SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/20/22)


BANKROLL: $900.45

Saturday is my personal “getaway day,” as I fly back to Northern California Sunday. Saratoga is a special place for me, for any number of reasons, and being able to experience part of the meet in-person has been fantastic.

That should only continue with what hits me as one of the best cards of the summer to date. The Grade 1 Alabama, featuring Nest and Secret Oath, is the main event, but it’s far from the only intriguing race on the program. Big fields of top-tier thoroughbreds are a large part of what makes Saratoga the best meet in the country every year, and I’m beyond appreciative for the opportunity to enjoy it as much as I do.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: My Pick Five went up in smoke early. The silver lining is I dropped only $18 after scratches punched some holes into my initial ticket.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: If this isn’t an ideal Grand Slam sequence, I don’t know if one exists. Let’s try to extract value out of Nest with the following $2 ticket starting in the seventh: 1,2,5 with 1,3 with 5,6 with 4. I’ll also have a $5 win ticket on #3 MY CARA MIA MINE in the fourth, where that one seems like a lone closer in a race full of speed.



Best Bet: Nest, Race 10
Longshot: Steinbeck, Race 3


Street Vendor
Fioki’s Flight

#6 STREET VENDOR: Ran too poorly to be true last time out and drops further down the ladder for aggressive connections. His two-back effort against maiden special weight foes was pretty good, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., lands here when he probably had a few options; #4 FIOKI’S FLIGHT: Looks like the main speed in the Saturday opener and attracts top gate rider Luis Saez. This barn has been cold all meet long, but it’s entirely possible this one gets to the front early and forgets to stop; #2 SEBARAY: Ran reasonably well in his first start on turf, when he was third behind a horse taking a gigantic class drop. That race came back reasonably fast on speed figures, and Joel Rosario will hop aboard here.


Spooky Road
U Cant Handle This
Holiday Jazz

#4 SPOOKY ROAD: Takes a significant drop from an open $40,000 claimer to a $16,000 claiming event for non-winners of two. Her lone dirt start to date was an OK second at Fair Grounds against straight maidens, and these connections are aggressive enough to where I don’t see the drop as a red flag; #6 U CANT HANDLE THIS: Showed speed going a bit shorter before fading to fourth. She’s shown she can win at this distance, and she may be the main early pace factor in this race; #1 HOLIDAY JAZZ: Was third last time out and was claimed by a barn hitting at 24% on the year. She’s run reasonably well against better groups in the past and could have a shot if she’s able to work out a trip from the inside post.


Favorite Outlaw
Peaceful Waters

#4 FAVORITE OUTLAW: May have bounced a bit last time when a distant third earlier in the meet. This is his third start off the bench, and when Joel Rosario rides for Steve Asmussen, it usually means a horse is live; #3 PEACEFUL WATERS: Has a lot of early speed and has chased the likes of Cyberknife, Happy Jack, and Osbourne, among others. There are stamina issues here, but if the track is playing kindly to speed and this one gets comfortable early, he could prove tough to run down; #7 STEINBECK: Hasn’t won in a long time and figures to be a big price. However, he exits a pretty fast race at Colonial, which doubled as his first start since March. A step forward from that could conceivably make him a player here.


My Cara Mia Mine
Rent Control
Ard Macha

#3 MY CARA MIA MINE: Came with a rally in her first start since February, and that running style should serve her well here. She’s a closer in a race full of speed horses with stamina issues, and any sort of step forward second off the bench gives her a big chance to earn the diploma: #2 RENT CONTROL: Is the one I like most of the speed horses. She did everything but win last time out at Belmont, where she led by three in mid-stretch and got nailed in the final strides. This is technically a class hike out of the maiden claiming ranks, but she’s still facing state-breds, so it’s not a huge one; #6 ARD MACHA: Has a right to improve in what’s just her third lifetime start. She was one-paced in her debut before fading to fourth last time out, which means she could potentially be rated here and pounce late beneath Flavien Prat.


Desert Wolf (MTO)
Activist Investing
Coach Petro

#6 ACTIVIST INVESTING: Was eliminated early on last time, when he was taken, well, wide right on the first turn by #7 WIDERIGHT. Still, he rallied to be beaten less than five lengths, and I’m expecting significant improvement in his second career start; #1 COACH PETRO: Hit the front in the stretch of that same race before settling for second, but he ran a pretty solid race that day and showed he has some talent. Brad Cox’s numbers with second-out maidens are as good as those of any trainer in the game; #5 RARIFIED FLAIR: Didn’t have much room to run in the stretch last time out, and while that day’s winner was probably best, you can argue this one should’ve been second. He’s got the top last-out Beyer Speed Figure in this field, and a clean trip would give him a chance.


