Medina Spirit, the Kentucky Derby, and two important words

A long time ago, I composed a 50-point plan to improve horse racing’s future prospects. One of the most important ones was also probably the simplest one on the list. It was two words, and comprised a philosophy that racing had yet to embrace at that time.

“Optics matter.”

You know why I’m writing this column. It was announced Sunday morning that Medina Spirit, the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, tested positive for a banned substance. We’re now playing the waiting game as a split sample gets tested. If that comes back positive as well, we’ll see just the second medication-based disqualification in Derby history.

When trainer Bob Baffert was reached for comment on the situation, he denied giving Medina Spirit the illegal substance.

“I don’t know what is going on in racing right now but there is something not right,” he said to reporters Sunday. “I don’t feel embarrassed, I feel like I was wronged.”

This is consistent with his responses to situations involving top-tier horses such as Justify, Gamine, and Charlatan, among others, all of whom tested positive and have largely had those situations swept under the rug. In the latter two cases, the Arkansas Racing Commission recently overturned rulings made by its own stewards and reinstated victories for those two horses. Justify, meanwhile, tested positive for scopolamine following the 2018 Santa Anita Derby, but was not disqualified, either immediately after the test results came in or after lengthy legal proceedings stemming from a lawsuit filed by Bolt d’Oro’s owner/trainer, Mick Ruis.

I’m not a vet. If you’re looking for a detailed analysis of the substance Medina Spirit tested positive for, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. What I am is a lifelong racing fan, a handicapper since I was in middle school (for better or for worse), and someone with a career in marketing and communications that can provide some insight into how this will go over with the people racing needs in order to survive.

Spoiler alert: It’s not going over well.

Many in racing want the sport to be mainstream, as it was many years ago. As Alicia Hughes, a friend of mine and one of the best writers in the game, continually points out, this means an acceptance of criticism and coverage that is good, bad, and indifferent. Right now, what we have are a bunch of people who are very angry, for legitimate reasons.

Those who bet Mandaloun, who ran his eyeballs out to be second and tested clean, feel robbed. Those who took to social media to complain after the Derby, either because they didn’t use a 12-1 Bob Baffert trainee in a race he’d won six times before last weekend or because they genuinely felt something was afoot, have all the ammo they need to say the game is crooked (though cries of “I’M NEVER BETTING AGAIN” from those who shove the GDP of a developing nation through the windows or ADW’s will always come across as hollow and/or ego-driven).

How does any of this help racing draw the new fans it desperately needs? How has racing’s continued inability to effectively police itself in any way, shape, or form helped ensure a place for itself moving forward? And when will people who have the ability to make decisions that impact the sport moving forward realize trainers constantly complaining about being wronged are taking lessons from the Taylor Swift School of Spin, where nothing bad is ever their fault?

The answers: It doesn’t, it doesn’t, and they won’t, at least not without significant prompting to do so.

It took the FBI moving in for Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis to be run off the racetrack. In Navarro’s case, he had a rap sheet as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arm but continually received mere slaps on the wrist as he took bottom-level claimers and turned them into stakes winners. All the while, bettors had an idea of what was going on, bet money accordingly, and watched as racing took no significant action despite enough smoke to indicate a giant wildfire.

At a time when perception is everything, it seems racing is deliberately choosing not to be proactive. In combating the issue of race-day medication, the sport decided to phase out Lasix, a substance designed to stop horses from bleeding. While Lasix may be A problem, the Medina Spirit situation shows it was not THE problem. Add in that horses may need Lasix to run at the sport’s highest level due to the way horses are bred in 2021, and that several of those top-tier equine athletes have bled during races, and anyone who’s watching closely knows significantly more work is needed in order to ensure any consistency and integrity moving forward.

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back negative, I hope it’s a stimulus for the complete and total rebuild of post-race testing from coast to coast. I don’t care what it costs, nor what the hurdles are in instituting a nationwide system where all results can be trusted. If we can’t get this right when the entire world is watching, who’s to say we’re getting this right when it isn’t?

If Medina Spirit’s split sample comes back positive, I hope it’s a stimulus for a new era of stricter sanctions for trainers who cheat. Horses run for millions of dollars, and paltry fines that amount to change “supertrainers” might find between their couch cushions means the usual punishment doesn’t come close to fitting the crime. Meaningful fines and suspensions, ones that shut the door for assistants to step in as program trainers and allow a “business as usual” mentality, are long past due.

Optics matter. And if for horse racing doesn’t apply those two words to this situation on a national level, it casts doubt on if the sport ever will in a meaningful way.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (9/7/20; CLOSING DAY)


BANKROLL: $565.20

As is tradition, I’m using my last bankroll blurb of the season to thank people who truly deserve it. First of all, editor Joe Boyle spearheads production of The Pink Sheet on top of daily sports sections in The Saratogian and The Troy Record, plus a weekly section in The Community News. Managing one daily section alone is a full-time job. I’d wager Joe is one of the hardest-working people in sports journalism, and it’s been a lot of fun working with him.

I’m quick to take the New York Racing Association to task for certain things, but I need to give NYRA credit where it’s due. The racing office did all it could to make the best of a bad situation. It looked different, the stakes schedule was jumbled, and field sizes weren’t ideal, but Saratoga was still Saratoga. Special thanks also goes to the fantastic on-air and live production team working the daily FOX Sports broadcasts. The shows have captured the essence of Saratoga as well as they possibly could have under the circumstances.

Finally, I’d like to thank you, the reader. Whether you’ve been seeing this in print or going to, I want you to know I appreciate you taking the time to read my stuff. Saratoga is the one stretch of the year where I get to dig in and go head-to-head with some of the best handicappers in the world. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few winners and helped you cash a few tickets. If not…well, we’ve got one more day!

