Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 1, 2015 at 12:00 AM
Number 15 - Volume 4
Friday, July 31, 2015
MORE AT STAKE THIS WEEKEND THAN AMERICAN PHAROAH’S CONTINUOUS CORONATION
Click here for Jim Hurley’s Saturday Pick-3 and Stakes Special. The day starts when three sharp runners in the same race produce the Trifecta, followed by Jim’s Jim Dandy Win & Exotic and OF COURSE A BIG PAYOUT PICK 3...All Only $20
While the headline above is to in no way be construed as a downplay of the amazing accomplishments of American Pharaoh, who will make his first start since his dominant TRIPLE CROWN SWEEP when he meets seven rivals in the Grade I $1.75 Million Haskell Invitation at Monmouth Park on Sunday, todays WEEKEND STAKES PREVIEW will concentrate on a pair of Stakes races from Saratoga on Saturday.
American Pharoah has been installed as the 1-5 ML favorite for the Haskell and much of the drama is taken out of the race by the competitive level of his opposition and even though the Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup WIN & YOU ARE IN QUALIFIER, American Pharoah has already punched his ticket to the BC Classic.
Given that reality we will concentrate on a pair of races from Saratoga that should have an impact of Breeders’ Cup races at Keeneland later this fall, the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Grade II Bowling Green even though neither is a BC WIN & IN race.
Both the Vanderbilt and the Bowling Green, while prominent stakes races in their own right, has (despite not being a BC Qualifier) served as a stepping stone for BC Qualifiers later in the meet at the Spa or at Belmont or elsewhere as the BC Preps move into late summer and early autumn.
SEVEN SPRINTERS LINE UP IN VANDERBILT
While the Grade I Vanderbilt Stakes, to be run at 6 furlongs over the main track is not a Breeders’ Cup Win & You Are In Qualifier it is prominent in the Prep Schedule for the BC Sprint nonetheless. Last year for instance a colt by the name of Palace ran third in this race and followed up 4 weeks later with a win in the Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga, a race which is a BC Qualifier.
Given that sequence of preps, which has been repeated a number of times by conditioners in recent years, the Vanderbilt is an important race and despite just seven entrants on Saturday is a competitive one.
Let’s take a look at the seven from the rail out:
DEPARTING (20-1) - By far the most interesting of the seven entrants one has to believe that the goal of this 5-year old Al Stall trained gelding is not the BC Sprint. The son of War Front was on the Triple Crown trail as a three-year old has won 8 of 17 career races and hit the board a total of 13 times. But his career has been spent running a mile or further and he has only one race at 6 furlongs in his career, a win over two years ago. He is tough to gauge because his last two races have been on turf, including a mile win in the Grade II Firecracker at CD 5 weeks ago. He has turned in some quick 4 and 5 furlong breezes of late so might get good use of good career tactical speed. Getting a handle on both Stall’s intent and whether or not the pace becomes so suicidal that he sweeps by them all is tough.
SALUTOS AMIGOS (5-2) - The David Jacobson trained gelding has won 5 of 6, including a daylight victory in the slop in the Mr. Prospector at Monmouth. The son of Salute the Sarge won the overnight Mr. Prospector in hand 5 weeks ago after returning from an ill-fated trip to Dubai to try the Golden Shaheen. He appears back in form and is expected to run as he always does, which is to fire late. Last year he fell 2 lengths short in this race and was beaten 3 lengths in the BC Sprint following a somewhat troubled trip. He has breezed 5 times (every 4-6 days) since the Monmouth win and is a threat if the pace breaks his way.
ROCK FALL (2-1) - The Todd Pletcher trained son of Speightstown broke greenly from the gate, rushed up like a dumb kid and was well beaten in his career debut 15 plus months ago. Since then the 4-year old has won 5 straight races by an unchallenged margin of 5.4 lengths. He has won with pace setting speed and he has come from off the pace and was in command in winning the Grade II True North 8 weeks ago. Under normal circumstances the layoff might be slightly problematic but Pletcher has spaced his races in such a manner throughout so he is definitely the one to beat. He could control that pace if he can outgun both the Big Beast and Favorite Tale or sit the trip in front of the late runners.
CLEARLY NOW (8-1) - It is tough to gauge what to expect from this in-and-out veteran. He has amassed a 20-5-5-5 career mark and although his running style signifies he might be better at 7 than 6 furlongs he has won 2 of 5 with a pair of seconds at the Vanderbilt distance. His last win came over a year ago in the Belmont Sprint on Belmont Stakes day and in 5 races since he has been beaten double digit lengths 3 times and placed twice. Your move.