Repole entry
Dangerous Edge
Whittington Park

REPOLE ENTRY: I prefer #1A BEST IDEA, who’s been chasing stakes foes in each of his last two starts (both seconds). This one-mile trip ought to hit the Todd Pletcher trainee right between the eyes, and he sure looks like the one to beat; #6 DANGEROUS EDGE: Won two in a row before finishing fourth in the slop here last month. That was a two-turn route, and that’s probably just a bit too far for him. The return to this one-mile trip should be a welcome one, and I expect him to be prominent early given his tactical speed; #4 WHITTINGTON PARK: Probably needed his 2022 debut, which came as his first start since September against an OK group. He gets first-time Lasix here, which is an outstanding angle for trainer Brad Cox, and he ran well over this track twice a season ago.


Echo Again
Expected Value
Good News Rocket

#5 ECHO AGAIN: Is a tepid top pick in one of the most fascinating 2-year-old maiden races we’ve seen this summer. A half-brother to stakes winner Pneumatic, this son of Gun Runner is out of a strong female line that’s produced stakes types Pyro, Farrier, War Echo, and Wild Wonder, among others; #1 EXPECTED VALUE: Sold for $180,000 at auction as a weanling and is working like a very strong prospect. This colt out of stakes-winning mare Midnight Visit has turned heads in the mornings and may be talented enough to overcome the tricky inside draw; #2 GOOD NEWS ROCKET: Hammered for $700,000 earlier this year, and trainer Bill Mott has shown he can win with first-time starters in this crop. He doesn’t usually work his young horses too quickly, so that four-furlong gate drill on August 7th jumps off the page.


With The Moonlight
Eminent Victor
Dolce Zel

#1 WITH THE MOONLIGHT: Ran very well to take the Grade 3 Saratoga Oaks less than two weeks ago and is wheeled back quickly by world-class horseman Charles Appleby. William Buick won’t be making the trip to ride in the Grade 2 Lake Placid, but Luis Saez is far from a slouch, especially on horses with gate speed like this daughter of the great Frankel; #3 EMINENT VICTOR: Did everything but win last time in the Grade 3 Lake George, when she fell by a nose to a stablemate (more on that one later). She’s one of four runners from this outfit in this race, and I think she’s the most…eminent victor of the bunch (I can hear you booing); #5 DOLCE ZEL: Won the Lake George in a head-bob, but while the running lines say she had trouble, I thought Eminent Victor had a worse trip. This one, though, is certainly talented enough to run well, and we know she has an affinity for this turf course.


Miss J McKay
Too Sexy
Robin Sparkles

#6 MISS J MCKAY: Encountered a lot of trouble last time out in the Grade 3 Caress, where she was beaten less than a length despite steadying several times. At her best, she’s an excellent turf sprinter with a devastating turn of foot, and I think the Smart N Fancy will set up for a closer like her or…; #5 TOO SEXY: …who almost certainly needed her run in the License Fee off a long layoff. She ran well here twice a season ago, Joel Rosario sees fit to ride back, and she’s another that should be flying coming down the lane; #3 ROBIN SPARKLES: Prompted backers to enthusiastically sing “Let’s Go To The Mall” after winning the Caress in wire-to-wire fashion at odds of 21-1. She did have a perfect trip, and she may have more opposition up front early, but she’s also never been worse than third in four local starts.


Secret Oath

#4 NEST: Put forth a freakish performance in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, where she romped by more than 12 lengths and earned a 104 Beyer Speed Figure. She’d need to regress off of that race for others to have a chance in the Grade 1 Alabama, and even if that happens, another runner may still need to fire a career-best shot; #7 SECRET OATH: Chased Nest that day in what was initially seen as a battle of divisional heavyweights. The winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks has back races that would be competitive here, but it’s worth wondering if perhaps she’s feeling the effects of a campaign that’s included four Grade 1 races at four different tracks; #3 GERRYMANDER: Didn’t beat many in the Grade 2 Mother Goose, but she earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure in doing so and topped next-out stakes winner Shahama. This distance is a major question mark, but she’s been training well and retains Joel Rosario.


