CHAMPAGNE’S CAMPAIGNS: The Hall of Fame Cases of Lady Eli and Shared Belief

This past week, I put together a four-way poll on my Twitter page. I’d felt a desire to do some historical legacy-type pieces, so I asked about horses you, the reader, whose Hall of Fame credentials you’d want analyzed.

Naturally, instead of having a clear-cut winner, we had a tie. Rather than wuss out and pick only one (or do a run-off and be subject to yet another tie and/or shenanigans akin to what happens in some countries’ presidential elections!), I’ve decided to combine both opinions in this column, one that I hope gets people thinking and/or talking.

LADY ELI

Okay, here’s the first unpopular opinion of the column, and it centers around the fact that Lady Eli is one of the most popular horses of the past decade for reasons that have little to do with her talent on the racetrack. She stepped on a nail coming back from her scintillating performance in the 2015 Belmont Oaks and eventually contracted laminitis. Of course, she conquered that and came back to the races, where she would win four of her final eight starts (including three Grade 1 events at as many venues).

Get the pitchforks ready: When it comes to Hall of Fame consideration, I don’t care about anything except what a horse does within the confines of its arena. Yes, Lady Eli’s story is a phenomenal one, and credit must be given to the people around her (owner Sol Kumin, trainer Chad Brown, and Brown’s staff). With one exception (which carries a logical excuse), she showed up every single time, even after coming down with a condition that can be fatal. All of that is fantastic, but my Hall of Fame ballot has very little to do with emotion, and very much to do with what a horse accomplishes in its career on the track.

In using the oft-quoted Bill Parcells philosophy, “you are what your record says you are,” here’s what we’ve got as it pertains to Lady Eli.

Record: 14-10-3-0
Earnings: $2,959,800
Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): Nine (Five)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): One (Three)

What we have here is a really strong resume, though one that is not without its flaws. First, the good: After breaking her maiden first time out, she raced exclusively in stakes company. She recorded Grade 1 wins in four different seasons, in an era where the most promising horses in the game sometimes struggle to finish a second year of competition. I put a pretty heavy emphasis on longevity and consistency when looking at the horses on the annual ballot, and she checks those boxes emphatically.

Her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf win was electric, and she nearly added a second such victory when falling by a nose two years later in the Filly and Mare Turf. Her lone clunker came in her final career start, but a reason for the poor effort was evident right away, as she suffered an ugly (though far from life-threatening) injury in last year’s Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar.

Now, the bad points: Turf horses, by nature, are up against it when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration. There’s a long-held stigma that dirt horses are superior to turf horses, and because of that, some of the best turf horses we’ve seen have to wait a while before being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Lure, for instance, wasn’t enshrined until 20 years after completing a career that included two wins in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. For better or for worse, this hurts Lady Eli.

Additionally, her lack of a race against males is not ideal. Turf mares like Miesque, Goldikova, and even Tepin had multiple wins over the boys on big stages (Miesque and Goldikova are both Hall of Famers, while Tepin will likely get in at some point). None of Lady Eli’s 14 outings came against males, and while such a race isn’t necessary in determining her talent, it would’ve gone a long way at a point where voters are instructed, perhaps even encouraged, to nitpick. If she wins, say, the Grade 1 Fourstardave in 2017 instead of that summer’s Grade 2 Ballston Spa over fillies and mares, or even runs well in defeat in the former race, I don’t think there’s nearly as much question about her eventual Hall of Fame viability.

Ultimately, the question is this: If you take away the phenomenal, made-for-Hollywood story behind Lady Eli’s physical ailments and her recovery, is her on-track resume enough to enshrine her in Saratoga? There will undoubtedly be some that feel her credentials aren’t solid enough, or that she didn’t shine quite as brightly as Tepin (who Lady Eli somehow never ran against, in an oversight of epic proportions by racing offices with high-level, eight to nine-furlong turf races for older fillies and mares at their tracks!).

After minimizing the emotional element, perhaps she’s not a slam-dunk…but I think she did enough to merit induction. I simply cannot ignore a Breeders’ Cup winner that boasts four straight seasons with at least one Grade 1 victory, even if she may not have run against some of the top turf horses of her era.

THE VERDICT: HALL OF FAMER

SHARED BELIEF

Before we cannonball into the deep water, here’s a look at Shared Belief’s career, nutshelled in the same way Lady Eli’s was earlier in this column.

