First race is 12:50 pm EDT.
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Saratoga and Del Mar both have midweek cards today. At Del Mar, of course, the conditions will be perfect, as they are every day, with fast dirt and firm turf. Saratoga, on the other hand, received a goodly amount of rain yesterday, and while we expect the main course at the Spa to dry out and be fast, by afternoon, the grass is a different story. Since the condition of the Saratoga turf was unavailable at press time Wednesday morning, we are going to assume that the turf will have some give in it, probably something along the lines of "good." With that out of the way, let's go.
Saratoga Race 1, 12:50 PM ET
$75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes, Hurdles, 2 1/4 miles, turf, 4 & Up
We've always been a sucker for the jumpers, even though the races are tough to handicap, and we wish more tracks would run more of these. Saratoga's tradition of carding a jump race as the first race on midweek cards is a summer tradition we've always liked; it's a fun way to wet one's whistle for a day of racing.
We have learned over the years that trainer angles are a more effective way of handicapping these races than the form of the horses. A race this long just doesn't hold up to traditional handicapping methods; trying to figure out how the race will be run, ahead of time, to use pace and speed figures and all that, is usually an exercise in futility.
But we like looking at trainers, because skilled trainers seem to win most of these races. And that leads us to the pick in this one, 4-Storm Team. Jack Fisher may not be a household name, but he's a very, very skilled conditioner of jumpers; he has a 33% win rate on the year, and he's 1-for-2 at over the fences at the current Saratoga meeting. He has three of the entrants here, but we like Storm Team the most. It looks to us like Fisher has him ready for this, and we like the horse's running style: he will be on or near the lead, and these jump races are usually won on or near the front. We will bet him to win at 10-1. The bet: Saratoga, Race 1, $10 to win on 4-Storm Team.
Saratoga Race 7, 4:32 PM ET
$150,000 New York Stallion Series, 1 mile, turf, 3-year-old New York-breds
This is a good race with a lot of speed, so much speed, in fact, that the past performances are screaming to pick a closer. We think we've found one: that's 8-Six Percent, a Brad Cox trainee who won a maiden race at Belmont Park in June by coming from off the pace. His turf breeding is iffy, and that would normally give us pause, but we will trust in Cox, whose stats with turf runners are good (22% win rate with horses making their first start on the grass). We will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Saratoga, Race 7, $20 to win on 8-Six Percent.
Saratoga Race 8, 5:09 PM ET
Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap, 6 furlongs, dirt, fillies & mares 3 & up
The hot favorite here is 4-Mia Mischief, who has won 7 of her 15 career starts, and, more impressively, been first or second in 13 of them. We spent some time trying to find a way to beat her, but we just can't. She is an obvious pick, and her odds will be short (7/5 on the morning line, and probably shorter at post time), but she is far and away the likeliest winner of the race, and the likeliest winner of the day. We will embrace our inner chalk-eating weasel, and bet her to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 8, $50 to win on 4-Mia Mischief.
Del Mar Race 5, 7:07 PM ET
Starter Allowance, 1 mile, turf, fillies & mares 3 & up
A field of eight goes in the 5th at Del Mar, a mile turf race for females who have never won two races, and who have started for a claiming price of $50,000 or less in their careers. We mention the conditions because there is a runner here who fits them to a tee: it's 5-Shanghai Truffles, who was unable to win her first three starts, all in Maiden Special Weight company, but won when entered in a $50,000 maiden claimer. She comes back here against a field that is fairly weak, and, even better, against a field filled with early speed, which should favor her stalking running style. We think she sits comfortably behind the early speed, forges to the front at the top of the stretch, and holds off any potential late-chargers. We will bet her to win at 3-1. The bet: Del Mar, Race 5, $25 to win on 5-Shanghai Truffles.
Del Mar Race 6, 7:37 PM ET
Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap, 1 1/2 miles, dirt, 3 & up
This is a rare 12-furlong dirt stakes. Races are run at this distance on the turf all the time, but rarely on the main track, and one of the questions a handicapper must answer is which runners can get the distance. Modern thoroughbreds, especially in the U.S., are so speed-oriented that finding one to stay the entire 12 furlongs is not an easy task.
The favorite here is 7-Campaign. He is worthy of favoritism, as he is a proven marathoner, and has won a dirt stakes at this distance before, the Tokyo City at Santa Anita in April. But we fancy another runner, 4-For the Top: This Bob Baffert trainee was bred in Argentina, where he was a Group 1 winner at 1 9/16 miles, a very similar distance to today's race. He's making his second start in North America, he's been firing bullets in the morning, and we think he's ready to do something big this afternoon. We love him, and we will bet him to win at 3-1, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Del Mar, Race 6, $50 to win on 4-For the Top.
That's all for today. Good luck at the windows.