Air Show (MTO)
Wicked Fast

#4 WICKED FAST: Is one of several taking a big drop to run in this $35,000 claiming event, and he does so two starts after topping first-level allowance foes downstate. He was beaten just four lengths by Good Governance, who would likely thump this field, and a similar effort may be enough in the Saturday finale; #7 AVIANO: Exits a very tough race won by next-out stakes winner Dynadrive, and he’ll run for a tag for the first time here. His two-back win at Churchill was very solid, and that day’s rider returns to the saddle here; #6 SARATOGA FLASH: Exits a pretty fast race where he was beaten just three lengths by a horse that does his best running over this turf course. Javier Castellano will ride for the first time, and this is a gelding with some versatility.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/21/21; ALABAMA DAY)


BANKROLL: $1,002.90

The Alabama is one of my favorite races of the meet. It’s the only Grade 1 for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and a quarter on dirt, and some of the best performances I’ve ever seen at Saratoga have come in that race. I was there in-person for Questing’s romp in 2012 and Princess of Sylmar’s easy score in 2013 (she, by the way, got royally hosed in an indefensible Eclipse Award vote that season), and the list of winners includes horses like Songbird, Royal Delta, Go For Wand, Shuvee, and Gamely.

Saratoga is a place that harkens back to the glory days of racing, and it presents many things that simply don’t exist anywhere else anymore. In this case, that includes the Alabama, which provides ways for horses bred for stamina, rather than whatever the heck “brilliance” is, to strut their stuff on a big stage. It’s always a fun race to watch, and I’m excited for the 2021 renewal and the loaded undercard that will come with it.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: For the second time this week, we were washed out due to a weather-induced surface switch.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus early in the card and attempt to extract value out of some heavy favorites. First, I’ll play a $15 cold Pick Three starting in the opener that singles #6 TRIPLE ELVIS, #2 ZAINALARAB, and #1 ROBIN SPARKLES in their respective races. I’ll also play a 50-cent early Pick Five that looks like this: 6 with 2 with 1 with 2,4,7,9,10,11 with 1,4,5. Finally, I’ll punch a cold $6 double starting in the second that singles Zainalarab and Robin Sparkles.



Best Bet: Malathaat, Race 10
Longshot: Charlie Five O, Race 8


Triple Elvis
Pletcher entry
Fan the Fire

#6 TRIPLE ELVIS: Hammered for $700,000 at auction last year, and for good reason. He’s by Into Mischief, out of a mare who herself is out of the great Serena’s Song, and he’s been working very quickly. If he runs to the works, I think we’ll see a head-turning performance in the Alabama Day opener; PLETCHER ENTRY: Both #1 NAPA VALLEY and #1A MAJOR GENERAL have every right to run well here. Pletcher’s exploits with first-time starters are well-documented, and he’s enlisted a pair of top-tier riders to pilot these two; #2 FAN THE FIRE: Wasn’t disgraced in his debut, when he was second in an off-the-turf event behind a well-meant runner. The pedigree says he’ll get better with experience, and having a start under his belt could be a big plus (only one other runner in here has raced).



#2 ZAINALARAB: Looms large against a short field of just four others in this allowance event. She won first time out back in September, was a good second behind the talented Australasia in April, and any sort of a move forward would make her a formidable favorite; #4 PORTILLA: Cuts back to one turn after a failed two-turn experiment here last month. She won at first asking and was fourth in a fast race at this distance two back, and she figures to do her best running late; #3 PRIMACY: Adds blinkers for Chad Brown and, at a minimum, will be a bigger price than her stablemate. She’s run figures that show she fits here, and if a faster-than-expected pace materializes here, she’ll be heard from late.


Robin Sparkles
Lead Guitar
Piedi Bianchi

#1 ROBIN SPARKLES: Tired to finish third behind Caravel in the Grade 3 Caress last month. However, she sure looks like the controlling speed here in the Smart N Fancy. I think she leads every step of the way and prompts trips to the mall for fans of “How I Met Your Mother”; #2 LEAD GUITAR: Won four in a row to end 2020 and had an adventurous go of it in the Grade 2 Royal North at Woodbine. She was declared a non-starter that day, and she may have needed the race anyway. If another runner goes with my top pick early on, this is the one that’ll benefit the most; #4 PIEDI BIANCHI: Has earned some big checks in some big spots and is an easy horse to root for. She was second in the Grade 3 Intercontinental two back at Belmont, and while this may be a bit shorter than her best distance, her talent could be enough to get her a piece of this one.