Record: 12-10-0-0
Earnings: $2,932,200
Stakes Wins (Grade 1 Wins): Eight (Five)
Breeders’ Cup Wins (Appearances): None (One)

And now we get to the tough part. The discussion of Shared Belief’s career has to start with the antics that happened at the start of the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Shared Belief had skipped the Triple Crown due to setbacks at the start of the year, but the son of Candy Ride came back with a vengeance, reeling off four straight wins to come into the Classic undefeated.

Many anticipated a showdown with dual classic winner (and future Hall of Famer) California Chrome. Unfortunately for racing fans, the 3-year-old Shared Belief had to worry about the most was Bayern, who took a hard left turn out of the gate and sent horses inside of him (including Shared Belief) pinballing into one another. When the dust settled, Bayern was left alone on the lead and held off Toast of New York and California Chrome, with Shared Belief left spinning his wheels in fourth.

Shared Belief rebounded from his first career defeat with three straight victories, each more impressive than the one before it. After a workmanlike win in the Grade 1 Malibu, he beat California Chrome on the square in the Grade 2 San Antonio before putting forth one of recent racing history’s most underappreciated brilliant performances in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

Think about all of the talent that was on the racetrack in early-2015. American Pharoah would win the Triple Crown. Beholder would destroy the boys in the Pacific Classic. California Chrome was headed to Dubai (followed by a planned start at Royal Ascot), and Bayern was still kicking around in Bob Baffert’s barn. Following the Santa Anita Handicap, though, you’d be hard-pressed to say that any of those horses, on their best days, would’ve been able to beat the Shared Belief that waltzed home in 2:00 and change and seemed capable of so much more.

Alas, fate intervened. In addition to star-crossed California Chrome getting sent to the sidelines, Shared Belief would race just once more. He did not finish the Charles Town Classic after suffering a minor injury that could’ve been much worse if not for the expert skills of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who pulled him up immediately. Shared Belief was sent to Washington for rehabilitation, and a return was planned, but he suffered an attack of colic in December and was euthanized.

What I’m about to say may seem like a weird tangent, but go with it. I’m a big fan of Bill Simmons’s magnum opus, “The Book of Basketball.” In it, he refers to a theory that applies to a number of players that bordered on greatness, but could’ve been even greater. It goes something like this: If we’d had the ability to simulate a career 10 times, what we got was the worst possible outcome. Athletes that could’ve been great were hampered by injuries, or bad situations, or by things completely outside their control, and if some celestial force were to come and offer a one-time “do-over” as it pertained to one such career, we’d take it without a second thought.

That theory can more than adequately be applied to the career of Shared Belief. He showed brilliance as a 2-year-old, but did not contest the Triple Crown. When he came back, he routed older horses in a pair of Grade 1 races before the Classic, where a series of events produced more outrage than just about any other imaginable scenario (try to think of one that would’ve made people angrier and doesn’t include the words “sniper on the roof;” don’t worry, I’ll wait). After the Classic, he won three times, but was injured in his final career start and never got a chance to come back.

There’s an alternate universe where Shared Belief and California Chrome race each other multiple times at ages three, four, and five. Shared Belief wins a few. California Chrome wins a few. Horse racing gets a rivalry the likes of which it hasn’t seen since the days of Skip Away, Formal Gold, and Wills Way, with longtime horsemen and friends Jerry Hollendorfer and Art Sherman at the forefront, playfully uttering one-liners at each other like, “Well, if I don’t win, I hope you don’t, either.” Add in a rotating cast that includes the likes of Beholder, and perhaps even Arrogate near the end, and how exciting do some Saturdays become?

Feel cheated by the racing gods yet? I know I do. The fact is that there’s absolutely no telling how good Shared Belief could have been. He could’ve been the dirt version of Wise Dan, running his competition into the ground for years due to his status as a gelding rather than a full horse. Instead, he was a comet streaking across the sky, imperfect but undeniably memorable in a way many very talented horses of recent years are not.

Is he a Hall of Famer? That’s about the toughest question the nominating committee will be faced with in a few years, and I’m pretty happy I don’t have to make the decision. At his peak, he may have been the best horse in the world. However, I don’t think he had the opportunity to do as much with his talent as he should have. This is not his fault, nor the fault of those around him. Circumstances conspired to give us the unluckiest possible outcomes with regard to Shared Belief, all the way down to his early passing.

