED MAD: Looks best of a mediocre bunch in the first flat race of the day. He mildly rallied last time out in his first start for a tag, adds blinkers in this spot, and at least his form seems like it’s trending upward; #7 RECIDIVIST: Makes his first start for Kelly Breen, whose horses have been running well in the early part of the meet. He showed speed against a better group in the spring at Keeneland, and that day’s winner came right back to win again; #6 PREGAME: Goes back to the dirt and drops in for a tag for the first time. His three-back effort at Keeneland was fine, and this barn has done well with similar droppers in the recent past.
RICE ENTRY: It’s likely only one will run, but either half can win. I prefer #2B FOREVER CHANGED, who has a significant amount of back class and was third in last year’s Union Avenue against far better horses at this route of ground; POTTS ENTRY: #1A VIOLENT TRICK was a close-up second earlier in the meet and would be wheeled back in less than a week. She hasn’t won in a while, but her tactical speed would be an asset against this group; #5 PERSIAN QUEEN: Hasn’t won in nearly a year but is worth a long look. She’s run well in two starts since a brief freshening, two of her three wins have come over this surface, and she’s shown an ability to pass other horses late. If there’s a meltdown, she could come running at a nice price.
#2 DANCING KIKI: Gets a tepid nod in a race I’m not excited about in the slightest. She takes a big drop back into the claiming ranks, and her form looks far better if you solely consider her races over fast dirt tracks; #5 TENDERNESS: Hasn’t run a bad one in her last four starts and just missed downstate. Wayne Potts does well with new acquisitions, and her flexible running style should give David Cohen plenty of options; #4 RED VENUS: Wouldn’t be a surprise based on numbers she’s run elsewhere. Still, it’s tough to be excited about Marcus Vitali being allowed to run here given his long record of violations and run-ins with regulating bodies in other states.
Expand the Map
Gal in a Rush (MTO)
#4 EXPAND THE MAP: Has strong European turf breeding on top and bottom and looms large in her debut for the Chad Brown barn. She sold for more than $313,000 at auction late last year and sure looks like the one to beat; #10 PIZZA BIANCA: Hasn’t worked particularly fast leading up to her unveiling but has the pedigree to be any kind. The Bobby Flay homebred is out of a Galileo mare, who herself is a half-sister to Epsom Derby winner and sire Pour Moi; #2 BALI BELLE: Is the “other” Christophe Clement trainee making her debut in this spot. She’s by young sire Bal a Bali, who did his best work on turf, and the bottom-side pedigree boasts a number of nice horses as well.
#3 DERRYNANE: Boasts a strong recent gate work and has the pedigree to be a runner. Dam Portmagee was a stakes-winning turfer, and Joel Rosario sees fit to ride for Clement when he almost certainly had some options; #9 ROOSKI: Debuts for Jeremiah Englehart and sure looks like a turf horse. She’s by Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Tourist and out of a Freud mare that’s already thrown a pair of multiple winners; #6 ENJOY SUMMER: Is by Kitten’s Joy and out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, so it’s not surprising to see her show up on the lawn. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because I think she may want two turns given that pedigree.
Red Pepper Grill
#10 CHLOE ROSE: Comes back to the right level and surface after showing speed on the turf against more expensive claimers last time out. She’s never run a bad race sprinting on dirt, and Javier Castellano got to know her a bit when riding her to a third-place finish two back at Belmont; #7 RED PEPPER GRILL: Is another going back down the ladder after trying tougher competition. Her form looks far better if you only consider the one-turn dirt races, and she’d benefit from a fast pace that would set things up for a closer; #6 QUANTITATIVBREEZIN: Goes turf to dirt for the Brad Cox barn, which popped with three of its first five runners at this stand. She wouldn’t shock me, but her lone win came in an off-the-turf event. I just don’t think she beat much there, and I can’t endorse her on top at her likely price.
#5 LOVELY LUCKY: Drops in after three tries against graded stakes company, and her best effort against those types came at this route, when she was fourth in the Grade 2 Glens Falls last summer. She’s been off since January, but anything close to her best would make her tough; #6 MIA MARTINA: Stretches out to a marathon distance for the first time, but is another getting some class relief. She started off her career with two wins in Florida before four straight runs in stakes races, and the shallower waters could be to her liking; #2 CAT’S PAJAMAS: Is another stretching out to a long distance and does so after two second-place finishes on the mid-Atlantic circuit. This barn must be respected, however, and perhaps this trip will allow her to find the form she showed last spring and summer.
BAUER ENTRY: #1A PLAYED HARD has shown plenty of talent and put it all together in her first start going two turns last month. This type of route may be what she’s always wanted to do, and it’s encouraging to see Tyler Gaffalione aboard once again; #5 PORTILLA: Won her debut in April and didn’t run poorly in her first start against winners. This is her first try going two turns, and her recent local drill hints that she’s doing well following the trip to upstate New York; #3 ICE PRINCESS: Isn’t the worst favorite in the world and has seven top-two finishes in 11 career starts. However, she’s winless going two turns, and while she ran second in two stakes races last season, she also ran second twice at Aqueduct in races where she didn’t have many excuses. I simply need more value than I’m likely to get here.
#2 ORMA: Gets a big rider switch to Luis Saez for this wide-open finale. Her last-out effort downstate saw her move a bit early, and between the shorter distance, the top jockey, and the barn she comes from, I think there’s plenty to like; #12 STELLA MARS: Draws a terrible post but may well be talented enough to overcome it. Her turf sprints are solid and she nearly won when second against similar off of a four-month layoff at Belmont; #9 SASSY BELLE: Will be a big price, but she was just 7-1 in her debut last summer, when she was pulled up and vanned off. She’ll run with Lasix here, her 329 turf Tomlinson figure is solid, and there are some workouts hinting that she can run. Perhaps a win is a bit too much to ask, but I wouldn’t be shocked if she hits the board at a gigantic price.