First race at 2:10 pm EDT
We are still a few days away from Opening Day at Del Mar -- they open Wednesday -- and as a result, Saratoga, the other marquee summer meeting, takes center stage. There's a terrific card in upstate New York today, and we'll look at the stakes action there, and we'll also look at some other stakes from around the country. We are handicapping for fast and firm everywhere, except as noted below. There's a lot to cover, so let's go.
Saratoga Race Course Race 3 (2:10 pm ET)
The Grade 3 Sanford Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt, 2-year-olds
There's a pair of graded stakes at the Spa today, with the Sanford going first. There's a short field of five here, but there are some pretty precociously fast colts running, including 3-Cucina and 5-By Your Side, who both won maiden races last month in very fast time, Cucina at Belmont Park and By Your Side at Churchill Downs. We like Cucina, as there's a lot of early speed in this race, and he showed in his maiden win that he can rate behind pacesetters and win with a strong stretch move. He will be a short price, but we pick him anyway, as he looks to us like the overwhelmingly likeliest winner. We will bet him to win at 8/5, and say a novena that his post-time odds are anywhere near that. The bet: Saratoga, Race 3, $25 to win on 3-Cucina.
Saratoga Race Course Race 9 (5:46 pm ET)
The Grade 1 Diana Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, fillies & mares 3 and up
Any analysis of this race has to start with Chad Brown, who send out four of the six runners. We think the winner comes from those four, as the other two runners look non-competitive to us.
The turf at Saratoga Friday was listed as yielding, a result of rain the day before. It will be dry and hot in New York today, which should help the grass firm up, but we expect the turf to have a bit of cut in it, even if it ends up being rated as "firm" by the time the gate opens in the Diana. We mention this because we think it favors two of Brown's runners, 4-Sister Charlie and 6-Homerique, who just happen to be the two favorites.
Of the two, we prefer Homerique. Sister Charlie has plenty of class -- she won this race last year, and also won the biggie, the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare Turf -- but she is coming into this race off a layoff, having not run a race since the Breeders Cup at Keeneland in early November. Homerique definitely has a recency edge, having won the Grade 3 Beaugay and the Grade 2 New York, both at Belmont Park. Those recent efforts, plus the historical trend of horses making their first start after the Breeders Cup -- it is poor; they frequently lose at very short odds -- make Homerique the pick. Both Sister Charlie and Homerique have similar late-running styles, and it should be fun to watch them both flying down the stretch, but we think that Homerique gets to the finish line first. We will bet Homerique to win at 5/2, and we will also box both of them in the exacta. The bet: Saratoga, Race 9, $30 to win on Homerique, and $15 exacta box, 4 (Sister Charlie) with 6 (Homerique).
Arlington Park Race 5 (4:38 pm ET)
The $75,000 Hatoof Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, turf, 3-year-old fillies
Nine fillies are entered in the Hatoof. The strong pick is 7-Dalika: this German-bred filly came to the U.S. from France over the winter, and her first U.S. start, at Churchill Downs in May, she absolutely blew the break, giving the field a big head start (this is far from rare for European horses making their American debut). She rebounded to finish a deceptively good sixth, only two lengths behind the winner, and then came back to win an allowance, also at Churchill, last month. We expect a further improvement today, and that makes her incredibly dangerous, and an incredibly good wager at 6-1. We will bet her to win. The bet: Arlington Park, Race 5, $40 to win on 7-Dalika.
Arlington Park Race 6 (5:12 pm ET)
The Grade 3 Modesty Handicap, 1 3/16 miles, turf, fillies & mares 3 & up
The strong pick in this one is the favorite, 3-Simply Breathless. This 4-year-old filly ships to Chicago from Southern California, where she is trained by Neil Drysdale, who is as good as it gets with these kinds of runners (he's also in the Hall of Fame). We think she simply outclasses this group, and we hope very much that she stays anywhere even close to her 9/5 morning line odds. We will bet her to win, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Arlington Park, Race 6, $50 to win on 3-Simply Breathless.
Delaware Park Race 8 (5:25 pm ET)
The Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, 1 1/4 miles, dirt, fillies & mares 3 & up
This is the biggest race of the year in Delaware, and it's a good race with a deep and rich history. This year's field lives up to the tradition: a talented and deep field of nine will go the post.
The pick here is favorite 7-Elate: we've heard some scuttlebutt this week, from some handicapping wise guys, that Elate might be vulnerable, but we just don't see it: she's simply better than the rest of these horses. She'll need to bring her best effort today to win, but her trainer, Bill Mott, is good at getting horses to peak in big races. At the risk of being Captain Obvious, we'll pick the favorite here, and we will do so for the late Jay Cronley, who noted (correctly, we might add) that there is value in every winner. We see value in Elate, so we will bet her to win at 7/5. The bet: Delaware Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 7-Elate.
That's all for today. Enjoy the day, and, as always, good luck at the windows.