Tangerine Dream
Maria’s Gift

#11 TANGERINE DREAM: Is a bit of a gamble given that she hasn’t been out of the barn since November of last year. However, her lone start here was pretty good, she gets Lasix for the first time, and her last two works have been very good. Luis Saez sees fit to ride, and the outside draw should give him plenty of options; #4 ESCAPOLOGY: Returned from a three-month freshening to run fourth in the slop earlier in the meet. She was rushed up after a poor start and probably lost all chance at that point. This barn connects at a solid clip with horses second off the bench, and I can’t ignore her; #2 MARIA’S GIFT: Has had plenty of chances, but ran into a runaway winner last time out and has races before that which would put her right there in this spot. I’m not sure how many more chances I can give her, but she should be prominent early and have every opportunity to work out a trip that gives her a shot.


Too Early (MTO)
Ghost Giant
Regal Speaker

#4 GHOST GIANT: Has been very popular at the claim box and makes his first start for Rob Atras, whose barn has been firing on all cylinders this summer. He may not have appreciated the yielding going last time, and a repeat of his winning effort two back over firm ground at Belmont would make him tough; #1 REGAL SPEAKER: Has won three of his last six starts and delivered as the 6/5 favorite in a lower-level event downstate back in June. He’s shown he can go two turns, and he won over this route of ground when graduating out of the maiden ranks a season ago; #5 MATTY’S EXPRESS: Made his local debut a winning one when he prevailed by a neck as a 10-1 longshot last month. This is a tougher spot, but he’s been very consistent since being claimed by Kelly Breen last August, and his usual race would likely earn him a minor award.


Betsy Blue (MTO)
Awsum Roar

#8 KOKOPELLI: May have bounced last time out, when she stretched out to seven furlongs over a yielding turf course at Belmont. The cutback to 5 1/2 furlongs should help her, and I think she’ll be the one the rest of the field has to worry about late; #3 AWSUM ROAR: Was compromised by a slow pace here earlier in the meet, and it didn’t help that the winner was a well-meant runner that came right back to earn another victory at next asking. Her races earlier this year at Gulfstream were pretty sharp, and I’m willing to give her another shot (at least in the exotics); #4 SILKY BLUE: Has been very competitive at this level downstate and could sit a great stalking trip. This barn doesn’t saddle a ton of horses, but it’s hit at a 20% clip in 2021 and merits plenty of respect whenever a runner is led over.


My Prankster
Reserve Currency
Skate to Heaven

#2 MY PRANKSTER: Sold for $600,000 at auction last year and has been training forwardly for Pletcher. The two half-mile gate drills jump off the page, and he’s bred to be a runner, being by Into Mischief and out of a mare that won multiple graded stakes races; #8 RESERVE CURRENCY: Must’ve been quite impressive earlier this year, because he sold for $375,000 despite a very modest pedigree. He’s worked steadily for Chad Brown, the last two drills show a tightening of the screws, and he draws well in his first lifetime start; #4 SKATE TO HEAVEN: Has turned in some solid five-furlong gate drills for Robertino Diodoro, who popped at a big price with a first-time starter last week. Diodoro’s hit at a 22% clip with firsters and boasts a very strong ROI, so it wouldn’t be a shock if this son of Laoban was ready to go.


Identity Politics
Charlie Five O
Restoring Hope

#4 IDENTITY POLITICS: Is a reluctant top pick in the first leg of the late Pick Four. He hasn’t won in quite a while and is a Chad Brown trainee with many Monmouth works, and both of those facts are red flags. However, he’s the lone closer in what looks like a race with lots of speed, and that’s something I just cannot ignore; #5 CHARLIE FIVE O: Crushed an overmatched field of lower-level claimers in his last start, after which he was claimed by Linda Rice. He’s been working well ahead of his return, attracts Jose Ortiz for this event, and has enough speed to be prominent from the jump; #1 RESTORING HOPE: Is one of the most star-crossed horses in racing and takes a big drop in class. At various junctures Justify’s Belmont Stakes fullback and a sign that Jason Servis’s barn may not have been on the up-and-up, he has an excuse for his last-out dud, which came in his first start since August against a much better group.


