It’s bizarre to say that this is the final week of the Saratoga season. It’s even more surreal, however, to say that it’s also Kentucky Derby week, but here we are. In just a few days, Belmont and Travers winner Tiz the Law will look to add the Run for the Roses to his ever-growing list of conquests. Meanwhile, those in New York will be preparing for races like the Woodward and the Jim Dandy, among others.
I’ll be making daily judgment calls for this section. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re handicapping both Saratoga and Churchill anyway. If I see something I like in Kentucky, I will give it out here. It’s an unconventional step, to be sure, but this is anything but a conventional year.
SUNDAY’S RESULTS: Orlando Noda’s stellar summer continued when Zonic rallied from way back to take Sunday’s sixth race. We unfortunately didn’t get the 4-1 morning line price, but that wasn’t going to happen after several key scratches. Still, he paid $6.80 to win, which meant a $68 return on a $20 investment.
WEDNESDAY’S PLAY: I haven’t made my obligatory wager involving a steeplechase race yet this summer, so I’ll do it here. I’m boxing #1 IRANISTAN/#1A TAPER TANTRUM and #5 BODES WELL in $5 exactas and using both betting interests in $10 doubles that single #6 HEY IT’S TATI in the second.
TOTAL WAGERED: $30.
Best Bet: Voting Agreement, Race 6
Longshot: Justintimeforwine, Race 10
SHEPPARD ENTRY: Both parts of the entry look pretty tough. #1 IRANISTAN responded to a class drop early in the meet with a gritty score, while #1A TAPER TANTRUM makes his first start since April of 2018 and won a stakes race during that campaign; #5 BODES WELL: Did the dirty work when third behind the talented Snap Decision in the Kiser earlier this meet. He gets weight from several other contenders in here, and his best race could win this; #2 CRACKER FACTORY: May have needed his return to the races a few weeks ago, when he was fifth behind Iranistan. He could improve at a price second off the bench, and this barn has had a very strong season to this point.
Hey It’s Tati
#6 HEY IT’S TATI: Comes back to dirt and drops back into the maiden claiming ranks after a failed experiment on turf last time out. Her debut against similar saw her finish second beaten just a half-length, and the presence of jockey Jose Ortiz is notable; #5 MADAM DEPUTY: Ran third in her debut downstate and was claimed out of that event by Rudy Rodriguez. She sports a flashy recent local work and could be dangerous if she shows improved early speed at second asking; #4 EMPRESS LUCIANA: Comes back to dirt after two clunkers on the grass. She’s had plenty of chances, sure, but the three and four-back efforts on the main track weren’t bad, and the last two efforts may inflate the price on a horse who could easily rally for a piece of it.
#4 NASHVILLE: Hammered for $460,000 two years ago and has trained forwardly for Steve Asmussen ahead of her unveiling. She’s by Speightstown and her dam is kin to five winners, so she has every right to be a runner; #1 SEARING CHASE: Got cooked on the front end last time out before fading to fourth. The slight cutback in distance could help him, and he’s got enough early zip to make the rail draw an asset; #5 BREITHORN: Just missed against maiden claimers earlier in the meet and makes his first start for Linda Rice, whose numbers with new acquisitions are very solid. Toss the two clunkers on turf, and his career looks significantly better.
Rejected Again (MTO)
Bad Beat Brian
#8 MEGACITY: Chased a loose-on-the-lead winner last time out at this level and gets a rider switch to top turf pilot Jose Lezcano. He’s got enough tactical speed to be on or near the lead, and that could give him a shot at an ideal trip in a wide-open turf race; #7 BAD BEAT BRIAN: Did everything but win last time out in what was truly a bad beat for his backers. He lost a photo finish after being on or near the lead every step of the way, and a similar effort could give him a big shot once again; #5 TWELFTH LABOUR: Hasn’t won in a while but was claimed by Mike Maker and tries turf for just the second time in his career. He’s bred to love the lawn and Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride. I can’t be too enthusiastic about him at his likely price, but it wouldn’t stun me if he won.