Will I protest if Shared Belief is eventually enshrined in Saratoga? No. Horses without his immense ability have been voted in before, and they’ll be voted in in the future. However, based solely on what he achieved on the track as compared to similar horses from his era, he likely won’t be on my ballot.

THE VERDICT: NOT A HALL OF FAMER

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: Travers Day (8/26/17)

BANKROLL: $851.50

Happy Travers Day, everyone! Before we get into the antics and shenanigans, I’d genuinely like to wish all of you luck. This may be the best wagering card we see all year in New York, and there’s no shortage of live longshots on the program.

That said, I have to chuckle at NYRA’s “no running” edict. As I mentioned last year around this time, all it apparently takes to turn some at the track into middle school hall monitors is one big day. No running? What about jogging, speed-walking, power-walking, or cantering? Where, precisely, is the line drawn?

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: We extended our winning streak in this section to three by maximizing value on Sunset Ridge. Our Pick Five connected for $1, our Pick Four hit for 50 cents, and our $40 investment returned $155 and change.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: Remember how I said there’s no shortage of longshots? I’ll play four horses to win and place, and it may only take one winner for it to be a profitable day. The horses I’ll put #5 to win and place on are as follows: KABANG (Race 2), PROFITEER (Race 5), WEST COAST (Race 11), and MOHICAN (Race 13).

TOTAL WAGERED: $40

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Songbird, Race 6
Longshot: Kabang, Race 2

R1

Good Magic
Hazit
High North

GOOD MAGIC: Was a million dollar baby at last year’s Keeneland September sale, and for good reason. He’s by Curlin, and boasts a female family that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. He’s worked to that breeding and should be ready; HAZIT: Is another that’s bred to run and debuts for high-percentage connections. His dam was a graded stakes-winning sprinter, and he’s got every right to be precocious; HIGH NORTH: Is a half to Grade 2 winner Benner Island and has a pair of strong local workouts. Irad Ortiz likely had options, and he lands on this $230k yearling purchase.

R2

Uncle Mojo (MTO)
Kabang
Focus Group

KABANG: Has won three of his last four, with the most recent victory coming earlier this meet in a swiftly-run starter allowance. There’s some pace signed on here, which bodes well for this one’s late kick; FOCUS GROUP: Broke through at third asking last time out, graduation in a much longer race. Irad stays aboard for Chad Brown, and at least you know the distance shouldn’t be a problem; RICHMOND STREET: Ran a clunker last time out, but that was his second race off a long layoff, so it could’ve just been a bounce. His race two back was solid, and he ran well here twice last summer. DIRT SELECTIONS: UNCLE MOJO, HOLIDAY BONUS, SON OF A SAINT.

R3

Neepawa
Strike Me Down
Chirping

NEEPAWA: Was a fast-closing third in his debut, which came at this route. The post position is a problem, but of those that have run before, he boasts the most impressive effort; STRIKE ME DOWN: Is bred up and down to be a strong turf horse. His dam won a Grade 2 on turf and threw Grade 3 winner Golden Sabre, and this gray has turned heads in the mornings; CHIRPING: Ran a sneaky race in his debut, rallying late for fifth and showing he likely wants more ground. He gets that in this spot and can’t be ignored at a price.

R4

Ostrolenka
Sticksstatelydude
Candid Desire

OSTROLENKA: Has run some of his best races since being claimed earlier this year by David Jacobson. He was a close-up second at this route against a solid sprinter, and the likely race shape sets up for a closer like him; STICKSSTATELYDUDE: Returns to the races after a nine-month break and has back class that must be respected. This is certainly shorter than he wants to go, but he did break his maiden going six furlongs here as a 2-year-old; CANDID DESIRE: Is another that merits a look given the likely shape of the race (not to mention his likely odds). He ran fourth to Stallwalkin’ Dude last time out after a brief freshening, and a quick look at the running lines shows he beat THREEFIVEINDIA (who could be the favorite or second choice here) three back.

R5

Cloontia
Profiteer
Ray’s The Bar

CLOONTIA: Showed a new dimension last time out, rating well off the leader and rallying to win a lesser allowance race. He steps up in class, but this is a horse that likes to win, and these connections merit respect; PROFITEER: Hasn’t been seen since April, when he trailed in the Grade 3 Transylvania. It’s possible he just didn’t take to the Keeneland turf course, and he’s a major player if he runs back to his other grass races; RAY’S THE BAR: Almost certainly needed his 2017 debut, so I’m drawing a line through it. He’s been gelded since that effort, and he has significant back class.

