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Sanford Stakes Preview: Asmussen Pair Look Tough

Michael Spector

Eight juvenile colts each looking to pick up their first graded stakes win will battle in the 103rd running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Sanford on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen will enter a formidable pair in Baffin (for owners Corinne and William Heiligbrodt) and Direct Dial (for owner William Farish). Purchased for $170,000 as a yearling at the Ocala Breeders’ Sale and a son of multiple graded stakes winner Justin Phillip, Baffin made his debut on June 22 at Churchill Downs, besting a field of nine to win by an impressive 4 3/4 lengths.

“Baffin broke his maiden very impressively at Churchill in his only start,” said Asmussen. “I’m kind of concerned if he got enough out of it. He won very easily and is now stepping up into a stakes (race), but I think he deserves the opportunity.

“Direct Dial has two nice races in him. A win at Keeneland and a nice second-place finish in the Tremont. I feel very good about how both have trained up here at Saratoga, as well. Justin Phillip has been a very good horse for us, and this is his very first crop. It’s kind of exciting to see him pass that talent along.”

With Ricardo Santana, Jr., aboard, Baffin will leave from post 6. Direct Dial will be to his outside, ridden by Jose Ortiz from post 7.

Top Choice

#7 Direct Dial – Even though he lost last time out in the Tremont, I still think highly of him. After breaking his maiden at Keeneland by over 7 lengths, everyone knew that he had a chance to be very good, but last race, he burned himself out on the front end. His opening 1/4 in the Tremont was blazing fast, but hopefully he will be a little more relaxed here, as his racing experience could play in his favor. Even in defeat, he held on to second gamely in that race to just nose out Admiral Jimmy. He seems to have a lot going for him and I’m hoping that Jose Ortiz is able to settle him down early on in this one.

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#6 Baffin – His maiden special weight win at Churchill Downs earned one of the fastest speed figures for a 2-year-old this year and also has the fastest figure of anyone in this race. Trainer Steve Asmussen is no stranger to success at Saratoga with 2-year-olds and that most likely won’t change as we head into this meet. We’ll see if he can back up that tremendous debut race.

#1 Psychoanalyze – One of the more impressive, if not the most impressive, debut winners at Belmont Park this spring, he dug in deep in the stretch to hold off all challengers and looked like he might have been hitting his best stride late in the race. His sire, Overanalyze, is the leading freshman crop sire by quite a bit right now, so perhaps he’ll get his Saratoga meet off to a hot start.

#5 Admiral Jimmy – A debut maiden special weight winner who came to New York soon after for trainer Todd Pletcher, it’s a solid sign that he has high hopes for the horse. Last time out, he was a solid third-place finisher in the Tremont. In that race, he didn’t have the best of trips, which makes me think that he could sit a little closer to the pace, which will help him against this tough field. Anytime Pletcher sends one over that looks like this, you have to pay attention.

Exotic Plays

#4 Free Drop Billy – A very impressive maiden special weight winner on debut who certainly could win here. The speed figure for his race wasn’t quite up to snuff with some of the others in here, though, which is why I’m recommending to play him underneath. Being out of Union Rags, he might get better as the distances get longer, so I almost feel like 6 furlongs against these types could be a bit too short. Regardless of what happens in this race, he is going to be one to watch.

Party Crashers

#8 Nauti Buoy – I put him in this spot because his maiden-breaking score came on the turf. However, that race earned a very fast speed figure, so if he can take to the dirt, he’ll be in with a little bit of a shot. The price is going to be nice, as there are many stars in the race, so perhaps he is a sneaky play for those shopping for value.

Throw Outs

#2 Bal Harbour – Losing on debut, he came back to win at Gulfstream Park in a maiden special weight by 2 lengths. He’s definitely the lesser-thought of the Pletcher entries, but it’s always dangerous to throw him out. It might be playing with fire, as I do so here.

#3 Frienze Fire – Nice winner last time out at Monmouth Park, but can that form translate over to a race that is very, very tough? I always feel bad for throwing out horses in races like this. At this point in their careers, they all have promise.

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