SUNDAY’S RESULTS: I scratched out of most of my action when Caramel Swirl didn’t run in the opener. Majestic West, meanwhile, set the early pace and tired in the third, so I dropped $15.

MONDAY’S PLAY: Okay, if I’m going down, I’m going down in flames. There’s a mandatory payout in the Empire 6, so I’ll have a 20-cent ticket starting in the ninth that reads as follows: 3,4,6,8,9 with 1,4,5 with ALL with 3,7,8 with 6 with 2,3,5,9,10,12. I’ll use the other $25 of my bankroll on the early Pick Five, which begins in the second. My 50-cent ticket goes like this: 2,3 with 4,5,6,7,9 with 2 with 4 with 1,2,3,7,8.



Best Bet: Proven Strategies, Race 12
Longshot: Wild Banker, Race 11


Bodes Well
Cracker Factory

#2 IRANISTAN: Responded to the class drop last time out with a gritty victory, one where he re-rallied late after doing all the dirty work on the front end. He’s got plenty of back class and may be rediscovering the 2018 form that saw him place in two Grade 1 events; #6 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; #1 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.


Fort Worth
Build to Suit
Rice entry

#3 FORT WORTH: Came back running off the long layoff with an easy score, one that hinted he still had plenty of gas left in the tank. That day’s runner-up has since come back to win impressively, and any improvement would make this Pletcher trainee extremely tough; #2 BUILD TO SUIT: Has plenty of back form and has run very well over this surface. If he can channel his 2019 form, he’ll be a major player, but given the last-out clunker and the entry for a claiming price, it’s fair to wonder if this is a dump; RICE ENTRY: I prefer #1A THE CARETAKER, an honest horse with 23 in-the-money finishes in 32 career outings. He was second at this level early in the meet, and sharp first-off-the-claim trainer Linda Rice should have a fresh horse ready to roll.


Domain Expertise
Editor At Large
Mrs. O’Connell

#9 DOMAIN EXPERTISE: Hammered for $200,000 at Keeneland in 2018 and is bred up and down for turf. She’s by Kitten’s Joy, out of a Limehouse mare, and she’s got several very good works for strong first-out trainer Chad Brown; #4 EDITOR AT LARGE: Has plenty of European pedigree and is the other half of Brown’s powerful 1-2 punch in this event. While I prefer the former horse to this one, she’s certainly got plenty of potential; #6 MRS. O’CONNELL: Runs for a barn whose horses often need a race or two to get going, but she’s bred to be a good one. Sire American Pharoah and broodmare sire Distorted Humor are both strong turf influences, and it wouldn’t surprise me if she ran well at a price.


Road to Meath
Liam’s Fire

#2 ROAD TO MEATH: Takes a big drop in class for an aggressive barn looking to win the training title. He’s almost certainly better on turf, but it’s not like he’s a slouch on dirt, and it seems like he’s found a soft spot; #6 KABOB: Rallied to break his maiden at a price early in the meet. That race didn’t come back particularly strong, but Ray Handal’s horses tend to get better with experience and this one should be running well late; #8 LIAM’S FIRE: Ran well to be third against $40,000 claimers two back and takes a big drop off a race that’s too bad to be true. A repeat of his two-back effort could give him a big shot at a bit of a price.


Per Capita
Heirloom Kitten
Hunt the Front

#4 PER CAPITA: Has crossed the wire first twice in a row since coming back from an extended hiatus and makes his first start for new trainer Todd Pletcher. He earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his win last time out at Churchill, and two turns shouldn’t be a problem given his running style; #3 HEIRLOOM KITTEN: Has won two in a row since going to the dirt, both in easy wire-to-wire fashion. This is a class test for him, but he certainly looks like the main speed in this field and he’ll be dangerous if he’s left alone up top; #2 HUNT THE FRONT: Rallied to finish third at this route earlier in the meet, and that came after his connections saw fit to run him in the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland. He may need more pace than he’s likely to get, but a speed duel would open the door for him to come flying from out of the clouds.


Kantarmaci entry
Life in Shambles
Repole entry

KANTARMACI ENTRY: Both #1 TOPPER T and #1A CLENCH have shown they don’t necessarily need the lead in order to run well. That seems like a vital asset in a race with several very fast horses that will likely go all-out from the moment the gates open; #7 LIFE IN SHAMBLES: Mildly rallied to finish fourth against similar earlier in the meet. He was claimed by Rob Atras that day, and the likely race shape could set things up for this one-run closer; REPOLE ENTRY: #2B WEGOTOLDYOUGOTSOLD is the only one likely to run, as #2 WIN WITH PRIDE raced Saturday. The former hasn’t won in a while, but is a consistent sort that’s done enough to attract Irad Ortiz, Jr.


Army Wife
Mrs Frankel

#9 ARMY WIFE: Was one-paced in her debut going shorter, but her pedigree says she’ll take a big step forward with added distance. She has an experience edge over much of this group, and the recent four-furlong bullet drill jumps off the page; #6 MRS FRANKEL: Chased an impressive next-out stakes winner in her first turf route, and she’s got enough early speed to be prominent from an early stage. Mark Casse has had plenty of hard luck at this meet, but this regally-bred filly certainly seems live; #5 FREEDOMOFTHEPRESS: Sold for $170,000 at Keeneland two years ago and has several strong local workouts ahead of her unveiling. If there’s hesitation here, it’s because young sire Mshawish is still unproven, so we don’t quite know what to expect from a pedigree standpoint.


