Each week on Dark Tuesdays, we will bring you “The Saratoga Skinny” looking at the coming week of racing at Saratoga and looking back at the big action the week before. “The Saratoga Skinny” will be broken into five sections: The Break (looking at the biggest story of the week), The Turn (focusing on Stakes races on Saturdays), The Stretch (focusing on big races in the upcoming weeks), Going to the Whip (some thoughts on the week before and a few light-hearted jokes, when appropriate), and The Finish Line (discussing important events in Saratoga). Now that you know how “The Saratoga Skinny” works, let’s get into it!
The Break: Alabama Bound
When the princess is away, the rest of the division will play.
That’s the theme for this year’s Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama this Saturday, August 19 at Saratoga, the race that the 3-year-old filly division leader Abel Tasman will skip after winning two Grade 1s on the NYRA circuit in the past two months.
The Alabama field is still very strong without Abel Tasman in the race, and with her absence, it becomes a very intriguing, wide-open betting affair.
When Abel Tasman won the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks (CCAO) on opening weekend at Saratoga, she got her head down to beat Elate in a thrilling finish. Elate was pinned down on the rail in deep stretch by Abel Tasman’s rider, Mike Smith, was unable to get by before the wire. After an inquiry and review by the NYRA stewards, Abel Tasman was kept up as the winner of the CCAO.
Elate will now be one of the top choices in the Alabama for her Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott. After setting the racing world abuzz with a maiden-breaking win of 12 1/2 lengths last November at Aqueduct, Elate’s next race was anxiously anticipated. She disappointed early in 2017, though, and didn’t win her first race of the new year until June 15 at Delaware Park in a non-graded stakes. Her run in the CCAO showed the promise that she displayed as a juvenile last fall and she’ll look to move forward in the Alabama.
Mott will also enter Lockdown in the Alabama off of a good second-place finish in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 2 Mother Goose at Belmont to begin July. The winner of that race, Unchained Melody, will need to stretch out to two turns for the first time for trainer Brian Lynch in the Alabama, which will be run at the grueling distance of 1 1/4 miles.
The third-place finisher from the CCAO, Salty, will run in the Alabama for trainer Mark Casse, but she does her best when running around one turn. Her strong second-place finish (behind Abel Tasman) in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont to start June proved as much.
Two fillies changing surfaces may vie for favoritism in the Alabama: New Money Honey and Holy Helena. The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and 2017 Belmont Oaks winner, New Money Honey will try dirt for the first time in her career here. Trainer Chad Brown is confident enough in the way that she handles the surface in mornings that she’ll try to add another Grade 1 win to her ledger. With her win at 1 1/4 miles in the Belmont Oaks (on turf), she is the only horse to have raced at this distance in the field, so her proven success at the distance is a major positive.
Holy Helena’s last two wins were over the all-weather surface at Woodbine, but they were two of the most prestigious races at the track: the Woodbine Oaks and the Queen’s Plate. In the latter, she beat a full field of males in smashing fashion, drawing off by 3 1/2 lengths. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was quick to focus on the Alabama after that early July win, and by all reports, she’s trained strongly on the dirt. She recorded a dirt win to break her maiden at Belmont in May, so she has dirt form in her past performances.
Even though Abel Tasman will stay on the west coast for the time being, two west coast invaders – It Tiz Well (for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer) and Mopotism (for trainer Doug O’Neill) – are expected to ship in for the Alabama.
The Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan winner Actress (for trainer Jason Servis) will complete the field.
With so many directions and angles to play in the Alabama, if you’re right in this race, you should be able to make a very nice score!
The Turn: Lake Placid Pack
The Alabama undercard will be highlighted by more 3-year-old fillies, this time going 1 1/8 miles on the turf in the Grade 2, $300,000 Lake Placid.
Proctor’s Ledge will try to become the first horse to win two graded stakes at the current Saratoga meet when she returns from her strong win in the Grade 3 Lake George on opening day at The Spa. Proctor’s Ledge went off at a juicy 6/1 odds, but won’t catch many by surprise this time around for trainer Brendan Walsh.
Second to Proctor’s Ledge by 1 3/4 lengths in the Lake George, Party Boat returns for a rematch. Party Boat is in good form for trainer Graham Motion, but hasn’t yet raced at this long of a distance.
Coasted will be cutting back in distance from her disappointing seventh-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks. Coasted won two races at Saratoga last year as a juvenile, including the non-graded PG Johnson, so she’s the perfect horse-for-course play for trainer Leah Gyarmati.
The Casse barn will have action in the Lake Placid. Dream Dancing enters off of a wide trip and a seventh-place finish in the Lake George. The Casses were also pointing multiple Grade 3 winner La Coronel to the Lake Placid, but she hasn’t shown up in the NYRA-published probables. If she enters, she will be the most likely favorite in the race coming off of her fifth-place finish at Royal Ascot in the Group 1 Coronation.
The Stretch: Travers Page
The summer and Saratoga meet are flying by! We’re more than halfway through the country’s premiere racing meet.
With less than two weeks to the Grade 1 Travers and the mega-sized card that comes with it, you can get a “jump start” on the expected field of the Mid-Summer Derby at RacingDudes.com.
We have launched a Travers Page right here that you can use to keep track of the expected field for the Travers and the other six graded stakes on the undercard. Check in regularly for updates as we draw closer to the big day.
Going to the Whip: Tight Standings
After four weeks and 22 days of the Saratoga meet, brothers Jose and Irad Ortiz are tied atop the jockey standings at 32 wins apiece.
Chad Brown is up one win on Todd Pletcher, leading 24-23 in the trainer standings.
There’s no truth to the rumor that, if Brown and Pletcher tie for the trainer’s title, then the tie breaker is a bare-knuckle brawl in the winners’ circle.
We have the answer to one of the Top 5 Questions that we asked entering the 2017 Saratoga meet: Songbird is officially returning to Saratoga! The champion filly, who won both the CCAO and the Alabama last year, will spice up the Travers Day undercard when she runs in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign.
The Finish Line: Special Moment
I’ve used this space in The Saratoga Skinny to highlight good causes and charity events each week.
I wanted to switch it up and share something about myself this week. I took my 10-month old baby girl to the track for the first time on Sunday. It was just me and her (and 30,000 attendees), but I was able to fulfill a dream that I’ve had for a very long time.
I remember when my dad brought me to the track for the first time when I was eight years old. Bringing my daughter to the races was something that I’ll never forget.
When I took her to the winner’s circle, she stared up in utter amazement at the clubhouse and the grand building. It was really a cool experience to watch her face as she took in a brand new surrounding that I hope one day she’ll enjoy as much as I do.
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