#2 ROYAL SUSPECT: Had a rough trip last time out and takes a slight drop in class to run here. He’s run in some fairly tough races for their levels this season, and a smoother journey gives him a big chance in what hit me as a tricky race to handicap; #5 BRUNATE: Has hit the board against similar twice at the meet and once again looks like a top contender. Luis Saez rides for H. James Bond, and that combination has had plenty of success here this summer; #9 GRATTO SWING: Is admittedly a pretty big swing, especially coming off a six-month layoff. However, he’s got early speed in a field that seems light on tactical zip. I like the two most recent works, and if you’re playing vertical exotics, he hits me as a must-use at what could be a gigantic price.
Mo Me Mo My
#8 VOTING AGREEMENT: Comes out of a classy allowance race won by Peaceful, a stakes-caliber turf sprinter. These $40,000 claimers constitute a much weaker group, and I simply can’t get past what looks like a very formidable favorite; #6 MO ME MO MY: Makes her fourth start of the meet and ran second against similar two starts back. She comes back to her preferred surface and is another who may benefit from a drop in class; #11 COREY SCORES: Cuts back in distance to this route, one she ran second at twice a season ago. Irad Ortiz, Jr., hops aboard, and she should be running well late; the question is, can she overcome the wide draw?
Tide of the Sea
#7 TIDE OF THE SEA: Was second the whole way around at this route a few weeks ago but certainly looks like the lone speed in this turf marathon. If he gets loose early through comfortable fractions, I think he’ll be very tough to catch; #8 SUCCEEDANDSURPASS: Makes his first start for Graham Motion, who immediately stretches him out to a marathon distance for the first time. He’s got the pedigree to go long, and he ran second in a Grade 2 last year, so the back class is present as well; #5 JUNKANOO: Ran well when third in his first start since October of 2018 last time out. They came home very fast that day, and while this route is a question mark, he’s certainly in the right hands to improve in his second start off of a long layoff.
One Last Buck
#3 CONTROL GROUP: Loves Saratoga and seeks his third win of the summer in this race. It’s not an easy spot, but he’s in great form for red-hot trainer Orlando Noda, who tends to keep horses on the right track; #4 EVALUATOR: Hasn’t won in nearly three years but has had several long breaks in that time and ran reasonably well when third in his 2020 debut last time out. He’s run well at this route in the past, and the faster they go early, the better his chances figure to be; #5 OUR LAST BUCK: Won two in a row before falling by a neck in the slop last time out at Belmont. His best race can win this, but he’s never gone two turns before, and that’s a major question mark.
Blame the Booze
#2 AMERICAN MONARCH: Won at first asking earlier in the meet, and that’s not something many Bill Mott trainees do. His horses tend to get better with experience, and if he’s sitting on a bigger effort in the Grade 3 With Anticipation, he’ll be strictly the one to beat; #1 BLAME THE BOOZE: Owns both the best name I’ve seen all summer and a debut win in an off-the-turf race at Belmont. He’s bred up and down for the lawn, comes in off a very fast work over the Oklahoma turf course, and may be the one they have to catch; #6 NATHAN DETROIT: Won his debut at Ellis Park, and that day’s third-place finisher has since come back to win. Jose Lezcano has the mount, and if you’re looking for a price on a contender in this short field, you may find one here.
True Palace (MTO)
#3 JUSTINTIMEFORWINE: Has had a bunch of chances but drops in for a tag and certainly looks like the main speed in the Wednesday finale. Add in that top-tier speed rider Kendrick Carmouche hops aboard, and the tactics seem pretty clear here; #8 BRICCO: Has run second three straight times at this level and didn’t seem to have an excuse when run down by a big price last time out. The Bond/Saez duo is formidable, and this one’s probably supposed to win this race, but wasn’t he supposed to win last time, too?; #11 K. K. ICHIKAWA: Had an unlucky trip last time out when he raced wide most of the way. The draw doesn’t do him any favors, but if Jose Lezcano can work out a trip and he can channel his decent debut form, he’s got a shot at a bit of a price.