Spanish Loveaffair
Technical Analysis
Ego Trip

#6 SPANISH LOVEAFFAIR: Misfired in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks but has enough talent and the right running style to spring a mild upset in the Grade 2 Lake Placid. She’s got plenty of tactical speed, was impressive winning at this distance in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride before being taken down in an indefensible DQ, and could inherit the early lead by default. If she does, look out; #2 TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: Was an overlay at 7-1 in the Grade 3 Lake George and made the betting public pay with an impressive score. She did have a perfect trip that day, but the smaller field puts a similar scenario in play here, and when Chad Brown gets turf horses on the right track, they tend to stay there; #3 EGO TRIP: Was running well late in her North American debut, which doubled as a pretty salty maiden race here earlier in the meet. I think it’s a sign of confidence she’s entered here, not at that level, and she could very well improve in her second American outing.


Army Wife

#6 MALATHAAT: Suffered her first career defeat in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, but she ran very well that day. She set a legitimate pace, and that’s not necessarily her best game. There’s other speed in the Grade 1 Alabama, and she should be able to sit back in the first flight and pounce turning for home; #7 ARMY WIFE: Has developed into a very good filly and is in search of her third straight graded stakes score. She runs like a horse that should enjoy racing’s classic, 10-furlong distance, and the Mike Maker barn has been as successful as any at this stand; #4 MARACUJA: Pulled off a 14-1 upset in the CCA Oaks last time out and won’t be anywhere near that price here. She ran very well, to be sure, but she also received one of the best rides we’ve seen this summer, and she may need to take another step forward here.


Perfect Grace (MTO)
Split Then Double

#4 SPLIT THEN DOUBLE: Has never run a poor race on the lawn and was third in the same maiden race that featured Ego Trip, who’s set to run in the Lake Placid. Based on speed figures, she looms large as the one to beat, and the Saturday finale looks like it’s her race to lose; #1 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; #6 INGRESS: Didn’t run badly in her debut earlier this meet, when she was fourth and a bit more than a length behind my top pick. Her two half-mile drills since that effort have been sharp, and she has every right to improve.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (8/15/20; ALABAMA DAY)


BANKROLL: $829.50

Horse racing Jack-of-all-trades (and personal friend) Nick Hines stopped by the “Champagne and J.D.” podcast this week, and we had a really fun conversation that touched on a lot of different topics within the industry. We spoke about his role picking out horses at sales, as well as the recent passing of Mel Stute and what he wishes more fans knew about the sport. My personal highlight, meanwhile, is me retelling one of my favorite stories involving a private clocker and trainer Neil Drysdale (complete with my best Drysdale impression, which is actually not terrible).

The show is up on YouTube, and it’s also been picked up in a piece on the Paulick Report website as well. I’m grateful to Nick, affectionately known as “The Sarge” by his many friends, for taking the time to chat, and I hope you all enjoy it.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Thank you, Hurricane Hill. My longshot of the day prevailed in the seventh and paid $29.80 to win. While double and Pick Three tickets did not cash, a $15 win ticket on Hurricane Hill did to the tune of $223.50.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ll focus primarily on the early Pick Four, which starts in the second race. My 50-cent ticket goes as follows: 4,6 with ALL with 2,3,5 with 10. My goal is to extract some value out of #10 BRAZEN, who figures to be a very heavy favorite in the fifth race of the day. I’ll also single my longshot of the day, #5 QUICK RETURN in the fourth, to kick off a $4 cold double ending with Brazen.



Best Bet: Brazen, Race 5
Longshot: Quick Return, Race 4


Bebe Banker

#4 BEBE BANKER: Takes a big drop in class and cuts back to one turn, and both changes should be beneficial for him here. His effort two back was very strong, and he’s run reasonably well against allowance foes going seven furlongs, which bodes well; #3 INVEST: Comes back to the right level after running for a higher tag last time out at Belmont. That race was also off a very quick break, and he got some more time to recharge before this event; #5 SOMEBODY: Runs fresh for H. James Bond, whose horses have been firing at the Spa this summer. Luis Saez sees fit to ride, and he could sit a prime stalking trip just off of a moderate pace.


