Race Previews

Vanderbilt Handicap Preview: A.P. Indian Looks to Repeat

Michael Spector

Green Lantern Stables’ multiple graded stakes winner A. P. Indian is set to make his Saratoga Race Course return in the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on Saturday.

A. P. Indian dominated the Saratoga sprint division last summer, taking back-to-back Grade 1s at The Spa. He was a winner of both the Vanderbilt Handicap and the Forego in dominant fashion here last year. However, he’s still searching for his first win of the 2017 season heading into the race.

“The horse is doing well; he breezed once on the Oklahoma, just a maintenance breeze, a few days after shipping,” said trainer Arnaud Delacour. “He’s in good spirits and we’re looking forward to running him. The horse is very professional; he knows what’s going on.”

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Last year, A. P. Indian had won six straight races before losing in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to Drefong. Since then, he’s started only twice, finishing second both times against Grade 3 company in the Commonwealth and the Maryland Sprint. He was then pointed towards Belmont Park, but a minor injury kept him from making a start in the Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship.

“He came back with a little bit of pressure in his ankle after a breeze leading up to the Belmont Sprint Championship, so we decided to skip the race and freshen him up a little bit,” said Delacour. “He’s been good ever since.”

A. P. Indian will break from post 4 under regular jockey Joe Bravo. The Vanderbilt is one of four stakes on Saturday’s 11-race program, anchored by the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy.

Top Choice

#4 A. P. Indian – One of the classiest horses in the country is back after a minor injury forced him to miss a start at Belmont Park in early July. Even though he hasn’t won yet this year, he certainly has been knocking on the door. Last time out, he was very solid in the Maryland Sprint on Preakness Day, but lost by a 1/2 length to Whitmore, who was really running well at that time. With this being his third race off of the layoff, we could see his best effort in this spot. Last year, he came to Saratoga and won a pair of Grade 1 races, and if he can get back to that kind of form, he can beat the horses entered today. He’s now 7 years old, so there’s a chance that he’s lost a step, but stick with him one more time.

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#3 El Deal – Wow, this horse is scary no matter how you look at it. Since moving over to the barn of Jorge Navarro, he’s run two monster races and picked up Javier Castellano to ride in this spot, but this will be a major class test today. From a speed figure standpoint, he looks to be the fastest horse on paper, but will this be a speed and fade situation, or can his carry him all the way to the winner’s circle? He’ll be gunning it right out of the gate like almost all Navarro horses do. The addition of Castellano nearly persuaded me to put him on top, but he was just too big of a risk for me to do that. Instead, I’ll put him second and use him on almost all tickets. You have to play him defensively.

#8 Limoseune Liberal – Nothing like riding a three-race winning streak into a big race like this one, but the question of “Who has he beat?” is being asked at this point. Even though all three of his wins came in stakes races, it’s still a little questionable about the strength of the fields that he’s been facing. However, he does have some back class over the years that make you believe in him. Last year, he finished just a head behind A. P. Indian in the Grade 2 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, and two years ago, he was second to Runhappy in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop. Believe in his big chance to make it four in a row here based on his body of work.

Exotic Plays

#2 Awesome Banner – Consistent runner that seems to show up with a similar effort most of the time, his problem is that, even though he does show up and run hard, he’s had all kinds of trouble actually beating the top-flight competition in this division. Expect more of the same here, as a second- or third-place effort would not be surprising, but if he won, it would be a shock.

Party Crashers

#5 Bird Song – An interesting entry here, as he cuts back in distance for the first time in quite awhile. However, he might be in a good spot, as he is two-for-three when running 6 furlongs. His last 6-furlong race came right here at Saratoga, where he won an allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths. That win propelled him to the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes, where he was a well-beaten eighth. He very well could be overmatched here, but sometimes when horses cut back in distance, they pop up with a big race. He could be worth a look if the price is right.

Throw Outs

#7 Green Gratto – He pulled off an upset in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap four races back, but he’s had trouble running with the top group of horses in this division since that race. He might just be a horse that likes Aqueduct better than anywhere else.

#6 Ready for Rye – Firing off the bench last time out in big way to take home an allowance win at Belmont Park, he unfortunately always seems to struggle against top-flight competition. This looks like too much, too fast.

#1 Spartiatis – The winner of the Grade 3 Tom Fool Stakes in March at Aqueduct, he’s been beaten badly in his last two starts. He’ll need to rebound here in a big way and is probably outclassed.

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