Breaking the Rules
Ballagh Rocks

#5 BREAKING THE RULES: Has won two in a row since coming off the bench and looms large in the Lure. He topped eventual Grade 1 winner Digital Age two back at Belmont before rallying from far off the pace here earlier this summer; #2 LARGENT: Has four wins and two seconds in six lifetime starts and goes second off the layoff for Todd Pletcher. He won a similar stakes race at Colonial Downs last time out, and he’s got enough tactical speed to sit an ideal trip beneath Luis Saez; #4 BALLAGH ROCKS: Was one of the top turf milers in the country at his peak and he’s still good enough to make plenty of money in his 7-year-old season. He just missed downstate on Independence Day and stands to benefit if the early pace is faster than expected.


Speaker’s Corner

#3 SPEAKER’S CORNER: Has turned in a pair of eye-catching drills ahead of his debut for Bill Mott, who doesn’t usually work his horses very fast. He’s bred to go longer than this, but the works say he’s plenty quick enough to win his unveiling; #4 DEMON: Showed speed from the gate in his most recent half-mile drill, and he’s bred to be precocious given the presence of sire Into Mischief. Todd Pletcher’s work with 2-year-olds speaks for itself, and the 8-1 odds seem like an overlay; #9 SAVOY: Has worked consistently and draws well in his debut for Chad Brown. This $160,000 auction purchase originally worked at Monmouth with Brown’s second string, which can be a red flag, but he’s done enough up here to make me think he’s got a shot.


Ima Pharoah

#4 BINKSTER: Hasn’t won in a while but has spent 2020 chasing better horses than the ones he’ll line up against here. He’s got plenty of early zip and was most recently third in a swiftly-run stakes race for state-breds; #1 IMA PHAROAH: Cruised home to break his maiden in his local debut. He earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure that day, and he’s inexperienced enough to where he may still be improving; #5 MAXIMILIANO: Hasn’t been seen since running fifth in last year’s Springboard Mile at Remington Park. He’s worked well of late, though, and he did his best work last season in shorter races. If he’s ready, this Wesley Ward trainee may be a threat at a bit of a price.


No Lime (MTO)
Wild Banker

#3 WILD BANKER: Likely needed his return to the races last month at Monmouth Park, where he sat far back before rallying to finish third. This is a step up in class on paper, but it seems like a weak race for the level, there’s some early speed signed on, and Joel Rosario sees fit to ride; #10 SCANNO: Has run well twice at this meet and earned the diploma last time out. The outside post position is certainly a problem, but he’s shown some versatility in his last several starts, and that should give Luis Saez plenty of options; #6 MR. KRINGLE: Has placed in three stakes races and may go favored here. However, he flopped when third at 3/5 odds against similar last time out and didn’t seem to have any tangible excuses. He may just be a pack animal that likes running second and third, and I can’t endorse him on top.


Proven Strategies
Lonesome Fugitive

#7 PROVEN STRATEGIES: Seems like the lone speed in this route on the inner turf and gets top gate rider Luis Saez. It seems overly simple, but too many turf races this summer have been won by horses like this, and the fact that he may be a bit of a price is very interesting; #3 LONESOME FUGITIVE: Was second in his first start against winners last time out, and that day’s victor came back to finish a hard-luck second in the Grade 3 Saranac. That was an oddly-run race, but he’s done very little wrong to this point in his career and is a logical favorite; #8 SUCCEEDANDSURPASS: Makes his first start for new trainer Graham Motion and looks to snap a year-log winless streak. He has tons of back class, having chased Grade 1 winner Mo Forza twice in California last year, and he figures to be rallying late beneath Jose Ortiz.


Jackie’s Warrior
Reinvestment Risk

#6 JACKIE’S WARRIOR: Led every step of the way in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, and that day’s second-place finisher picked up another big check when second in the Iroquois Saturday at Churchill Downs. He seems like the speed of the speed and a horse that can steal the Grade 1 Hopeful on the front end; #3 MUTASAABEQ: Had no problems in his debut last month, when he cruised home as an odds-on favorite. This is a far tougher spot, to be sure, but this $425,000 auction purchase has every right to step forward for Todd Pletcher; #5 REINVESTMENT RISK: Turned heads by drawing away to win his debut by nearly eight lengths. He earned a 90 Beyer Speed Figure, but he did so while sitting a perfect trip on the rail and capitalizing when room opened up. At his likely price, I’ll try to beat him.


Bold Gem

#12 GUNMAN: Will need to navigate a very tough outside post in the meet finale but has shown enough to merit favoritism. He was a close-up fourth earlier this meet, and that was his first start since October. A step forward could get him the money against a suspect group; #5 BOLD GEM: Seems to like running second and third, but also appears to be the main early speed in this race. It wouldn’t surprise me if he got out to an easy lead, and that may be dangerous in a field of horses that may not want to pass others; #3 VICARAGE: Comes back to the lawn for the first time since his debut, which came going two turns at Tampa. It’s tough to go that route early in one’s career, and he may have needed that race for seasoning. He’s bred up and down for turf and is worth a shot on deeper tickets.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (9/6/20)


BANKROLL: $580.20

Tiz the Law had every chance in the Kentucky Derby. He got the perfect trip, had first run on the pace-setter after that one set solid early fractions, and looked like a winner with a quarter-mile to go.

He just couldn’t get by Authentic, who proved to be the genuine article. He had a terrible start, but made the lead going into the first turn and challenged other horses to come get him. Nobody could.

There’s no shame in running second in the Kentucky Derby, and it doesn’t discredit Tiz the Law’s brilliant campaign to this point. I think I echo the sentiments of everyone in racing when I say I hope there’s a rematch coming, either at Pimlico in next month’s Preakness Stakes or at Keeneland in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: I keyed Tiz the Law on top and had Enforceable hitting the board, so I was wrong on everything (although Enforceable ran reasonably well given his price). The late scratch of Thousand Words reduced the losses to $38.

SUNDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to focus on the early part of this program and two runners I like a fair bit. I’ll put $15 win wagers on #6 CARAMEL SWIRL in the opener and #5 MAJESTIC WEST in the third, and I’ll also play a $1 Pick Three ticket using those two as singles and punching the “ALL” button in the second race. In a rare twist, I’ll be punching that ticket regardless of if the second race stays on the turf or moves to the main track.



Best Bet: Keota, Race 6
Longshot: Calidad, Race 7


Caramel Swirl
Jordan’s Leo

#6 CARAMEL SWIRL: Has been working with intensity ahead of her debut for Bill Mott, who doesn’t often work his 2-year-olds quickly. Her dam is a half-sister to Met Mile winner Frosted, and we may get a bit of a price due to the presence of juvenile-heavy barns; #3 FOUETTE: Went from “home free” to “barely hung on for third” very quickly in her debut. She’s one of just two runners in here with any experience, and that could be a big plus; #1 JORDAN’S LEO: Debuts for Todd Pletcher and comes in off of several very strong drills at Belmont Park. If there’s a negative here, it’s that the pedigree hints she’s a turf horse, but if she runs to the work tab, look out.


Fevola (MTO)
Bourbon Currency
Cardiac Kitten

#5 BOURBON CURRENCY: Was beaten a length at this route a few weeks ago, and Jose Ortiz sees fit to ride this gelding back. It seems as though there’s plenty of early pace signed on, and that may set things up for him to come pick up the pieces; #10 CARDIAC KITTEN: Drops back into the claiming ranks in his second start of the season. His lone other prior start for a tag saw him win by four lengths at Keeneland, and he’ll be a major player if he can work out a trip from his outside post; #6 WILD WILLIAM: Wired a lesser field last time out and is wheeled back fairly quickly by trainer H. James Bond, whose barn has been firing on all cylinders all summer long. Luis Saez rides back, and chances are this one will be prominent from a very early juncture.


Majestic West
Blood Moon
First Rate

#5 MAJESTIC WEST: Stretches back out to two turns and earned his lone win to date at a similar configuration at Fair Grounds. He earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure that day, and that’s the highest such number of any horse in this field; #3 BLOOD MOON: Gets wheeled back quickly by new trainer Linda Rice, and she’s done that with great success in the past. He hasn’t won in a while, but perhaps a change of scenery will move him up in his fourth start of the summer; #2 FIRST RATE: Was second against similar horses at this route earlier this summer. He’s got the talent to run well here, but he may be stuck rating behind a slow early pace, which wouldn’t be an ideal trip.


Klaravich entry
Dreams of Tomorrow

KLARAVICH ENTRY: #1 PRICE TALK crossed the wire first in his debut, but was disqualified due to interference. Any sort of a step forward will make him very tough, and the recent bullet drill suggests such improvement is on the horizon; #4 ETHOS: Has every right to run a career-best race second off the bench and stretching out to two turns. His dam is a half-sister to both Grade 1 winner Ironicus and multiple graded stakes winner On Leave, and those two did their best running going long; #2 DREAMS OF TOMORROW: Makes his turf debut and should relish the new surface. His dam is a half-sister to top-class turf runner Imagining, and he runs like a horse that will also appreciate the added distance.


Mo Dean
Lutescoot N Boogie
Jane Grey

#5 MO DEAN: Had an adventurous journey in her debut, when she ran second beaten just a neck. She’s worked consistently since that event, and she’ll be a handful with smoother sailing and/or a logical second-out step forward; #8 LUTESCOOT N BOOGIE: Showed speed in her unveiling, when she was third against state-bred competition. Steve Asmussen has cleaned up in 2-year-old races this summer, and Joel Rosario sees fit to hop aboard; #2 JANE GREY: Is bred up and down to be a good one and comes in off of a bullet drill on the Oklahoma track. This is a patient barn, but if she’s ready to run, she’ll have every chance to grab a piece of it at a nice price.


Brass Ring
A Little Faith

#8 KEOTA: Cruised home to an easy win at this route against starter allowance foes last month. She’s got enough tactical speed to be forwardly-placed, but she doesn’t necessarily need the lead, either, and that should give Irad Ortiz, Jr., plenty of options; #10 BRASS RING: Did a lot of the dirty work when third against similar company last time out. She’s done her best running at this route, and while the outside post doesn’t help, she may be talented enough to outbreak this field and clear her rivals into the turn; #1 A LITTLE FAITH: Hasn’t run a bad race sprinting on turf and exits a win over state-breds in her first start since November. This is a tougher group, to be sure, but the inside draw is a good thing and Jose Ortiz will hop aboard.


Madison Parc
Dancing Kiki

#5 CALIDAD: Is a reluctant top pick in a puzzling race to handicap. She gets that designation due to a strong turf pedigree, one that hints she’ll enjoy this surface in her first start on the lawn. Improvement from her dirt efforts would make her tough; #8 MADISON PARC: Adds blinkers after a one-paced showing earlier this summer. She ran well in her debut going two turns on turf, so I’m willing to give her one more shot (especially against what seems like a suspect group); #9 DANCING KIKI: Has run well at this level many times, but is 0-for-11 and, as a result, tough to trust on top. Still, she can’t be ignored if you’re playing vertical exotics.


Tiz He the One
Creative Style

#5 TIZ HE THE ONE: Takes a significant drop in class for aggressive connections and looms large. It wasn’t long ago he was 9/2 against Firenze Fire in the Grade 3 General George, and he’s been chasing far better horses since coming off the bench earlier this summer; #9 CREATIVE STYLE: Ran second against slightly-lesser company last time out and cuts back to one turn in his first start for new trainer Rob Atras. This route should suit him better, and Atras hits at a very strong clip with new acquisitions; #8 LUSITANO: Overcame a rough start to win his local debut in come-from-behind fashion. This is a tougher group, but he’s won going longer distances than this, so at least you know the extra furlong won’t beat him.