Mo Mischief (MTO)
Public Sector
Rip It

#4 PUBLIC SECTOR: Has the highest turf Tomlinson figure I’ve ever seen, and for good reason. His pedigree is as European as it gets, and that 427 number jumps off the page. He’s worked steadily for Chad Brown, who employs Irad Ortiz, Jr., here; #6 RIP IT: Lost all chance at the break in his debut, one I was eagerly anticipating. He may have needed that effort, and if he lives up to the lofty potential provided by his pedigree, he could be a serious racehorse; #5 POLINESIA: Hammered for $800,000 here last summer and is bred to be a good one. This son of American Pharoah may be favored, but he was down at Monmouth with Chad Brown’s second-stringers, and that’s sometimes a red flag.


Reed Kan
Skyler’s Scramjet

#3 REED KAN: Has won two in a row against similar company and has shown he doesn’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well. That could be a huge asset here, as this race has come up heavy on early zip; #1 LUSITANO: Cuts back in distance and drops in class for an astute barn. He’s got plenty of back class, and the presence of aggressive gate rider Luis Saez may tip trainer Joe Sharp’s hand when it comes to tactics out of the gate; #4 SKYLER’S SCRAMJET: Found the winner’s circle for the first time in a long time earlier this meet. This is a slight step up in class, but it wasn’t long ago he was second in the Grade 1 Carter and perhaps he’s going in the right direction.


Quick Return
Papa Luke

#5 QUICK RETURN: Has run second twice when in for a tag and takes a slight step up in class. However, this field didn’t seem to come up all that strong for the level, and I love it when a speed horse gets blinkers for the first time. He’s a threat to wire this group at a price; #3 PAPA LUKE: Looms the one to beat off of two runner-up finishes at this level. Based on Beyer Speed Figures, he’s a formidable favorite, but he had every chance last time out earlier in the meet and couldn’t get the job done, which is a red flag; #2 FARRAGUT: Was third in the race my second selection also exits. If my top two picks cook each other on the front end, this is the one they may have to hold off, and I like the pattern of improving Beyers.


No Lime

#10 BRAZEN: Takes a huge drop in class down to the $16,000 claiming level in his first start since being gelded. It wasn’t long ago he was 9-1 when running against highly-touted prospect Cezanne at Santa Anita, and between his early speed and the cushy outside post, I think he’s a very likely winner; #2 NO LIME: Was second in his seasonal debut, which doubled as his first outing in nine months. The recent sharp half-mile work indicates he came out of that race well, and he should be rolling late once again here; #3 FEVOLA: Takes a big drop after fading against starter allowance foes downstate in his first try against winners. His effort two starts ago was very good, and it’s possible he needed his last-out effort after a layoff of more than four months.


Restored Order

#1 ENGRAVE: Gets a tepid nod in a wide-open, prospect-filled 2-year-old race. This son of Flatter hammered for $900,000 at Keeneland last year and has been working well for Chad Brown. I’m not crazy about the rail, but if he runs to the workouts, he could be special; #10 RESTORED ORDER: Is one of only a few in here with experience, as he ran third in his unveiling at Gulfstream. He’s been off since May, but a recent big drill from the gate suggests he’s moving forward nicely for Todd Pletcher; #6 CALIBRATE: Fetched $340,000 at auction and seems to be coming to hand ahead of his unveiling. Steve Asmussen has already had a strong summer with 2-year-olds, and this could be another good one. If there’s hesitation here, it’s only because the pedigree suggests he’ll do his best running on turf.


Big Thicket (MTO)
Mo Ready
Sanctuary City

#6 MO READY: Had a nightmare trip in his first start since December when he didn’t have anywhere to run until the final sixteenth of a mile. Between that journey and this being his second start off the bench, I think significant improvement is in the cards; #2 SANCTUARY CITY: Was second in the race my top pick exits and got the trip that one didn’t. He’s run well in both of his 2020 outings, and his last-out effort showed two-turn routes won’t present problems for him; #8 JIMMY JAZZ: Is a consistent sort that usually gets a check. His last two races in particular have been fine, and his trainer has quietly finished in the money with seven of his 12 starters at the meet as of this writing.


Decorated Invader
Field Pass

#2 DECORATED INVADER: Is one of the most talented horses in his crop and looms large in the Saratoga Derby. He’s won three in a row this season, the pedigree says this distance won’t be a problem, and he’ll be a logical short-priced favorite; #7 FIELD PASS: Has won four of five this year, with the lone defeat coming when he broke slowly in the War Chant three back. This is a class test for him, but a repeat of his effort in the Grade 3 Transylvania would give him a shot; #5 GUFO: Is the other half of a powerful 1-2 punch for Christophe Clement, who also trains my top pick. This one, however, can’t be ignored given his four-race win streak and the presence of Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.