R6

Songbird
Forever Unbridled
Going for Broke

SONGBIRD: Is the length of Beholder’s nose away from being undefeated and will go for her 10th Grade 1 victory here. No other rival has the early speed to go with her, and I think she’ll be incredibly tough to run down late; FOREVER UNBRIDLED: Is extremely tough on her best day. Remember, she was beaten less than two lengths by Songbird in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and while the race shape doesn’t figure to help her, she could come running late; GOING FOR BROKE: Made stablemate Carina Mia work last time out in the Shine Again, and that distance was shorter than she’s accustomed to going. She chased Songbird in last year’s Alabama and figures to get a piece of this purse as well.

R7

Paulassilverlining
Carina Mia
Highway Star

PAULASSILVERLINING: Has won four in a row, including the Grade 2 Honorable Miss earlier this meet. There’s a shocking lack of early speed signed on here, and she could sit a dream trip on or near a slow pace; CARINA MIA: Fended off a game stablemate at this route earlier in the month and could improve in her second start for Chad Brown. The issue here is that my top selection has beaten her in both of their prior meetings; HIGHWAY STAR: Is 3-for-3 going seven furlongs and chased Songbird and Paid Up Subscriber home last time out in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. If you’re looking for a longshot, you could do a lot worse than a horse that’s 7-for-11 lifetime (with one loss coming in a turf race).

R8

American Anthem
Coal Front
Practical Joke

AMERICAN ANTHEM: Returns to New York for his first start since an easy win in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on Belmont Day. He’s 3-for-3 around one turn, and a repeat of the effort we saw in June would make him very tough to beat; COAL FRONT: Is 3-for-3 and most recently took down the Grade 2 Amsterdam. He showed maturity that day, slowing down to take a breath after setting a fast pace and speeding up again to repel a late challenge. These are deep waters, but he’s given me nothing to knock so far; PRACTICAL JOKE: Missed by a half-length in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, finishing behind two horses that will contest the Travers. He won last year’s Grade 1 Hopeful at this route and has improved since then, but the rail draw isn’t ideal.

R9

Mind Your Biscuits
Drefong
Divining Rod

MIND YOUR BISCUITS: Has developed into one of the top dirt sprinters on the planet. His win in Dubai two back was sensational, and this seven-furlong distance suits him perfectly; DREFONG: Won both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and King’s Bishop last year, but his 2017 season has not gone smoothly. He dumped Mike Smith in the Bing Crosby, and while horse and rider were fine, the workouts since then have been on the slow side. His best race probably wins, but can he channel that form?; DIVINING ROD: Came back running last time out in his 2017 debut, crushing an overmatched field at Laurel Park. He just missed in last year’s Cigar Mile, and he seems best of the rest here.

R10

Idaho
Money Multiplier
Erupt

IDAHO: Was third behind two of Europe’s best horses last time out in a Group 1 at Ascot. Enable may be the best horse in Europe regardless of gender, while Ulysses is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Turf. By comparison, this is a softer spot, and these connections can ship in and win these races; MONEY MULTIPLIER: Started his 2017 campaign in fine fashion last time out with a Grade 2 win at Monmouth. Improvement is logical second off such a long layoff, and this one was second to Flintshire in last year’s running of this race; ERUPT: Is a cut below Europe’s best, but he won the Grade 1 Canadian International last fall at Woodbine. His effort two back in Group 1 company was solid, and he’s a contender on his best day.

R11

West Coast
Good Samaritan
Tapwrit

WEST COAST: Has developed into Bob Baffert’s top 3-year-old colt after back-to-back stakes wins on opposite coasts. His running style suggests he’ll handle this distance just fine, and he gets my top pick in a very confusing renewal of the Travers; GOOD SAMARITAN: Beat the Derby and Preakness winners with an authoritative performance in the Jim Dandy, which doubled as his dirt debut. Figure-wise, that was a new career-best race by a considerable amount, and he could win with a repeat performance; TAPWRIT: Was last seen winning the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June. The layoff is a concern, as is the Haskell performance of Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry, but he’s trained well of late and can’t be ignored.

R12

Lady Eli
Antonoe
Dickinson

LADY ELI: Was a surprise entrant in this race following her victory in the Grade 1 Diana. That win came after she and her stablemate (more on her shortly) broke through the starting gate before the race, and she’s strictly the one to beat; ANTONOE: Did not have a good day when last seen, breaking through the gate and sitting a strange trip. Still, she was only beaten a length by my top pick, and her win two back in the Just A Game was scary good; DICKINSON: May inherit the early lead by default. She misfired in the Diana, but her best race certainly gets her a share.

