Saratoga Closing Weekend JUMP START

Michael Spector
Ring Weekend before the Grade-1 Fourstardave (Photo: Michael Spector)

It’s on a somber note that I start to pen this last JUMP START of the 2016 Saratoga meet. We’ll always have the Summer of Songbird, the fastest Travers EVER by Arrogate and the dominance of Flintshire to help us reflect and remember the summer that was. Frosted’s attempt to win two Grade-1 Stakes at the meet will headline the closing weekend and hopefully add to the top highlights of the meet. The Woodward day card JUMP START can be found here including Woodward, Spinaway, Saranac and Glens Falls analysis.

This JUMP START will focus on the last two days of the meet and the last three Stakes including the Prioress on Sunday and Hopeful & Bernard Baruch on Monday. Hopefully, it’s not your last chance to win all your money back at the meet!

We hope you’ve done well using some of the advice provided in this weekly column and that the JUMP STARTs have provided you with some good information early each week to “get your mind right” as you approached each weekend of major stakes racing at Saratoga. We also hope that it provided some entertainment in the way we approach the game and also brought together all the key replays to watch in one place.

Thank you to all those who have provided positive feedback over Facebook and Twitter in response to the JUMP STARTs. We appreciate it and can’t put out good content on the web without your constant support.

So not to get too sappy as we close the gates at the Spa, let’s JUMP right into the last three Graded Stakes at the 2016 meet:

Sun., Sep. 4, Grade-2 Prioress, $300,000 purse, 3 year-old fillies, 6 Furlongs (Dirt)

One of the most exciting speed duels of the Saratoga meet was in the Grade-1 Test on August 6 when Off The Tracks went head-to-head with Kareena in the opening stages. They wore each other out and set it up perfectly for the 55-to-1 longshot Paolo Queen to win as one of the biggest shocks of the whole meet.

The Grade-1 Mother Goose winner Off The Tracks is back for more here in the Prioress. She held on valiantly in the Test to get third beaten only one length after sitting off and setting blazing fractions. She is undoubtedly one of the top female filly sprinters in the game for trainer Todd Pletcher. Still, the wear and tear of the Test after a tough win in the Mother Goose and strong second in the Acorn (behind Carina Mia) may be taking a toll on her.


Kareena showed in the Test that she has gate speed possibly unmatched by any other filly sprinter. Can she relax a little on the front-end now? The cut-back from the 7-furlong Test to 6-furlongs here can only help her if she gets the lead early from the 9 post for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin (who is entering a total of three fillies in this race). McLaughlin is keeping jockey Javier Castellano on Kareena in the hope that he will not hook up with Off The Tracks again on the front-end.


The main rival for these top two will be Coppa for top west coast trainer Phil d’Amato. Her neck win in the Grade-3 Victory Ride in July at Belmont pushed her undefeated record to a perfect 3-for-3. She has been training at Del Mar in preparation for this coastal collision.

Another California invader Coniah comes in for McLaughlin also, as owner James McKenney wanted to run here. Her third in the Grade-3 Rancho Bernardino Handicap on August 17 at Del Mar was against elders including a top filly in Tara’s Tango.

Pletcher will also enter Grade-3 Miss Preakness winner Lost Raven, who won the off-the-turf, non-graded Coronation Cup at Saratoga on August 1.

Appealing Maggie comes out of a 3¾-length victory in the non-graded Miss Woodford on July 17 at Monmouth for trainer Mike Hushion.

The field will be filled out by:

· Dearest – ships up from Gulfstream after back-to-back non-graded wins for trainer Gilberto Zerpa.
· Lucy N Ethel – undefeated perfect 3-for-3 including the Grade-3 Old Hat at Gulfstream to start the year for trainer Ramon Preciado, but hasn’t run since that race on January 2.
· Takrees – winner on opening day at Saratoga for McLaughlin in an allowance closing at this distance.
· One True Kiss – most recently fifth in the Test for Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and third behind Coppa and Kareena in both the Victory Ride and Jersey Girl, respsectively.

BOTTOM LINE: The key thing here (and with any race) is the pace. If Off The Tracks and Kareena go at it again on the front-end, could we see a repeat of the Test with a closer getting up late to win? There’s a lot of intriguing fillies in here besides these top two, so if you target these two in your prime plays, it may be smart to mix in a few closers on your back-up tickets. Coppa is making a bit of a class jump here, but can be dangerous and cannot be left off tickets. This is a good betting race if you can mix in the right longshot here.

Mon., Sep. 5, Grade-2 Bernard Baruch Handicap, $250,000 purse, 3 year olds & up, 1 & 1/16 miles (Turf)

Highlighting the final day of the Saratoga 2016 meet is the Bernard Baruch with a cast of horses that either ran or scratched out of the Grade-1 Fourstardave on August 20.