Beautiful Memories
Guana Cay
Irish Constitution

#5 BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES: Never had a chance in the Grade 3 Schuylerville when she was pulled up as the 1/2 favorite. She’s turned in several strong drills ahead of her return, and a clean journey would make her tough in the Grade 1 Spinaway; #6 GUANA CAY: Looks like the lone closer in a race full of early zip. She’s a maiden, but Wesley Ward spots his horses aggressively, and the faster they go early, the better her chances figure to be; #1 IRISH CONSTITUTION: Prevailed in her debut for a trainer whose juveniles often need a race or two to figure things out. This is a far tougher field than the batch of state-breds she beat in her unveiling, but she’s bred to be a good one and could take a step forward at a price.


Lady’s Island
Come Dancing

#7 LADY’S ISLAND: Certainly looks like the speed of the speed in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss. She’s won 16 of 31 career starts and earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure over this surface last year. A similar effort would give her a big shot at a bit of a price; #1 COME DANCING: Was fourth in the Grade 1 Ballerina behind Serengeti Empress, and this spot represents a bit of a class drop. She makes sense, but the cutback in distance is a bit of a concern, as is the rail draw for a horse not reliant on early speed; #2 BLAMED: Was a hard-luck second in the Shine Again earlier this summer and will want to be on or near the lead early. This is another case where six furlongs seems a bit short, but she’s got plenty of back class and has won nine of 16 lifetime starts.


Shekky Shebaz

#9 GIDU: Cuts back to a turf sprint and may get the firm ground he clearly relishes in the Lucky Coin. He’s spent most of his career running against some of the better turf horses in the country, and betweem the class relief and his ample early zip, I think he’s the horse to beat; #1 SHEKKY SHEBAZ: Was placed second in the Grade 3 Troy last time out and has run several strong races over this turf course in the past. He may not be the same horse he was for Jason Servis last year, but he may not have to be in order to run well here; #8 PULSATE: Had a troubled trip in the Troy, when he was making up ground late before steadying in traffic. Luis Saez gets the mount here, and he’ll at least be going in the right direction when the real running starts.


La Negrita (MTO)

#3 TATTERAZZI: Sure seems like the lone speed in here, and that combined with the presence of Luis Saez is enough to get my top pick in the Sunday finale. She drops in for a tag second off the bench and may prove very tough to catch; #2 LEEWAY: Almost certainly needed her return to the races in July, which came off a layoff of more than nine months. Her maiden-breaking score at Belmont wasn’t bad, and the Clement/Rosario tag team merits respect; #9 BLICHTON LADY: Ran into a good horse two back before breaking her maiden over the Saratoga main track last month. Her turf Tomlinson number of 309 is solid, and it indicates that perhaps her disappointing debut on the lawn may have just been due to her needing a race. She may be worth another shot at a price.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (9/5/20)


BANKROLL: $618.20

As mentioned in yesterday’s bankroll blurb, in celebration of Kentucky Derby Day, J.D. Fox and I produced a special edition of “Champagne and J.D.” Joe Nevills joined us, and we reached out to our friends for videos about their Derby memories and their feelings on this year’s renewal.

The show went online Friday, and we’re thrilled with how it came out. J.D. and I are both incredibly grateful for the support we got from the racing community. You’ll see videos from some heavy hitters in handicapping and turf writing, and I’m confident in saying this isn’t something you’ll find most anywhere else. You won’t want to miss this, especially if you’re just starting to take a look at the Run for the Roses.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Raven Rocks ran well after stumbling out of the gate, but could do no better than a “bet him next time at this level” mid-pack finish. Meanwhile, at Churchill Downs, the first of my doubles connected, but the second one fizzled when Swiss Skydiver couldn’t get past Shedaresthedevil (in a stretch run that’ll be in my nightmares for a few months). After scratches, I dropped $28.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’m focusing entirely on the Kentucky Derby. If you watched the show, this will sound familiar, but I have two feelings: #17 TIZ THE LAW should not lose, and #3 ENFORCEABLE will hit the board. As such, I’m playing $1 17-ALL-3 and 17-3-ALL trifectas as my primary action. I’ll also box those two in $4 exactas and play a $4 win ticket using Enforceable just in case something insane happens.



Best Bet: Sifting Sands, Race 7
Longshot: Regular Guy, Race 5


Kaz’s Beach
Make Motime

#3 TACKLE: Ran well when second in his debut despite rating behind a pretty slow pace early on. Bill Mott runners tend to improve with experience, and any sort of a step forward would make him tough in the Saturday opener; #1 KAZ’S BEACH: Exits a very fast race at Penn National, one where he ran second behind a next-out winner and thumped the third-place finisher by more than eight lengths. These waters are certainly deeper, but that race came back strong on figures and it wouldn’t be shocking if he was ready to go; #8 MAKE MOTIME: Comes back to the turf, but has shown some early zip and this race seems light on that elsewhere. I don’t think he can win, but hanging on for a piece at a big price doesn’t hit me as inconceivable.


Repole entry
Vineyard Sound
Deep Sea

REPOLE ENTRY: #1 WIN WITH PRIDE hasn’t run a clunker since 2018 and takes a big drop in class. That’s a red flag for some connections, but this is an aggressive owner/trainer combination, so it doesn’t scare me too much here; #4 VINEYARD SOUND: Ran too bad to be true last time out earlier in the meet and was claimed that day by Rob Atras, who does excellent work with new acquisitions. A repeat of his effort two back would give him a shot at a nice price; #6 DEEP SEA: Won here two back before catching a strong group for the level last time out. Orlando Noda claimed him out of that race, and his barn has been on fire all summer long.