R13

Mohican
All About Voodoo
Prognostication

MOHICAN: Hasn’t run well in two local starts this summer, but I think you can toss both of those races. The race two back came off a long layoff, and his last-out effort came on dirt. Given the class drop, I think he’s live at a nice price; ALL ABOUT VOODOO: Showed speed earlier in the meet going much longer against a better group. The class drop is sensible, and keep him in mind if Focus Group (that race’s winner) comes back with a good effort in Saturday’s second race; PROGNOSTICATION: Had every chance at this level last time out, but was forced to settle for third in a so-so group. He’ll take money given the connections, and his best race puts him right there, but this may be a spot to shop around for some value.

THE DARK DAY FILES: Slumps, Family, and Lady Eli

“I suck.”

Not the way you expected this to start out, huh? Well, that’s what was going through my head this past weekend.

If you’re visiting this site, you probably know that, in addition to my duties as a Web Producer for the Daily Racing Form, I’m the featured handicapper in The Pink Sheet, the daily racing insert in The Saratogian. I had picked the first winner on the first day of the meet…and then proceeded to go 1-for-the-next-18 on my printed top selections.

Every handicapper goes through slumps. I’ve actually written about how to get through them and bounce back. That said, when you’re putting your name behind your picks, and your picks aren’t coming through, it’s incredibly frustrating. Add in my insane competitive streak, a chip on my shoulder (the reason for that is best saved for another column many years from now), and a general desire to put forth good work, and what you get is where I was Saturday afternoon.

Welcome to the life of a public handicapper. On its face, the task seems simple: Handicap every race, every day at Saratoga from mid-July through Labor Day, pick your top three horses, and do better than the people lined up against you. Following the retirement of Nick Kling (a world-class horseplayer and an even better guy), my responsibilities expanded to include race-by-race write-ups and a bankroll blurb, the latter of which was directly inspired by the “Battle of Saratoga” blurbs in the New York Daily News, which I devoured every time I went to the races as a kid.

When you’re going good as a public handicapper, very few things feel better, especially if you’re cashing tickets as you go. When you’re running bad, the cards seem to go by slower, and about the only thing you can do is eye the next day’s program and see if there are any opportunities to catch up. The “boo birds” do come out on Twitter occasionally, hiding behind fake names and using pictures that aren’t their own, but that, I can deal with.

I’ve always been very good at dealing with other people telling me that I stink. I’ve gotten hate mail from a Kentucky Derby-winning owner and upper management at one of the most prominent racetracks in the country. I’m blocked on Twitter by the current head of a conference whose stalwart program I worked as an athletic communications intern for from 2010 through 2012. I’ve been name-called, abused, and told I’m horrible at my job, all by the same person and all in the past two and a half months (go on Twitter; it’s not hard to find). Long story short, I’m pretty confident in my own ability to take punches that are thrown by other people.

When it’s ME telling MYSELF I stink, though? Oh, boy.

I’m extremely fortunate to have a great relationship with my father. He taught me how to handicap, he brought me to the track once a week during the summer when I was growing up, and I’ve always said that if you hang around him for five minutes, I suddenly make much more sense (this has been confirmed by many friends and co-workers over the years). Unfortunately for him, this meant that any horse racing chatter we had via text message Saturday included me bombarding him with updates on just how badly I was doing and how badly I felt about it. Not helping matters was that his computer was, in layman’s terms, throwing up all over itself, or that he possesses the most annoying text message alert I’ve ever heard (a fact that I’m sure accounted for about 15 percent of his annoyance level!).

We were both about at our respective wit’s ends before the Diana. Lady Eli, one of the best stories in racing, was running, and in fact would go off as the heavy favorite. However, before the race, she and stablemate Antonoe both broke through the Saratoga starting gate.

In the case of Lady Eli, it didn’t matter. Neither did the weight she gave to her rivals, or that she may not be quite as explosive as she was before she endured her life-threatening battle with laminitis. She and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., circled the field and put away the game Quidura, giving the mare another Grade 1 victory in a career that has featured such wins at ages two, three, four, and five.

