This week’s episode of “Champagne and J.D.” featured special guest Laffit Pincay, who’s spent his summer anchoring the tremendous “Saratoga Live” shows on the FOX Sports family of networks. I’ve known Laffit since our time at the dearly-departed HRTV, and it was awesome having him on to discuss the first half of the 2021 Saratoga meet. That conversation’s on YouTube if you’d like to check it out.
The show also featured me holding back tears of joy as I announced that I’ll be in attendance for the Saturday program at the Spa. My girlfriend and I are supposed to land in Hartford at about 8:30 am, and we’ll hopefully be at the track with my parents right around when the gates open at 11. Red-eyes and I don’t usually get along, but I’m welcoming this one with open arms. If you see me, come say hello!
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Doc Doc Rock was up the track in the sixth, so my exotics plays fizzled. I dropped $25 after scratches. As an aside, if you needed fourth race runner-up Air Show in anything, you have my sympathies, as that was one of the most brutal beats we’ll see this summer.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus on the early Pick Five, where I’ll be playing the following 50-cent ticket beginning in the opener: 2,7 with 1,7,9 with 1,5,9 with 3,5 with 3,6. Here’s hoping I’ll have something to celebrate on my one day in attendance!
TOTAL WAGERED: $36.
Best Bet: Palamos, Race 4
Longshot: Soar, Race 2
Suit of Armor
#7 WAR SMOKE: Did everything but win last time out after breaking last, putting forth a desperate rally, and coming up just a neck short. Everything about that effort says he’ll get better at second asking, and such improvement would make him strictly the one to beat; #2 SUIT OF ARMOR: Debuts for Brad Cox, whose barn is going as well as any at this stand. He’s got several good workouts ahead of his unveiling, and while Cox’s overall first-out numbers are just so-so, he’s considerably better with firsters on the grass; #5 KING ANGELO: Has shown an abundance of early zip and will likely be out front early. Figures-wise, he more than fits, but there are certainly stamina questions here and it’ll be interesting to see how much gas he has left turning for home.
Askin for a Baskin
#7 ASKIN FOR A BASKIN: Has run well in a pair of dirt starts and most recently finished second behind the well-meant Ducale, who’ll be one of the favorites in a loaded allowance race later in the card. He was more than six lengths clear of that day’s third-place finisher, and it sure looks like they’ll have him to catch; #9 LAUGHING BOY: Dueled through a legitimate pace when third going a bit longer at Churchill. A repeat of the last-out effort would make him a contender here, and the cushy outside draw should give Jose Ortiz some options; #1 SOAR: Makes his second career start here, and the debut over yielding turf at Belmont is a total throw-out. It’s safe to assume the Bill Mott trainee needed that race, and several recent bullet drills indicate he’s sitting on an improved effort at a big price.
Three Diamonds entry
Cold Hard Cash
THREE DIAMONDS ENTRY: I most prefer #1X ATONE, who makes his first start for Mike Maker and showed enough back class to run in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay back in February. He’s shown plenty of talent going two turns on the lawn, and the presence of Tyler Gaffalione is a plus; #5 KLICKITAT: Has run some of the best races of his career at the Spa and won here twice last summer. He’s got plenty of tactical speed and can either make the lead or sit just off the pace beneath Eric Cancel; #9 COLD HARD CASH: Broke through last time out over going that was listed as good but was probably far softer. This is a step up in class, to be sure, but Linda Rice’s horses are running well this summer and three of his four lifetime wins have come in upstate New York.
#3 PALAMOS: Ran well when third downstate going a mile and a quarter, so we know this distance shouldn’t be an issue. She may have moved a bit early that day, and I think she looms very large in this spot against many horses either stretching out or trying turf for the first time; #5 BABY BLYTHE: Was one-paced in her return to the races last month but is bred to want this trip. Add in that she’s in the hands of patient Hall of Fame horseman Shug McGaughey and that Joel Rosario rides back, and there’s reason for some optimism here; #8 EMPRESS THEODORA: Was second all the way around in an off-the-turf event last month. It’s not easy to go two turns at first asking, but she acquitted herself well and gets the surface her connections wanted to run on last time.
Win With Pride
Baby I’m Perfect
#3 WIN WITH PRIDE: Takes a slight drop in class after showing some zip for a $25,000 tag earlier this summer. He’s got five top-three finishes in seven starts going seven furlongs and generally runs the same race every time, which gives him a tepid nod in a wide-open claimer; #6 BABY I’M PERFECT: Was claimed last time out by Rudy Rodriguez and probably faced better horses last time out when fifth downstate. He got quite good in the fall and winter, and he’ll have every chance to win this if the new surroundings wake him up; #9 WAGON BOSS: Tired to finish a distant third in the first race of the meet and was claimed out of that event by an astute barn that doesn’t claim too many runners. His two-back win at Churchill Downs was very good, and while I think he may be better going two turns, I also think his last-out clunker was an exception rather than the rule.