Silky Blue

#7 SILKY BLUE: Cuts back in distance and seems like a horse who should relish this route of ground. There’s a lot of speed signed on, and she seems likely to sit a stalking trip and be going in the right direction turning for home; #5 GRAETZ: Ran well in her first start against winners last time out. She was third in what seemed like a strong heat for the level, and Luis Saez sees fit to ride back for H. James Bond; #4 FRACTORZATION: Survived a lengthy inquiry last time out when she herded a foe in the stretch. I think she should’ve come down that day, but it did come back pretty fast on figures and Jose Ortiz returns to ride her here.


My Sister Nat
Civil Union

#4 MY SISTER NAT: Broke a long drought when winning the Grade 3 Waya earlier in the meet. That was her first victory in nearly two years, and she seems to have found the form she flashed overseas in 2018, when she raced against the best fillies in France; #5 ELIADE: Saw a big move fall short last time out, when she was beaten a neck at this route of ground. There should be more pace signed on here, and this one completes a powerful 1-2 punch for trainer Chad Brown; #1 CIVIL UNION: Has won two in a row, including a minor stakes race going long at Belmont Park. Jose Ortiz leaves to ride my top pick, but Joel Rosario is no downgrade and she could sit a strong stalking trip just off the early speed.


Regular Guy

#1 MUNQAD: Is a reluctant top pick in a 2-year-old race that seems loaded with high-class horses. This one is a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Shagaf, who showed promise early in his career. The recent strong gate work also inspires confidence; #5 OLYMPIAD: Debuted with a third-place finish behind the ultra-impressive Reinvestment Risk last month. He’s bred to get better with experience and distance, so I’m expecting a step forward in this spot; #4 REGULAR GUY: Didn’t run well in his debut, but this barn’s runners almost always need their first races. He’s bred up and down to be very good, as his dam has thrown multiple Grade 1 winner Carpe Diem and multiple Grade 2 winner Farrell. Ignoring him at second asking seems like a mistake.


Timely Tradition
Pop a Choc

#5 TIMELY TRADITION: Suffered from a horrible trip last time out and could only manage a fourth-place finish after checking multiple times and making an aggressive middle move. She won three in a row prior to that race, and I’m banking on a clean trip and a return to that form; #4 POP A CHOC: Set a fast pace in her first start against winners, one where she tired a bit to finish third. She seems like the main early speed in here, and she’ll be dangerous if she gets left alone up front; #1 CARRIZO: Hasn’t won in a while but ran well to be second against similar early in the meet. That day’s winner came back to win at next asking, and this one has two wins and two seconds in four starts at the Spa.


Sifting Sands
Hidden Enemy

#7 SIFTING SANDS: Is one of several 2-year-olds with monstrous turf pedigrees in the barn of trainer Chad Brown. His 407 turf Tomlinson is one of the highest you’ll ever see, and if he runs to his bloodlines, look out; #2 FULCO: Didn’t show much in his debut after a rough start but may benefit from experience and added distance. He’s by War Front, out of a Smart Strike mare, and runs for a barn whose horses often improve with experience; #9 HIDDEN ENEMY: Flattened out late after rallying in a race with a slow early pace. The outside post position isn’t ideal, but this son of all-world sire Galileo may be talented enough to overcome the draw.


Good Old Boy

#4 BARLEEWON: Runs as a gelding for the first time after a disappointing effort in his first start against winners. Perhaps he’s best at Belmont or around one turn, but I liked him last time and I’m willing to give him another shot at a bit of a price; #3 GOOD OLD BOY: Came back running off a very long layoff to top state-bred claimers earlier in the meet. He’s got three wins and two seconds in his last five starts, and while this is a slight jump in class, it seems like he’s figured things out; #2 MICROSECOND: Took to turf well when winning his first start on the grass last month. He sat a perfect stalking trip that day, but Jose Ortiz rides back for Todd Pletcher and he may have the speed to take advantage of the rail draw.


Dr Post
Happy Saver

#6 DR POST: Wouldn’t have been too out of place had his connections opted to ship him to Churchill Downs. However, they opted to run here, and the runner-up in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes looms large in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy; #1 HAPPY SAVER: Completes a powerful 1-2 punch for trainer Todd Pletcher and takes an aggressive jump in class after a pair of impressive victories. He showed he could get two turns just fine in his first start against winners, and he may still have room to improve; #2 LIVEYOURBEASTLIFE: Ran a career-best race in his first start around two turns last time out. Perhaps he’s a cut below these, but Jorge Abreu’s enjoyed a lot of success this summer and maybe this one is getting a chance to run at the route he’s wanted all along.


Frank’s Rockette
Center Aisle

#5 FRANK’S ROCKETTE: Has never finished worse than second and is a logical top pick in the Grade 2 Prioress. She had her hands full in the Grade 3 Victory Ride, but there’s plenty of back form to go off of here and she may be the speed of the speed; #7 CENTER AISLE: Adds blinkers for the first time and has been training well since coming to upstate New York. If she runs to the impressive work tab, she could be sitting on a career-best effort at a fair price; #1 KIMARI: Ran second in a Group 1 at Royal Ascot in June and comes back to the dirt here. She’s got tons of talent, and perhaps she’s good enough, but the rail draw is a concern given her late-running style and I think she’s better on turf. At her likely price, I’ll try to beat her.


