Every week during the Saratoga meet, we will post early in the week a JUMP START on the Graded Stakes coming up in the next week at “The Spa.” We’ll attempt to not “regurgitate” the Past Performances and go beyond to provide an early analysis of the Graded Stakes fields including: injury and insider news, trainer talk, pace analysis, trip notes from previous races, workout evaluations and links to key replays to evaluate for the big races.
Week 5 will feature the top dirt and turf three-year old fillies in the country with the undefeated champion Songbird in the Grade-1 Alabama and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Catch A Glimpse in the Grade-2 Lake Placid. Combined these two fillies are on a 17 race win streak! If Saratoga is to live up to its moniker as “The Graveyard of Champions” then this weekend would be a good time for the ghosts of the past to rise up and spoil these fillies’ perfect seasons. The main question going into the weekend will be, “Will one of them or both of them lose?” That question sounds preposterous and utter blasphemy to some people, but before we dive into those contentious discussions, let’s takes a look back at last week:
Week 4 Recap: The JUMP START got stuck in the mud as the Grade-2 Adirondack and Grade-1 Fourstardave were smartly cancelled by NYRA due to safety concerns. Safety comes first in the game and the Adirondack will be run on Friday, August 19 now. The Grade-1 Fourstardave will juice up the Alabama card on Saturday, August 20, and make for some good multi-race wagering opportunities. The one race covered in the JUMP START last week that ran as planned was the Grade-2 Saratoga Special. Gunnevera upset the field closing late under a well-timed closing kick by jockey Javier Castellano to track down our top choice Recruiting Ready, who was disqualified from second to fourth after “clobbering” most of the field on the turn.
We’ll attempt to combine all our thoughts from the re-scheduled races from Week 4 into this Week 5 JUMP START at the Spa here:
Fri., Aug. 19, Grade-2 Adirondack, $200,000 purse, 2 year-old fillies, 6 ½ Furlongs (Dirt)
Only the fillies that were originally nominated to the Adirondack are eligible for this re-scheduled race to start the weekend Graded Stakes action. Originally only six fillies were entered and Olive Branch had scratched the morning of the race based mostly on her quick turn-around from her Grade-3 Schuylerville run on opening weekend. Olive Branch has been re-entered and the original field has stayed intact with one new face.
That new face is Romantic Music for trainer Derek Ryan, who comes out of a gate-to-wire debut maiden win at Monmouth on August 5. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche gets the mount and is one of the best front-end, aggressive riders on the NYRA circuit, so we will be sure to see Romantic Music pressing the pace early.
BOTTOM LINE: My original pick was Silvertoni in the Adirondack last week and I based a lot of that opinion on the fact that she was the lone speed in the race. With the addition of Romantic Music and taking a look back at Olive Branch’s blazing fractions in the Schuylerville, there is reason to believe that Silvertoni will get pressed on the front end.
There was a lot of hype leading up to last week’s originally planned race on the Steve Asmussen-trained Ever So Clever and she would have probably gone off the favorite. Her maiden breaker by over 7 lengths was even more impressive since she had broken slowly to start the race and split foes late to draw away. If Silvertoni gets pressed early, Ever So Clever should sit in the perfect “cat bird seat” and pounce late to win. Ever So Clever is now my top pick in the Adirondack and I’ll be watching Olive Branch closely in the paddock. If Olive Branch doesn’t act up in the paddock, I’ll try to play her in exotic wagers for a price with Ever So Clever.
Sat., Aug. 20, Grade-1 Fourstardave Handicap, $500,000 purse, 3 year olds & up, 1 Mile (Turf)
Like the Adirondack, the re-scheduled Fourstardave is only open to horses originally nominated to the race and that included the recent front-running Grade-3 Poker winner Obviously. Recent rumors were that trainer Phil D’Amato was considering Obviously for the re-scheduled Fourstardave, but now will focus on a run at the end of the meet in the Grade-2 Bernard Baruch. It’s obvious that Obviously would have thrown a wrench into the pace scenario of the Fourstardave, but now King Kreesa remains the lone speed in the race. The race entries have stayed intact with the original nine turf entries re-entering the race.
With the original field intact, the main item that may change is the possible turf condition. Rain was forecasted last week (and the weatherman was right for once!) and convinced trainer Chad Brown to keep Takeover Target at Saratoga based on his form on soft turf courses. Trainer Christophe Clement also was bringing Blacktype back on two weeks rest looking for a softer turf course. With forecasted dry and hot conditions for most of the week, the turf course should be labeled firm on Saturday this time around.
BOTTOM LINE: I flip-flopped on my Adirondack pick above, but still like Grand Arch as my main value play in the Fourstardave. My original thought of using King Kreesa as a lone speed back-up play in multi-race wagers stays intact. I may back off my plays on Takeover Target and Blacktype if the turf is firm, but still include on tickets.
