I’ll need to be very careful with how I word this, but here goes: It’s downright weird seeing the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Flower Bowl being run at Saratoga.
I get the logic. Horses simply do not run nearly as much (trainers, be sure to take note: This is a criticism of the breed, not your skill as conditioners or judgment with regard to the horses in your barns), and the New York Racing Association wants to maintain the importance of races that were very prominent in past years but have been skipped by many thoroughbreds aiming for the Breeders’ Cup.
That doesn’t, however, mean I can’t miss the days when our best horses ran both fast and often, as opposed to one or the other. It meant something when the same horses came back for races like the Whitney, the Woodward, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup in succession. I was also a huge fan of the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup, a race won in my youth by the likes of Evening Attire and Aptitude. That race was one of the first casualties of the modern era, and while I can’t blame NYRA for making adjustments it felt it had to make given the state of the game, it’s a shame we’re moving and modifying these great races without attacking the industry’s bigger issues in meaningful ways.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: Our action was cancelled for the second straight day, as turf races were moved off the grass.
FRIDAY’S PLAY: Whether or not we’ll be on the turf is a mystery as of this writing, and six of the day’s 10 races are scheduled for the lawn, which means this may get washed out again. However, assuming we’re on the turf, I’ll tackle what looks like a fun late Pick Four sequence. My 50-cent ticket starting in the seventh reads as follows: 4,5,6,8 with 1 with 2,3,4,5 with 2,3,4,8,9. I’m trying to beat #8 MAVEN in the Lucky Coin, and if that happens, I think this has the potential to pay very well.
TOTAL WAGERED: $40.
Best Bet: Risk Profile, Race 3
Longshot: Ruse, Race 4
#1 MO REWARDS: Is one of two in here trained by Rudy Rodriguez, and I think that conditioner has this field in a very precarious spot. This son of Uncle Mo has been working pretty well ahead of his unveiling and may be quick enough to compensate for the rail draw; #3 LANZONI: Is the other Rodriguez runner, and he turned in a very fast work on August 24th. Leading rider Luis Saez sees fit to ride, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a 1-2 finish for the barn in either order; #4 COASTAL CHAOS: Debuts for Todd Pletcher and may go favored because of that, but I have my doubts. He spent lots of time down at Monmouth Park, and Pletcher’s first move when he got here was to breeze him on turf. That’s a red flag, and at his likely price, I’ll try to beat him in the Friday opener.
#3 BUBBLE ROCK: Ran well to finish second in her debut and looms large at second asking for an outfit whose trainers usually improve with experience. She earned a 79 Beyer Speed Figure in her unveiling, and any step forward would make her a handful; #6 OLD PHO: Hammered for $210,000 at auction last September and makes her debut for a world-class horseman in Al Stall, Jr. Offspring of American Pharoah tend to love the turf, and her dam was quick enough to be a stakes-winning sprinter; #2 NAY SAY: Is one of two Wesley Ward trainees in here, and this one hits me as the most live. She exits a recent bullet drill at Keeneland and attracts Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez.
#3 RISK PROFILE: Drops in for a tag after finding starter allowance company downstate a bit too tough. He romped two back to break his maiden, and he has several back races that show that effort was no fluke. Luis Saez’s presence here is also a plus, as he likely had a few options; #5 REPO ROCKS: Didn’t have a smooth start last time out in a starter allowance event just a few weeks ago and is another dropping in class. His two-back effort here was solid enough, and he has enough speed to sit close in the early going; #6 COUSIN ANDREW: Earned the diploma last time out at this route and was claimed by a sharp horseman that excels with new acquisitions. These are far deeper waters, to be sure, but draw a line through the adventurous trip he had two starts ago and you have a gelding that hasn’t done a heck of a lot wrong.
#5 RUSE: Is a tepid top pick in a race with a 10-horse field and seven or eight runners that could conceivably win. This one gets my selection because he may find himself alone on the front end. He capitalized on that trip last time out, and he’s never finished worse than third going long on the turf; #8 PANSTER: Rallied to take a pretty tough start allowance race last time out and comes back into the state-bred ranks for this event. It can be argued this race is a drop in class for him, and he’s won two of his three starts this season since coming back to the track for Christophe Clement; #3 AUSTRIAN: Disappointed when third as the 2-1 favorite at this level and route early in the meet. However, that was his first start in three months and he rated behind a pretty slow pace. He may be sharper here, and a logical step forward would give him a big chance.