Global Campaign

#2 TACITUS: Put it all together with a big win in the Grade 2 Suburban on Independence Day and has trained consistently up to the Grade 1 Woodward. The 10-furlong distance won’t beat him, and while he’s found trouble several times in the past, it’s tough to envision him losing with a clean journey; #5 SPINOFF: Jumps up the class ladder after a solid win in the Alydar several weeks ago. He’s done his best running over this surface, and he goes like a horse that won’t be bothered by the extra furlong he’ll go here; #4 GLOBAL CAMPAIGN: Re-rallied to win a Grade 3 at Monmouth last time out and may be the main speed in this race. Top gate rider Luis Saez returns to the saddle here; the question is, how much gas will this front-runner have left in the tank turning for home?


Life On Top
Our Country
Kid Chocolate

#8 LIFE ON TOP: Takes a big class drop to run in this claiming event and merits respect given his prior form. He’ll race with blinkers for the first time, and I think he’ll relish the shallower waters in the Saturday finale; #1 OUR COUNTRY: Is another taking a huge drop, and it wasn’t long ago that I liked him a lot in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Perhaps he’s not the same horse he was a season ago, but he may not have to be to run well in this spot; #3 KID CHOCOLATE: Has run well at this level twice this meet after breaking his maiden three back at Belmont. He’s improved with every start since coming off the bench in June and should be rallying late at a bit of a price.

SARATOGA RACE COURSE: Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll (9/4/20)


BANKROLL: $646.20

If you’re handicapping Friday’s all-stakes late Pick Five at Churchill Downs, you won’t want to miss the discussion I had with Gino Buccola and Darin Zoccali earlier this week on Gino’s podcast, “That’s What G Said.” We talked for nearly two hours about the sequence, which is headlined by the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. It’s up wherever you get your podcasts, and I’ve linked to it on social media, too.

Also, “Champagne and J.D.” returns with a vengeance this week, and that will be online during the day Friday. We sat down with Joe Nevills from The Paulick Report to discuss Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, and we also got some thoughts from several friends of the program who submitted videos with picks, insights, and stories of past Runs for the Roses. Specifically, I’d suggest you listen to one story in particular about the 1986 Kentucky Derby, which saw Ferdinand rally to get the money thanks to an all-time ride by Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker.

THURSDAY’S RESULTS: For the second straight day, my action was wiped out by a surface switch.

FRIDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to have tickets at both Saratoga and Churchill Downs. My Saratoga action focuses on the sixth race, where I’ll play a $20 win ticket on #6 RAVEN ROCKS and single him to finish a cold $5 double starting in the fifth with #2 FIFTY FIVE. Meanwhile, at Churchill Downs, I’ll have some fun singling #8 MONOMOY GIRL in $4 doubles starting and ending in the 11th race, the Grade 1 La Troienne. These doubles start in the 10th (the Grade 2 Alysheba) with #3 OWENDALE, #6 BY MY STANDARDS, and #7 TITLE READY, and end in the 12th (the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks) with #1 SWISS SKYDIVER, #2 TEMPERS RISING, and #3 DONNA VELOCE.



Best Bet: Fifty Five, Race 5
Longshot: Raven Rocks, Race 6


Rossa Veloce
Make Mischief
Queen Arella

#2 ROSSA VELOCE: Prevailed at first asking for a barn whose horses often need a race or two to get going. That sharp victory earned her a 77 Beyer Speed Figure, and any forward movement at second asking would make her tough in the first of six stakes races on this program; #1 MAKE MISCHIEF: Has earned black type with a pair of graded stakes placings at the meet and drops in to face state-breds here. The experience and back class could both be big assets for her, and I think there’s a good chance she goes favored; #6 QUEEN ARELLA: Made up a lot of ground in her debut at Gulfstream before suffering from a horrible trip in the Grade 3 Schuylerville. The outside draw should move her up, and the recent four-furlong drills look pretty solid.


Saratoga Flash
Judge N Jury

#5 SARATOGA FLASH: Will look to give Team Tiz the Law a thrill on Kentucky Derby Eve in his debut. Among others, he’s a half-brother to stakes-winner Nine Route, and the recent five-furlong bullet workout jumps off the page; #8 JUDGE N JURY: Showed some speed in his debut despite a stumble after the break. He hammered for $200,000 last year, and I think he might have gotten a lot out of his debut effort; #4 SKIPPINGANDAJUMPIN: Ships up from Monmouth for Kelly Breen, who can certainly get first-time starters ready to run. Whether or not the morning form will travel north is anyone’s guess, but 10-1 hits me as an overlay in a wide-open event.


City Man

#6 CITY MAN: Hasn’t won in a while but comes back to the state-bred ranks and has shown he can go two turns. Both of his wins have come over this dirt course, and we may get an inflated price given the presence of the morning line favorite (more on him later); #1 MICROSECOND: Broke his maiden in his first try going two turns earlier in the meet. Yes, that was on turf, but his pedigree says he wants to go as long as possible, and Luis Saez will likely have him on or near a pretty slow early pace; #4 CHESTERTOWN: Has been a buzz horse ever since selling for $2,000,000 last year. However, his lone win came over a suspect field at Aqueduct. He does exit a far tougher race, but at his likely price, I simply cannot endorse him on top. If he beats me, I’ll live with it.


I’m Blaming You
Chrome Dixie

#5 MARTINEZ: Had a lot of trouble in his debut, where he broke last and did enough to get third money despite the trip he had. Two turns should fit him like a glove, and he runs for a barn whose horses usually improve with experience; #12 I’M BLAMING YOU: Needs some luck to draw in but will be a major player if he does. Like my top pick, he was third in his debut going shorter and is bred to improve with distance and seasoning; #3 CHROME DIXIE: Debuts for Christophe Clement and will get plenty of attention at the windows, due in no small part to sire California Chrome. It’s tough for a horse to debut going two turns, but Joel Rosario sees fit to ride and he’s a half-brother to a pair of winners.