VIVA MAJORCA (5-1) - The son of Tiago has won two of his last three and steps up here after winning the ungraded Kelly’s Landing Stakes at CD in his last. Prior to that he wasn’t completely disgraced when fourth, beaten about 6 lengths against tough competition that included last year’s BC Sprint winner Work All Week. His two best career races have come in two of his last three so it is understandable that trainer Ian Wilkes finds out what he has, but he’ll need to show further improvement to grab a piece.
THE BIG BEAST (4-1) - The lightly raced Anthony Dutrow trained son of Yes It’s True will be making his first start since his 4 race win streak was interrupted in the Grade I Carter at Aqueduct on April 4 following a tough 6 wide trip. He has worked well at Fair Hill in the interim and had a sharp 5 furlong breeze over the track seven days ago. The trainer couldn’t have picked a better spot to make the return as the 4-year old colt is 2-fo-2 over the surface after winning an allowance race and then capturing the Grade I King’s Bishop here last year. The works and fondness for the rack say he is ready and he might be.
FAVORITE TALE (5-1) - The quick Tale Of The Cat 4-year old ships north following a 4½ length upset win of the Grade II Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park 4 weeks ago. The Guadalupe Preciado trainee was no match for Rock Fall in the Grade II True North prior to his GP win and has never raced over the Saratoga dirt course. But he does have plenty of pace and could take an early lead and has won 4 of 9 with 3 seconds at the distance in his career. His speed could be dangerous.
BOWLING GREEN HANDICAP A BETTOR’S DREAM
For a bettor looking for a well-stocked competitive field of top notch competitors the Grade II $250,000 Bowling Green Handicap, an 11-furlong race for older horses on the Saratoga Inner Turf Course is made to order.
Four runners will tote a high weight of 121 pounds under the handicap conditions. Imagining, winner of the Grade II Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March but off the board in Grade I Man O’War at Belmont and Grade I United Nations at Monmouth in his last two will look to regroup as the 3-1 ML second choice. He still carries the class to reverse form and has the versatility to set the pace or come off it but needs to prove he is still the same runner that won the Man O’War a year ago
Innovation Economy will be making his Graded Stakes debut in this, his seventh career start. Despite never facing graded company the Chad Brown trained son of Dynaformer has been installed as the 5-2 ML favorite after his off-the-pace victory in the Belmont Gold Cup Stakes on Belmont Stakes day. He’ll be once again hoping for an honest pace on the front end.
Golden Soul, who was a longshot second to Orb in the 2013 Kentucky Derby will seek to recapture some of that old form. He won a pair of allowance tests at the end of 2014 but has failed to break through in his last five efforts with only one third place finish to show for those efforts.
Another veteran with enough back class to reverse form if ready is Al Khali has plenty of back class, and will be making only his third start since 2013. At age 9 he is getting a bit long in the tooth but one must always be concerned if trainer Bill Mott keeps them on the race track...especially the way Mott has begun the 2015 Spa meet. There have been worse longshots over the years in Grade II races at the Spa..
Dramedy is another who bears watching. He connected in the Grade II Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland two back two back in wire-to-wire fashion giving up the lead late in the Grade III Arlington Handicap in his most recent. Interestingly the Steve Asmussen trained 6-year old son of Distorted Humor has never raced over the Saratoga turf but over the Inner Turf Course speed is as often as not a handy attribute.
Red Rifle is another of the 121 high weights. Trainer Todd Pletcher returns him to the turf after a win in the Group III Dominion day Stakes on the Woodbine synthetic in his last. Prior to that he found the two miles of the Belmont Gold Cup Stakes beyond his wind as he fought for the lead early but backed up quickly during the final 3/8ths and was beaten 21 lengths by Innovation Economy among others. He should keep the pacesetters honest but has just one win from six turf tries and will have to have everything go right.
War Dancer, who is pegged at 7-2 on the ML hasn’t sent his backers to the win window since May of 2014, a stretch of 7 races. However, six of the seven have ben vs graded foes and two back he was a strong second in the Grade I Man O’War and in his most recent, although he checked in sixth he was only beaten a total of 3 ¾ lengths and like Al Khali he will be saddled by the red hot Bill Mott and it is noteworthy that the 5-year old has been first or second in 8 of his 16 career turf tries.
The field fills out with a pair of runners making their graded stakes debuts. Another speed merchant, Iron Power will be sent out by Christophe Clement, no stranger to this class of race, although the 5-year old gelding will have what figures to be quick early speed tested at a new level.
Completing the lineup will be Morning Calm, who is just the opposite of Iron Power as he does his racing from well back and also needs to prove he belongs at this level. His best vs this class of runners was his recent fifth behind Innovation Economy in the Belmont Gold Cup.