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Week 2 of the JUMP START definitely wasn’t as good at predicting the Saratoga stakes action like opening week. It was very difficult to predict the Jim Dandy upset by Laoban, even though we pointed out he’d be the main pace presence. Highlighting Connect and Gift Box in the Curlin and Curalina in the Shuvee resulted in short prices.
A.P. Indian was a surprise addition in the Vanderbilt and showed that he could fire off a short rest. We’ll try to get back to tipping some longer priced plays in Week 3: Whitney Week!
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.
Here’s a look at the key Graded Stakes races from Week 3 at the Spa:
Fri., Aug. 5, Grade-2 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame, 3 year-olds, 1 & 1/16 miles (Turf)
The weekend Graded stakes action kicks off with the Hall of Fame, even though inductions will not happen until next week for Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, Steve Asmussen and Ramon Doninguez. I’m not going to get into this right now, but it’s a shame it’ll be so difficult for the general public to get a ticket for that event!
Anyway, two-time graded stakes winner Camelot Kitten will look to improve off his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on July 9. Camelot Kitten looked like he was about to take over the lead from eventual winner Deauville at the top of the stretch, but didn’t kick it into the next gear to pass him. The 1 & 1/4 mile distance of the Belmont Derby may have been the culprit. The 1 & 1/2 furlong cutback here will help Camelot Kitten for the Chad Brown barn. This is the same distance of his breakout, longshot win in the Grade-2 American Turf win on Kentucky Derby day, so there’s every reason to believe this distance may be his best.
The up-and-down Airoforce is entered for the Mark Casse barn. After faltering early in the year on the Kentucky Derby trail, his return to turf has shown that the grass is his preferred surface. He has the versatility to be nearer to the pace, but it looks like he may do his best running with one big run late.
Isotherm is an interesting entry for trainer George Weaver. When moving to the Saratoga turf in his second start as a juvenile last year, Isotherm broke his maiden in stalking fashion. He would next win the Grade-3 Pilgrim at Belmont from farther back and was incorrectly moved to the dirt for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he ran 13th. He hasn’t run since his second in the Grade-3 Dania Beach to start the year, so he may need one off the long layoff.
Also entered in the Hall of Fame are Copingaway, Giant Run, Strike Midnight and Unbridled Daddy. Main track only entries include Voluntario and Decorated Soldier.
Bottom Line: Camelot Kitten is very tough at this distance and will need to be used on top. If Airoforce runs his top race, he could make it interesting and is an exacta play multiple times at a short price. If Isotherm gets away at a longer price on the board then he may provide great value based on his juvenile form on turf.
Sat., Aug. 6, Grade-1 Whitney, 3 years old & up, 1 & 1/8 miles (Dirt)
As a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Classic, the Whitney will bring together the best older male dirt horses on the East Coast for a whopping $1.25 million purse.
Everyone is asking one question: “Can Frosted do it again?”
Frosted’s Met Mile on June 11 has been rated by industry experts as possibly the best performance by a thoroughbred this century. Speed figures from different figure makers have supported that notion. People are saying that the one-turn mile is Frosted’s best distance, but they are quick to forget his two-turn form from 2015, especially his two strong races at Saratoga. Frosted ran a tough second in a short Jim Dandy field last year behind a loaded Texas Red. Books have been and will continue to be written about how his front-pressing style led to the demise of the Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers.
Frosted has been training at the horse heaven of the Greentree training facility in Saratoga since his return from Dubai, except for the few days that he shipped down to Belmont for the Met Mile. There is no doubt that trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will have Frosted ready for the stretch out here and look to add to his legacy. McLaughlin had discussed with me before the Met Mile (see my article with him here) that Frosted fires best off a lay-off and he gets one here two months after the Met Mile.
Frosted’s main competition may come from Effinex. Last time that they met, Effinex under jockey Mike Smith was maintaining his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic almost 6 lengths in front of Frosted. That was over nine months ago and a lot has changed for everyone since then.
Effinex is the ultimate mystery of horse racing. When he’s running his best races, he can be at the top of the division like he did winning back-to-back Grade-2 Suburbans, the 2015 Grade-1 Clark and 2016 Grade-2 Oaklawn Handicap. Or he can blow the turn (2015 Brooklyn), get hot in the post parade (2015 Woodward), get hives (2016 Big Cap) or run flat (2016 Stephen Foster). He’s one of the most important horses to watch in the paddock and post parade to see how he’s acting before the race.
If Effinex is at the top of the list, then Noble Bird is probably the second biggest mystery horse in older male dirt racing on the East Coast. After his 11 ¼-length win over a suspect field in the Grade-3 Pimlico Special, Noble Bird got the early lead in the Met Mile, but wilted quickly under early pressure. He was entered in the Grade-2 Suburban on July 9, but was scratched when he was “lethargic” after the ship from Churchill.
Noble Bird’s assistant trainer Norman Casse told me a few weeks back, “He’s a really easy horse to figure out because he always trains on the muscle. He’s been at Saratoga (since he scratched from the Suburban) and he’s been training fowardly since.”
