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Submitted by John Conte on Friday, August 19, 2016 at 3:24 PM


Last weekend one of my most anticipated plays of the season was canceled when a devastating storm arrived at the SPA after the completion of five races. However, it was announced on Monday that the Grade I Fourstardave would be run this Saturday and the best news of all came a few days later when ALL 9 TURF RUNNERS scheduled to run last week were re-entered.

That means what would have been last weekend will instead be this weekend as I'll be making my biggest play on the Fourstardave, which will be run as Race 9 in the Racer 8-11 sequence that is the Guaranteed $500,000 Pool LATE PICK 4 at Saratoga...a Pick 4 that also includes the running of the Grade I Alabama where the undefeated marvel SONGBIRD will look for her TENTH STRAIGHT VICTORY.

After many years as a Grade II Race the Fourstardave, which will be run a one mile over the Inner Turf Course, has finally been elevated to the Grade I status it deserves. Nine runners drew post positions. 

You have read me comment on races in the past where I say, "This race is evenly matched and deeply competitive, the money will be spread around big time and the right combination will prove very profitable."

Among the first two things I do when I look at a race of this quality as check out how much fondness a horse has shown for the Saratoga turf (horse for course) and of course what is the recent form telling me (who is hot.)

Interestingly, although each of the nine runners slated to go on the turf course have either won or placed in a graded stakes race, with four of them having done so in a Grade I Race, only two of the nine are winners of their race prior to today's Fourstardave, BLACKTYPE in the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth on July 31 and KING KREESA in the non-graded Forbidden Apple Stakes at Belmont on July 16.

However, defining the hottest horse is not as simple as looking for the last out winner. As noted, BLACKTYPE won a Grade III at Monmouth and KING KREESA a non-graded stakes at Belmont. Each must be considered, good form notwithstanding as stepping up in class whereas the likes of RING WEEKEND, who was a Grade I Frank Kilroe Mile winner and runner up in the Grade II Dixie Stakes at Pimlico in his last two as well as TOURIST, who has run in five straight Grade I tests, including a solid second in the Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita in his most recent are likely as sharp as last out winners stepping up.

Then of course there is the Horses For Courses angle. 

Let me begin with GRAND ARCH, not least of all because I tabbed him to win last year's edition of this race. Ironically he went off at 8-1 when he won and paid $18.20 and has been rated at 8-1 by the ML maker for this year's race. And not only did GRAND ARCH allow my customers to collect at 8-1 but we also cashed the $70.00 Exacta with IRONICUS and the $335.00 Trifecta with SEEK AGAIN.

I liked him last year in large part because in 2014 he had run second in a much tougher field when beaten by one of the then sharpest mile turf runners (Seek Again) in racing. Although the 2014 effort was only his first try ever on the Saratoga Inner Turf he loved it. Then last year of Course GRAND ARCH closed the deal by running an almost exactly the same speed figure to win. Twice over the course...a win and a second in the same handicap race. Yet there are other angles that should be considered.

In his final prep for this race GRAND ARCH ran a non-combatant sixth in the Grade III Poker at a mile over the Belmont Turf. However, in 2014 his last prep for the Fourstardave was at a mile on the Belmont turf in that year's edition of the Forbidden Apple Stakes...and he ran a non-threatening fifth before winning today's race. A history for GRAND ARCH shows that Horses For Courses can be both a plus and a the question is, how does a handicapper like myself key that in when there are other live horses in the race?

For instance, was the sharp second in the aforementioned Grade III Poker by FORCE THE PASS, and a nose beaten second in the Forbidden Apple, both at one mile at Belmont indicate he is also a value play at 8-1 on the morning line. After all, the 4-year old Speightstown colt loves the one mile distance (8-3-4-1) and has never been off the board in his career (11-4-4-3.) The only question...he has never raced at Saratoga.

The three ML favorites are TOURIST (5-2), RING WEEKEND (3-1) and TAKEOVER TARGET (7-2).

TOURIST has won his only race over the Saratoga turf and his last race was a very sharp second in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. He also has a solid mark at a mile (8-3-1-2.) Yet as a handicapper it is imperative that I look at a runners "entire" resume and that means trolling down the PP's further than most bettors go. If you do that you discover that TOURIST was handled twice at Keeneland last fall by GRAND ARCH (in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile and the Breeders' Cup Mile Turf.)

RING WEEKEND definitely merits consideration as measured by his effort May 21 in the Grade II Dixie Stakes at Pimlico when he split winner TAKEOVER TARGET and third place finisher GRAND ARCH. But RING WEEKEND hasn't raced since that test and that was his first since March of 2015. However, like GRAND ARCH he loves Saratoga with a first and second in two tries over the SPA sod.

TAKEOVER TARGET is another to get a handle on. He looked like a world beater in winning the Dixie but could manage no better than fourth in the Grade III Poker in his last. For me, he has plenty of talent, but what should trouble the public bettor is whether there is enough pace for his late charge at the distance.
When I tell you, as a handicapper and bettor who will step in on the same plays I release to my clients, that this race has all the potential for a big payoff you should listen. Look at

REPORTING STAR who is 20-1 on the ML yet just three races ago beat FORCE THE PASS and has 4 wins from 7 starts at a mile.

There is also BLACKTYPE, who is beginning to run to his potential for Christophe Clement after winning the Grade III Oceanport at Monmouth just two weeks ago and A LOT, who goes two sprints to a mile for the canny Chad Brown, who rarely makes a bad mover.

And just for good measure there is KING KREESA who at 15-1 on the ML comes in after having won the Forbidden Apple in his last and brings a sterling 15-6-5-2 career mark at a mile with 4 of 6 on the board performances on the SPA turf and a best of the field 108 BRIS speed number over the grass here.

I love this race and all its potential and that is why I have built my LATE PICK 4 AROUND IT. Plus consider this.

The PICK 4 becomes very interesting from a Payoff factor due to the presence of the absolutely brilliant SONGBIRD. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is not only 9 for 9 in her career, not only a 5 time Grade I Winner and not only an odds-on winner of her last eight races, but in eight of her nine races has been on the lead at first and at second call and the one time she wasn't she was a head off the leader. She has been posted as the 1-5 ML favorite and deserves every part of that.

I mention this because my years of wagering experience tells me that well over 90% of the money bet into the PICK 4 will SINGLE HER in Race 10. And I will of course use her, but I do think that there is one filly in the race restricted to 3-year old ladies that "might" pull the upset and I will include her.

Yet even if SONGBIRD wins as expected the PICK 4 figures as a Great Investment. You already know about how open the Fourstardave is (and my success in this race over the years) but the bookend races are even more wide open. Race 8 features a full field of 5 ½ furlong turf sprinters for Non-Winners Of Two Allowance/Optional 62.5K claimers in which the top 6 runners have consistent speed figures that rate out within 1 ½ lengths of each other.

Race 11 is mile and a sixteenth turf race for restricted NYSB second level allowance/optional 40K claimers.

SONGBIRD will look to sing a PERFECT TEN SONG in the Alabama and my clients and I will look to SCORE A PERFECT TEN in the GUARANTEED 500K LATE PICK 4 and other plays I release on Saturday.

By John Conte

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