#2 POWER AGENDA: Sold for $120,000 last year at Keeneland and comes in off of two straight impressive gate works for Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher. His dam ran well in several big spots, sire Nyquist is off to a great start at stud, and all indications are that this one can run; #12 MAJOR GENERAL: Needs some luck to draw in off the AE list but will merit respect if he does. This son of Constitution hammered for $420,000 last September, also boasts a strong work tab, and will have the benefit of an outside draw that tends to help inexperienced horses get comfortable; #8 GENERAL STRIKE: Is another promising 2-year-old trained by Steve Asmussen and owned (in part, in this case) by Winchell Thoroughbreds. This Union Rags colt is out of multiple stakes winner Danzatrice, who herself is a half-sister to champion filly Jaywalk.
#4 RESTORED ORDER: Clearly didn’t take to the sloppy dirt track last time out and goes back to the turf here. He also drops in for a tag, which is sometimes a red flag, but these owners can be very aggressive, and I simply think it’s a case of trying to find an easier spot than a loaded allowance; #3 ASSIDUOUSLY: Will take money simply because he’s trained by Chad Brown, and his speed figures are competitive enough to make him a threat. However, he’s spent time at Monmouth with Chad’s second-stringers, and as anyone who’s read my stuff so far this meet knows, I see that as a big red flag; #5 AMISTAD: Was a longshot pick for me earlier this meet but was well behind a slow pace and had too much to do. I think he’ll get a friendlier setup here, and that he’ll have every chance to come running late for a piece of it at a price.
SHADWELL ENTRY: I prefer #1 MAHAAMEL, who was third in one of the toughest non-winners-of-one events you’ll ever see last month. He earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and as competitive as this field is, one can argue it’s actually a softer group than the one he ran against earlier in the meet; #4 SPEAKER’S CORNER: Looked like a promising horse last year when he broke his maiden at Belmont, but he hasn’t run since October and is just getting going again. He’ll get Lasix for the first time, and the last two works over the Oklahoma track hint that he may be ready to run off the 10-month break; #5 DUCALE: Pulled away late to graduate at second asking last month, and the 97 Beyer Speed Figure is certainly a plus. Pay attention to how Askin for a Baskin runs in the second race. If that one runs well, this one moves up.
#7 DOUBLE THUNDER: Has done nothing wrong to this point and rallied from last to first to win the Grade 3 Bashford Manor at Churchill in June. I’m expecting him to be more forwardly-placed with a cleaner break, and I think he’s got a big shot in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special; #1 NAKATOMI: Won his debut race at Keeneland (as many Wesley Ward trainees are prone to do) before finishing eighth in the Group 2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot. If the workouts are any indication, he’s come back in good form, and it really helps his cause that first-out runner-up Happy Soul has crushed a pair of fields since that effort; #10 GLACIAL: Was part of a fast pace in the Bashford Manor, but had enough stamina to hold on for third that day. The blinkers come off, and I don’t think he’ll need to go quite so quickly out of the gate here.
#8 BLOWOUT: Will likely attempt to wire the field in the Grade 1 Fourstardave and has more than enough talent to do so. She’s never finished off the board in 12 career starts, and if she’s able to get comfortable up front early beneath Joel Rosario, I think she could be tough to catch; #5 SET PIECE: Has won three in a row for Brad Cox and was much the best in the Grade 2 Wise Dan. The running line says he prevailed by just a half-length, but he altered course late while rallying in a race with a slow early pace. The faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be; #1 RAGING BULL: Is a monster when he’s right and is a deserving favorite as he looks for his third Grade 1 score. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because he’s a closer on the rail in a race on the inner turf. He’s going to be tough if he gets an ideal trip, but he may need a lot to go his way in order to make that happen.
Luna’s in Charge
#9 DR. DUKE: Looks like the controlling speed in the Saturday finale and returns to his preferred surface second off the bench. He wanted no part of a muddy dirt track last time out, and I think he’s a threat to lead this group every step of the way; #2 NEURO: Broke through in his 14th career start last time out and tries winners for the first time. That day’s runner-up, War Smoke, looms large in the opener, and if he runs as expected, that win looks far better; #7 LUNA’S IN CHARGE: Seems to have an aversion to winning, but if you’re playing vertical exotics, ignore him at your own peril. He’s run some of the best races of his career at the Spa, and he goes out for a trainer that’s won or run second with half of his 12 runners so far this summer.