Swiss Skydiver
Spice Is Nice
Harvey’s Lil Goil

#5 SWISS SKYDIVER: Stretches out to a mile and a quarter in the Grade 1 Alabama after running second against the boys in the Grade 2 Blue Grass. The winner, Art Collector, may be the second choice in the Kentucky Derby. If she takes to the added distance, she’ll be tough to catch; #2 SPICE IS NICE: Ran well to top allowance foes last time out and is bred to love the 10-furlong route she’ll get. This daughter of Curlin has some early speed and should sit a prime stalking trip, and trainer Todd Pletcher has remarked she looks like a horse that will adore this distance; #6 HARVEY’S LIL GOIL: Became a dual-surface stakes winner last time out when she won the Grade 3 Regret on turf at Churchill. Perhaps that’s her preferred surface, but given the pedigree (by American Pharoah, out of a Tapit mare), this distance shouldn’t be a problem, and that may be enough to get her a piece of it.


Maxwell Esquire
Qian B C
New York’s Finest

#1 MAXWELL ESQUIRE: Was impressive in victory earlier this meet and steps up to a higher condition here. However, he’s run well against stakes company in the past and this race should set up well for his late-running style; #7 QIAN B C: Is another consistent closer that figures to get a strong setup with so much early speed signed on. His lone poor effort since the start of 2019 came in his first start off the bench two back, and he may be a pretty big price; #5 NEW YORK’S FINEST: Is 4-for-6 over this turf course and seems to have found his prior form in the barn of Rudy Rodriguez. His best race can win this, but he may have to work hard to establish early positioning and this seems like a strong field for the level.


Sidd Finch
Mommie’s Jewel

#4 BRICCO: Has run well twice this season against similar and should have a big chance here. It didn’t seem like he had any excuse last time out, but it’s tough to be too enthusiastic about much in this field and the Bond barn is firing on all cylinders; #12 SIDD FINCH: Goes second off the bench for George Weaver and likely needed his return, which doubled as his first start since March. His two and three-back efforts weren’t bad, and the last-out clunker may mean we get a bit of a price; #8 MOMMIE’S JEWEL: Was third in the race my top pick exits, but had every chance setting a moderate early pace and couldn’t get the job done. There seems to be more pace signed on, but she gets a slightly better post and may be able to lead them a long way beneath returning rider Joel Rosario.

GUEST COLUMN: Andrew’s Dad Comes West (Plus Andrew’s Plays of the Day: 1/22/20)

RECORD: 13-7

Editor’s note: The reason I haven’t been posting daily blogs here is because my father’s been in town and we’ve been busy. I’d been posting on Twitter up until Tuesday, when I neglected to put forth a play. As a result, I’ll have two down below…but first, allow me to show you what turned me into the writer I became.

My dad flew west Friday, and the convergence of several horrible circumstances and lots of rotten luck hit him hard. Like a Champagne does, he wrote about it on Sunday, and I’m putting his chronicle here as a guest column. If you say he’s a better writer than I am, I won’t be offended!

“In late December I found some GREAT fares on Southwest to the west coast, so I scheduled an impromptu visit to my son for the long MLK Day weekend. I paid for the outgoing leg with points and thought that was great. Little did I know…

Departure on Friday was delayed. As the Southwest rep announced it, “We are waiting for one last passenger to exit the aircraft.” She neglected to mention that the guy was exiting on a stretcher after an apparent heart attack. Then we began to board – briefly. We were once again delayed with an announcement that they could not depart until the canister of oxygen the heart attack victim used up was replaced, and they had to wait for another aircraft to arrive to grab one. God forbid the maintenance people should have spares. So then we boarded and sat on the tarmac for another half hour (paperwork… BS, I was taking it personally by this point), blowing through the departure time for my initial connecting flight in Baltimore.

Now the fun starts. I got a text from Southwest telling me they’d re-booked me on a flight through Austin which would get me to the west coast about 5 hours later than my initial itinerary laid out. When we arrived in Baltimore they coasted us into the gate right next to the gate the Austin flight was leaving from – so we had a great view of MY flight pushing back.

Another text arrived immediately, informing me I had again been re-booked on a flight through Denver. The texts were coming fast and furious now, as I was told soon after that this flight had been delayed 3 hours.