Noble Bird received praise from both Mark and Norman Casse after his final Whitney prep workout, so maybe he’s ready to put a better showing than he did finishing ninth in the Whitney last year. Noble Bird was found to have an injury after last year’s Whitney so we shouldn’t put too much emphasis on that poor performance.
Upstart added blinkers for the first time in his last race in the Met Mile. After the race, trainer Rick Violette said that the blinkers made him braver, as he was able to split horses late to get up for a distant third behind Frosted. Upstart has always loved Saratoga, as he broke his maiden here as a two-year old and won the 2014 Funny Cide Stakes for New York bred juveniles later that summer. His fourth in the Travers last year has been rarely ever discussed, but was a good showing in a competitive field.
Others entered in the Whitney include El Kabeir (fourth in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster last time out) and Comfort (riding a three-race win streak, but making a major class jump).
Bottom Line: Frosted will prove he’s a standout here. It’s tough to trust Effinex or Noble Bird even underneath in exotic plays. The most consistent horse to play with Frosted may be Upstart.
Sat., Aug. 6, Grade-1 Test, 3-year old fillies, 7 Furlongs (Dirt)
A rematch of the top three finishers in the Grade-1 Mother Goose at Belmont on July 2 may headline the Test. Off The Tracks, Lewis Bay and Lightstream would all be cutting back from the 1 & 1/16 mile Mother Goose to sprint in this spot.
Off The Tracks won the 2015 Schuylerville as a juvenile at Saratoga and would return looking for another top sprint performance, as she’d cutback from her gate-to-wire win in the Mother Goose. That win demonstrated jockey Jose Ortiz’s strength as one of the top front-end riders in the game. Recent reports have said trainer Todd Pletcher will opt to enter Off The Tracks here instead of waiting for the 10-furlong Alabama against the top three-year old, undefeated Songbird.
Lewis Bay tracked Off The Tracks the whole way in the Mother Goose, but couldn’t reel in the frontrunner. Lewis Bay is a real “grinder” as was evident in her third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks. Maybe she wants less distance or maybe trainer Chad Brown is another looking to avoid Songbird later in the month if she goes here.
The hype machine was out in full force on Lightstream before the Mother Goose, as she came in with an undefeated record. She stretched out to a 1 & 1/16 mile distance for the first time as was moving late to finish third. Her best running may be at this 7-furlong distance for trainer Brian Lynch.
Kareena absolutely romped in the non-graded Jersey Girl on June 10 by over 6 lengths, but the performance has gotten much scrutiny. The filly by Medaglia d’Oro just missed Artax’s 17 year old Belmont track record at 6 furlongs by 0.21 seconds as she stopped the clock in 1:07.87. The scrutiny has come since the Trakus recording system (that is responsible for those multi-colored chiclets on your screen) had Kareena finishing the race almost a full second slower in 1:08.69. Either way, Kareena is a very talented filly for the McLaughlin barn and you’ll need to watch the morning line and the board to see if she provides value.
Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks runner-up Paola Queen, Grade 3-placed One True Kiss, Kinsley Kisses (also for Pletcher) and Malibu Stacy may round out the Test field.
Bottom Line: Off The Tracks is one of the top fillies in her crop and should prove it here. Her second place finish behind top one-turn filly Carina Mia in the Grade-1 Acorn shows Off The Tracks can run with the best in this crop. Kareena may take money based on her promise, but going back to March, she lost to Lightstream at this distance in their maiden battle. Watching the board here will be important to see which of these two provide better value. I’ve always liked Lewis Bay, but think she wants more distance than this 7 furlong trip.
Sat., Aug. 6, Grade-3, Fasig-Tipton Waya, Fillies & Mares 3 years old & up, 1 & 1/2 miles (Turf)
The Waya field is wide open, but Real Smart comes in off a Grade-3 win in the Robert Dick Memorial at Delaware Park and looks like she may go off favorite. After the win, trainer Graham Motion said on the Steve Byk show that he’s uncertain if the 1 & 1/2 miles would be best for Real Smart, but the Waya works well in her schedule.
Remember when Ball Dancing was the favorite in the 2015 Just A Game on Belmont Stakes day? That was a long time ago, as all-world mare Tepin would win that race and has left Ball Dancing scrambling ever since. After a long lay-off after that race, Ball Dancing has returned this year to run uninspired races and will really need to turn it around here to be a factor for trainer Chad Brown.
Trophee, well-known as the half-sister to top European champ Treve, is being entered in the Waya by Christophe Clement. During an interview last week, Clement told me that Trophee is training well (find the whole article and interview with Clement here).
Others entered in the Waya are Grade-1 winner Photo Call, Achnaha, recent River Memories winner Guapaza, Al’s Gal, Desiree Clary, Vielsalm and Suffused.
Bottom Line: Tough race to figure out, but I’ll key with Trophee here and spread in multi-race wagers.
Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for coverage of the Saratoga meet.
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