It’s tough to feel bad about anything in horse racing after seeing something like that. I don’t do “sappy” much, but it was nice seeing a reminder that I’m doing what I believe I was born to do, which is talking about horses to audiences that will hopefully make some money along the way. Things got even better the next day, when I was given the green light to contribute selections and analysis on DRF’s GamePlan from time to time. The day after that, I had three winners and a second-place finish from six originally-picked winners (three scratched). It’s not the start I’d hoped for, but at the very least, whatever negative juju I once had seems to be gone.

Sorry for being a pain in the neck, Dad.

– – – – –

This is the first weekly installment of “The Dark Day Files,” and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Got an idea for a future column? Click here to contact me.

Saratoga Race Course Analysis, Selections, and Bankroll: 7/22/17

BANKROLL

BANKROLL: $980

Not many brilliant 2-year-olds win Grade 1 races as 5-year-olds. Lady Eli has done that, all after overcoming laminitis. She headlines a renewal of the Grade 1 Diana that’s short on quantity, but not on quality. It’s also drawn fellow Grade 1 winners Antonoe and Dickinson, among others, and if Lady Eli continues conquering such fields this summer and fall, it may be time to start discussing her Hall of Fame credentials.

FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Victory to Victory faded and Dream Dancing never fired, so our doubles fizzled out and we dropped $20.

SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ve got much more confidence in the early part of today’s card than in the later races, so I’ll play a 50-cent early Pick Four (contingent on turf races staying there). I’ll use #1 DADDY’S HOME and #9 MINISTER’S STRIKE in the second, single #5 UNTAMED DOMAIN in the third, press the “ALL” button in the fourth, and finish with #3 TAP DADDY, #4 SPORTING CHANCE, and #8 MACHISMO in the fifth.

TOTAL WAGERED: $21

ANALYSIS/SELECTIONS

Best Bet: Untamed Domain, Race #3
Longshot: End Play, Race #7

R1

Marshall Plan
Mr. Crow
Adulation

MARSHALL PLAN: Has run two sharp races behind stakes-quality 3-year-olds and may have found a softer spot here. The horse to his inside has potential, but based on his body of work, this one’s the one to beat; MR. CROW: Was a close-up second in his debut, where he outran his 11-1 odds and was credited with a solid 89 Beyer Speed Figure. The July 8th bullet seems to indicate he’s continued to develop since that performance; ADULATION: Has been away since November but ran against several stakes-quality horses as a 2-year-old. He may need a race, but he fits based on last season’s form.

R2

Sheep Pond entry
Minister’s Strike
Prize Fight

DADDY’S HOME: Was an impressive debut winner two back, but misfired against much better last month downstate. A return to two turns should help him, and these waters aren’t nearly as deep; MINISTER’S STRIKE: Has spent his entire season to date in stakes company and takes a much-needed class drop here. Both of his wins have come going two turns on turf; PRIZE FIGHT: Lost all chance last out and was in too deep two back in the Grade 2 Penn Mile. His form from earlier this season in Florida would be good enough for a piece of this. DIRT SELECTIONS: CURTIS, ESCAPE VELOCITY, HONOR THY FATHER.

R3

Untamed Domain
Pete Marwick
Another

UNTAMED DOMAIN: Is bred up and down to go long on turf, and he had plenty of traffic trouble in his debut. He came flying late that day, and the addition of Lasix is a major plus; PETE MARWICK: Has three starts of experience and tries turf for the first time. His pedigree says he could take to it, and he nearly graduated two back downstate; ANOTHER: May need a race, but has the pedigree to be a good one. His dam is a half-sister of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, and the July 4th work on the Oklahoma track was very sharp. DIRT SELECTIONS: PETE MARWICK, PLETCHER ENTRY, HONORABLE TREASURE.

R4

Voluntario
Shuffle Up
Alex the Terror

VOLUNTARIO: Was outclassed two back in the Grade 3 General George and likely needed his last race, which came off a substantial layoff. He drops in for a tag and seems well-meant in a race that, to this writer, was a mess to handicap; SHUFFLE UP: Won two in a row by daylight at Aqueduct before misfiring last out at Belmont. He’s got plenty of early zip and could be tough to catch if left alone early on; ALEX THE TERROR: Disappointed first off the claim, but ran a strong race at seven furlongs three back against much better. This is another who may be helped by the drop in class he gets in this spot.