#2 DEE BO: Found $25,000 claimers too tough last time out and drops back into the $16,000 non-winners-of-two condition in this spot. He was a good third two back at this level and route, and I think he could sit an ideal stalking trip just off the speed; #5 PAPA SMOOTH: Was claimed out of his last race by Orlando Noda, who’s one of the better trainers on the circuit when running horses back off the claim. His wire-to-wire win two back at Belmont was solid, and he attracts Irad Ortiz, Jr., for this event; #8 LITTERBOX: May provide some value in the exotics due to the likely race shape. Not many runners here want to pass others, and this one’s shown he does his best running late. The faster they go early, the better this longshot’s chances figure to be.
Call Sign Charlie (MTO)
#2 HOWDYOUMAKEURMONEY: Showed speed in her debut on the main track and goes to the turf, a surface she’s bred to love. She’s by Freud, out of an Elusive Quality mare, and runs for a trainer that has done well with second-time starters and runners trying the grass for the first time; #14 ROOSKI: Needs lots of luck to draw in, as she’s the last runner on the AE list. However, she made a bit of a move in her debut despite a very wide trip, and if the recent workout is any indication, she got quite an education in her initial outing; #3 DOC DOC ROCK: Was a heavy favorite in her debut last month but faded after briefly contesting the early pace. She tries turf here, and perhaps that will wake her up, but after that first-out clunker, I simply cannot endorse her on top, especially at what’s likely to be a pretty short price.
Fort Peck (MTO)
#8 EMARAATY: Has been going up against some pretty good horses since coming over from Europe several years ago. He was beaten a length by Grade 2 winner Olympic Runner two starts ago, and this is nowhere near as tough a spot as the ones he’s been running in; #6 HIEROGLYPHICS: Loves Saratoga and must be given a long look due to the races he’s run over this turf course. This is a step up in class, but he fits on speed figures and should get a pace to run at, so his likely price hits me as an overlay; #4 VOODOO ZIP: Has won two of his last three starts and showed a new dimension when rating effectively in July at Belmont. His win that day earned him a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, and it’s easy to root for a horse that’s never missed the board in 10 career outings.
Luna’s in Charge
#1 GOLD PANDA: Never looked like a loser in his maiden-breaking score and gets wheeled back quickly by a barn that’s heated up in the back half of the meet. Joel Rosario rides back, and he should be quick enough out of the gate to avoid getting shuffled back in the early going; #4 BIG BOBBY: Chased a much-the-best winner in his first start against allowance company earlier this summer, but it’s not like he ran poorly that day. He matched the 83 Beyer Speed Figure he earned in victory two back, and his recent drills look sharp; #5 LUNA’S IN CHARGE: Is unlikely to win but has shown a strong closing kick in several local dirt sprints. The seven-furlong distance is an unknown, but he may be presented with a scenario that could allow him to hit the board at a pretty big price.
#4 PULSATE: Goes back to the turf after a failed dirt outing, and that should move him forward considerably. He ran the ultra-fast Fiya to a head two starts ago at Belmont, and he ran second in this very race a season ago (along with a competitive fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Troy that same year); #5 MAXWELL ESQUIRE: Will likely sit back and make one big late run. He’s never been worse than second in three local starts, and there certainly seems to be enough early speed signed on to set up for what he wants to do; #2 THE CONNECTOR: Merits a look at a big price, as he’s been very competitive at this level on the mid-Atlantic circuit. Among others, he ran into The Critical Way several times this summer, and that one went on to win the Parx Dash earlier this week.
#3 GAUFF: Debuts for Brad Cox, and while it’s tough for some horses to go two turns at first asking, she’s bred up and down for this route and has worked well. She’s a half-sister to a Group 3-placed runner, and her second dam is a stakes-winning turf sprinter; #2 SITTING PRETTY: Was one-paced in her debut earlier at this stand, but if several works since that unveiling are any indication, she’s sitting on a significantly-improved effort here. The jockey switch to Joel Rosario is noteworthy, and perhaps she just needed a race to get going; #9 FEDERALIST PAPERS: Was very far back in both of her two prior starts and gets blinkers in her New York debut. We haven’t seen her since March, and that’s not the best sign, but she hasn’t run badly to this point and maybe the blinkers will get her a bit more interested early on in the Friday finale.