Fifty Five
Classic Lady

#2 FIFTY FIVE: Won her return to the races off a long layoff downstate and looms large against a field of many runners she’s dispatched in prior events. Graded races have proven just a bit too tough for her, but this is absolutely the right level, and this millionaire’s usual race beats these; #4 CLASSIC LADY: Won a similar race earlier in the meet and hasn’t finished out of the top two since March of 2019. I maintain she may be best around one turn, but perhaps she’s in career-best form as a 5-year-old; #1 MYHARTBLONGSTODADY: Came back running off the bench with a four-length score against optional claiming foes. This is a class test, but she showed a new dimension last time out and may be another getting better as she gets older.


Raven Rocks
Advanced Strategy
Papa Luke

#6 RAVEN ROCKS: Sold for $220,000 two summers ago and finally debuts as a 3-year-old. She has several solid workouts downstate, Jose Lezcano sees fit to ride, and anytime one can get 15-1 odds on a first-time starter by Into Mischief, it’s attractive; #3 ADVANCED STRATEGY: Has run reasonably well in all three of her starts to this point. She comes back to dirt after being a beaten favorite in a pair of turf sprints, and perhaps the surface switch will move her forward; #5 PAPA LUKE: Was probably supposed to win last time out when he hit the front in the stretch as a 6/5 favorite. However, he hung badly to finish third, and while he’s got plenty of early speed, we’re getting to a point where he’s becoming hard to trust.


Market Alert
Hold the Salsa
Lookin for Trouble

#3 MARKET ALERT: Beat several of these rivals in a debut victory downstate before finding the Grade 2 Saratoga Special too tough. The blinkers come on for this event, and I think he’ll relish the drop in class; #7 HOLD THE SALSA: Rallied from way back to win his debut before coming up empty in the Saratoga Special. The faster they go early, the better this one’s chances figure to be, and it sure looks like there’s some speed signed on; #4 LOOKIN FOR TROUBLE: Stepped forward second time out to break his maiden in a wire-to-wire score last month. This is certainly a tougher spot, but Jose Ortiz rides back for Mike Maker and perhaps he’s the speed of the speed.


Astoria Kitten
Morning Colors
Summer At the Spa

#6 ASTORIA KITTEN: Sure seems like the main speed in here and did everything but win against similar company last time out. She was nosed by a genuine “horse for the course” that day, and this certainly seems like a weaker spot; #7 MORNING COLORS: Won going two turns at first asking back in March, which isn’t easy to do. That makes her misfire last time out at Belmont a bit puzzling, but if she runs back to her debut, she’s got a shot at a bit of a price; #8 SUMMER AT THE SPA: Exits the same race as my top pick and was one-paced that day. I think that may have been a bit of a bounce off of a strong second back in June, which doubled as her first race since November.


Rodriguez entry (MTO)
Three Outlaws

#8 FREEWHEELER: Ran like a horse in need of a race earlier this summer, when he was second against similar company as an odds-on favorite. I think he’ll move forward second off the bench, and a return to his 2-year-old form would make him very tough to beat; #11 THREE OUTLAWS: Topped starter allowance foes at this route two back before a non-threatening effort in an off-the-turf event. He should move forward coming back to the grass, but the outside post might be a tough obstacle to overcome; #9 LUNA’S IN CHARGE: Hasn’t won this year but has run second twice at this stand and was beaten a nose last time out. He gets a big rider switch to Jose Ortiz and may be the one they have to hold off late.


Critical Value
Ice Princess

#5 CRITICAL VALUE: Has done very little wrong to this point in her career and looms large in this spot. She was very good in her 2020 debut, when she smashed older state-breds in the Bouwerie, and facing her fellow 3-year-olds may make for a significant class drop; #1 MAKINGCENTS: Completes a powerful 1-2 punch for trainer Jeremiah Englehart and sure seems like the main speed. She was third against open allowance foes earlier in the meet, but won her prior two starts against state-breds by a combined margin of greater than 18 lengths; #2 ICE PRINCESS: Chased Swiss Skydiver in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn, and these waters are significantly shallower. Two turns is still a major question mark, but if she gets the trip, she’s absolutely got a big shot.


Dot Matrix
Gucci Factor

#1 DOT MATRIX: Gets significant class relief after chasing top-notch turf horses for most of the season. The highlight of his campaign was a win in a Grade 3 at Sam Houston, and he has enough tactical speed to use the inside post to his advantage; #4 GUCCI FACTOR: Accomplished a lot in 2018 and 2019 before going to the sidelines. He almost certainly needed his return in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy, but while a return to his best form could win this event, it’s fair to be skeptical given how little he showed in his 2020 debut; #5 RINALDI: Loves this turf course and went wire-to-wire against optional claiming company earlier in the meet. That day’s third-place finisher has since come back to win, and this barn has been firing on all cylinders for the entire meet.


Imperio D (MTO)

#4 SMITE: Has shown plenty of early zip against straight maidens and drops in for a tag for the first time. The “speed against better” angle is a powerful one, and with top gate rider Luis Saez in the saddle, the game plan certainly appears clear; #2 TEMPESTA: Has run well twice since returning to this circuit and rallied to miss by a neck at this level and route last time out. He’s got some versatility to him, which should give jockey Jose Lezcano plenty of options depending on how the race unfolds; #9 FLUENT IN SARCASM: Dueled through very fast fractions last time out, but was beaten just a length despite doing all the dirty work. He’s got the talent to win, for sure, and he’ll have a big chance if he can clear the field early from his outside post.