And then it was cancelled.

There were no options to get out of Baltimore Friday on Southwest at this point since most of the Midwest connect points were socked in with the storm and all existing flights were sold out to people who’d been screwed before they got to me. The last text I got said they were re-booking me through Salt Lake City: 48 hours later. I don’t think so.

Enter my son, who found me a nonstop redeye on United Airlines that left late Friday evening (from Washington) and would get me to San Francisco an hour after midnight, so off I went to Southwest baggage claim to get my suitcase (such as it was, as I was to find out 2 days later). After an hour and a half, they told me they’d given up trying to find it, and off I went on a 60 mile Lyft ride to Dulles Airport. For those keeping score at home, the Lyft (with tip) cost $94. The flight (with $39 extra for a couple more inches of leg room) was $563. So off I went on a six hour nonstop flight headed west in the middle seat surrounded by screaming children – and at this point I was about ready to join them.

While I was flying, my son was shopping. A pair of dress pants, a polo shirt, and some toiletries later, we can add another $75 or so to the extra costs of this mess. But I DID get to where I was going.

So Saturday, off we went to the FABULOUS Golden Gate Fields with an eye toward recouping some of this money – broken up by several unfruitful calls to Southwest’s Oakland Airport baggage claim. They kept telling me that the last time my bag was scanned was in Baltimore and that it would eventually catch up with me – then, my last call produced a new tidbit, that the bag was now in Salt Lake City. This meant it got there more than 24 hours before I would have, had I kept the last re-book they set up for me.

After dinner the call from Southwest came. My bag was now in Oakland. Per the poor guy who had to call me, “It has some damage.” So Sunday morning brought another airport excursion. I dealt with a very nice lady who brought my bag out of their storage room IN A TRASH BAG – and told me the damage happened in freaking BALTIMORE. This meant I was intentionally not given what was left of my bag there.


I ended up having to go through everything that was in the suitcase to identify specific damage. They gave me sort of a zip bag to move stuff into after telling me they usually replace suitcases but they didn’t have any of those (of course). Casualties were a pair of shoes, a pair of jeans, some socks, and a couple of golf shirts. Surprisingly, much of my stuff survived the trip – especially since the bag looked like it had been attacked by the tiger who says “Hello, Lunch!!” in the Dr. Doolittle ad.

So… a $175 travel voucher, refund of the points I paid for the trip with, refunded Early Bird boarding charges, and a check for $200 (they originally didn’t have any of those, either) later, I’m back in Concord…for now… the baggage lady at Oakland encouraged me keep bothering them… and after receiving ANOTHER text TODAY re-booking me for January 29, I am NOT in a forgiving mood.

The saga continues.”

– – – – –

WEDNESDAY’S PLAYS: Because I didn’t have anything Tuesday, I’m putting forth two plays for Wednesday. In SEC action, Alabama, a team that’s won three of its last four (including a victory over Auburn), goes to Vanderbilt, a squad that’s winless in conference play. The nine-point spread hits me as too small, and I think the Crimson Tide covers it with ease. Additionally, in small-college hoops, Navy travels to Boston University, and both teams can score. Because of that, I’m taking the over on the total, which is at 127.5 as of this writing.

Andrew’s Play of the Day: 1/1/20


In 2019, I decided to try my hand at picking four NFL games every week on Twitter. I missed a few weekends for various reasons (some good, some bad), but ultimately I wound up 33-23 on the season for a success rate just shy of 59%. That doesn’t sound earth-shattering to some, but it’s enough for a flat-bet profit if you played all of my picks.

With that in mind, and also with the understanding that writers need to write, I’m debuting a new daily segment on my website. It’s modeled after Mighty Quinn’s long-running blurb in the New York Daily News, where he’d wax poetic on something and offer a sports play of the day. I’ll be tracking my results as I go, and hopefully I can keep the success of the NFL season going for a long, long time.

As always, reader input is welcome and appreciated. Tweet me at @AndrewChampagne or get in touch by utilizing the “contact” function on the site. I see everything that comes in, and I respond to most of it.

WEDNESDAY’S PLAY: I’m a Michigan fan, and I’m fully expecting the Wolverines to get rolled by Alabama in today’s Citrus Bowl. They simply don’t match up, and I’m gobsmacked that the point spread is single-digits. Alabama is an 8.5-point favorite, and I’m taking the Crimson Tide to cover.