The Grade 3 Sanford is one of two graded stakes races on the program, and it’s one of my favorite races of the meet for several reasons. There’s plenty of history here. It’s the race where Man o’ War was defeated by the appropriately-named Upset, and a pair of 1970’s winners (Secretariat and Affirmed) went on to win the Triple Crown the following year.
This year’s renewal drew a huge field of 12 and several notable storylines. Todd Pletcher could win the Sanford a ninth time with Forte or Major Dude. Andiamo a Firenze will look to emulate older brother Firenze Fire, who won the Sanford in 2017. Trainers Tom Amoss and Brad Cox, meanwhile, each saddle promising first-out winners shipping in from Churchill Downs.
2-year-old racing is one of the many things that makes Saratoga special. Here’s hoping we see something memorable Saturday afternoon.
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: American Pure lost all chance at the start of the seventh race, when he nearly fell on his face out of the gate. Scratches reduced my losses to $24.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: Unfortunately, I think the back half of the card looks extremely chalky. This includes both graded stakes races. However, I do think there’s money to be made on the early Pick Five. I previewed that on PlayFecta (Catena Media’s horse racing site), and my 50-cent ticket reads as follows: 1,2,5 with 6,7 with 4 with 2,8 with 3,4,5,7,9.
TOTAL WAGERED: $30.
Best Bet: Robyn and Eli, Race 3
Longshot: Raining Candy, Race 11
#5 NORTH POLE: Took a significant step forward last time out in his first start beyond a mile. To say this million-dollar baby hasn’t panned out is an understatement, but early speed going two turns, in a field of horses that don’t like passing others, could prove tough to beat; #1 NEVER CHANGE: Takes a big drop for Todd Pletcher after a pair of clunkers in turf routes. He did run in a pair of pretty classy races as a 2-year-old, and blinkers going in is a notable adjustment; #2 READYSEEKGO: Is another going two turns on dirt for the first time. He should certainly be prominent early beneath aggressive rider Kendrick Carmouche, and perhaps he holds on for a piece of it.
#7 CHLOE ROSE: Hasn’t won since October but loves Saratoga. She boasts a win and a second in two local starts and has been competitive at this level downstate. Blinkers go back on, and she could sit an ideal stalking trip; #6 TEA OLIVE: Gets protected second off the bench following a runner-up finish against $50,000 claimers at Belmont. She could conceivably move forward here, and this trainer/jockey combination already boasts a win at this stand; #1 CLOSING DEALS: Shortens up a bit after running third at this level last month. The inside draw isn’t ideal, but she’s shown she has some early zip and may be able to mitigate that issue with a sharp break.
Robyn and Eli
Cape Cod Causeway
#4 ROBYN AND ELI: Has run second in all three outings and gets Lasix for the first time here. She had every right to need her last-out effort off a long break, but nearly prevailed over stakes foes. She’ll be a very short price, but looms large; #7 CAPE COD CAUSEWAY: Is one of a few that exits a key race with several next-out winners. Her two-back effort, though, came over a similar two-turn route, and it was arguably her best race to date. She seems live at a big price; #11 JOCOSITY: Draws a terrible post but seems to have plenty of potential in her debut. Her dam was stakes-placed on the lawn, she’s been working well, and Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride.
Eagle in Love
#2 HIGHER QUALITY: Takes a big drop for Chad Brown off of an effort that’s too poor to be true. He’s bred up and down for this two-turn route, and anything close to his two-back win would likely get him the money; #8 CRYO: Stretches back out to two turns, and that’s been the configuration for some of his best efforts. He has the speed to sit a great trip just off the pace and could stand to benefit if the heavy favorite misfires; #4 EAGLE IN LOVE: Ran second in his first start at this level, and it wasn’t long ago he was 5-1 in a $100,000 stakes race. He has a history of troubles out of the gate, but a clean start coupled with his early speed could make him a pace presence here.
Front Line Dancer
#9 RALLY SQUIRREL: Has run well in three starts at this level downstate and should relish a return to two-turns. His two wins have come over similar configurations at Aqueduct and Gulfstream, and his flexible running style could be a big, big plus; #2 FRONT LINE DANCER: Didn’t get a great setup last time, when he rallied from 10th into a pretty slow pace and was beaten less than two lengths. Deep closers and the inner turf don’t often mix, but there seems to be some speed signed on, and the rider switch to Irad is a big one; #5 MR. KRINGLE: Hasn’t won since a starter allowance score here last year, but he fires the same shot every time out and can’t be ignored. Flavien Prat has ridden him to two second-place finishes downstate, and he’s done some strong running here.
