Following an impressive victory in the Mother Goose, Off the Tracks will shoot for a second straight Grade 1 triumph in Saturday’s $500,000 Longines Test Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The Test, one of five stakes on a blockbuster Whitney Day program, attracted a solid field of eight 3-year-old fillies including the first three finishers from the Mother Goose and the up-and-coming Kareena, who exits an eye-catching win in the Jersey Girl Stakes during the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival.
Ironically, Jersey Girl’s picture hangs in Todd Pletcher’s office on the Oklahoma backstretch. She was his first New York stakes winner (the 1997 Astoria) and subsequently his first Grade 1 winner when she captured the Acorn and Test in 1998. Pletcher, now a 12-time Spa training titlist and the winner of seven Eclipse Awards, sent out Marley Vale to win the Test in 1999, and seeks what has proved to be an elusive third win in the race with the classy Off the Tracks and Kinsley Kisses, who is in search of her first stakes win.
Pace Scenario – Fast
Speed: #1 Paola Queen, #3 Kareena, #8 Kinsley Kisses
Stalkers: #4 Malibu Stacy, #6 Lewis Bay, #7 Off the Tracks
Closers: #2 One True Kiss, #5 Lightstream
Looks to be a nice speed duel up front with the key being what horses can sit off the pace with as many as five horses being able to go to the front. Some of those, like likely favorite Off the Tracks, have shown the ability to sit just off the speed. With her outside draw she should be set up to do so again today if needed. A lot of these are cutting back in distance as well which will muddle the situation. Feeling confident though that the pace will be swift.
Top Pick: #7 Off the Tracks
She’s turning into a top flight filly, and since her Gulfstream Oaks disappointment she’s ran two fantastic races in a row. Cutting back today to seven furlongs which should be the absolute perfect distance for this daughter of Curlin. This is another tough field today, but it could be a little weaker than what she’s faced in her previous two races. I expect her to run a big one Saturday, and will be placing a win wager on her.
Other Likely Winners: #5 Lightstream and #3 Kareena
Two very dangerous foes here for the favorite. Lightstream stretched out last time in the Mother Goose to run third, but she’s back to her best distance today of seven furlongs. She’s a perfect three for three at the distance and all those wins have come at different race tracks. Kareena is also dangerous coming off two romps at six furlongs for read hot trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. This will be a jump up in class which is obviously needed, and she’ll also be going an extra furlong. Both of these horses need to be on your multi race tickets.
Exotic Plays: #6 Lewis Bay
Seven furlongs probably is not going to be her best distance, but I don’t blame them for trying this spot instead of the Grade 1 Alabama against Songbird. Lewis Bay is about as honest as they come, but usually just your classic grind away and hit the board type when up against a top class field. If going two turns she might have a shot here, but don’t think she’s quite fast enough to win at seven furlongs against a group that’s pretty well meant for the distance.
Party Crashers: #8 Kinsley Kisses
Qualifies as the “other Pletcher” in the race which is always a nice angle for decent price winners. The cut back to seven furlongs is going to suit this horse just fine, and she’s showed a lot of grit to run decently going longer. Hopefully she can spring from the gate and get a similar trip as Off the Tracks stalking the leaders. She’s two for three going seven furlongs with her only loss being a third place effort to Lightstream in the Grade 3 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland. Nice option if looking for a price.
Throw Outs: #2 One True Kiss, #4 Malibu Stacey, #1 Paola Queen,
If your horse lands in the “throw outs” don’t worry its not a knock against them. Each of these three have quality to them, but just might be a little outclassed against this tough group. With Songbird heading towards the Grade 1 Alabama it’s caused several 3 year old fillies to call an audible and try different races. In turn it’s made for a loaded Test Stakes on Saturday.
Off the Tracks won her first three starts, notably the Schuylerville here Opening Day last summer for her former connections. Although she was third in a sloppy Gulfstream Park Oaks at 4-5 in her first try for Pletcher, the daughter of Curlin then rallied to be a game second in the Acorn behind Carina Mia, before taking the Mother Goose from flag-fall to finish.
“Everyone was sort of down on her after the Gulfstream Oaks but I thought it was a sneaky-good race,” said Pletcher. “We felt if we got a clean break [in the Mother Goose] there was a decent chance she would be on the lead. She is a filly who has always shown big potential.”
In the five weeks since the Mother Goose, Off the Tracks has had just two published workouts, the latest a half-mile in 52.12 seconds. The light schedule is by design.
“We didn’t feel like we needed a lot of training – she ran very well from the Acorn to the Mother Goose without having to breeze,” Pletcher explained. “Hopefully we have her fresh into the Test. She’s ready to run now, she’s had success around one turn sprinting before. Right now, at this moment, it’s a little more logical play than waiting on the mile and a quarter (of the Alabama). I think she’ll handle the cutback to seven-eighths fine.”
Pletcher noted Kinsley Kisses, who comes off third-place finishes in the Beaumont, Black Eyed Susan and Delaware Oaks, will race with blinkers on in the hopes of “getting her zeroed in a little bit.”
Lightstream and Kareena made their debuts finishing first and second in a salty maiden race at Gulfstream Park, and they will meet again in the Test. The versatile Lightstream next won the Grade 3 Beaumont at Keeneland and the Soaring Softly on turf at Belmont Park for trainer Brian Lynch, before suffering her first loss when third behind Off the Tracks and Lewis Bay in the Mother Goose. The daughter of Harlan’s Holiday blew out three furlongs in 36.06 seconds on a wet-fast main track Wednesday morning.
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Kareena is two for three after winning the six-furlong Jersey Girl.
The daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro is fast, and she will attempt to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Cavorting, who completed a Jersey Girl-Test double last year.
“She’s just an impressive filly and [the Jersey Girl] was a serious race,” said McLaughlin. “We’re hoping to do what we did with Cavorting last year.”
Lewis Bay, a dual Grade 2 winner around two turns at Aqueduct, is among those shortening up in distance after finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks and second in the Mother Goose. Trainer Chad Brown feels she may deliver a more potent stretch kick cutting back to the distance of her maiden victory last fall. She is by Bernardini, also the sire of 2015 Test winner Cavorting.
Paola Queen also turns back in distance as she makes her first start since setting the pace in the Acorn for Gustavo Delgado.
Completing the field are Malibu Stacy and One True Kiss, who rallied late and were heads apart when second and third in the 6 1/2-furlong Victory Ride last time out.