Four weekends down. Four more to go.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the 2019 Saratoga season with a lot of memories made in the rear-view mirror and more to look forward to experiencing in the country’s premiere horse racing meet.

For handicappers and bettors, it’s a time to reassess the meet and make better focused plays to optimize success in the final month. Opportunities to score came early in the meet, but Saratoga’s competitive, top-class racing will continue to offer chances to profit before Labor Day arrives.

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Not every weekend at The Spa is created equal, and after two straight mega-card weekends headlined by the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and the Whitney Stakes (G1), this coming Saturday will be one of the lighter stakes-laden cards of the meet. Topping the day is the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) for older horses going one mile on the turf.

Despite not being one of the biggest races of the meet, this Fourstardave still has intrigue, especially from a betting perspective. Joining it is a wide-open rendition of the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2), so let’s dig into these two races and see if we can make some money to kick off the second half of the meet.

Seeing the “Little Rocket” Imperial Hint before he set the 6-furlong Saratoga track record was an unforgettable moment (Photo: Michael Spector)

Two Females in the Fourstardave

When Uni enters the Fourstardave gate, all eyes will be on the 5-year-old chestnut mare as she goes against male foes. She can surpass $1 million earned with a good showing here and add to a resume that includes a Grade 1 win and multiple other graded stakes victories. The Chad Brown pupil rides a five-win streak dating back to April 2018, including a win over the local strip in last summer’s De La Rose Stakes. All five of her wins along this streak have been at the same one-mile distance as the Fourstardave.

Uni won’t be the only mare trying boys in the Fourstardave, though, as trainer Mark Casse has decided to wheel back Got Stormy on one week’s rest after he win the the De La Rose Stakes last Saturday at The Spa. Casse has been known to run his horses when they are ready, no matter how short between races and the the four-year old folly seems to be ready according to Casse. He told the NYRA, “She won (the De La Rose) about as easy as a horse can win it, We’re going to enter in (ther Fourstardave), and we’re going to look at the race. She trained great (Wednesday) morning.”

Their biggest competition may come from Uni’s stablemate Raging Bull, who also won here last summer when he swept the Hall of Fame Stakes (G2) and the Saranac Stakes (G3) over the local sod. Last time out, Raging Bull was a late-charging third in the Manhattan Stakes (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day and cuts back to the mile, a distance over which he has two wins and a second in four starts. This will be Raging Bull’s fifth straight race at the Grade 1 level. He is one of the classiest horses running on turf, but he has yet to win as a 4-year-old or against elders.

Brown also has entered Grade 3 winner Made You Look, who recently ran fourth in the Forbidden Apple at Saratoga on opening weekend. Casse also is brining back March to Arch, who finished fifth in the Forbidden Apple, but had won the Wise Dan (G2) at Churchill in his previous start at Churchill. Casse said, “I’m going to give him another try going a mile,” Casse said. “I thought his race last time wasn’t one of his best performances. I really don’t have an excuse, so we’re going to give it another try. He only got beat two lengths.”

The likely pacesetter Gidu is another horse exiting the Forbidden Apple. The Zayat Stables color-bearer led early but faded to finish ninth after setting solid-enough fractions. Gidu has one way to go, and that’s to the front for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Others entered in the Fourstardave include Forbidden Apple runner-up Hembree for Mike Maker, Krampus for Bill Mott, Dr. Edgar for Barclay Tagg, and European-invader Ostilio for Simon Crisford.

Now Isn’t That Special

After the opening weekend Sanford Stakes (G3) was run with only five juveniles, people asked, “Where are all of the 2-year-olds that Saratoga is known for?”

Well, those people will get their wish this Saturday because we got a good field of 8 for the Saratoga Special.

There are several possibilities in this wide-open, 6 1/2-furlong affair, and Green Light Go for trainer Jimmy Jerkens may be at the top of the field. The Hard Spun colt broke his maiden on debut over a salty field at Belmont Park going 5 1/2 furlongs on July 4, beating an American Pharaoh colt named Another Miracle who returned to win at Saratoga on July 24.

Another maiden-breaker who impressed at Saratoga is Zyramid for Zayat Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen. In his second career start, the son of City Zip bobbled but quickly recovered to attend the pace and eventually take over in the stretch to win a maiden special weight at The Spa on July 13.

Another talented colt who last raced at Churchill Downs is Long Weekend for trainer Tom Amoss, who broke his maiden on debut by 5 lengths on June 23. Five days later, under the Twin Spires, “He’s doing really good,” Amoss said in a NYRA press release. “He’s had three breezes at Saratoga, the most demanding was a five-eighths work [on July 28]. He’s handled everything we’ve given him. It’s not so much the distance, it’s more [facing] a higher caliber field, We think he’s a good horse, but for that to be true, he has to show it on Saturday. That’s the concerns of ours: how he handles the high-level competition, as well as the extra distance.”

Noose broke his maiden going 6 furlongs for trainer Eddie Kenneally. “He overcame some traffic issues and was very professional for a first-time starter,” Kenneally said to the NYRA. “He beat a full field of pretty nice maiden horses. He’s done real well since then and shipped up here just fine. No issues; he’s ready to go. He had a really good breeze on Friday and worked super to set himself up perfectly for this race on Saturday. Obviously, this is a tougher group of horses we’re going to be running against, but I think he’s an improving horse. He’s already run at six furlongs and won. This being 6 ½ isn’t a huge leap forward. The question is, has he improved enough?”

Trainer Jeremiah Englehart has been hot with his juveniles at the meet and has a 2-year-old colt named Tuggle to run in the Saratoga Special, after he won at first asking on June 21 at Belmont. Tuggle is owned by Hall-of-Fame football coach Bill Parcells and named after one of his former players.

Others entered in the Saratoga Special include Iberico for Antonio Sano, King Snake for Jack Sisterson, and Peruvian Boy for Ignacio Correas.

Millions and More

The Saratoga slate may not take top billing this Saturday as Arlington Park runs its lucrative Arlington Millions card, but the upstate New York track will still have top racing that can affect two divisions on Saturday.

The Fourstardave is a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeder’s Cup TVG Mile and recently sent off winners Tourist (2016) and World Approval (2017) to become Breeder’s Cup champions.

The Saratoga Special produced the 2016 Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Exaggerator and multiple graded stakes winner Gunnevera in the past few years.

You never know who will become the next star.

For Saratoga news and views as we draw closer to the historic 150th running of the Travers Stakes to finish the meet, please follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim.

Tourist before winning the Fourstardave on his way to a Breeder’s Cup Mile Win that year (Photo: Michael Spector)