Grade-1 winner Ring Weekend headlines this group. This will be a bit of a quick turn-around for the Graham Motion-trainee, as he ran a hard-luck sixth-place in the Fourstardave as the betting favorite (only 2 weekends ago due to the delay of the race due to rain on its originally scheduled date). Ring Weekend is coming in third off a long layoff for Motion after an injury filled 2015. He began his year with a tough second place finish in the Grade-2 Dixie on the Preakness undercard.

Michael Spector

Ring Weekend before the 2016 Fourstardave (Photo: Michael Spector)

The winner of the Dixie, Takeover Target, will look to get back to work here for trainer Chad Brown. Brown skipped the Arlington Million this year with Takeover Target to enter the Fourstardave looking for soft turf. When that race was cancelled due to rain, Brown re-entered Takeover Target in the re-scheduled race, but then scratched him. You get all that? So anyway, what it all means in the end is that Takeover Target hasn’t run in a while and will be looking for softer turf and a fast pace to close into. With no rain in the forecast, Takeover Target may not get the soft turf, but it should be noted that he won the 2015 Grade-2 Hall of Fame at this distance over a firm Saratoga turf course.

Reporting Star was also scratched out of the re-drawn Fourstardave and pops up here for trainer Elizabeth Voss. Three back, Reporting Star ran an awesome Grade-3 Appleton at Gulfstream to beat top turfer Divisidero, but hasn’t performed as well in his last two races. A 3-month lay-off since June 5 may have done the trick and he will be very dangerous sitting off the pace.

Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott brings three here including:

· Dubai Sky – winner of last year’s Grade-3 Spiral, but got injured after the race missing the Kentucky Derby and has run only once this year.
· Take the Stand – a pace presence that won the Grade-2 Muniz Memorial over top turfer World Approval in March, but flattened going longer after setting the pace in the Grade-1 Arlington Million on August 13.
· War Dancer – another possible pace presence, third in the Grade-3 Oceanport last out.

Jay Gatsby returns after a nose loss in the non-graded Lure Stakes at Saratoga back on August 6. Jay Gatsby rallied from next-to-last place in the Lure to get up for a game second-place finish missing the win money behind Shining Copper. He won at this distance two back at Belmont in an allowance for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.

The field will be completed by Farhaan (who will try to win his third race of the Saratoga meet, but both wins were at the claiming level) and Natchez (one of the Racing Dudes’ favorite horses for Lukas, who is trying turf for only the second time in his career).

BOTTOM LINE: Takeover Target will need some pace and may get it with Take the Stand and War Dancer entered. He’ll be a strong top betting choice, but I just have a gut feeling that Reporting Star is going to fire a big one here and get the jump on the closers to take this one.

Mon., Sep. 5, Grade-1 Hopeful, $350,000 purse, 2 year olds, 7 Furlongs (Dirt)

The final Stakes of the meet will be highlighted by the next wave of juveniles looking to stamp their way on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, it’s never too early to start talking Derby!

Impressive Grade-3 Sanford winner Bitumen logged a bullet work (best out of 46 at 4 furlongs) on Monday signaling that he is ready for a big performance in the Hopeful. Trainer Eddie Kenneally has said that he just loves the Saratoga surface, as was evident when he looped the field from way back in the Sanford at Saratoga on July 23 to close like a rocket under Castellano.

Classic Empire won the Grade-3 Bashford Manor on July 2 at Churchill Downs also closing late. After the race, trainer Mark Casse said on the Steve Byk show that he would wait on his next race and point here to the Hopeful, so this has always been the target. Casse is very high on Classic Empire calling him an “extremely, extremely talented” colt. Classic Empire’s performance was flattered when second-place Bashford Manor runner Recruiting Ready returned to run a very strong race in the Grade-2 Saratoga Special.

Trainer Gary Contessa has been waiting to bring back his non-graded Rockville Centre winner Runaway Lute, too, as he won that race on July 16. As a New York bred in open company some may shy away from playing him, but his impressive win by almost 9-lengths was over a good group including open-company Tremont winner Silver Mission for Pletcher.

The field will be filled out by:

· Practical Joke – impressive winning by 5 lengths at 6 furlongs on a fast track at Saratoga on August 5 after a bumped break.
· Pretty Boy Flash – maiden who ran second for Asmussen on August 13 at Saratoga.
· Royal Copy – a dangerous horse for Hall-of-Fame legend D. Wayne Lukas who won over Pretty Boy Flash in that Saratoga maiden race on August 13.
· Everybodyluvsrudy – maiden for trainee Rudy Rodriguez entered after having to scratch out of an August 13 maiden special weight.

BOTTOM LINE: I picked Classic Empire to win this race at the beginning of the meet and am sticking with it. The Casse barn hasn’t had the greatest Saratoga meet overall, but I think they may finish strong here. To mix in a longshot, Racing Dudes Aaron Halterman has been talking me up on Royal Copy for weeks, so I’ll include him on tickets.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for coverage of closing weekend at the Spa.

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