Long Term Thinking
#8 ALCOOLS: Has won two in a row over similar company and goes for the hat trick here. For a seven-furlong sprint, there isn’t a ton of apparent early speed signed on. I think he could get comfortable early and prove tough to catch; #1 FLAMINGO HAWK: Hasn’t won in a while and take a big drop in class for a barn that had a long, long meet here a season ago. Anything close to his mid-2021 Gulfstream form gives him a big shot, but those races were a long, long time ago; #5 LONG TERM THINKING: Has hit the board in 19 of 26 career starts and just missed at this level earlier this month at Churchill Downs. He’d definitely benefit from a faster-than-expected early pace, and this barn tends to spot claiming horses very, very well.
#5 REINVESTMENT RISK: Exits back-to-back seconds in Grade 1 races and headlines this loaded optional claiming event. I’m not entirely sure why he’s running here (as opposed to a stakes race), but we’ve seen him run second in four Grade 1 events, and anything close to that bests this group; #9 BABY YODA: Won a pair of starter allowances before finishing a distant fourth behind Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 2 True North. He didn’t break well that day, so he has an excuse, but if this one’s so well-meant, why does Bill Mott also enter #2 NOVA RAGS?; #1 DISCO PHAROAH: Did not have an easy trip last time when fifth beaten a length in a similar spot at Belmont. The rail draw isn’t ideal for horses that tend to find trouble, but he’s shown plenty of talent for a strong outfit and has every chance to snag a piece of this with clear sailing.
#3 BLEEKER STREET: Is a perfect 7-for-7 and seems like the best of Chad Brown’s bunch in the Grade 1 Diana. Two of her stablemates have speed, which should set up well for her late kick, and this nine-furlong trip fits her like a glove; #1 TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: Went 2-for-2 here last summer and comes in off a win in the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico. She did have a perfect trip that day on an easy lead, but the rail draw lends itself to her running style and perhaps she’s at her best right now; #4 ROUGIR: Didn’t fire in the Grade 1 New York, when she was fifth behind Bleeker Street as the 3/5 favorite. Perhaps she bounced off of a nice score in the Grade 3 Beaugay, and remember, she won the prestigious Group 1 Prix de l’Opera last fall in France.
Naval Aviator (MTO)
#9 FORT TICONDEROGA: Turned heads with a swift win off the bench last month at Belmont and tries two turns and winners for the first time. Shug McGaughey’s horses tend to improve with experience and foundation, and I’m not sure this is the best race for the level we’ll see this summer; #3 FOREVER SOUPER: Is going the right way for Mark Casse, having won two in a row at Gulfstream. He’s shown an abundance of early speed and sure looks like the one they’ll be chasing early; NBS ENTRY: Both of these runners are intriguing and could offer value. #1 SETNA THE WISE exits a third-place finish against stakes company, and that day’s winner has since won again. #1A DRIPPING GOLD, meanwhile, turned heads (literally) with a debut win here last summer and goes second off the bench.
#4 FORTE: Was bet like he couldn’t lose in his debut and ran to the billing, coasting home clear by nearly eight lengths. Todd Pletcher trainees have won the Grade 3 Sanford eight times, and this one gives the outfit a big chance at number nine; #6 MO STRIKE: Showed some professionalism when stalking the pace and winning in his unveiling at Churchill Downs. There should be plenty of pace for him to chase here, and given his pedigree, he may be one to watch as races get longer; #12 VALENZAN DAY: Had an eventful journey when third in the Tremont Stakes last month. His two starts give him an experience edge over most of this group, and the outside draw should allow Joel Rosario to keep him out of trouble.
Maybe Later (MTO)
#4 DIVA READY: Takes a big drop into a non-winners-of-two claiming event after running fourth across the border at Woodbine. This well-traveled filly makes her fourth start at a fourth different track and could capitalize on class relief in the Saturday finale; #8 RAINING CANDY: Almost certainly needed her last-out effort, which doubled as her first run since November. Her lone win came at this route last summer, and I think we’ll see a significant step forward at a pretty big price; #6 BELLA CONCHITA: Runs for a tag for the first time and may very well inherit the lead in a race that seems light on early zip. She’s been running longer for trainer Cherie DeVaux, so we know this distance won’t get her beat.