Sat., Aug. 20, Troy, $100,000 purse, 3 year olds & up, 5 ½ Furlongs (Turf)
The Troy is one of the most fun races of the Saratoga meet as a fast turf sprint run over the Mellon turf course. Globe-trotting Green Mask has the back class to be very dangerous here. Reports early in the meet were that he was working lights out for up-and-coming trainer Brad Cox. Green Mask finished a forgivable, tough traffic seventh in the Grade-3 Jaipur on Belmont Stakes day and returned in early July to get nipped late at Woodbine in the Grade-2 Highlander. His back class is very strong with good runs in Hong Kong and Dubai. His third place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint was his only career race at this 5 ½ furlong distance.
Green Mask’s main competition will come in the form of Long On Value. Trainer Bill Mott decided to cut back the veteran turfer to sprinting and the result was an impressive triumph in the Lucky Coin to end opening weekend at the Spa. With that win at this same distance and on this course, Long On Value will take plenty of money.
After being listed as a fresh gelding for the first time to start the season on the Black Eyed Susans undercard at Pimlico, Spring to the Sky ran a very impressive second behind Ben’s Cat in the Turf Sprint. He has been consistent since and some may jump off of him based on his fourth in the recent Lucky Coin. He has good early foot and will have to gun it from his inside rail position.
Disco Partner ran a shocker to get second closing late in the Jaipur at 16-to-1 odds for trainer Jimmy Ryerson. When stretching out from the 6-furlong Jaipur to a 7-furlong allowance at Belmont, Disco Partner didn’t have as much success finishing fourth last out to start July. The cut-back here should suit him well.
Asset Inflation won an allowance optional claimer at this distance on July 27 at Saratoga first off the claim for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, but this is a class test. Rainbow Heir won an off-the-turf stakes at Monmouth last out at this distance, but will be trying turf for only the second time in his career for dangerous trainer Jason Servis. Calgary Cat is possible to enter and is another one coming off only decent synthetic form at Woodbine. The filed is completed with High Noon Rider and Songsational. The speedy Holy Boss and Weekend Hideaway are main-track only entries.
BOTTOM LINE: Green Mask may be a stand-out in the Troy based on class alone. The entry of Long On Value will probably make Green Mask the second choice in the wagering providing value on a world-class turf sprinter at the Spa.
Sat., Aug. 20, Grade-1 Alabama, $600,000 purse, 3 year-old fillies, 1 ¼ miles (Dirt)
The ghosts in the “Graveyard of Champions” will be stirred up by the fact that the NYRA will be handing out 10,000 free posters of Songbird before the running of the Alabama. It’s going to take ghosts, boogie men and other superstitions to knock the champ off her throne in the Alabama, but crazier things have happened in the always unpredictable sport of horse racing.
As the dominating winner of the Grade-1 Coaching Club American Oaks (CCA Oaks) on July 24 at Saratoga (see full photo live blog race recap here), Songbird showed that she could look a good filly in the eye like Carina Mia, dig in and show heart to win over this track. The 1¼ mile distance is the main question in the Alabama now, but none of the fillies entered have run this far before, so that question looms for all of these fillies.
Songbird’s sire Medaglia d’Oro ran at this distance winning the 2002 Travers at Saratoga and placed second in the Breeder’s Cup Classic (twice), Pacific Classic and Dubai World Cup. Add in his second in the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes and there is reason to believe that Songbird has plenty of stamina influence. Additionally, all reports from the track are that Songbird has been working “heavenly” (in the words of assistant trainer Christina Jelm after her penultimate work), so there is no doubt that top three-year old filly in the nation will be ready.
If anyone can beat Songbird for Hall-of-Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, it may be a filly with a pedigree catered for the 1¼ mile distance. Dark Nile for trainer Arnaud Delacour is a new face in the Grade-1 three-year old filly scene that meets that pedigree criterion. On a four race win streak that includes a Grade-3 Delaware Oaks triumph last out, Dark Nile is sired by Pioneerof the Nile out of the Bernardini mare Royal Society. Pioneerof the Nile sired a horse named American Pharoah (that you may have heard of) and ran second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Bernardini won the 2006 Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and ran second in the Breeders’ Cup Classic all at this distance, so Dark Nile has stamina influences on both sides of her family tree.
As a perfect segue, Family Tree recently won the Grade-2 Indiana Oaks and may be getting good at the right time for trainer Wayne Catalano. Family Tree won the Grade-3 Iowa Oaks two back, so she is steadily climbing the class ladder.
If you’re looking to play the “giant slayer” trainer angle then there is nobody better to put your money on than Dale Romans. Last year, Romans led Keen Ice to shock the world in the Travers over American Pharoah and will try to do the same this year with Go Maggie Go in the Alabama. Go Maggie Go impressed in only her seconded lifetime start winning the Grade-2 Gulfstream Park Oaks over recent Grade-1 winner Off The Tracks. Her next start was an admirable fourth in the Grade-1 Kentucky Oaks, where she had to steady and go 7-wide, but still had great kick late. Her Grade-2 Black Eyed Susan win off two weeks rest showed that she was an emerging force in this crop. Her fourth in the Grade-1 Acorn may have been too much, too soon, though, as she was the only filly to run in all three legs of the filly equivalent to the Triple Crown. Off two months rest, she can fire fresh in here for Romans.