R5

Machismo
Tap Daddy
Sporting Chance

MACHISMO: Fetched $500k at auction last year and has been working like a very good horse ahead of his debut. This isn’t an easy spot, but if this one runs to his potential, he could be a buzz horse moving forward; TAP DADDY: Hails from a barn that doesn’t usually work horses quickly, which makes several of his drills very interesting. He’s bred to go much longer than this, but all indications are that there’s plenty of talent here; SPORTING CHANCE: Did very little wrong when second in his debut last month at Churchill Downs. He was well clear of the third-place finisher, but that field may have been weaker than what he faces here.

R6

Born for a Storm
Gucci Factor
Fleet Irish

BORN FOR A STORM: Comes off a nine-month layoff, but ran two very strong races here last year. He’s been working well here ahead of his 4-year-old debut, and Brown and Castellano have won plenty of races together; GUCCI FACTOR: Ran off the screen in his seasonal debut last month at Belmont, winning by 16 lengths and appearing to have more in reserve. This is a much tougher spot, but he may have figured things out in a big way; FLEET IRISH: Hasn’t won since his debut last November, but this distance hits him between the eyes, and he’d benefit from an early speed duel, which could happen given the huge field signed on.

R7

Still Krz (MTO)
End Play
Partly Mocha

END PLAY: Comes in off a win downstate and is ridden back by Luis Saez, who’s been aboard for all three of his career victories. He ran well here twice a season ago, and 8-1 is a square price for a horse that appears to be in peak form; PARTLY MOCHA: Has been running against some of the top turf sprinters in the country and should certainly appreciate the shallower waters this race provides. The post position isn’t ideal, but he should be running well late; EVACUATION: Was thought of highly enough by his previous connections that they tried Group 1 company down under last year. He makes his North American debut for Wesley Ward and has attracted jockey John Velazquez. DIRT SELECTIONS: STILL KRZ, BOLITA BOYZ, LUNA DE LOCO.

R8

Annie Rocks (MTO)
Gioia Stella
Pricedtoperfection

GIOIA STELLA: Assuredly needed her 2017 debut after the layoff and wasn’t helped by that race being moved off the turf. Her two-turn turf efforts are among the best races of her career, and she gets such a route here; PRICEDTOPERFECTION: Makes her first start for a new barn and will be seen in the afternoon for the first time since September. Her back class is considerable, and she’ll be a major player if she’s ready to run; STELLA ROSE: Was third in a high-level allowance in her 2017 bow and won here a season ago. She’s run up against some high-quality horses, and this is a logical spot. DIRT SELECTIONS: ANNIE ROCKS, JOSEPHINE’S MOMENT, BROWSE.

R9

Direct Dial
Admiral Jimmy
Baffin

DIRECT DIAL: Did the dirty work in the Tremont, setting very fast fractions. He still hung on for second money that day, and he figures to be the main speed in a renewal of the historic Sanford; ADMIRAL JIMMY: Was nosed by my top selection in the Tremont and showed an ability to rate off the pace in that performance. He’d benefit from a fast pace, which could materialize; BAFFIN: Was never threatened in a sharp debut victory at Churchill Downs. It’s curious that Steve Asmussen (Direct Dial’s trainer) also enters this one here when there are ample 2-year-old races around the country.

R10

Lady Eli
Antonoe
Dickinson

LADY ELI: Won a scorching renewal of the Grade 1 Gamely at Santa Anita in May and appears to be as sharp as ever. She’s aided here by what appears to be a lack of early speed, and it wouldn’t be surprising if she led early on; ANTONOE: Flew home to capture the Grade 1 Just A Game and improve to 2-for-2 in North America. This race shape may not set up as well for her, but she’s certainly talented enough to continue her winning ways; DICKINSON: Was herded in the Just A Game, but likely wasn’t beating Antonoe that day. She did, however, top Lady Eli on the square two back, and she’s another who could be forwardly-placed.

R11

Doyouknowsomething (MTO)
Souperfast
Blarp

SOUPERFAST: Was impressive downstate in his last appearance and was claimed out of that race by David Jacobson. Many in this field may prefer one turns to this two-turn route, but he’s shown to be equally effective at either configuration; BLARP: Had a world of trouble when last seen and returns to a turf course he’s won on in the past. He has ample back class and should improve with a better trip; MILLS: Was third behind my top pick in his last outing and has since joined the Rudy Rodriguez barn. He’s one of the best on the circuit with new acquisitions, so improvement wouldn’t be a surprise. DIRT SELECTIONS: DOYOUKNOWSOMETHING, CARVE, MILLS.