Flora Dora, the third-place finisher in the CCA Oaks, for trainer Marialice Cofffey will need to make up over 9 lengths on Songbird, so that is unlikely. Flora Dora is training forwardly after adding blinkers in her last two bullet works over the Saratoga main track, so maybe she’s a longshot play underneath like she was when she hit the board in the CCA Oaks at 63-to-1 odds!
Recent optional claiming winner Going for Broke from the Chad Brown barn and Grade-1 Ashland winner Weep No More for trainer Rusty Arnold will complete the field.
BOTTOM LINE: The only way to approach this race is to use Songbird as a strong single in multi-race wagers and hope to catch a longshot in adjoining legs or pound a Pick-3 or Pick-4 multiple times with Songbird. One of the most amazing returns of the Saratoga meet so far was the $2 Pick-3 ending with Songbird in the CCA Oaks paying a whopping $389! If it was my dollars at play, I may be looking to spread in the female turf sprint in the eighth race and play Grand Arch / Songbird in a Pick-3 multiple times and hope for a decent pay-out. On back-up tickets I may spread a little bit more and include Dark Nile and Go Maggie Go, since they may be the only two capable of taking down the champ.
Sun., Aug. 21, Grade-2 Maker’s Mark Lake Placid, $300,000 purse, 3 year-old fillies, 1 & 1/8 miles (Turf)
When I met with assistant trainer Norman Casse (son of trainer Mark Casse) at the beginning of the Saratoga meet, he broke to me that Catch A Glimpse would point to the Lake Placid (see full story here). Casse said, “Catch a Glimpse looks like she came out of her race at Belmont in good order. She may have lost a little weight, but soundness-wise and everything, she looks great.”
Her front-running win in the Grade-1 Belmont Oaks on July 9 pushed her win streak to eight overall and she is undefeated on turf. Since then, all reports are that she is training forwardly for her first career start on the Saratoga turf. It should be noted that her one career loss was at Saratoga last summer in her debut race that was taken off the turf onto a sloppy main track.
Speed usually carries well on the Saratoga inner turf and Catch A Glimpse’s running style should match well with this overall track bias. She has won gate-to-wire in her past two races including a win over males in the Grade-3 Penn Mile. In her turf races, she has never been more than 1½ lengths off the lead at the first call.
The field include a filly that can press her on the front end and will mean that the stalkers and closers in the group will have a very tough time passing her like so many horses have found over the past year. Catch A Glimpse just doesn’t let horses get by here. She’s a feisty one! From my personal experience in the two times that I have visited her stall, she is the type of filly that is aware of her domain and ready to protect it at all times, like she has done repelling any horse that approaches her in deep stretch.
The prime example is Time and Motion, the runner-up in the Belmont Oaks, looked like she was making up ground late on Catch A Glimpse at the 1 ¼ mile distance, but couldn’t get by her late. The furlong cut-back here will mean that Time and Motion will need to get involved earlier for trainer Jimmy Toner.
The best chance to beat Catch A Glimpse may come in the form of the two Chad Brown entries, Pricedtoperfection and Elysea’s World, if they decide to use “team tactics” to take down the champ. Brown has always thought highly of Pricedtoperfection, entering her in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf off a maiden win in only her third career start. Her last race was a good fourth behind Catch a Glimpse in the Belmont Oaks.
Elysea’s World bounced back with a good second-place finish in the Saratoga opening day Grade-2 Lake George. After being undefeated in her first two career starts, Elysea’s World was being hyped as the “next big thing” out of the Brown barn. Her sixth in the Wonde Again behind Time and Motion was a disappointment, but it looks like she got back on track when she got to the Saratoga grass.
Diamond Fields got some hype before the Saratoga opening day Grade-2 Lake George, but was never a threat to win there in her first start in the United States. The chart comments say that her saddle slipped and the rider lost the irons, so maybe there were excuses to her lackluster performance. She had run second at Royal Ascot in a field of 21 before her U.S. debut, so she could provide value.
Outsider Art has chased Catch A Glimpse twice this year and is a threat to hit the board closing late like she did in the Lake George.
My Inpresssion will complete the field for Hall-of-Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
BOTTOM LINE: Without a major pace filly entered to challenge Catch A Glimpse early, this may be a cake walk on the front-end for her. She just knows how to settle for her regular rider Florent Geroux. “She’s amazing. It’s not like she’s winning at the same track and same distance,” said Geroux. “She always puts herself in a good spot. Some people say she’s having good trips, (but) she puts herself in good trips. I don’t need to do much from there. I just need to nurse her and push her button when it’s time to go.” It’s go time on Sunday for the whole Casse team and Catch A Glimpse will be ready.
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